Q: Archbishop J, could you explain the priesthood of all believers?
When we hear the word ‘priest’, we think immediately of those ordained through the laying on of hands. The priest is central to our life as Catholics.
For Baptism, reconciliation, Eucharist, marriage, and anointing, we need a priest. They are there for us in all the high moments of our life, including death in the family. They are the stewards of the sacred mysteries, the sacraments.
There are specific ways that God acts through priests that is vital for our life of grace and the Church.
In the New Testament, ‘priest’ is also used to refer to all the baptised. Through Baptism, each of us is made prophet, priest, and king (1241, Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC). This is our deepest identity.
Priesthood is not only seen in the high priest, or the ordained priest, but also, in the universal priesthood of all the baptised. This is parallel to how priesthood was seen in Israel.
In the Book of Exodus, God called His people: “… and you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites” (Ex 19:6).
Later, God called on Moses to warn the people and the priests not to touch the holy mountain (This now refers to a ministerial priesthood). Like Israel, the Catholic Church believes in both a universal priesthood and a ministerial one.
In 1 Peter 2:4–5, the author introduces two key ideas: living stones and holy priesthood. He says: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The first image is of Christ, the new temple, and each of us a living stone in this new temple. This is a wonderful image of us as integral to Christ and His body. What is the purpose of the temple? It is a place where Israel would gather to pray and to offer sacrifice and do what the law requires.
Each of us is a living stone, we are all being built up into a living spiritual house. Like the image of the Body of Christ, the image of the temple speaks to the interrelatedness of each Christian into the whole—the temple which is Christ.
St Peter then switches imagery: the purpose of the spiritual house is to become a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (v 5).
This may be described as a mixed metaphor, but each layer is vital to reach to the next. Christ, the temple; we, the living stones making up the temple—a spiritual house. The purpose of the baptised now emerges: to be a holy priesthood. How? By offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. We are moved from participating in the building to priestly sacrifice.
The question that this brings is: what is this spiritual sacrifice? The CCC explains:
Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvellously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. 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 born—all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist, these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives (901, CCC).
Everything proper to the life of the laity, “if they are accomplished in the spirit”, has potential for becoming a spiritual sacrifice.
Gregory and Lisa Popcak, in their work on the domestic Church, say if the family is a domestic Church, it has a priesthood and a liturgy. In both the big Church and the domestic Church sacrifices are offered. In the first, the priest offers sacrifice; the liturgy of the domestic Church involves all activities of the day—accomplished in the Spirit.
To make a sacrifice is to give up something good for something better. The Catechism is teaching that throughout our day we have the opportunity to make sacrifices.
An activity could be very selfish or sacrificial. We can respond with love, instead of hurtful words; do things to help others without them knowing; be fully present as opposed to being physically present. All these are doing the activity accomplished in the Spirit.
When the words or action of a loved one prompts you to retaliate, it is possible to breathe, offer up the suffering, and then respond in love. When a member of the family is having a hard time, you can pray extra for the person, and do things so they experience love and affirmation.
These daily opportunities for sacrifice—if done well—for Christ’s sake, constitute the liturgy of the domestic Church. When the whole family is oriented to making daily sacrifices, putting others before themselves, the family is becoming a domestic Church.
This is what living out the Trinitarian vision of love means: each person, concerned not purely with his or her own needs, gives to others, ensuring the needs of others are met.
In the Mass, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says: “Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” The people respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”
At Mass, each one is expected to bring his or her sacrifices to add to the sacrifice of the ministerial priest at the altar. Thus, “my sacrifice and yours”. All these sacrifices are in Christ, who models for us what true love looks like.
Here, the domestic Church and the big Church are united in one act of giving praise: no longer two liturgies, but one.
This is how we sanctify our day, our life, and our families. This is how we make holy moments. We can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and make it something beautiful for God.
All baptised are part of the priesthood of the believers who have their liturgy of daily sacrifice offered up to God.
Become conscious of the moments when you can offer up sacrifices in your family, by giving up something good for something better—an expression of love for the other and Christ. At Mass, bring your sacrifices to the altar during the Offertory.
1 Peter 2:4–9