On the ethical nature of priesthood

Heythrop Journal 39 (3):298–313 (1998)
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Abstract

This article argues that ministerial priesthood, rather than being ontologically comprehended, should be ethically articulated. The ‘character’ of priesthood is to be ‘for‐the‐other.’ Following a thought of Emmanuel Levinas on the ‘liturgical orientation of work,’ we argue that — Priesthood is essentially liturgical, in the sense of a movement out of oneself towards the other which never returns to the self. This movement is at one and the same time on orientation towards God, as divine other, and the other person. This ‘liturgical’ orientation of the self is seen and celebrated in the sacred liturgy of the Church with which the life and ministry of the priest is intimately associated. In this sense, the liturgy of the Church is not only an expression of what the Church is, but also, as an expression of the ethical subjectivity of the self which is ‘the‐Other‐in‐me,’ a celebration of who I am. — Priesthood is essentially eucharistic. In the commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, the ethical and ecclesial structure of subjectivity, is recalled and realised in the words ‘for you ’ and ‘for all .’ — Priesthood is self‐sacrificial. If living eucharistically is living ‘for you ’ and ‘for all ,’ then this finds its extreme expression in the sacrifice of oneself for‐the‐other in suffering and death. This involves substitution which, as Levinas says, ‘is indispensable to the comprehension of subjectivity.’

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