Participation in Christ’s priesthood through ministerial ordination may be misused through evil conduct but can never be retracted or undone.

Whether we speak of an ‘indelible mark’, a ‘sacramental character’, or simply of the permanent nature of ordination, this thesis in effect states: ‘once a priest, always a priest.’ We summarized what Aquinas wanted to say about the ‘indelible mark’ brought by sharing in Christ’s priesthood through baptism and then by sharing in that priesthood through ministerial ordination. In both cases a related but different participation in Christ’s priesthood left an enduring ‘stamp’ or ‘character’ on the person baptized or ordained. Just as Christ’s priesthood is eternal, Aquinas argued, so too is the priesthood of those baptized and those ordained. One cannot be either baptized or ordained a second time.


The special sharing by the ordained in the priesthood of Christ involves a further call to a life of holiness. Right from Paul (and his themes of the spiritual ‘worship’ and ‘ministry’ exercised in daily life) and 1 Peter, the royal priesthood of the baptized was understood to call them to live out a holy existence. Paul and Hebrews, in particular, extended cultic language to picture the ‘priestly’ existence of all Christians. In later centuries Chrysostom was second to none in emphasizing the priestly holiness in daily life expected of all Christians. Yet sharing in Christ’s priesthood through ministerial ordination involves a further call to holiness. Origen, the French School, and other Christian witnesses down the centuries have insisted on the spiritual, self-sacrificing qualities required of ministerial priests. The Reformers, Vincent de Paul, and others have expressed their sorrow and indignation over the unworthy lives of many priests and bishops. In particular, presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist puts priests into an intimate and self-involving role in proclaiming the Lord’s death and resurrection. At the Eucharist all the faithful, to be sure, are called to identify with Christ who gave himself for others. Yet the presiding priests are summoned in a special way to manifest a true consistency between their cultic activity and their human lives.