What can I do as a priest that I cannot do as a layperson working for a charity or NGO?

The question as posed sees priesthood in a functional way, i.e. it looks at what a priest does, rather than who he is. Of course, there are things that a priest alone can do – like saying Mass and administering the sacrament of reconciliation – but his identity takes priority over his activities, many of which he shares with the laity, such as works of mercy (e.g. visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger, offering sound advice to those who seek it, etc.).

Pope John Paul II emphasises the true identity of the ordained priest:

‘The priest, by virtue of the consecration which he receives in the sacrament of orders, is sent forth by the Father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom he is configured in a special way as head and shepherd of his people, in order to live and work by the power of the Holy Spirit in service of the Church and for the salvation of the world’

(Pastores Dabo Vobis, 12)

Reflecting on the identity of the priest helps us to see that it is a unique calling in the Church, willed by Christ himself who confers on some, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, a particular ‘configuration’ to Himself.  The sacrament brings about a hidden, ontological change, a change of character that does not, however, supplant the ordained person’s human personality but which builds on it and transforms it so that the priest, by God’s special grace and through a person’s cooperation with it, becomes someone more and more configured to Christ head and shepherd. Grace builds on nature. The priest must strive daily to be the person – the priest – God calls him to be, by his way of life, his manner of being, his interaction with others, etc., that is, through his human personality – while God continues to help him to grow into the person he is called to be.

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