A Brief History of the Liturgy of Christ the Eternal High Priest
The Feast of Christ the Priest is a liturgical feast celebrated each year, on the first Thursday after Pentecost. Approval was first granted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments  in 1987.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Christ_the_Priest Beginning in 2013 the Catholic Church of the Poland,en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Christ_the_Priest and in 2014 of the Netherland,en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Christ_the_Priest has also celebrated this feast.
Most Catholics around the world are unfamiliar with Our Blessed Lord’s title, “Christ the Eternal High Priest”, and yet, each year, millions of people already celebrate this title as an official Liturgical Feast in the Church!
The Feast of Christ the Priest, or “Fiesta de Cristo Summo y Eterna Sacerdote” is celebrated with great joy in Spain, many Latin-American countries, and in the Australian founded Confraternity of Christ the Priest, and is on the brink of spreading many more places. The Vatican has given official approval for the celebration with its own texts for Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours.
When the Feast of Christ the King was made a celebration for the whole world, Pope Pius XI wrote,
“For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church.
Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year – in fact, forever.” (Quas Primas 21, Pius XI 1925)
But how do new Feasts begin in the Church, and where did this special Feast begin?
For a new Feast, four things are needed: Doctrine, Devotion, Determination, and a Decree.
Feasts express Church doctrines (teachings) which are unchanging but ever more deeply understood.
The Priesthood of Jesus is found in the Bible -Sacred Scripture- foreshadowed in the Old Testament and made clear in the New.
In the Old Testament we read about:
- The Sacrifices of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses which prefigure the Priest and Victim of the New Covenant.
- Isaac carrying wood up a hill, like Jesus carrying His Cross.
- Moses interceding for the Israelites, with hands outstretched, like Jesus on the Cross, like the Priest at Mass.
- The blood of bulls and sheep and goats of the Old Testament, pointing to the Blood of the perfect Victim, offered by the perfect Priest.
- “He was pierced for our offences, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” (Is 53:5-7)
- “For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My name is great among the nations; and everywhere they bring sacrifice to My name, and a pure offering; for great is My name among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11)
- St John the Baptist, a priest of the Old Testament, points to Jesus, as if on behalf of all the Old Testament priests, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
- And on behalf of the Old Testament priests, he says, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
- In the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the Compassionate High Priest, who offers His own Blood for us, on the Cross and into the Heavenly Sanctuary.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God …let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
- In Romans we hear how we are all called to live our Royal Priesthood:
“Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12:1)
- St Peter writes,
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet 2:9)
DEVOTION and DOCUMENTS
Many Saints have written about the Priesthood of Christ and in recent years this has been a common theme in Church documents.
Notably in 1652, St John Eudes in France wrote a Mass and Divine Office in honour of “The Priesthood of Christ and of all priests and levites”, <<L’office du Bienheureux en l’honneur du Sacerdoce de Jésus-Christ et des saints Prêtres et Lévites>>.
This feast was celebrated in the Eudists, and in several French dioceses, including Rouen. The first date for the celebration was on November 15 1653, in the major seminary of Coutances. The date for the feast was later changed to November 13. The Priests of St Sulpice chose to celebrate the feast on August 30, then July 17 or another day during the scholastic year approved by the Bishop.
When the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament followed the Sulpicians in adopting the Feast, they moved the celebration to Thursday following the Octave of Corpus Christi. The Feast was celebrated in several dioceses of France until the middle of the 19th Century.
This form of the Feast focussed on Our Lord and on ordained priests, but not on the royal priesthood of the baptised, a development which would come later. It largely disappeared with reforms of the liturgy early in the 20th century. But soon things began to happen that would result in the Feast making a comeback!
Pope Pius XI December 20, 1935, end of his encyclical called Ad catholici Sacerdotii:
“We wish to perpetuate the memory and the glory of that Priesthood, of which that of all priests of Christ is but a participation and continuation… We have thought it opportune, after consulting the Sacred Congregation of Rites, to prepare a special votive Mass, for Thursdays, according to liturgical rules: to honour “Jesus Christ, Supreme and Eternal Priest.” It is Our pleasure and consolation to publish this Mass together with this, Our Encyclical Letter.” (91)
Pius XII wrote in his encyclical Mediator Dei,
“the priesthood of Jesus Christ is a living and continuous reality through all the ages to the end of time, since the liturgy is nothing more nor less than the exercise of this priestly function… all Christians should possess, as far as is humanly possible, the same dispositions as those which the divine Redeemer had when He offered Himself in sacrifice… Let the souls of Christians be like altars.”
Showing the growing relevance of devotion to Christ the Priest, one of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Council was Lumen Gentium.
In Paragraph 10 the Church described the priesthood of Jesus and how it is participated in by the baptised and the ordained, and then explained how the baptised live their royal priesthood:
“Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.
…But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.”
Another important Vatican II document was Sacrosanctum Concilium. It reminded us that
“…every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others”
St John Paul II wrote in Pastores Dabo Vobis,
“The priest is a living and transparent image of Christ the Priest. The priesthood of Christ…constitutes the one source and essential model of the priesthood shared by all Christians and the priest in particular. Reference to Christ is thus the absolutely necessary key for understanding the reality of priesthood… The new priestly people which is the Church not only has its authentic image in Christ, but also receives from him a real ontological share in his one eternal priesthood, to which she must conform every aspect of her life.” (12,13)
Recent promotion of the Feast of Christ the Priest:
A key figure in the modern history of the Feast of Christ the Priest is Venerable Monsignor Jose Maria Garcia Lahiguera of Spain. He lived from March 9, 1903 to July 14, 1989. His heroic virtues were recognized by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, on June 27, 2011
Fr Jose Maria founded the Oblate Sisters of Christ the Priest in Spain, and is buried at their motherhouse in Madrid.
As a newly Consecrated Bishop Jose Maria and Foundress Mother Maria del Carmen requested His Holiness Pope Pius XII the grace to be able to celebrate the liturgy proper to the feast of Jesus High and Eternal Priest every year. The Holy See granted this privilege on June 25, 1952. The Liturgical Feast of Christ the Priest was once again celebrated in Spain in 1953, on April 25 – anniversary of the Oblates’ foundation.
At the Second Vatican Council, October 25 1965, giving an address during the preparation of the schema on priests, Jose Maria proposed the institution of the Feast of Christ the Priest, “as a liturgical monument of the Council” (como monumento liturgico). This proposal was endorsed by 194 Council Fathers, of whom five were Cardinals. It was not quite enough.
Bishop Jose Maria did not stop working to spread the Feast. In April 1972, he forwarded the text of the Feast to all the Spanish bishops, recommending that the Spanish Episcopate ask Rome to include the Feast in the national liturgical calendar.
Rome gave approval on August 22, 1973, fixing the official date as the Thursday after Pentecost, following the previous French date of Thursday after the Octave of Corpus Christi. In June 6 1974, all Spain celebrated the Feast day of Christ the Eternal High Priest for the first time.
In his diary he wrote,
“… It was the first Thursday of the month. My presentation was guided by my Holy Spirit.
“At the end, after half an hour, (so they tell me) the bishops applauded enthusiastically, affectionately. I remained unmoved and vanity did not touch me in the least. I saw so clearly it was the work of the Lord and Mother!”
“The following day, the “Yes, Feast!” vote was so abundant that it could be considered morally unanimous. Again the bishops applauded without my expecting this (I didn’t expect it the day before either. Both times I was overwhelmed).
“As I thought that they were applauding the results, I started to applaud Christ the Priest as well. They laughed at my clapping, because, again unexpectedly, it was me they were applauding.”
“Finally, day 7, the first Saturday, I gave thanks to my Three (the Blessed Trinity), to my Christ the Priest, and to Mother. The impression I feel inside is that of having accomplished my mission on earth, which makes me want to sing my thanks for: fullness of priesthood, the Congregation of the Oblate Sisters of Christ the Priest, and the Feast of Christ the Eternal High Priest. But: I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”
The Feast of Christ the Priest then spread from Spain to Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Honduras, which has a Major Seminary called Christ the High Priest Seminary, and to other Spanish speaking countries.
Litany of Jesus Christ Priest and Victim
(This prayer was prayed in Latin by Blessed Pope John Paul II as a seminarian in Cracow, and often in later life as well.)
Lord, have mercy. R. Lord, have mercy.
Christ have mercy. R. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. R. Lord, have mercy.
Christ hear us. R. Christ, hear us.
Christ graciously hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, R. R. have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, R.
God the Holy Spirit, R.
Holy Trinity, one God, R.
Jesus, Priest and Victim, R. R. have mercy on us.
Jesus, Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, R.
Jesus, Priest whom God sent to evangelize the poor, R.
Jesus, Priest who at the Last Supper instituted the everlasting Sacrifice, R.
Jesus, Priest always living to intercede for us, R.
Jesus, High Priest anointed by the Father
with the Holy Spirit and with power, R. R. have mercy on us.
Jesus, High Priest taken from among men, R.
Jesus, High Priest appointed on behalf of men, R.
Jesus, High Priest of our confession of faith, R.
Jesus, High Priest of a greater glory than Moses, R.
Jesus, High Priest of the true tabernacle, R.
Jesus, High Priest of the good things to come, R.
Jesus, High Priest, holy, innocent and undefiled, R.
Jesus, High Priest, faithful and merciful, R.
Jesus, High Priest of God and on fire with zeal for souls, R.
Jesus, High Priest, perfect forever, R.
Jesus, High Priest, who passed through the heavens with your own Blood, R.
Jesus, High Priest, who opened a new way for us, R.
Jesus, High Priest, who loved us and washed us from our sins in your Blood, R.
Jesus, High Priest, you offered yourself as an oblation and victim to God, R.
Jesus, Victim of God and of men, R. R. have mercy on us.
Jesus, Victim, holy and immaculate, R.
Jesus, appeasing Victim, R.
Jesus, peace-making Victim, R.
Jesus, Victim of propitiation and of praise, R.
Jesus, Victim of reconciliation and of peace, R.
Jesus, Victim in whom we have confidence and access to God, R.
Jesus, Victim living forever and ever, R.
Be merciful! R. Spare us, O Jesus.
Be merciful! R. Graciously hear us, O Jesus.
By your eternal priesthood, R. R. deliver us, 0 Jesus.
By your holy anointing, you were constituted Priest
by God the Father, R.
By your priestly spirit, R.
By your ministry, you glorified your Father upon earth, R.
By your bloody immolation of yourself made once upon the Cross, R.
By your same Sacrifice renewed daily upon the altar, R.
By your divine power, which you invisibly exercise in your priests, R.
Graciously preserve the entire priestly order in holiness of life, R. We beseech you, hear us.
Graciously provide for your people pastors after your own heart, R.
Graciously fill them with the spirit of your priesthood, R.
Graciously grant that the lips of priests may hold knowledge, R.
Graciously send faithful laborers into your harvest, R.
Graciously multiply faithful stewards of your mysteries, R.
Graciously grant them persevering service in accordance with your will, R.
Graciously grant them meekness in the ministry,
skill in action and constancy, in prayer, R.
Graciously promote through them everywhere
the worship of the Blessed Sacrament R.
Graciously receive into your joy those who have served you well, R.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
R. spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
R. graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us, O Lord.
Jesus our Priest, R. hear us.
Jesus our Priest, R. graciously hear us.
LET US PRAY,
sanctifier and guardian of your Church,
raise up in her by your Spirit
worthy and faithful stewards of the sacred mysteries,
that by their ministry and example,
the Christian people may be directed
along the way of salvation under your protection.
We ask this through Christ Our Lord. R. Amen.