This is Part 4 of a continuing series:
Part 1 Intro To Salvation
Part 2 Intro To Salvation (Sacraments)
Part 3 Intro To Salvation (Sacraments & Works)
Its interesting to note (in case you haven't picked up on it already) that the sacraments are community oriented. There is no “Just Jesus & me” in any of them. They all occur in the presence of a priest & the community one worships in (with the exception of reconciliation, which typically occurs in private audience with the priest). I've heard the argument that one doesn't need intermediaries like the sacraments or a priest to receive grace. I think I can agree with this in part because God is God & He can do what He wants. But because I believe that God routinely uses the temporal to reveal the eternal, I also have to disagree. I'm under the impression that we need as much help as we can get to know God better! The sacraments provide a framework for a community of individuals to grow into the Body of Christ. Each one has their own faith, troubles & victories. But as we participate in grace together, we become unified.
I don't think the idea of participation as a community bothers folks. Its my opinion that the problem lies with the priesthood. From what I can tell so far, Catholicism says (in so many words) that a priest is necessary for the sacraments to be “valid”. But we have Jesus, our High Priest. Why do we need earthly priests? Didn't Jesus say “No man comes to the Father except through Me.”? Are we still approaching the Father through Jesus if we bring the priest into the picture? The priest is a kind of “sacramental” object, a vessel for God, operating under the grace given him by the sacrament of Holy Orders. He has been ordained as a representative of Christ. So we can come to God through Christ, as represented in the person of the priest, who is under the authority of God. The priest is not Jesus, but by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders conferred upon him, he is able to act with the same authority (for example, concerning the sacrament of reconciliation, to forgive sins or not) as Christ.
Now there's another argument about us being a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9b). So what makes the priest so special? Aren't we all priests? Well, the Catholic Church says yes, we are all indeed a priesthood. But certain men receive Holy Orders & are ordained priests over communities. I think of Moses or the Old Testament judges in this respect. God instituted authority & order for a reason. Why would He abolish that idea because Jesus came to earth? It seems to me there would be even more need for Holy Orders following His resurrection. The first "priests" were the disciples, a.k.a. the apostles. Its no secret that Jesus singled them out for a reason. And so the torch has been passed down throughout the centuries & still burns today- perhaps a little dim in some places- but burning just the same. Thinking of the disciples in this way has challenged my concept of the priesthood & the sacraments...