Rorate Caeli

Sermon of Bishop Vitus Huonder on the Glory of the Priesthood

The following sermon was delivered by Bishop Vitus Huonder on December 8, 2018, in his cathedral in Chur, on the occasion of the ordination of a priest from his diocese. The text was made available recently through Paix Liturgique. The bishop, whose name has been very much in front of traditional Catholics owing to his marvelous new videos (part 1, part 2), presents a compact theology of the priesthood and defends clerics against the malevolence of those who prattle about the "clericalism" of traditionalists when they themselves are the worst examples of it. -- PAK

Praised be Jesus Christ!

My dear friends,

The priestly Order is a sacramental reality, in other words, a sacred and divine reality. It is a gift of Our Lord for salvation, which therefore demands respect and deference from the consecrated persons themselves and also from every believer: of the consecrated persons themselves, who have to lead a holy life and remaining faithful to the promises made to the Lord through the bishop, without ever betraying the word given; and of the faithful, who must strive to promote priestly vocations and to receive the consecrated persons as if they were receiving the Lord himself, according to his words, "Whoever receives you, receives me" (Mt 10:40).

The priestly Order is a sacrament. That is why it is indispensable to the Church. It must be clearly distinguished from the common priesthood of the baptized, because the ministerial priesthood, conferred by the Order, and the common priesthood differ essentially (cf. Lumen Gentium 10). There is therefore a substantial difference between a missio, a mandate from the bishop (given, for example, to lay theologians), and an ordinatio, a priestly ordination. If the sacrament of Holy Orders were to disappear, the Church would lack a fundamental and vitally important element. The Church would cease to be what the Lord instituted it to be: the place, the community of the fullness of the gifts of grace.

The sacrament of Holy Orders is divided into three degrees: diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate.  Each degree of Holy Orders is endowed with a particular spiritual power. To recall this spiritual power is not to show clericalism, but to announce the truth, to defend the faith and to protect a gift that the Lord himself has given and continues to give to the Church.

The Lord entrusted the sacrament of Holy Orders to his Church when he gave his mission to the apostles, to the eleven, saying: "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-19). The Lord entrusted the Sacrament of Holy Orders to his Church when, in the Upper Room, he entrusted the apostles with the task of reproducing the sacrifice of the Cross: "Do this in memory of me" (Lk 22:19). He gave the sacrament of Holy Orders to his Church when he gave his disciples the power to forgive sins: "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained" (Jn 20:23). It is all the actions performed by Our Lord that constitute the sacrament of Holy Orders, above all the words of the Upper Room.

To remember today these actions of Our Lord and the power associated with them is anything but clerical: it is to fulfill a duty towards an anticlerical society, or rather a society that wants to eliminate the clergy. In this context, to insult clerics by using the term clericalism is abusive, is wrong. On the contrary, we must encourage anyone who follows the Lord's call and accepts to be one of his disciples [in this way], thus becoming a cleric: a deacon, a priest, even a bishop.

This brings us to the decisive expression that we want to highlight in the context of this priestly ordination, the term cleric. Our dear deacon is already a cleric and he passes to the next degree of clericality, to the priesthood. The word cleric is derived from the Greek word κλῆρος, which means lot, participation, share of inheritance. The cleric is a man who takes part in the Lord's inheritance, who gives himself totally to the Lord, who goes with the Lord, who goes with him to the cross, remembering his words, "If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24). "If anyone does not hate his father, his mother, his wife, his children, his brothers, his sisters, and even himself, he cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:26). The expression "hate" refers to preference: "If anyone ... does not prefer me to his father, his mother ...". This is the condition to deserve the name of cleric. As an aside: those who criticize the law of celibacy should remember what the Lord himself requires of his disciples!

The cleric is a man, as Jesus said on other occasions, who drinks from the same chalice as the Lord (cf. Mt 20:22). In this context, the chalice is a symbol of κλῆρος, of share of inheritance. This is what it means to be a cleric, to be a priest: to drink the very chalice of the Lord! To share in the same share that the Lord has received.

The one who has received the priesthood, the presbyterate, is consecrated specifically in view of the priestly task, which is to offer the reenactment of the sacrifice of the cross and to exercise the ministry of the remission of sins. This is the heart of the priesthood, the first task and duty of the priest, which defines him.

To fulfill this ministry, the Lord instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders. This means that the Lord has endowed this ministry with a particular gift of grace and a particular sign, the sacramental and spiritual character of the ministry conferred. The bishop will thus transmit to our deacon this grace and imprint this sacramental and spiritual character on him. I therefore address to him a sincere appeal not to lose this grace and never to deny this sacramental sign, by which he will bear on his forehead the name of Jesus (cf. Rev 22:4).

I will pray wholeheartedly for this, together with all the faithful here present. Amen.