Monday, January 19, 2009

The Difference between a Minister and a Priest

Well perhaps I could say that all priests are ministers but not all ministers are priests. There exists an important difference between the two. This difference answers questions regarding priestly celibacy, women priests, and even about the nature of God.

But before looking at that, I thought I’d give you a practical difference between a priest and a minister – and between Catholic and Protestant worship. The following is a quote from author Thomas Day:

“Probably before the last apostle died, the church discovered that there are two basic solutions to [choosing a pastor]:

The Protestant Option. Let a Community choose its own liturgical ‘style’ and have a say in picking its own presiding minister from a large assortment of candidates (married and unmarried men and women). Indirectly and certainly not overtly, the community will also be selecting the kind of members it wants.

The Roman Method. The bishop picks the priest who will minister unto ‘the people,’ and they accept this arrangement as long as the ritual does not somehow depend on liking the appointee. The presider agrees to become a ‘nobody’ during worship, so that he may serve ‘everybody.’ To make sure that he keeps his end of the bargain and stays a ‘nobody’ the church puts liturgical brakes on the priest – such as vestments and a prescribed liturgical text."

I can’t tell you how many of my Protestant friends move to a new town and have a hard time “finding a good church” to go to. One of the best features of Catholic worship is that no matter where you go, you get the exact same Mass. Of course, each priest may give his own take on the Gospel when he preaches, but Catholics do not (or rather should not) go to church for the personality of the priest but rather for the Eucharist – the source and summit of the Christian faith (according to the Second Vatican Council and 2,000 years of Christianity).

The Eucharist, being Christ himself, is the draw.

Speaking of his own death, Christ said: “When I am raised up, I shall draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). To this I can only think of the elevation of the host at Mass – where the very same sacrifice of the cross is made present across time and space. This “once and for all” sacrifice has drawn all peoples to Jesus and brought them to true Communion with God and the Saints. There’s nothing as moving, as inspirational, and as epic as this! And this brings me to the key difference between a minister and a priest: a priest offers sacrifice. Compare a preacher with priest – while they appear to be similar, only a priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass.

To me, a Catholic deacon is much more similar to a Protestant minister.

They both are involved in preaching, baptizing, presiding at weddings, and working in some degree with church administration and charitable works. What’s more, both the deacon and the minister can be married. The duty of the priest brings with it a whole-hearted commitment to service and complete abandonment to the mercy of God. Jesus spoke of the “eunuchs for the kingdom” in the Gospel – these are the priests and bishops who have left the good of marriage for the vocation of Christ. Paul himself was called to this and today young men respond to the very same call and find themselves in the middle of the greatest adventure of all.

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