One of the most regular terms used in the Catholic Church (though sometimes used by some other denominations) is the word “priest.”
Priest is the most common term used to identify an ordained member of the clergy and it has a rich history in Christianity.
The word “priest” is gotten from the Greek word presbyteros, presbyter, which means “elder.” And that word is used throughout the Old and New Testaments to identify an individual who offers a sacrifice to God.
The first place the term was used is in the book of Genesis to identify the mysterious Melchizedek, who comes out of nowhere in an encounter with Abraham.
According to the book of Genesis, “Melchizedek, who was the king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of the Most high God. So, he blessed Abram with these words: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything”. (Genesis 14:18-20)
After that, there develops a Levitical priesthood that was under Moses, which is maintained for several centuries in a priesthood that is associated with the Jewish Temple.
However, it is the duty of the Jewish priest to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people.
Among Christians, Jesus became known as the ultimate priest, who offered up his own life as a pure sacrifice, substituting the previous priesthood with a new priesthood.
Also, according to the book of Hebrew, “When Christ came as high priest of the good things which have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).
However, His priesthood is also connected to that of Melchizedek, as the writer to the Hebrews also says, “Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner, becoming high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:20).
In that case, this connects Jesus’ sacrifice of his body with the offering of the bread and wine at the Last Supper, which inaugurates a new priesthood.
On the other hand, the letters of the New Testament constantly refer to this priesthood, explaining how “presbyters” are appointed to various Christian communities.
As Paul mentions it in the book of Acts “They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith (Acts 14:23).
Catholic priests therefore, follow in this line, offering the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass which is spiritually connected to the bloody sacrifice of Jesus on altar of the cross. The life of a priest is placed to be of sacrifice, not only in the context of the Mass, but also in his manner of life.
In the book of Mathew, Jesus calls each priest to follow in his footsteps saying, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
In this case, even the laity are called to a type of priesthood, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes, “The whole Church is a priestly people. Through Baptism all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called the ‘common priesthood of the faithful’” (CCC 1591).
Catechism went further to tell us that, this simple priesthood of the “faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit” (CCC 1547).
Meanwhile, as everyone is not called to the ministerial priesthood and the offering of the Mass, all baptized Catholics are however, called to offer their lives daily as a sacrifice to God.
To be a priest simply implies sacrifice, and that definition has always been exact throughout history.