Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the July AD 2000
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

"From the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is a sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation, for My name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts."1

    Question:  How can Catholics claim to have "Apostolic succession"? A Protestant friend told me that Jesus offered the final sacrifice on the Cross, eliminating the need for a priesthood like that of the Old Testament. He says that all Christians are priests in the sense of offering a sacrifice of praise to God, that the clergy should be elected by the congregation, and that the Catholic priesthood didn't develop until the middle ages.

    Answer: The sacrifices commanded by God in the Old Testament were imperfect and numerous. One can envision a "river of blood" flowing from the Temple in Jerusalem as people came and had the priests offer the various sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses. The Sacrifice of New Law, on the other hand, was perfect and offered only once, with our Lord serving both as priest and victim on the Cross. As St. Paul tells us, "Christ appeared as high priest of the good things to come, entering once and for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle ... by virtue of His own blood having obtained eternal redemption.... once for all at the end of the ages, He has appeared for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of Himself ... Christ was offered once to take away the sins of many.... we have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."2

    Nonetheless, our Lord desired that His people be able to participate in His perfect sacrifice, even as the Jewish people of old participated in the offering their imperfect victims. For this reason, at the Passover sacrifice offered on the night before He died, He united His Apostles with Himself in His priesthood: "This is My body.... This is My blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins.... Do This in remembrance of Me." In an unbloody manner, they would make the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the Cross present in time and place by acting in His place as He did at the Last Supper -- and until the end of time, God's people would be able to share in that sacrifice, consuming the oblation of Christ's body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine.

    He had promised His body and blood to the multitude a year earlier. That He was speaking literally is seen in His refusal to recall those who departed because they doubted His ability to do this. And at the Last Supper, the power to consecrate was given to those in the Upper Room. Likewise, the power to forgive sins or not, was given to these same men -- the power to apply the fruit of the Sacrifice which they would renew in place of our Lord -- the authority to forgive individuals, drawn from the sacrificial forgiveness of the sins of many. This same special class of men was also to be called upon to anoint the sick, so that they might be made well and their sins forgiven.5

    We see too that the priestly power over the Sacraments extended to Confirmation. As an ordained deacon, Philip was able to preach, exorcize, and baptize, yet his converts in Samaria were not confirmed until the arrival of Peter and John.6

    For our purposes, St. Luke is unfortunately vague as to the exact manner in which the Apostles shared their priestly powers with their successors. The Apostles, of course, were bishops, and Luke mentions their decision to create the lesser order of deacons, but it is unclear whether or not the Apostles ordained any men to the intermediate order of priests, or whether this was left to their successors. Together with the minor orders, this distinction may have come in post-Apostolic times. The laying on of hands is mentioned a few times, but this is also the method of Confirmation. Still, there is no question that some men are set apart from the other Christians and given varying shares of the apostolic powers; Matthias, for example, to replace Judas as bishop, and the seven original deacons including Stephen and Philip.7  Over the centuries the ceremony of ordination would vary: imposition of one hand for deacons, or two for priests and bishops, or perhaps the handing over of the sacrificial vessels (with bread and wine for the priest, without for the subdeacon) -- but it was always something to designate that an individual had received power from one already possessing it; clear to all concerned that a man had been set apart to continue in the place of Christ.

    While the ceremonies of ordination have developed over the centuries, the reality of Apostolic Succession was acknowledged in the earliest times. The Catholic Encyclopedia has an almost satirical piece pointing to the error in your friend's idea that it began only in the allegedly "degenerating" Christianity of the middle ages:

    According to the Protestant view, there was in the primitive Christian Church no essential distinction between laity and clergy, no hierarchical differentiation of the orders (bishop, priest, deacon), no recognition of pope and bishops as the possessors of the highest power of jurisdiction over the Universal Church or over its several territorial divisions. On the contrary, the Church had at first a democratic constitution, in virtue of which the local churches selected their own heads and ministers, and imparted to these their inherent spiritual authority, just as in the modern republic the "sovereign people" confers upon its elected president and his officials administrative authority. The deeper foundation for this transmission of power is to be sought in the primitive Christian idea of the universal priesthood, which excludes the recognition of a special priesthood. Christ is the sole high-priest of the New Testament, just as His bloody death on the Cross is the sole sacrifice of Christianity. If all Christians without exception are priests in virtue of their baptism, an official priesthood obtained by special ordination is just as inadmissible as the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass. Not the material sacrifice of the Eucharist, consisting in the offering of (real) gifts, but only the purely spiritual sacrifice of prayer harmonizes with the spirit of Christianity. One is indeed forced to admit that the gradual corruption of Christianity began very early (end of first century), since it cannot be denied that Clement of Rome (Ep. ad Cor., xliv,4), the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache, xiv), and Tertullian (De bapt., xvii; "De præsc. hær.", xli; "De exhort. cast.", vii) recognize an official priesthood with the objective Sacrifice of the Mass. The corruption quickly spread throughout the whole East and West, and persisted unchecked during the Middle Ages, until the Reformation finally succeeded in restoring to Christianity its original purity. Then "the idea of the universal priesthood was revived; it appeared as the necessary consequence of the very nature of Christianity.... Since the whole idea of sacrifice was discarded, all danger of reversion to the beliefs once derived from it was removed" ("Realency cl. für prot. Theol.", XVI, Leipzig, 1905, p. 50).8

    It should be noted that the Apostles and all Jewish converts to Christianity were well prepared for the idea of a priesthood and a sacrifice in which they could take part. Although impermanent in themselves, the sacrifices of the Temple and especially the sacrificial meal of the Passover pointed to the "clean oblation", prophesied by Malachias, which "from the rising of the sun even to the going down is to be offered to the Lord of hosts among the Gentiles."9 God Himself predicted a new public sacrifice, offered by a new priesthood over the centuries and throughout the world. Isaias, perhaps the primary messianic prophet, speaks not only of the salvation of the gentiles, but also of the incorporation of some of them into the priesthood of the Messias: "All tongues and all nation shall come and see My glory.... the Gentiles into the sea, into Africa and Lydia ... Italy and Greece ... the islands afar off.... And I will take of them to be priests and levites."10  The messianic Psalm CIX has the Christ "begotten before the daystar.... a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedec" -- a order lasting until the end of time.11  And who was this Melchisedec, but the "priest of the most high God" who offered a sacrifice of bread and wine for Abram in Genesis, whom St. Paul identifies with Christ as head of a new and eternal priesthood, not sprung from the loins of Aaron.12  Paul demonstrates to his former colleagues in Judaism that the single sacrifice of Christ replaces the multiple sacrifices of the temple. Nonetheless, he does not suggest that public worship is abandoned in Christianity, but that Jewish worship must give place to the Eucharistic Sacrifice: "We have an altar, from which they have not right to eat who serve the tabernacle." Paul's reference to the Christian altar was echoed by St. Andrew, who suffered martyrdom rather than sacrifice to the "gods," saying, "I offer up every day to almighty God, who is one and true, not the flesh of oxen nor the blood of goats, but the spotless Lamb upon the altar; of whose flesh the whole multitude of the faithful eat, and the Lamb that is sacrificed remains whole and living."13

"On the Lord's day, after you have come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist, having first confessed your offenses so your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one who has a quarrel with his neighbor join you lest your sacrifice be defiled."14


1. Malachias i: 11

2. Epistle to the Hebrews ix: 11-12, 26-27; x: 10.

3. Matthew xvi: 28; Luke xxii: 14-20; 1 Corinthians xi: 23-30..

4. John vi. Especially v. 57 and 67.

5. James v: 13-15.

6. Acts viii: 14-18.

7. Acts i: 15-26; vi: 5-6.

8. The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Priesthood."

9. Malachias i: 11

10. Isaias lxvi: 18, 21.

11. Psalm cix: 3, 4.

12. Genesis xiv: 17-20; Hebrews v-xiii.

13. Brevarium Romanum, Matins, 30 November.

14. Didache (c. 70-90 A.D.).  



Dei via est íntegra
Our Lady of the Rosary, 144 North Federal Highway (US#1), Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441  954+428-2428
Authentic  Catholic Mass, Doctrine, and Moral Teaching -- Don't do without them -- 
Don't accept one without the others!