Ok, now I know Catholics are crazy, pagan, idolaters. Did you know this teaching of in persona Christi means that a priest, a sinful man, can do things just like Christ did? Catholics actually believe that when a priest is ordained they pretty much become a little Jesus that can go around doing what Jesus did!
No we don’t believe priests are a “little Jesus”, but we sure do believe they can act in his person. How else would the sacraments be possible? Mere humans can’t turn bread & wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ; but Jesus can. Mere humans can’t forgive sins; but Jesus can. Mere humans can’t baptize with the Holy Spirit; but Jesus can.
Here’s what the Catechism says about in persona Christi. It’s well worth the read since this is a huge part of the priesthood and the belief of Catholics. A lot of what we hold dear hinges on this teaching.
In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis.
It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).
Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ. (1548 CCC)
Here’s the idea: Jesus Christ is the one high priest prefigured in the Old Testament XXX. As the high priest, Jesus is the authority behind all other, earthly priests. The priests of the Old Testament were figures of Christ. They performed bloody sacrifices (with animals) to atone for the people’s sins. They had to do this day after day after day because their sacrifices were a figure, a picture, or a symbol, of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.
Priests today act in the person of Christ, in persona Christi, so they participate in the very acts of Jesus. Ok, stay with me here. Priests today do not re-do what Christ did. We do not re-sacrifice him. During the Eucharist we participate in the sacrifice of Christ. We are witnessing the crucifixion of Christ, not a new one, the original, each time we go to Mass. The priest stands in the person of Christ, and Christ works the sacrament through the earthly priest.
Other sacraments work the same way. When a priest hears confession and says the words of absolution (and some amazing words they are) it is not the man speaking the words, it is the man speaking in the person of Christ who has just forgiven the sins. A priest may be a wonderful fellow, but he can’t forgive sins on his own; just like I can’t.
Think of a priest as Jesus’ stunt double; who stands in for Jesus when a sacrament is being bestowed. We see a man, we hear a man’s voice, but it is Jesus who works.