|The Infant Priest - Source: NLM [here]|
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Hebrews 5:1-6
No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest.
While St. Paul, in his Letter to the Hebrews, generally distinguishes our Savior from Aaron (showing that the priesthood of Christ is greater than that of Aaron), in this place the Apostle emphasizes this point of similarity between the Levitical priesthood and the eternal priesthood of Jesus.
Namely, St. Paul tells us that, just as Aaron was called and ordained a priest, so too was our Lord. For no man can be a high priest of himself, but only when he is so called by God.
When, we ask, was Jesus called and ordained to the priesthood? When did he become a priest?
Christ is a priest as man
First, we must recognize that the Eternal Word was not always a high priest. Indeed, for every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God (Hebrews 5:1), therefore our High Priest must be truly man in order to be a priest. Thus, the Son of God was not always a priest, for he is not a priest by virtue of his divinity. Rather, he is a priest insofar as he is man.
The Apostle confirms this truth – that the Eternal Word was not always a high priest – when he writes, So Christ did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest (Hebrews 5:5). If indeed he “became” and “was made” a high priest, this means that he was not always high priest. However, all that Jesus is according to his divinity (e.g. omniscient and omnipresent) he always was and always will be. Therefore, it is clear that he is not a priest according to his divinity.
Jesus is a priest precisely as man, for the priest stands before God in behalf of men. But, as God, our Lord does not pray or intercede, rather he receives and answers prayers and intercessions. However, as man, Jesus does indeed pray in our behalf – for he is our High Priest by virtue of his humanity.
Nevertheless, to be very clear, since there is only one Word and only one Jesus, we must admit that God is our High Priest, insofar as Jesus is our High Priest. Not that he is our High Priest by virtue of the Godhead, but rather by virtue of his human nature which is hypostatically unity to the divinity. Therefore, a divine Person (God the Son) is our Priest, but only according to his human nature.
When our Savior came into the world
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou has fitted to me (Hebrews 10:5).
The Lord is a priest by virtue of his humanity, and this human nature he received upon his conception of the Virgin Mary. Thus, we must hold that our Savior was ordained a priest the moment that he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So too it is particularly to the power of the Holy Spirit that the ordination of all men to the priesthood of Christ is attributed (through the laying on of hands and prayer of ordination). As it was the Triune God (and the Holy Spirit in particular) who formed a body for the Savior, so to must we say that this same God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) ordained Jesus a priest in the very moment of his conception.
Nor may we think that our Lord did not become a priest until later in his life – else we would be forced to assert that his conception did not win us salvation. Further, at what other point might we rightly consider our Jesus to have become a priest? Only an adoptionist heretic would say this occurred during the baptism in the Jordan.
Therefore, we rightly conclude that our Savior was a priest from the moment he was conceived in the womb of his Mother.
Jesus offered prayers while yet in the womb
That our Savior was a priest even from before his birth should be clear. What we now assert is that our Lord knew and loved each and every one of us from the first moment he was conceived, and that he prayed for us and offered himself for us as our High Priest.
Our Savior, in his humanity (for it is by his humanity that he is our Priest) knew all created realities by virtue of the beatific vision. Even as a tiny embryonic child, our Lord saw all things in God (just as the saints know all things in God). This is taught by the Church:
The knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the beatific vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 75)
By a wondrous working of grace, our Lord was a priest as an infant (even as an unborn child)! From before his birth, our Savior had the use of reason and of will – and he exercised his priestly office perfectly, praying in our behalf and offering true and perfect worship to God.
For a further consideration of the fact that our Lord was rational from the moment of his conception, please read our earlier article [here].