Participating in the Priesthood of Jesus
Does benefit exist (to the Church, the world or even one’s own family) in reflecting on the way in which a baptized Christian participates in the priestly, prophetic and royal “functions” of Christ? I recall a Catholic author in a Catholic publication responding in the negative. When every Christian is seen in a priestly, prophetic and royal capacity, she claimed, the dignity of each term is lost. The author, I believe, is attempting to safeguard distinction, but in doing so she sets aside the Church’s theology of baptism.
Baptized Christians “participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ (Code of Canon Law, c. 204),” and before identifying any distinction that exists within the people of God, the Second Vatican Fathers assert the centrality of the baptism Christians share. All baptized persons are formed in the likeness of Christ, and by participating in the Eucharist such persons are brought into communion with Jesus and with one another. Within this unity, the “various members and functions have their part to play (Lumen gentium, 7),” but all, as baptized Christians, are called to holiness (LG, 11).
Paragraph nine of Lumen gentium speaks of the people of God as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people.” This is language borrowed from I Peter (2:9), and represents sought continuity between the Christian understanding of the faithful and the Jewish one (for the Jewish people, as well, perceive God to be making his people into “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation [Exodus 19:5-6]“). To Bishop Emile-Joseph De Smedt, a participant in the Second Vatican Council, just as the whole Jewish people were commissioned by God, Jesus uses the community of those gathered around him to be an instrument for the redemption of all, and he sends forth such people into the world.
Participation in the priestly office of Jesus is not confined to members of the ministerial priesthood. Whether ordained or lay, each “in their own way participates in the one priesthood of Jesus (LG, 10).” The Church’s theology presents the former (members of the ministerial priesthood) as acting in the person of Jesus, as making present the Eucharistic sacrifice and as offering it to God, and presents the latter (non ordained baptized Christians) as joining in the offering of the Eucharist “not indeed in the same way, but each in the way which is proper to himself (LG, 11)” or herself.
Given that the Church actually teaches that all baptized Christians participate in the priesthood of Jesus, what benefit can be found in such a teaching? The key, I believe, is Paragraph 34 of LG: A baptized Christian’s works, prayers, apostolic endeavours, married and family life, daily occupations, moments of physical and mental relaxation, and even hardships of life can become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” With the Lord’s own Body, such sacrifices are “most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist” Consider the words of the new translation of the Missal: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
To the Catholic person, the Eucharist holds a unique place. In this sacrament, we believe that Christ himself is mediated (Sacrosanctum concilium, 47). Reflection at the Second Vatican Council surrounded encouraging in the Christian people as receptive a disposition as possible (SC, 59). Catholics were not to be seen as “strange and silent spectators” at the celebration of the Eucharist (SC, 48), and in my experience, when the Church’s vision has been communicated and accepted — communicated and accepted that baptized Christians participate in the priesthood of Jesus — this self-understanding has been one of those ways in which active participation, or true receptivity at the Eucharist, can occur.
My experience has been that when individuals are helped to discern the ways in which their works, prayers, apostolic endeavours, married and family life, daily occupations, moments of physical and mental relaxation and even physical hardships can operate as “spiritual sacrifices,” then not only is the Mass approached with a more appropriate disposition, but the events of one’s life are consciously tied to life’s Giver.
Against the statement of she who claimed that “when everyone is a priest, then no one is a priest,” I think the best response is that according to the Church’s theology of baptism, all baptized Christians participate in the priestly office of Jesus. Rather than grudgingly accepting that this is, in fact, what the Church teaches, perhaps persons should see the implications of such a teaching, and open themselves to ways in which they can experience the transformation it brings.