Participating in the Priesthood of Jesus
Does benefit exist – to the Church or to the world or, even, to one’s own family – in reflecting on the way in which a baptized person participates in the priestly, prophetic and royal “functions” of Jesus Christ? I recall a Catholic writer, 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 attempts to safeguard distinction but, in doing so, unintentionally sets aside Catholic theology.
Baptized Christians “participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ (Code of Canon Law, c. 204)”. Before identifying any distinction that exists within the people of God, the Second Vatican Council assert the centrality of the baptism that Christians share. All baptized persons are formed in the likeness of Christ and, by participating in the Eucharist, all such persons are brought into communion with Jesus Christ and with one another. Within this unity, the “various members and functions have their part to play (Lumen gentium 7),” but all, as baptized persons, 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 and represents 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]“). Bishop Emile-Joseph De Smedt, a participant at the Second Vatican Council, reasoned that just as the whole of the Jewish people were commissioned by God, so also Jesus uses the community of those gathered around him for the redemption of all.
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).” Catholic theology presents the former (members of the ministerial priesthood) as acting in the person of Jesus Christ and as making present the Eucharistic sacrifice and as offering that sacrifice to God. The latter (non ordained baptized Christians) join 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 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 person’s works, prayers, apostolic endeavours, married and family life, daily occupations, moments of physical and mental relaxation, and even his or her 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 Missal: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
To a Catholic person, the Eucharist holds a unique place. In this sacrament, Christ himself is mediated (Sacrosanctum concilium, 47). The Second Vatican Council encouraged, in its faithful, as receptive a disposition as possible at Mass (SC, 59). Catholics were not to be seen as “strange and silent spectators” at the celebration of the Eucharist (SC, 48). In my experience, when the vision of the Church has been 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, occurs.
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 receptive disposition, but the events of one’s life are more consciously tied to the giver of life.
Against the statement that “when everyone is a priest, then no one is a priest,” I think the best response is that, according to Catholic theology, all the baptized 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.