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                                  Brother Thomas P. Draney, CFC                 

The three lines of the Jewish priesthood issued from human authority: Moses appointed Aaron; David, the priests of Zadoc; and the Hasmonean kings, their descendants.

Christian priesthood issues from being part of the Christ, the one true priest who has the right by His very nature to stand before God, to mediate for us; this was the message of The Epistle to the Hebrews.

By being incorporated into Christ by baptism, we are incorporated into His priesthood. Even Paul who was called individually by the Risen Christ to be His special instrument for converting gentiles, was sent to be baptized into the community

There was no ordination, no giving of special quasi-magical powers to twelve men who passed this power down to others by the laying on of hands. ¹ St Paul was not even at the Last Supper! The only priesthood the first disciples recognized, being pious Jews, was that of the Temple. The Christian priesthood recognized in the primitive church was that of offering a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God by remembering the Christ in the Lord’s Supper, in which the host or hostess presided. These first communities or house churches were small in size, but many are mentioned in the letters of Paul. Their rite of service or liturgy was naturally based on what they knew, the meals of their Jewish heritage and the synagogue service. There is no record that the twelve apostles presided at any such Eucharist.The offices that did develop were:

episkopos or overseers, later known as bishops — who were elected or approved by the community, and initially focused on administrative aspects of the community such as property concerns, standardizing of rituals, and treatment of visitors. Because of their responsibilities, they were often among the best educated of the community, but they received their authority from the community.

presbyters or elders, later known as priests — a structure taken from the synagogues, a group of respected leaders chosen to represent and govern the community in various ways, including representing it to the outside or Gentile world. As the communities grew, the Bishop could not preside at all the Eucharist, so the presbyters were designated to take his place as presiders.

deacons — men and women appointed (often by the Bishop) to serve the community by taking care of the social, physical needs of widows, the poor, and all who were in special need.

Over decades this developed into bishops (and archbishops), priests, and deacons who were on their way to being priests. The difference between archbishops, bishops, and priests was the authority they had, not the amount of priesthood. They all shared the same priesthood. The deacons were not yet priests, and when they were ordained they were presented to the congregation for approval. This ceremonial presentation was the vestigial remains of the authority which came from the people in the first place. This is still part of the ordination ceremony today.

The development was natural, what was needed by the community at the time, and was of the Spirit. It was neither the corruption of a perfect truth nor the creation of a perfect community. It was the Spirit working through imperfect humanity. But there is no reason to suppose that the Spirit is finished with us now, or that we do not need at this time some further development ²

Without destroying in any way what we do have — an official ordained priesthood and hierarchy, the Eucharist as the Mass which is a celebration of the larger community — we need a return to the house church Eucharist to meet the needs of the community today. In our society which is so impersonal, superficial, where religion is a veneer and life is too fast paced, we need a place where we can share our thoughts, our spiritual lives, our experience of God. This is not "New Age" or a deviation; it is a return to our roots, to the experiencing of Christ present in the house church meal.

The presence of the Christ in the action of the Eucharist is essential to Christianity. Just as baptism is essential and anyone may baptize in case of necessity, so the Eucharist is necessary and the growing shortage of priests is another reason why the priesthood of the faithful — the power and right to celebrate Eucharist in the home as the primitive church did, must be recognized once again.

Many catholics today will find it difficult to imagine a Eucharist without an ordained priest because they have been subjected to a teaching of priesthood that says the priesthood given in baptism is an inferior one, and the real priesthood is given in ordination. This is simply not true. The difference is in their authority—how and where they can legitimately operate.

The issue is critical, and rather than treat it superficially here, I recommend to you the quotation of apostolic succession by Rev. Raymond Brown, SS, one of the most respected New Testment scholars of the 20th century, in the Reclaiming the Eucharist as a Meal. A more detailed exposition of the development of priesthood by Rev. Bauch is in Priesthood from Presider to Other Christ

Priesthood is a gift to the community, not an individual charism, and in the context of the small community, anyone can preside at the Eucharist. The presider does not have power over God; the words of consecration are not magic. The community intends to access the special presence of Christ that He promised to His disciples: "Where two or three are gathered in my name"

¹. For a detailed examination of this see "Priest and Bishop" by Raymond Brown, SS, reprinted by Wipf and Stock, 1999. Father Brown was one of the premier New Testament scholars of the 20th Century

². "If we take into account the structure of Pauline or gentile Christian churches, then still other paths to the ministry of leadership and apostolic succession of the Church leaders must be left open"especially for emergencies. Such paths would be a calling by other members of the congregation or the spontaneous appearance of a charism for leadership or founding a congregation The presbyterial-episcopal church structure , which de facto - and legitimately - came to prevail in the post-apostolic era, must remain even today, at least in principle, open to all the possibilities that existed in the New Testament Church. This thesis has important implication for the missions (valid Eucharistic celebrations in China and South America, for example, could be possible even without a presbyter), for ecumenism (recognition of the validity of the ministries and sacraments of a church whose presiders are not historically in the "special apostolic succession"), and for the Church's own internal affairs (passing judgments on opposition groups).
From "Why Priests" by Hans Kung, English translation, Doubleday, 1972, pp.48-49.