Most books on the priesthood may be grouped into three categories: theological, pastoral and sociological.
The theological treatises emphasize the priest as the minister and ambassador of Christ; the pastoral writings are concerned with the priest in the pulpit, the priest in the confessional, the priest at prayer, etc. The sociological writings, which are the latest type, refrain almost entirely from the spiritual and are concerned with the statistical study of the reaction of the faithful, the unbelievers and the general public to the priest. Is there room for another category?
Such a possibility presented itself in writing our Life of Christ. In that book, we tried to show that, unlike anyone else, Our Lord came on earth not to live but to die. Death for our Redemption was the goal of His sojourn here, the gold that He was seeking. Every parable, every incident in His life—even the call of the Apostles, the temptation, the Transfiguration, the long conversation with the woman at the well—was focused upon that salutary death. He was, therefore, not primarily a teacher, but a Savior.
The dark days in which that Life of Christ was written were hours when ink and gall did mix to reveal the mystery of the Crucifix.
More and more that vision of Christ as Savior began to illumine the priesthood, and out of it came the thoughts in this book. To save anyone from reading it through, we here state briefly the thesis.
We who have received the Sacrament of Orders call ourselves “priests”. The author does not recall any priest ever having said, “I was ordained a ‘victim’ ”, nor did he ever say, “I am studying to be a victim.” That seemed almost alien to being a priest. The seminary always told us to be “good” priests; never were we told to be willing victims.
And yet was not Christ, the Priest, a Victim? Did He not come to die? He did not offer a lamb, a bullock or doves; He never offered anything except Himself.
He gave Himself up on our behalf, a sacrifice breathing out fragrance as He offered it to God.
( Ephesians 5:2)
Pagan priests, Old Testament priests, medicine men, all offered a sacrifice apart from themselves. But not Our Lord. He was Sacerdos-Victima.
This being so, just as we miss much in the life of Christ by not showing that the shadow of the Cross cast itself even over the crib and the carpenter shop as well as over His public life, so we have a mutilated concept of our priesthood if we envisage it apart from making ourselves victims in the prolongation of His Incarnation. There is nothing else in this book but that idea. And if the reader would like to hear that chord struck a hundred times, he may now proceed.