The Old Testament clearly established a priesthood (the Levites) to serve Israel. This earthly priesthood was a symbol of the Messiah's eternal priesthood. The book of Hebrews explains its purpose and fulfillment. Historic Protestantism, because of its study of the Scriptures, proclaimed the "universal priesthood of all believers." The special office of priest was fulfilled in our Savior, and thus came to an end in Him.
Although Catholicism acknowledges this universal priesthood, it sustains a "weak and beggarly element" of the old covenant and assigns to its priests remarkable power as pastors of the church. This system is essential to the power of the Catholic Church and cannot be justified by the Bible.
One of the finest scholars of Roman Catholic Scripture, Raymond E. Brown, shocked Catholics when he discovered that:
When we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it is striking that while there are pagan priests and Jewish priests on the scene, no individual Christian is ever specifically identified as a priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the high priesthood of Jesus by comparing his death and entry into heaven with the actions of the Jewish high priest who went into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle once a year with a offering for himself and for the sins of his people (Hebrews 9:6-7).
But it is noteworthy that the author of Hebrews does not associate the priesthood of Jesus with the Eucharist or the Last Supper; neither does he suggest that other Christians are priests in the likeness of Jesus. In fact, the once-for-all atmosphere that surrounds the priesthood of Jesus in Hebrews 10:12-14, has been offered as an explanation of why there are no Christian priests in the New Testament period.
Biblical Protestantism repudiates the Catholic priesthood system, and would consider its proposed imposition a radical violation of its conscience before God.
1. Raymond E. Brown, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections (New York: Paulist Press, 1970).