A Reflection on the Beauty of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice: Part X (final)
The ordained priest shares in Christ’s artisan-work of re-crafting the divine image in man in a unique way. By being an alter Christus, he makes Christ, the Head and Bridegroom of the Church, present to the Church herself. He is an icon of Christ’s presence to the very icon of Christ’s presence in the world. He supports the work of the common priesthood in bringing out the divine image in man in space and time by making a personal, concrete, and sacramental encounter with Christ possible for the members of the Church. In a way far surpassing all others, when a priest offers the sacrifice of
the Mass, he shares in Christ’s work of re-forming man because he offers the very same sacrifice that Christ offered on . The priest, in persona Christi, offers the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit, that is, he offers the Image of the Father to the Father in the Image of the Father and the Son considered as one.8 He eats the Beauty he has offered and feeds the Church with Beauty.
In terms of the masculine-feminine relationship of Christ to the Church, the office of the ordained priest is masculine since he stands in persona Christi Capitis. Though a member of the Body of Christ, he relates to the Church as her Head. This sacrifice of the Mass is the triumph of Christ, the New Adam, in giving himself up for his Bride. The priest, therefore, must be willing at all times to lay down his life for the Church, to do by way of participation what Christ did.
Because of Christ’s and the entire sacramental economy, the implies a sort of munus significandi. What the signify, they effect. They are like art, but a more perfect art which has real power to bring about objective beauty in those who receive them. This objective beauty, of course, is the re-formation, the re-crafting of the divine image in the soul by the supernatural power of grace. The priest re-molds nature with supernature by being another Christ. Through the , he makes him present whose presence causes wickedness and ugliness to perish.
All these considerations have very practical implications for the aesthetics of the liturgy. The priest, as a minister of the mysteries, a custodian of beauty, must be concerned with the accidental beauty of the liturgical celebration. He must be concerned with its correspondence to the norms of the rites, with its being well-formed, and with all the elements of signification that make up the liturgy. The priest should remember well that signs have real value and that reverence toward signs is reverence toward things. The priest should strive for liturgical celebrations that even in their non-essential elements are truly human and truly sacred. A Mass that is ugly on a human level is a contradiction because it presents supreme beauty in an ugly vesture.
To the end of celebrating the liturgy well, a priest must cultivate his taste for what is objectively beautiful. Though there may be different styles—as there are different ways of describing the truth—these emphasize different aspects of the beautiful without being contradictory. The Church’s traditional expressions of liturgical beauty, namely the Rites that have developed through the centuries, are a kind of language of beauty that priests inherit and must employ for the sake of the Church. When you love someone, every detail is important. Thus, a priest should be zealous to learn the finest details about the language of symbols and actions of the Church’s liturgy in order to continue in time Christ’s relationship with the Father, keeping in mind that we have been grafted into this relationship as his Body.
Christ’s sacrifice is beautiful and reveals true beauty to man. This beauty is an effective beauty that is connected with the sacramental life and with holiness. Therefore, since Christ’s sacrifice is the foundation of all sacrifice and his priesthood the true priesthood, the priestly people of God—in the offices of the ministerial and the common priesthood—share in his work of restoring the divine image in man through sacrifice. Every priest, then, is an artisan and a custodian of beauty, who continues through time and space Christ’s work of sanctifying, of making man beautiful.
8cf. STh. I, q. 35, a. 2.
Other articles in this series
- A Reflection on the Beauty of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice Part I (March 25, 2012)
- The Breath: Creation (March 27, 2012)
- Tui: The Old Covenant (March 28, 2012)
- Nati: The Incarnation (March 29, 2012)
- Vulnerati: The Wounding of Christ (March 30, 2012)
- Tam dignati pro me pati: Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice (March 31, 2012)
- Poenas mecum divide: The Participation of Mary and the Church in the Beauty of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice (March 31, 2012)
- The Priest As Artisan (April 25, 2012)
- The Priesthood of the Baptized (May 18, 2012)
- The Ministerial Priesthood (This post) (June 22, 2012)