We could obviously press on and add further theses: for instance, about (1) tensions that arise between the exercise of the priesthood of the baptized and the ordained priesthood; (2) about the suffering and vulnerability involved in being ordained to the priesthood; and (3) about the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism/conﬁrmation and in ordination to the priesthood (or to the episcopacy and diaconate). Both at baptism and at ordination the Holy Spirit is invoked, but differently, just as the Spirit is involved, albeit differently, in the exercise of the universal priesthood and in that of the ministerial priesthood. The stated aim of this book has been to facilitate a better understanding of Christ’s unique priesthood. Yet, as we have demonstrated, ‘Christ the High Priest’ or simply ‘Christ the Priest’ has not been a title that has ﬂourished within the Christian story. The Creed of 381, accepted and used by all Christians, has privileged three other titles: ‘Christ (Messiah)’, ‘Lord’, and ‘Son of God’. Down through the centuries ‘Saviour’ (used of Jesus sixteen times in the New Testament) and ‘Redeemer’ (curiously, never applied to him in the New Testament) have also proved enduringly valuable Christological titles. Jesus’ title as ‘priest’, along with the theme of his priesthood, has been somewhat marginalized down through the centuries, just as the major biblical document on his priesthood, the Letter to the Hebrews, has also suffered a certain marginalization. The priesthood of Christ should be drawn into the mainstream of theological, pastoral, and prayerful reﬂection. His priesthood will prove revelatory and transformative for those who wish to appreciate more deeply and deploy more effectively the graces of universal priesthood and ordained priesthood. Without a much richer understanding of Christ’s priesthood, will it be possible to energize and mobilize more fruitfully the ministries of the baptized and the ordained? In practice, such understanding, energizing, and mobilizing will come mainly through the impact of Christian faith’s primary language: biblical and liturgical texts, music, painting, sculpture, and architecture. Such verbal, musical, and ‘material’ expressions show the highpriestly actions of Christ rather than attempting to explain them. These primary expressions communicate meanings directly and appeal to the imagination and the heart. From the beginning of Christianity, for example, the fourth ‘Servant Song’ (Isa. 52: 13–53: 12), which pictures someone whose cruel suffering brings blessings to many, has functioned to show directly rather than explain intellectually what the priestly death of Jesus means. Any account of the primary religious language that has ‘shown’ his priesthood down through the centuries must include at the very least the Letter to the Hebrews, the constant celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, the liturgy of Holy Week, and representations of the cruciﬁxion. They all exemplify the primacy of ‘showing’ over ‘telling’ for those who wish to be touched by the priesthood of Christ. To be sure, we need the secondlevel language of theological reﬂection and clariﬁcation, but it cannot take the place of the primary religious language and its ‘showing’. Let us conclude with one example of such primary language.
In the apse of San Clemente in Rome a monumental mosaic brings together visually into an integrated unity things that would otherwise have remained separate and scattered. At the centre is Christ on his cross, inaugurating all the movements in the mosaic. As the source of all else, especially the life of the vine and its branches, the thin wood of the cross communicates vibrant existence to the thriving world of the whole mosaic. Christ is the ‘source of eternal salvation’ (Heb. 5: 9) and a vital dynamism characterizes that salvation. The cross is a throne of victory and triumph. From the top of the mosaic a hand emerges from the sanctuary of heaven and crowns the cross with a laurel wreath. God has accepted the priestly sacriﬁce of Christ. At the foot of the cross a small snake slithers away—to represent evil being banished by that sacriﬁce. The rich vitality of the salvation effected by Christ the High Priest is expressed not only by the lively doves placed along the cross and the two deer drinking water at the foot of the cross, but also by the panorama of a redeemed world: a woman feeding her chickens, a bird nourishing its young, a man tasting wine, and cherubs gambolling with joy. The richness and variety of these scenes point to Christ the High Priest gathering all creation to himself and presenting it to the Father. At the bottom of the apse two processions of sheep, six leaving from the town of Bethlehem and six from the city of Jerusalem, meet in the middle under the cross. They recall, respectively, the place where the High Priest was born ‘in these last days’ (Heb. 1: 2) and the place of his death and resurrection, where he ‘entered the inner shrine behind the curtain’ (Heb. 6: 19). Bethlehem features a set of descending stairs and Jerusalem features a window opening on an ascending stairway: the descent and ascent, respectively, of Christ’s incarnation, passion, and priestly exaltation to ‘the presence of God on our behalf ’ (Heb. 9: 24). Vibrant activity ﬁlls the apse of San Clemente. Life ﬂows out from the cross and, in turn, all life is gathered together by the cross—to become a supreme gift of praise offered to the Father by Christ the eternal High Priest.
From Collins, Keenan Jones: Jesus Our Priest – A Christian Approach to the Priesthood of Christ