Do you know that you are a priest? Many of us Catholics are unaware of our own priesthood. Yet, this office of priesthood was conferred upon us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and later again, reaffirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Of course, most of us are far more familiar with the first aspect of the Baptismal rite. That is, when we are immersed into the baptismal water, or the water is poured over our heads – and we’re blessed three times in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By this sacred rite, we are made into “a new creation” (Rom.5:17), our sin forgiven, and “grafted into the paschal mystery of Christ.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6) For as Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) However, there is a second aspect to the Baptismal rite, in which we are anointed with the holy chrism oil. Then, as the holy unction is applied to our heads, the priest or deacon prays over us, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of His holy people, sharing everlasting life.” And with that anointing, we become sharers in Christ’s threefold offices of priest, prophet and king. In particular, a share in the eternal priesthood of Christ is stamped upon our souls. This is not a metaphorical or allegorical priesthood, but a true priesthood; Christ’s priestly character is indelibly marked upon our souls. We should absorb this idea to the very core of our being: You are a priest!
The priesthood of the faithful is not an obscure idea. The Magisterium itself spells out the priestly nature of our Christian vocation. The Catechism refers to the “whole community of believers” that “through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation” are “consecrated to be ..a holy priesthood.” (CCC 1546) We, as Catholics, are definitely use to thinking of a strict separation of powers between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the laity; the former, with priestly powers, and the latter, without. Part of this is from the emphasis, and perhaps over-correction, by the Church and the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and the Protestants of the 16th century rebelled, of course, against the Catholic hierarchy and the validity of the Sacraments, among other things. In defense, and rightly so, of Apostolic succession, the Priesthood and the Sacraments, some of these ideas, such as a priestly community of believers, were somewhat forgotten. Now, centuries later, this is part of the spirit of Vatican II in trying to recover these long-faded notions and empowering the laity. Documents such as Lumen Gentium, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” and later, Pope John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici, or “The lay Faithful,” are attempts, partially, at retrieving this common priesthood of the faithful. Of course, this idea goes back way beyond the Middle Ages too. It goes all the way back to the Apostles and the Bible itself. Even St.Peter, the chief Apostle, passionately implores us as if we could hear him now, “..and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet.2:5) Later, he again tries to impress upon us, and emphatically so, the ontological nature of who we truly are, “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..’” (1 Pet.2:9) This is unequivocal and direct. It should really shake us to our foundation, and awaken us from any stupor that there’s nothing special in being a Christian. We should remind ourselves often of our dignity through Christ. Clearly, this was not a foreign concept to the Apostles then or to the Magisterium now. It is a consistent dogma understood throughout the history of the Church: all baptized believers are priests of Christ.
But then, what does it mean to be a priest? And how do we, as the laity, exercise this common priesthood today? The Protestants of the 16th century clearly committed a grave error in dismissing the ecclesiastical priesthood. As the saying goes, they threw the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, they gutted the Church to undo some Clericalism. Yet, in a sense, as bad as that is, they helped to restore, perhaps indirectly over time, the charism of the lay faithful. Now, there are two participations – which we Catholics understand to differ, in essence – in the one priesthood of Christ: One being the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests; and the other, the common priesthood of the faithful. The ministerial priesthood is at service to the common priesthood by building up and leading the Church, and administering the Sacraments. Moreover, the ministerial priest, by virtue of Holy Orders, acts “in persona Christi Capitis.” (CCC1548). That is, Christ Himself – in the priest – is present to His Church. Yet, we the laity, are also priests. We participate in both the one, eternal priesthood of Christ as well as the salvific mission of the Church. But, how to do this? As the New Evangelization is calling us, we have to rediscover, if you will, the way the first apostles and disciples lived this common priesthood. As priests, we are to offer praise and sacrifice to God in intercession for ourselves and for the salvation of others. We are to be charitable. And so, in a very real way, we can offer mediation for the sins and unbelief in ourselves and members of our family, our friends, or really anyone in the world, or in purgatory for that matter. Our lives should be a dynamic interaction of presenting ourselves to God through holiness, prayer and sacrifice. St.Peter’s instruction should be our mantra; to be a “royal priesthood,” by building up ourselves as “spiritual houses,” and offering “spiritual sacrifices.” This is the key to our common priesthood of the faithful.
Bearing in mind the priestly nature of our Christian vocation as well, St.Paul exhorts the Romans, “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Rom.12:1) We should consecrate our ordinary, daily lives to God. We should offer up all that we do each day as a sacrifice to God on behalf of ourselves and for each other. The Magisterium again points the way. Lumen Gentium and the Catechism exhort the laity, “For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (LG 34/CCC901) Our priesthood is a priesthood of the ordinary. Our sacrifices are spiritual ones, offered up and borne within the daily routines of our ordinary lives. The beauty of the priesthood of the faithful is that we can carry out our sacrifices in the midst of whatever situation we are living in. Our priesthood does not require an altar or a temple per se, but only the simple moments of our ordinary lives, consecrated within the temples of our bodies and souls. Our family life, our jobs, our commutes, our joys, our stresses, our relaxation, even our simple actions, walking, breathing, all can be consecrated and offered to God. As many as the varied activity of a person’s life – no matter how small or how mundane – so can be offered up as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. We can exercise our priesthood in cooking dinner and cleaning the house. Indeed, we should consecrate to God all of our activities for the whole day – each day – starting first thing in the morning and until we go to sleep. Our priesthood is simple. It’s lived out in the ordinary implements and raw materials that we find in each day in the midst of the world. But, in order for our priestly actions to be efficacious they must be united with the one, true priest, Jesus Christ, and His life and culmination in the sacrifice of the Cross. For as Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches… because without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) We simply must offer the intention of living these – our daily lives, actions, thoughts, deeds – for God. This is the mission of the laity, in the common priesthood of the faithful, to unite our lives – wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing – with that of Jesus Christ, and by virtue of our priesthood, offer up ourselves as spiritual sacrifices. In this way we can build up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and plead for the salvation of others. For as the Magisterium teaches, “And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” (LG34/CCC901)