God began the priesthood from the very dawn of man with Adam, and then through Abel and Cain Gen 4:3-4. Sacrifice recognizes that God gives us all we have, and acknowledges our debt by giving something back to him. He continued with Melchizedek, the priest who gave Abram “bread and wine” Gen 14:18 and blessed him.
God raised the priesthood higher by instituting the Aaronic priesthood through Moses, who had stood in His presence. As soon as the Tabernacle was finished, our Father directed Moses, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests” Ex 28:1.
As part of the preparation, Aaron had to become a pre-figure of the Messiah. “It shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take upon himself any guilt incurred in the holy offering which the people of Israel hallow as their holy gifts; it shall always be upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord” Ex 28:38.
God’s Direct Connection to Aaronic Priests
God directly connected every Aaronic priest’s authority to sacrifice with his authority in two ways.
A Line of Hereditary Succession
The first was by a hereditary priesthood. “The holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him, to be anointed in them and ordained in them” Ex 29:29. Every Aaronic priest was descended from a priest who was descended from a priest … who was descended from Aaron who was ordained by Moses at God’s command. The priesthood was strictly for Aaron and his descendants. “If any one else comes near, he shall be put to death” Num 3:10.
Laying on of Hands
The second was by ordaining through the laying on of hands. Our Father commanded, starting with Joshua, that the Aaronic priests be ordained by the laying on of hands. “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him; cause him to stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey” Num 27:18–20. This laying on of hands is called smikha, pronounced with the accent on the last syllable, smikhá. It comes from the same Hebrew root smkh as the well-known Jewish description of God somekh noflim, supporter of the fallen. Every priest is a supporter of our fallen race. Every Aaronic priest was ordained by a priest who was ordained by a priest who was ordained by a priest who was ordained by a priest … who was ordained by Moses at God’s command.
God led Moses to ordain the first large group of Aaronic priests as foreshadows of Rabbi Yeshua’s own Final Sacrifice as priest and victim. After Aaron had made the golden calf Ex 32:4 and lied to Moses about how it was made Ex 32:24, Moses stood at the gate and called out, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” Ex 32:25. All the sons of Levi gathered before him. Moses commanded in God’s name that each of the sons of Levi slay all who helped make the golden calf. They did so. The apostates defended themselves, and the Levites lost some of their own. When it was over Moses said, ““Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother” Ex 32:29. Each at the cost of his son, a perfect foreshadow of the Final Sacrifice, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” Jn 3:16.
Priests, prophets and kings have always been anointed. “The holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him, to be anointed in them and ordained in them” Ex 29:29. “…if it is the anointed priest who sins …” Lev 4:3 Prophets were anointed. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted” Is 61:1 Kings were anointed. “Then Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel?’” 1 Sam 10:1 “He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord‘s anointed’” 1 Sam 24:6 Jews for centuries had referred to the deliverer they expected as the Mashiakh. “… against the Lord and his anointed …” Ps 2:2.
Rabbi Yeshua’s Direct Connection to Catholic Priests
The Catholic priesthood is a new creation, built on apostolic succession, not on hereditary succession as a descendant of Aaron Ex 40:13–15. The Catholic priesthood can forgive personal sins Mt 16:19; 18:18. However, God made the Aaronic priesthood a perpetual priesthood Ex 40:15. The Catholic priesthood fulfills the Aaronic priesthood, just as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a new creation that fulfills the Passover.
Rabbi Yeshua directly connected every Catholic priest’s authority to sacrifice with his authority in two ways: the apostolic succession and the laying on of hands.
A Line of Apostolic Succession
The first was by an apostolic succession. Rabbi Yeshua during the Last Supper instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist with the words of institution spoken only to his shlikhim: § 1365 “This is my body which is given for you,” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” Lk 22:19–20. His very next words, § 1356 “Do this in remembrance of me” Lk 22:19, also spoken only to his shlikhim, instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders for his shlikhim, authorizing them alone to do as he had done, to consecrate the Holy Eucharist. Rabbi Yeshua then bound together the Holy Eucharist and the New and Eternal Covenant with his words, “This chalice which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” Lk 22:20.
A covenant is an agreement between God and man. Since God lives in eternity, his covenants are eternal. Even though Rabbi Yeshua fulfilled Mt 5:17 the Mosaic Covenant it has never been revoked. Further evidence of the risen Rabbi Yeshua’s intention that his shlikhim should appoint successors, and that his successors should appoint successors in a continuing line of apostolic succession that would extend from Rabbi Yeshua himself to his Second Coming at the end of time is his triple command to Rabbi Kefa, “Feed my lambs” Jn 21:15, “Tend my sheep” Jn 21:16, “Feed my sheep” Jn 21:17.
Rabbi Yeshua’s shlikhim and their successors were called episcopi, bishops. Every Catholic bishop during the past two thousand years has been a Successor of the Apostles. Only bishops are authorized to ordain additional bishops, priests and deacons. Only a pope, a Successor of Rabbi Kefa the head shaliakh, and therefore a § 882 “Vicar of Christ” can authorize a bishop to ordain another bishop. Each pope in his time as a Successor of Rabbi Kefa is a Vicar of Christ because the risen Rabbi Yeshua, before ascending to the Father, commanded Rabbi Kefa, “Feed my lambs” Jn 21:15, “Tend my sheep” Jn 21:16, “Feed my sheep” Jn 21:17.
As the early Church spread rapidly, the bishops could no longer be everywhere they were needed to consecrate for the flock, and so they began to appoint priests to assist with the consecrations and with most of the other sacraments, and deacons to assist in proclaiming the Word of God.
The apostolic succession is the continuous chain by which Rabbi Yeshua’s authority to “Do this in remembrance of me” Lk 22:19 and “Feed my lambs” Jn 21:15–17 is passed across the centuries to a bishop or priest today. Every Catholic bishop, priest, or deacon was ordained by a bishop who was ordained by a bishop who was ordained by a bishop who was ordained by a bishop … who was personally ordained by Rabbi Yeshua. The Catholic Church’s Congregation for Bishops maintains the Church’s archive of bishops that documents every bishop’s authority to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and ordain successors all the way back to Rabbi Yeshua himself.
Laying on of Hands
The actual method of ordination was through the laying on of hands. “These [chosen men] they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them” Acts 6:6. Probably the early laying on of hands was called smikha, but later it was called ordination. § 1573 “The essential rite of the sacrament of Holy Orders for all three degrees consists in the bishop’s imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand and in the bishop’s specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained.”
Rabbi Yeshua also gave his shlikhim authority to ordain successors, and for the successors to ordain successors, through his command, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8. That commission obviously could not have been completed within the earthly lives of the original shlikhim. After Rabbi Yeshua ascended to the Father but before Pentecost, his shlikhim had to replace Judas Iscariot. Rabbi Kefa took up that responsibility, “One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” Acts 1:21–22. In so doing the shlikhim ordained Matthias with authority to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and to appoint others with the same responsibility.
Rabbi Yeshua’s Direct Connection to Us All
Rabbi Yeshua’s sacramental presence § 1380 in the Holy Eucharist at every Mass is extraordinary in salvation history. The Father’s authentic revelation through Moses allowed him is people to read the Word of God in the Torah. Rabbi Yeshua’s revelation through his shlikhim gave his people the Torah and its fulfillment Mt 5:17 including the Holy Eucharist let him abide in us, and us in him Jn 6:56.
§ 861 In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, the apostles consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.
§ 862 Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. Hence the Church teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.
§ 863 The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is sent out into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well. Indeed, we call an apostolate every activity of the Mystical Body that aims to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth.
§ 864 Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate; thus the fruitfulness of apostolate for ordained ministers as well as for lay people clearly depends on their vital union with Christ. In keeping with their vocations, the demands of the times and the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostolate assumes the most varied forms. But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always, as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate.
§ 865 The Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God, already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time. The kingdom has come in the person of Christ and grows mysteriously in the hearts of those incorporated into him, until its full eschatological manifestation. Then all those he has redeemed and made holy and blameless before him in love, will be gathered together as the one People of God, the Bride of the Lamb, the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. For the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.