The most striking thing about priests, in the later history of Christianity, is their supposed ability to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. "From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength" (C 1566). Nothing else about their actions is on that scale--the fact that they can routinely work an astounding miracle. Jesus becomes present in every bit of bread and every bit of wine that is consecrated, and only one thing can make it happen--the words of a priest impersonating Jesus at the Last Supper and saying, "This is MY [i.e., Jesus' though the priest is speaking] body . . . This is the cup of MY blood."This does, of course, lead to the "Protestant" objection that there is only one mediator, Christ. This becomes even more clearly in a quotation Garry Wills provides from an RC "saint" (p. 25):
The only person on earth who can do this is a priest, and he can do it all by himself, with no congregation present (in what is called a private Mass). A congregation of believers, no matter how large or how pious, cannot do this if no priest is present. The people of God cannot approach God directly, in this rite central to many Christians, but only through a designated agent. As Thomas Aquinas put it: "A priest, it was earlier said, is established as the mediator between God and the people. A person who stands in need of a mediator with God cannot approach him on his own" (ST 3.22 a4r).
In the twelfth century, Saint Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order of priests, wrote of the priest's re-enactment of the Incarnation, "Priest you are not, because you are God."[Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast (University of California Press, 1987), p. 57]Garry Wills also draws a distinction between the traditional splendor of the papacy and the austerity of the original apostles (pp. 28 and 32):
Until recently the pope used to enter Saint Peter's on a sedia gestatoria, a throne borne on the shoulders of twelve footman while two attendants used the flabellum, a large ceremonial fan made of white ostrich feathers. Despite suspension of its use, the sedia has not been formally renounced.The current bishop of Rome is less interested in finery than many of his predecessors, but his "succession" is from them. He has not condemned their moral heresy, nor does he refuse to be called "Holy Father" or "Vicar of Christ."
All this fuss and finery far outdoes what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. "Everything they do is done to impress people. They enlarge their tefillins and lengthen their tassels" (Mt 23.5-6).
Of course I have known humble and hardworking priests, men who shamed me by their devotion to others. But there are enough of the other kind to make one appreciate the words of Jesus when he told his Followers not to strive for pre-eminence (Mk 9.33-37). Or when he sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel, saying, "Provide yourselves no gold or silver or copper in your belts, or traveler's pouch, or a second pair of tunics or sandals" (Mt 10.9-10). Saint Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Palace cannot claim true descent from that pair of sandals and that single tunic.