I recall a conversation I got into a few years ago with a non-denominational Christian regarding the priesthood. He was quick to comment that there was no longer any sacrifices and there was definitely no more priesthood. He was right in that the Eucharist is re-presented sacrifice and not a sacrifice repeated. However, he clearly was wrong on the priesthood. This is a common mistake with non-Catholics and unfortunately with some lukewarm Catholics because they try to read scripture through modern day eyes and so they overlook a lot of things.
The first thing we need to recognize is that there is language used in the Old Testament (verbs, phrases, etc) that are used concerning priests or the overall priesthood that were passed on to the New Covenant priesthood. Let’s look at the twelve apostles. The apostles were priests . Mark 3:14 states “And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach”. Let’s parallel that passage with 1 Kings 12:31 “He also made houses on high places, and appointed priests from among the people, who were not of the Levites” and 1 Kings 13:33 “After this incident Jeroboam did not return from his evil ways, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people; any who would, he consecrated to be priests of high places”. The Greek word used for appointed and made used in 1 Kings and Mark is poieomai used for appointment of priests.
The second piece of evidence is the word lot or lots. When we read 1 Chronicles 24:3-5 “With the help of Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, David organized them according to the appointed duties in their service. Since more chief men were found among the sons of Eleazar than among the sons of Ithmar, they organized them under sixteen heads of fathers’ houses of the sons of Eleazar, and eight of the sons of Ithmar. They organized them by lot, all alike, for there were officees of the sanctuary and officers of God among both the sons of Eleazar and the sons of Ithamar”. In the New Testament, Luke 1:8-9 states “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense”. Zechariah was a Levitical priest laid out by the Mosaic Law headed up by Aaron assisted by his two sons Nadab and Abihu. Let’s look further at the priesthood established by Our Lord Jesus Christ under the new covenant. Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 states “In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred twenty), and said, ‘Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before hand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry…For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it; and His office (bishopric in some bibles) let another take another take: So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection. And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said; Lord, you know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles”. They are part of the priesthood of Melchizedek, the figure in Genesis 14 and mentioned in Psalm 110:4 and fulfilled by Christ as stated in Hebrews 7:1-15.
Now there are also those that claim also there is no legitimate hierarchy of priests and bishops. If we read Luke 9, Mark 6, and Matthew 10, we see the Mission of the Twelve but if you look in Luke 10 you also witness the Mission of the Seventy. The first you notice is that there mission is very similar. Some people tend to believe there’s nothing special about them. They are just regular people that were called to evangelize. There’s only one problem. If you’re a first century Christian or especially a Jew, you’re not going to see it this way at all. You’re going to get a recall of the Old Testament back in Numbers 11:24. Numbers states “So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and placed them round about the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was upon him and put it upon the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did so no more. Now two men remained in the camp, and one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out of the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. So you see the seventy and you see the additional two. The ancient Jew would have seen this as a structure of priests in which a Moses is the high priest. Some New Testament manuscripts like Papyrus 75 for that Lucan passage would have said seventy-two and others like Codex Alexandrinus would have said seventy. The main point is whether it’s seventy or seventy-two appointed it has always been seen as a number connoting ministerial priests. That’s why you’ll also notice the Sanhedrin had seventy priests with a high priest because it’s the ancient Jewish mindset communicating the same idea.
Some will say but what about passages like 1 Peter 2:5,9 ? We are indeed part of common priesthood. In fact we participate in the Christ’s embodiment of priest, prophet, and king. However, if you see Saint Paul’s passage such as Romans 12:5 discussing one body in Christ but individual members, you see it implies different roles as members of Christ’s body. In this same letter to the Romans 15:15-16 highlights the ministerial priesthood. It states “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given to me by God to be minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”. That word minister is derived from a Greek word meaning liturgy which is performed by not the common priesthood but the ministerial priesthood.
So there you have it brothers and sisters. May we always stay sharp in understanding why we practice what we practice and believe what we believe. Dominus vobiscum.