The Priesthood of JESUS Christ
Today’s Gospel of the sending out of the seventy-two, or in some manuscripts, seventy (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) is unique to Luke’s Gospel and also a very important one. The mission of the seventy-two parallels the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew’s Gospel (10:1-16), when Our Lord tells them to cure the sick and to cast out demons and to preach about the Kingdom of God, and that He’s sending them out as lambs among wolves. The seventy-two clearly have the same kind of Apostolic and evangelistic function of the Twelve, and yet they’re not the Twelve.
In the Old Testament the number seventy has a special connection to the priesthood. Moses appointed seventy elders of the people of Israel to assist him in governing the people (Numbers 11:16-17). But then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon two other men, Eldad and Medad making them up to seventy-two. So what Our Lord is doing here is setting up a priestly hierarchy. Many will deny He established a priesthood at all and will say he merely had a group of followers who went around the countryside preaching, but this is far from the truth. These seventy-two didn’t choose themselves. They were appointed and sent out by Our Lord, and He gives them power and authority just as He did to the Twelve. And this authority is so real that if the town rejects these missionaries who are coming to them, it brings judgement upon them. Verse 16 has been edited out of this reading, but Our Lord says, “He who hears you, hears Me. He who rejects you, rejects Me, and he who rejects Me, rejects Him who sent Me.” This is why the pope and the bishops are important, because they are the successors of the Apostles. This is why breaking with the Bishop of Rome who is the Successor of St Peter, has always been regarded as a grave sin. So it is clear that what Our Lord envisions is one Church, united in worship and doctrine – that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, rooted in the authority that Christ Himself gives to the Apostles and whom He sends out to preach and teach in His name.
We often talk about how the Apostles were the first priests and that Our Lord ordained them at the Last Supper. But it’s important to remember the Apostles weren’t just the first priests, they were also the first Bishops, because in them, as in the Bishop, resides the fullness of Apostolic authority. The fullness of the priesthood is in the Bishop, who is the successor to the Twelve Apostles. And yet, in His public ministry, Our Lord appoints a second level within the hierarchy of the seventy-two disciples. Here is what the Venerable Bede (d.735 AD) wrote about this Gospel in the eighth century. “Just as the number of the twelve apostles marked the beginning of the episcopal rank, it is apparent that the seventy-two disciples, who were also sent out by the Lord to preach the word, signify in their selection the lesser rank of the priesthood that is now called the presbyterate.”
So Our Lord did establish the Sacred Priesthood, and this Gospel passage from Luke is crucial for us to see that. The Catholic Priesthood is not some medieval invention, or even an invention of the early Church in the 2nd Century. No! The New Testament Priesthood goes back to Christ Himself, who not only establishes the hierarchy of the Twelve, but also of the seventy-two disciples. And it is through this Priesthood of the New Testament that the Sacrifice of Calvary (the Mass) is made present on our altars, and that our sins are forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance, and that we are prepared for our departure from this life (Anointing of the Sick). The Priesthood is essential in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. However, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to His harvest” (Luke 10:2). Please pray daily our prayer for vocations to the Priesthood and religious life which you will find on the back page of this newsletter.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC