What is a Priest?

Catherine Doherty

The following is excerpted from a talk our foundress gave in the 1970s—before the revelations of sexual abuse by priests, before the current growing anti-Catholicism. Had she written it now, her style and approach would have been different. Her essential vision of priesthood, however, would have remained the same.

Over the years, numerous priests have testified that the gospel vision of priesthood that Catherine proclaimed transformed their lives. Some said it saved their vocations.


Christ instituted the priesthood. Into these men he has entered .… It is the hands of Christ that anoint. It is the hands of Christ that give us the Eucharist. It is the lips of Christ that pronounce the words that change the bread and wine into his Body and Blood.

[When a man becomes a priest] he becomes another Christ, and in his hands, he has the power of healing souls, of bringing back the prodigal sons and daughters. He has the power of feeding the hungry—those who haven’t bread and those who have—for the Bread that the priest gives assuages the hunger of both poor and rich.…

He might appear to have left the priesthood, married somebody, or simply lived common-law or whatever, but who are you or I to know how much he loves God?

And he still has the power, at a moment of death or in moments of extreme catastrophes of all kinds, to give us the Body and Blood of Christ and to absolve us. Make no mistake about that. His name might be Mister, but he is still a priest of the order of Melchizedek forever.

We who are eternally tearing priests apart because of their human sinfulness, we who leave the Church because a priest has erred or has upset us, we who criticize, who walk around with our heads high but with stones in our hands, we are in sin.

As Christ said when the woman was taken in adultery, If any of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone (Jn 8:7).…

Now we are entering into the realm of faith. I am not appealing to your reason, which would be impossible, because our senses and our mind might feel the opposite.

But Christ took an ordinary piece of bread and a little wine and changed it into his Body and his Blood.

[If we believe that] is it impossible to believe that Christ is in every priest, because he wishes to be there? So that he can walk with the priest’s feet, heal with the priest’s hands, give the Eucharist to us through the priest’s hands?

Enter now into the reality of a priest. Shed all preconceived notions and ideas.

Suddenly, easily, simply, before you will stand God who fills the priest. And that Face that no one can see without dying will be there, and you will be looking at an icon.

No, you will look at Christ himself, and know beyond all knowledge that he is here in our midst, in the shape of this fat, unshaven, good–looking or bad–looking priest, with a breath that stinks or a breath that doesn’t stink.

That doesn’t make any difference. He is always the same, this Christ that loved us so much that he returned to heaven and yet stayed in our midst.…

Pray that you might understand, and understanding, see Christ in the priest.

Catherine Doherty had a great love for priests. In fact, she offered her life for them, and she passed this love on to her community.

Madonna House has 16 member priests and 100 associates (3 bishops,84 priests, and 13 deacons), not counting the deceased members and associates and applicants….

We also have a guest house for priests. (See the article, “A Retreat House for Priests” in this issue.)

Excerpted and adapted from Season of Mercy, pp. 94-98, (2011) available in a later edition from MH Publications