November 2012 Print

A Mysterious Action of Christ

Fr. Hugues Bergez, SSPX

Two thousand years ago, St. Paul made his delight of the Mystery of Christ, and ever since souls desirous of substantial spiritual nourishment have meditated on the Apostle’s wonderful exhortation, “giving thanks to God the Father...: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For...all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all: and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: ...Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell: And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross....And you, whereas you were some time alienated and enemies in mind in evil works: Yet now he hath reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted and blameless before him.”1 “Christ, being come an high priest of the good things to his own blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption....And therefore he is the mediator of the new testament.”2

In this and the next couple of articles we intend to study to some extent this priesthood of Christ, which is at the very root of the Liturgy of the Church. In this short treatise we shall follow him that was declared the Common Doctor of the Church, and who by reason of the depth and beauty of his teaching is usually called the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. Under such a master, we shall be able to admire the beauty of the Divine Groom and of His Bride the Church, and of their union, which is most beautifully realised in the Liturgy. And we shall be able to see the very wickedness of the modernist corruption of this our beautiful Religion.

Christ is The Priest, that is The Mediator between men and God, and He shares this His priesthood with His bride the Church, making her partaker of His great liturgical prayer.

The Notion of Priesthood in General

Man being social by nature, it follows that it is not enough for him to pray God in the secret of his soul, nor even to join an outward reverent attitude to this his private prayer. For whether just inward or also outward, his personal prayer remains purely private, and so something is missing to his social nature: man must pray to God not only privately but also socially, as a community, and this is the broad meaning of the word Liturgy.

Now, since in any well-organized community every field of community life is led by some particular individual endowed with authority in that particular field, so also community prayer should rightly be led by some particular individual especially designated for that function and endowed with authority in the domain of public worship. This man is called Priest, Sacerdos in Latin, from “Sacra dans,” he who gives the things sacred.

The way such a man is chosen can change according to circumstances and times,3 but the nature of this man’s vocation remains the same, and all well-established religions, whether true or false, bear testimony to this very point: the priest is the man of prayer, consecrated to perform the liturgy of the community to God; in other words he is a mediator between God and men. This is what St. Thomas explains in some depth in his Summa Theologica: “The proper office of the priest is to be a mediator between God and the community: in so far as he gives to the community the things of God [divina, in Latin], and for that reason he is called Priest [Sacerdos, in Latin], that is, He who gives sacred things, according to Malachi 2:7: ‘They shall seek the law at his mouth’ (that is, of the priest), and in so far also as he offers the prayers of the community to God, and makes satisfaction to God for their sins in some way; therefore the Apostle says, ‘Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins.’”4

The Priesthood of Christ

Christ, as man and God, is thus the very link of union between man and God; in other words He is The Mediator, The Priest, He cannot be but The Priest: St. Thomas, in the same article cited above adds, “This office (of mediator) does most perfectly apply to Christ: For by Him the things of God have been granted to men, according to these words of II Peter, 1:4, ‘By Whom (that is Christ) He hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature.’ And He it is Who did reconcile humankind to God, according to these words of Coloss. 1:19: ‘In Him, it hath well pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things.’”5

Christ did actually perform His Liturgy throughout all His life: In the Sacred Gospels we learn of His many prayers, of His miracles by which He did not only heal bodies but also souls, and most of all, of His Sacrifice on the Cross and of the institution of the Holy Mass. In all these actions, Christ was acting as The Great Priest of God, leading men to God and obtaining and giving God’s graces to men. He Himself said to St. Thomas the Apostle, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by Me.”6

The Priesthood in the Church in General

The very reason why Christ created His Church is precisely to spread the action of His Priesthood everywhere and at all times in a visible way adapted to our human nature: for although He has left this world, Christ continues the office of His priesthood not only from Heaven (where, as St. Paul says, “at the right hand of God [...he...] also maketh intercession for us”7), but also here on earth, in a very hidden but real way through the Church: He does not merit any more, but He still adores His Father, He still offers reparation to Him, He still asks for the graces we need, which He still distributes from God to men, here and there, through the Mass, the sacraments, the sacramentals...

As a consequence of this very presence of Christ acting mysteriously but really within the Church, we can truly say that from the time He left us by His Ascension and gave us the fullness of His Spirit at Pentecost, the Liturgy is the action not only of Christ the Priest, but of the Church also, or better, of Christ the Sovereign Priest by His Church which He has endowed with His own priesthood: every liturgical action performed in the Church is not done principally by the individual who actually performs it, but by the Church herself through whatever particular priest, and ultimately Christ in her! For example, when a bishop ordains a candidate to the priesthood, a priest absolves a sinner, a deacon sings the Gospel, a subdeacon sings an Epistle, a lector blesses a meal—all these actions are to be considered as performed not just by this or that minister but more deeply by the Church, and ultimately by Christ within her, who actually ordains, absolves, blesses, teaches, sings...8

There are a couple of very important practical consequences to this presence and action of Christ the Priest in His Church:

If the main “actor” in any liturgical action is not merely the individual who performs it but Christ in His Church, then liturgical actions have by their own nature a social character: they are performed within the Church and by the Church, and are BY NATURE public. In theology we say that the Liturgy is per se (in itself) a public action, even if per accidens (in a particular instance) it is performed in a private manner.

Let us draw some practical lesson from this truth so often forgotten: The celebration of the Liturgy should be performed publically. It really does not matter what liturgical action one has in mind, for the very nature of its being a liturgical action means that it is an action of the Church performed by her publically! And so in ages long gone, the Liturgy was celebrated publically whenever possible. Let’s be concrete and give some examples:

A priest cannot find a server and celebrates holy Mass alone; this de facto private celebration does not take away the very social nature of the Mass: this very Mass is offered by Christ in His Church, in the presence that is of His Church. This is why the holy canons have decreed that, without a special dispensation a priest is not allowed to celebrate without at least one server (or at least one person to answer) who, as St. Thomas explains, acts as a representative of the whole Church united to Christ offering Himself through the priest.9

For centuries, even Extreme Unction was very solemnly given, with a procession following a cross-bearer, and several priests alternating the anointments as the people present were reciting or singing the Litany of the Saints.10

Until the Renaissance, and especially the French Revolution, the recitation of the Breviary was not a private but a public affair: according to the canons, even in the most modest parishes, the Divine Office was supposed to be celebrated in the sanctuary and in the presence of all clerics, and the faithful were encouraged to attend. And this they were accustomed to do!11 St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem in the fifth century, testifies that in his own time the peasants of Bethlehem were so much accustomed to the Liturgy that one could hear them singing the psalms by heart in the fields as they were going about their daily business! Another story: as the emperor had sent his police to arrest St. Ambrose, the latter took refuge in his cathedral in Milan together with his people, and they spent the three days of siege singing the psalms! This would have never happened in recent centuries, for most of our good Catholics would have been altogether incapable of singing much more than our famous 15th- or 16th-century Kyriale 8 de Angelis and a couple of renaissance or sentimental 19th-century Tantum Ergos! All true reforms in the Church always strove to encourage souls to nourish their souls with the Liturgy in general and the Divine Office in particular: St. Pius X, for example, reformed the Breviary and Gregorian chant to help his people to join more fruitfully in the Prayer of the Church, and Archbishop Lefebvre made it a rule in our dear Society of Saint Pius X for his priests to celebrate every single day at least part of the Office together.

The actions performed by the minister of the Liturgy are not his own but those of the Church, and so this is why the Church insists on the faithful performance of the ceremonies, without personal style or sentimental addition or subtraction—and this regards either the priest, the ministers, or the faithful. And to be practical and concrete, let us take some examples gleaned here or there in our daily experience. Each of these examples is not necessarily very important, but as a whole they reveal the way most of us know so little about the Liturgy and its rules, and tend to do our own personal way: The number of candles to put on the altar does not depend on the devotion of the priest, the sacristan or anyone else but on the actual type of ceremony.12 The place of the wedding couple during the celebration of their marriage is strictly established by the Church, which does not allow any change.13 The number of servers at a given ceremony does not depend on the desire of the priest or the faithful but on the type of ceremony.14

The Church was founded by Christ for the spreading of His priesthood throughout space and time. Thus it follows that the main activity of the Church, which concerns all Catholics at any time and place, is the fulfilment of this priesthood of Christ: to adore God through Christ and receive from Him God’s graces. In other words, the first and foremost activity of the Church, that is, of all Catholics in general and in particular, is the celebration of the Liturgy of Christ! Of course, as we know, this liturgical dedication of all Catholics will be performed differently according as to whether one is a priest or not! The priest, and he only, will LEAD the Liturgy,15 but all baptized Catholics must join in this celebration by the priest. This is why, to mention just one canon of the Church, every Catholic is obliged to attend Mass, the very heart of the Liturgy, very regularly, that is at least once a week on Sunday. This total dedication of every Catholic to the Liturgy follows from the very nature of the sacramental character received in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Not all Catholics receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, but all receive that of Baptism and all should receive also that of Confirmation. By these three sacraments the faithful, in a manner appropriate to each of these sacraments, is dedicated to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of our Blessed Lord: Christ the Sovereign Priest celebrates His Liturgy through His earthly priest and incorporates the baptized as well as the confirmed faithful to this His Liturgy. This is why St. Peter, writing to his flock says, “Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”16

This is the true source of man’s dignity. As members of the Church we all share in Christ’s priesthood, each one of us according to the character we have received. The modernists, who have had such influence in recent years, have missed the occasion to cry out this beautiful truth. Instead they have replaced it by a false dignity which harms the Church’s teaching and confuses the faithful. In our next article we shall precisely delve into this doctrine of the priesthood of Christ as it is shared by the members of the Church in a different way. We shall read the wonderful articles written by our Angelic Doctor about this, and insist on a very important distinction which makes the whole difference between the true Catholic doctrine and the corruption of neo-Protestantism.


1 Col. 1:12-22.

2 Cf. Heb. 9: 11-15.

3 In the time of the Patriarchs, priests were the very heads of families and they did not need a special consecration; in the old Testament of Moses, priests were chosen by birth within the Tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron, and became priests by a ritual ceremony. In the New Testament we shall see further down.

4 Summa Theologica, III, Q. 22, Art. 1, Corpus.

5 Summa Theologica, III, Q. 22, Art. 1, Corpus.

6 John 14:6.

7 Cf. Rom. 8:34.

8 Of course a sacramental and a sacrament are not the same thing and a sacrament has more efficacy than a simple sacramental, but all in all both sacraments and sacramentals produce their proper effects precisely because they are performed by Christ through His Church!

9 Cf. Summa Theologica, III, Q. 83, Art. 6, ad 12.

10 The Litany of the Saints is still prescribed by the Roman Ritual, but most of the time it is replaced by other private prayers, which is understandable since it actually is not that frequent to find a group of persons able to recite the Litany of the Saints on their own without the help of the priest; moreover, most devotional booklets that lay down the ceremony of Extreme Unction in vernacular for the faithful do not mention nor give the Litany of the Saints in Latin (as should be since their recitation at that time is not a private but a liturgical action).

11 There is a sermon of St. Hilary of Poitiers for the beginning of Lent, who asked the faithful to attend not only daily Mass but also all the canonical hours of the Office at Church with the clerics every single day of Lent.

12 The number for a sung Mass is 2, 4 or 6 according to the class and the custom, and 7 for the diocesan bishop. For a Low Mass only 2 candles are lit. The main parish Mass may have 6, even if it is a Low Mass, if there is no High Mass on a feast day. There are a couple of other exceptions, but as we see there are precise rules established by the Church.

13 The place of the wedding couple is OUTSIDE the sanctuary at all times, whether during the actual ceremony of marriage or during the nuptial Mass; all other customs have been expressly condemned by Rome without exception: even in the case of a wedding by a Bishop, although the wedding couple is allowed to kneel at the very altar for the exchange of vows, their place remains outside the sanctuary at all other times.

14 As an example, a Low Mass does not allow more than one or two servers, with the exception of a bishop, who may have two Acolytes, two Chaplains (acting a little bit like two deacons), and eventually several torch-bearers). A solemn ceremony requires more servers, but the Roman tradition always limits the number of servers to what is necessary for the correct celebration of the rite. In other words, to add a server, like an Acolyte or a Cross-bearer, because one more server is actually needed is totally conformed to Roman tradition, but to add a server for symmetrical look, to please a parent, to give the impression of a Choir, to make the boys see better..., is not according to Roman tradition, even if the boy is given the cute name of Little Angel...: it may be decided by the priest out of prudential reason, and he alone is judge of such a reason.

15 The Deacon is actually endowed with the faculty to lead some Liturgical actions like the Divine Office.

16 I Peter 2:5.