Despite innumerable great fathers whom we all know and love, many today have questions about fatherhood often arising from fractured relationships with their own fathers or from bad modelling of fatherhood in society. These questions about fatherhood often challenge people as to whether they should use the title of “father” traditionally given to our parish priests. To discover the origins of this title, “father,” for Catholic priests we must dive into Scripture.
The Catholic priesthood is not a continuation of the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament from the time of Moses until Jesus. Rather, our priests share in the priesthood of Christ—a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. There are specific differences between the Levitical and Melchizedekian priesthoods. The Levitical priests served in the Temple from the age of 30-50 years, offering animal and cereal sacrifices on behalf of the people to God. From the Tribe of Levi, these priests ministered to the needs of Israel from the time of the sin of the golden calf until the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.
Before the Levitical priests another form of priesthood existed. Scripture tells of the priestly role of the Patriarchs, who offered sacrifice to God on behalf of their families. During this patriarchal period, fathers would bestow a special blessing upon their first-born son—or if he were unrighteous, the blessing would be given to the righteous son. This blessing effectively made the son the head of the family at the death of the father. The blessing also meant the son would receive the priestly office from his father.
The figure of Melchizedek arises during this patriarchal period (Gen 14). Melchizedek is the king of righteousness, and the priest of God Most High. Upon meeting Abram, he offers a sacrifice of bread and wine, and blesses Abram. In return Abram offers Melchizedek tithes (Heb 7:6). Centuries later, David composes a song for his son’s coronation, declaring Solomon “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4).
The Letter to the Hebrews declares Jesus Christ to be the fulfilment of the Melchizedekian priesthood. Neither Solomon nor Jesus were Levites, yet both were called priests. Like Solomon, Jesus is the King of Jerusalem—Jesus rules over the heavenly Jerusalem. The sacrifice of Jesus is his own flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine, which recalls the sacrificial offering of Melchizedek.
Should we call our priests “father?” Indeed we should if we understand the biblical background to Christ’s priesthood, for there we see that priesthood is directly connected with fatherhood. The priesthood of the patriarchal period was an integral dimension of the role of the father. Christ did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.
(Copyright © 2016)