With this old post groaning under the weight of its comments, here is a continuation of the latest sub-topic (the Mass and the Priest). Since the original context was the Reformation, it won’t harm to mention that the key sola is Christ alone.
The problem, as we know, is sin. The solution must involve atonement, if sin is going to be dealt with in a way that is consistent with both justice and mercy. For atonement, you need a priest.
The epistle to the Hebrews explains what the real priest was, his qualifications and his work (which were only pre-figured in the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament), and it hardly needs to be said that Christ Jesus is the real priest, the anti-type who fulfilled the Old Testament type.
Waiving his qualifications for now (since as I started to write, I remembered this old post with its own unfinished discussion), consider more specifically his work. The foundation work is the making atonement: he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. But the other part of the priest’s work is making intercession. He makes intercession to the Father, on behalf of the people he is representing, on the basis of his success in making atonement.
According to the New Testament and especially the epistle to the Hebrews, both atonement and intercession are most emphatically the work of Christ himself. He is the one who made the once-for-all sacrifice which put away sin. He is the one who is now interceding for his people, an intercession which is ongoing and all-prevailing.
Or as Hebrews says, when he had by himself purged our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high. We have a great high priest who is passed into the heavens, and is there now for us. He has an unchangeable priesthood, and he himself is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him, seeing he lives for ever to make intercession for them. This is his ongoing work behind the veil, making intercession for his people, on the basis of his own sacrifice of himself. Whereas the blood of shadowy animal sacrifices sufficed to purge ceremonial sins under the ceremonial law, the blood of the real sacrifice avails and prevails to purge the conscience from dead works to serve the living God, when the priest whose sacrifice it is presents it for that purpose.
Explanations like these are what make the epistle to the Hebrews such a beautiful part of the Bible. Who could fail to be amazed at the power and the perfection of the great high priest as displayed there. Sins are remitted and the worshippers are purified by Christ who entered heaven, now to appear in the presence of God for us, on our behalf. Not, indeed, that he offers himself often, for then he would need to suffer often – but afer he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God, and is now active on behalf of his people.
For his sake they are reconciled, for his sake they are forgiven, for his sake their spiritual life is maintained, for his sake they are given growth in grace. He does all the work. They get all the benefit. It is all for his sake, and he does it all.
Which makes the office of a priest redundant in the New Testament church. Even in the Old Testament the Levitical priesthood was a constant testimony to its own inadequacy, an elaborate demonstration in 3D pictures of what they were waiting for the true priest to come and do in reality. The OT priests dealt with ceremonial sins in a ceremonial way. The NT priest, the one and only, the anti-type, deals with real sins, really and truly putting them away – completely at that – and taking care of all the implications which follow for his people.
All that’s left for the NT Church to do is, not to carry on acting out the picture, but to publish and declare that the high priest has come, and has made atonement, and is now in heaven making continual intercession. Central to the NT Church is, not the sacrament, but the preaching of the gospel. Sinners who need their sins dealt with can have every confidence in the great high priest, so powerful and so prevailing in his atonement and his intercession. Good news: Christ has come, and he is able to save to the uttermost those that come to God by him, seeing he lives for ever to make intercession for them. Because of the high priest, who he is, what he has done, and what he is doing, sinners can come boldly to the throne of grace and obtain mercy.