Paul on Paul – 24th October 2021

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Hebrews 5:1-6

Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; and so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness. That is why he has to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God, as Aaron was. Nor did Christ give himself the glory of becoming high priest, but he had it from the one who said to him: You are my son, today I have become your father, and in another text: You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.

The way people dress often tells us something about their position. The person who works in oversalls, and the person who works in a suit are unlikely to have the same job – both important, but both different. It can tell people what their expectations are, the skills for that job, the way they are regarded in the workplace, or society as a whole. The same can be said with Minsters of religion – even in different Christina denominations.

Those of us who have been to a Church of Scotland service will have noticed that usually Ministers wear a Gown that is very close to an Academic Gown – primarily becuase of their understanding of the role of the Minister. The Church of Scotland tradition is that the learned minister is one who imparts knowledge and explaination on the scriptures to the congregation, which in the absense of the Sacraments, is the cornerstone of worship. There is no extra-terrestrial dimension to worship; and the academic/preaching gown they wear refelcts their intellectial role in worship.

But in the Catholic Church, the priesthood means something more than that. As well as being a preacher of scripture, they serve a further purpose, similar to that of the Jewish High Priests in the New Testament. They are “…appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” and exersize a special ministerial preisthood. And so – instead of more austere dress, a priest’s vestments are grander, bolder and more fitting to one who acts, not merely as a teacher, but as something more!

In the Mass they re-present the greatest sacrficice possible for our sins, Christ himself in the form of the Blessed Sacrament. When the Priest speaks the Words of Institution, the words of Christ at the Last Supper, over the bread and wine and transforms them he acts, not merely as a person leading a service but in persona Christi – acting as Christ himself – the true High Priest-King, “a priest of the order of Melchizedek“.

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