When asking what a priest does we can look to the tradition of the church to see that the main “work” of a priest could best be described as a share in the Tria Munera of Christ the Lord: The Sanctify, Teach and Govern. In this post we will look at the ministry of teaching, by which a priest builds up the people of God in the truth of the Gospel.
Priests share in the teaching office of Jesus Christ, the Truth. The Gospels very simply relate that Jesus “...on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mark 1: 21b-22 ). Jesus was a teacher, who was most often referred to as Rabbi, and instructed the people in the way of the Kingdom. He taught with authority and clarity and many believed his teaching. One of the most widely regarded aspects of priestly life is that of teaching primarily through preaching at Mass. When priests preach at Mass they are not simply sharing their own ideas or telling funny stories, but rather they are sharing in the teaching office of Christ himself. They teach with a certain authority, and should clearly and lovingly communicate the truth of the Gospel and the dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church. The aim of a homily is to further introduce people to Jesus the Truth, so that knowing him they may love and follow him more faithfully.
Priests also teach through advice given in the confessional, through spiritual direction, and through times of formal instruction in Catechism lessons or teaching classes at local Catholic schools. While not a liturgically visible as the Homily at Mass these times of teaching are still in union with Christ the teacher. In all these ways our priests share in this aspect of the priestly office of Jesus Christ.
~ Fr. Michael Casey