Cardinal George: Imagine a world without priests
Reading Cardinal George’s address to the US bishops, I’m struck by the remarkable passage in which he imagines a world without the sacrament of Holy Orders.
The priest teaches the people in Christ’s name and with his authority. Without ordained priests, the teaching ministry would fall primarily on professors, whose obligation is first to seek the truth in the framework of their own academic discipline and whose authority to teach derives from their professional expertise.
The priest governs the people in Christ’s name, exercising Christ’s authority in collaboration with the bishops. Without ordained priests, the only instance of real governance in any society would be that of civil and political leaders. Their authority comes from God through the people they have sworn to serve; but, in Catholicism, secular kingship confers no religious authority and a civil government has no right to deprive the Church of freedom to govern herself by her own laws and under her own leaders.
The priest counsels people to see the hand of God directing human affairs, using the discernment of spirits to govern souls and to free people from what oppresses them. Without ordained priests, counseling passes into the hands of therapists, dedicated to their clients and skilled in examining the dynamics of human personality, but without consideration of the influence of God’s grace.
The priest leads his people in worship, making possible the real presence of Christ, the head of his Church, under the sacramental forms of bread and wine. Without ordained priests, the Church would be deprived of the Eucharist, and her worship would be centered only on the praise and thanksgiving, the petition and expiation open to all by reason of baptism.
Without ordained priests who love and govern their people in the name of Christ and with his authority, the Church would not be connected to Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, as Christ himself wants us to be joined to him. Without ordained priests, the Church would be a spiritual association, a faith community, but not fully the Body of Christ.