In the last week, I have received many questions about holy orders and I have also heard the stories of several men who are about to be ordained to the priesthood. When I was younger, I wondered why this sacrament was called holy orders, but there is good reason.
Between God and man, an order has been established through which they are joined. The most important order of all is that which Christ has between us and God, yet God established other orders as well for the purpose of bringing us before him. In the Old Testament, one finds the priesthood given to Aaron and his sons. This is detailed at length onion Leviticus. Moses writes about how Aaron and his sons are to be distinguished from the people, and even further how Aaron is distinguished from his sons. This is done through a difference in outward garments. There are furthermore specific offerings made and also impediments which correspond to the spiritual disposition that a priest must have.
Understanding that all of Leviticus carries a spiritual meaning which looks to the priesthood of the New Law opens up a book that seems otherwise obsolete to a Christian. The letter to the Hebrews relies heavily on the understanding of the priests in the Old Law. I do not have the Scriptire at hand or I would lay out some of the ways in which the new is hidden in the old.
I will look at one case: the rules governing how a priest is to marry. This is certainly spiritual with regard to the new law, for most of the holy priests now remain celibate and do not take a wife in marriage. He is not to marry a prostitute (he shall not make wealth his end) nor one who has lost her honor (he shall not give way to pleasure) nor one who is divorced (he shall not be hateful, causing division). The reason for all of this is that he is sacred and set apart by God. He is to marry a virgin, that is, he is to stay undefiled from the love of anything in this world, having his heart set on God alone.
That is very rough but gives some idea of a spiritual reading of the old priesthood. The gravity with which all is dealt in the old law, which is ineffective, should bring one to see the extreme gravity of those who enter holy orders under the new law which has the power to save. The power to save! Without the priesthood, there is no forgiveness of sins or divine sacrifice. There is little divine teaching and no authority. How necessary this order is for each and every man! This is why we must pray for the increase and perseverance of those in holy orders.
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