Etymologically “procreate” derives from the Latin pro creare. To create, in the strictest sense, is to bring something into reality from nothing. Therefore, strictly speaking, only God creates for He creates without any need of pre-existent matter, from, so to speak, His own thought.
But although only God creates, man, created by God in His likeness, is endowed with the power to cooperate with God in the ongoing fulfillment of creation as a “sub-creator”. Thus, the human soul is created directly by God but man cooperates with God’s act in order to bring a new person into existence.
Thus, the priest, although he has consecrated himself in chaste love to God alone, is a sub-creator and a cooperator in bringing men and women to birth into supernatural life. In this way his male role of procreator is powerfully fulfilled as he confers the sacraments on souls. Through the sacrament of baptism men are born to godlike life; in the sacrament of confession, men who are spiritually dead are revivified by his action; as they are sacramentally confirmed their souls receive the seeds of supernatural light and energy to bring the new life of baptism to maturity; through extreme unction they are strengthened for the final stage of the journey; through the holy Eucharist they are given the very food of eternal life.
“The priest”, wrote Pope Pius XII, “so far from losing the gift and duties of fatherhood by his law of celibacy, rather increases them immeasurably. For although he does not beget children for this passing life on earth, he begets children for that life which is heavenly and eternal.” (Menti Nostrae)
“But”, one asks, “ can you say that the priest is strictly speaking a father if he does not pass on his own life to his offspring as the biological father does?” Certainly the sanctifying grace that he transmits through the sacraments is wholly and entirely divine. However neither is the life that the biological father transmits wholly his own life because human life is made up of a spiritual soul as well as a material body. The father and mother certainly transmit the DNA but the spiritual immortal soul is created immediately by God ‒ it is not produced by the parents. This means that the biological father has the God-given privilege of acting with the power given him by the Creator to cooperate with God by bringing into existence the body to which the divinely-instilled immortal soul will give life. Therefore the human life of the newly-conceived is the father’s in the sense that he gave all that he was required to give in order to cooperate with God.
The priest is pro-creator of supernatural life in the soul of the Christian when he acts through the sacraments because like the biological father he cooperates with God’s action to bring into existence sanctifying grace in the soul. Like the biological father he is not the author of the new life because it is divine but he plays an irreplaceable role in the conception and maturing of this new life. The difference therefore does not detract from the priest’s fatherhood: it makes it simply different from biological fatherhood. This difference is required by the nature of this higher level of life – the highest possible man can attain– that the priest causes to be born or re-vivified or strengthened by the Blessed Eucharist and the other sacraments. Therefore both the physical and the supernatural father pro-create new life.
As procreator, the priest-father is present for every stage of man’s journey from cradle to eternity’s doorway.
Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priest alone can bring about the sacramental presence here and now of the sacrifice of Calvary, the central moment of the world’s history for it is the fountainhead of supernatural life. As he stands at the altar facing the Eternal Father in persona Christi, the priest enables men in a sense to become “contemporaries” of Christ on Good Friday and Easter Sunday in order to expiate their sins and be born again with his life in them.
The priest nourishes his supernatural children through the heavenly food of the Holy Eucharist. In confirmation he strengthens the divine life to enable the soul to take his or her role in the Ecclesia Militans in order to fight valiantly against the forces of darkness threatening to engulf souls in sin. He educates by teaching through his sermons, homilies, spiritual direction and catechetical instruction. He brings “viaticum” [food for the journey] when the soul is about to embark for eternity.
The priest’s procreative role is vitally necessary – for eternal life! What does it profit a man to be born if he is not born again for eternal life? In order to weigh the importance of his role it is necessary to ask the ultimate questions, to stand resolutely before the ultimate why ‒ salvation or damnation! In this light all must be seen, all must be weighed, all must be decided!