In Persona Christi Capitis
By Father Juan Salas
Assistant Director, Priestly Vocations
As we approach November, which is the Month of Priestly Vocation for the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, we will reflect upon the three missionary realities (tria munera) of the priest as acting in persona Christi Capitis (in the person of Christ the Head). The priest, acting in the name of Christ himself, exercises the threefold office of teaching, sanctifying and governing “by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ” (ccc 875). Which it is to say that when the priest, in communion with the church, teaches, sanctifies and governs, it is the same Christ who performs those actions.
The three short articles will be an opportunity to gratefully reflect on the priestly mission of the priest through whom Christ continues to be truly present and active within the Church. “In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body” (ccc 874) and invested the ones whom he called; “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” (Mt 4:19) with the duty to sanctify (Munus Sanctificandi), teach (Munus Docendi) and shepherd (Munus Regendi) the mysrical body of Christ: the church.
We will use this opportunity to shortly reflect on each one of the three offices (tria munera) on three separate articles.
The Priest - Munus Sanctificandi - The duty to sanctify
The duty of the priest to sanctify is born from God alone. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8) He “is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). God’s holiness comes to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ bestowed that holiness on his priests who at the same time contribute to make the people of God a holy nation. Christ gives his priest this mission and faculty (“the sacred power”) to act in persona Christi Capitis (ccc 875) to make the faithful holy: to sanctify it. The action of sanctifying the people of God follows the very sanctifying action received by the priest himself: “And for their sake I consecrated myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:19-20).
The action of sanctifying a person could be understood as to put him or her in contact with God so this person becomes one with Him. The priest sanctifies the people of God through prayer and work: by the proclamation of the Word of God and in a very particular and special manner through the Sacraments” (cf. ccc 893). Each sacramental celebration draws the person closer to God so both the priest and the faithful may attain eternal life. Thus, it is Christ himself who makes us holy and the priest continues the mission of the One sent by the Father through the “word” and the sacraments.
All the sacraments receive the sanctifying strength of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, they proclaim the everlasting mercy of God. It is for this reason that when the faithful receives God’s mercy through the sacrament of penance; or when receives the body and blood of Jesus Christ through the sacrament of holy Eucharist; then at that moment the one receiving it is being sanctified by the sanctifying office of the priest.
Through this priestly office, the love of God pours down on his people. It is a great gift from God that the priest represents. “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus,” as Saint John Vianney would often say. This saint is a great example of the sanctifying office of the priest. His humble spirit and self-sacrificial soul allowed him to administer the sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance and holy Eucharist, with a true-shepherd’s heart: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s hear, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish” (St John Vianney). He understood that God’s sanctifying action lays on the altar and the confessional. He often would say that “all good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass.” Saint John Vianney experienced the Love of God through the Eucharist celebration. He did it so much that he knew that the soul and heart of the one receiving our Lord need to be ready: thus, he spend much of his ministry in the confessional.
God has always provided for his people. He has earnestly sought to make his people holy for “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). The priesthood in its sanctifying function points out to that reality in which Jesus Christ continues to set aside for himself those receiving the proclamation of the world and the sacraments. The hearts and lives of the faithful are transformed because of the experience of God’s merciful love. Through the word and the sacraments of Jesus Christ the priest continues building up the “holy nation of God” (cf 1 Pt 2:9).
Saint John Vianney, pray for us.