A Priestly People

Back at the beginning of Lent, I said in a video that Lent was a time of preparation for the renewal of our baptismal promises. Because the video was mostly about Lent, I didn’t give a full explanation of what that meant, and I’m sure I left a number of you thinking, “What promises? I was a baby… I didn’t make any promises.”

Maybe so. But your parents and Godparents did for you.

You see at baptism—whether its done as a child or as an adult—all of us Christians are incorporated into Christ and Christ’s Church by being cleansed of our sin, permanently marked on our souls, and commissioned to live the threefold office of Christ: priest, prophet and king. Lumen Gentium, the 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church promulgated at the Second Vatican Council (essentially the highest teaching authority on the Church), had this to say:

These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world (Lumen Gentium, 31).

It is for this reason that baptism is considered entry into the “royal priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9) making all the faithful, myself and likely you included, “priests” in a very real sense. Did you know that you we were priests?! Obviously different from our brothers with the title “father” in front of their name, what we are called to is no less significant in the life of the Church.

Called to offer sacrifice

Traditionally, the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices to God; this is the case for the Levitical priests in the Old Testament, this is what Jesus did when he offered himself as a sacrifice, and this is what Catholic and Orthodox priests do today on the altar. They interact directly with God and make the world holy because of their actions. But guess what: there are other ways to make the world holy than celebrating Mass! Just because we as non-ministerial priests cannot offer the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” doesn’t mean that we’re free from this office of Christ! Once again, the Second Vatican Council had this to say: “The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work” (LG, 34). All of us as Christians are called to be priests like Christ in the sense that we are to offer sacrifice and make Christ present through our works. Even the ordinary lives of the faithful—going to work, being married, praying at home, even enduring hardships—can be done in a way to “consecrate the world itself to God” (LG, 34). This is an extraordinary reminder and a powerful commission we should take seriously: we are called as baptized Christians to make the world holy through our actions.

Called to be make God known

In the Old Testament, prophets were not so much the people that saw the future as they were people who saw the present as God does. They were people so close to God and attuned to God’s Word that they could look out into the world and proclaim what needed to be done to build God’s world (and even sometimes how God was going to react if we didn’t!) Jesus was the greatest of the Prophets because he was at the same time the one delivering the message and the message itself; his very existence proclaimed God and taught people about what God wanted for us and the world. As sharers in this office of Christ through baptism (yup… you guessed it) all of us are called to be prophets in the world as well. While ordained ministers are entrusted to teaching and preaching in an official sense, the council was clear that all Christians are a part of this mission, even taking on a part particular to them: “Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth” (LG, 33). In other words, we are all called to spread the Word of God in the world, but the laity, living and working in the secular world, are able to reach people and places that the ordained generally can’t. Does this mean that everyone is expected to start reading the Bible at their workplace or asking fellow soccer moms if they know Jesus? No, not necessarily. Evangelization is not always so explicit. But it does mean that the way we live, all of us, needs to proclaim ourselves as Easter people, people who know the joy and life of the Resurrection and a God who loves us. There are infinite ways to show this!

Called to lead others through service

Finally, we all know that Jesus is the true King, the “anointed one” of God awaited in the Old Testament, ruling now on his throne in heaven. He is the all-powerful, just judge that governs all of Creation. The king of glory comes the nation rejoices! In an official way, ordained ministers take on this role as the ones who govern the Church, leading the people and making laws for proper life and worship of all Christians. But once again (last time!) the laity are not off the hook! As baptized Christians who live and work in the world, the laity are not only part of this commission, they are given a special role in it. Think about it. If we’re supposed to build the kingdom of God as Jesus announced, who is going to be better able to act with justice in the world: the priest running a parish or a regional manager of a bank? While ordained ministers might be better equipped to govern the Church, the laity, in fact, are better equipped to build a just society because they live and work in it. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, sales reps, social workers, factory workers, minimum wage clerks, authors and musicians. Each one of these professions is intimately connected with the wider world and the economy, and each Christian working in these places has insider knowledge about what needs to be done to create a better world. Being incorporated into Jesus’ “kingly” office means using the authority, knowledge, and ability one has to “serve others rather than be served.”

A priestly people

Taken together, all of us baptized Christians constitute a “priestly people” unto God, a royal priesthood of believers. As such, we are given a special commission to be priests, prophets, and kings in our world in a way that fits our way of life. One does not have to be an ordained minister to make Christ present, and in fact, there are ways that only someone who is not an ordained minister can do it. In this time of Easter, having purified and prepared ourselves in the time of Lent, we are sent out into the world to begin living this again in a renewed way.

How will you be a priest, prophet, and king today?

7 Comments on “A Priestly People

  1. In our diocese in western Honduras, we try to have our base communities work in what we call the triple ministry: prophetic, liturgical, and social ministries. It’s our way of trying to make people aware of what you are writing about.
    Your thoughts about prophet and priest are helpful as I try to help people think through what these mean.
    I would, though suggest that the “king” be re-thought and re-named as “”servant”.

    • That’s great to hear that this has been implemented in your diocese! The reason that these terms are specifically used is because they are modeled after what Christ was: priest, prophet, and king. Naturally, we don’t all exercise this final one AS kings, but lead/govern as Jesus did, as a servant (as you say). If we are going to be true to the actual text of the Second Vatican Council, what it really calls us to is “sanctifying” (munus sanctificandi), “teaching” (munus docendi) and “governing” (munus regendi).

  2. John – Good points.
    I think what Friar Casey is saying is we are all supposed to be
    Christ-like. That certainly isn’t easy.
    There used to be a song we sing at Mass “Priestly
    People, Kingly People’ . I think that is what we’re supposed to
    try to live in the world, not just on Sundays. I think Christ did say
    paraphrasing’ I came not for sacrifice but MERCY’ and I think we
    just recently heard in the Gospel that Jesus asks for mercy not justice.
    To do these things ( for example suffering persecution or turning the
    other cheek ) we have to act like another Christ or King of Kings.

    • Priestly people, Kingly people, holy people. by Lucien Deiss
      God’s chosen people, sing praise to the Lord.
      We sing to you, O Christ, beloved son of the father. We give you praise, O wisdom everlasting and Word of God.
      We sing to you, O son born of Mary the Virgin. We give you praise, Our Brother, born to heal us, our saving lord.
      We sing to you, o brightness of splendor and glory. We give you praise, o morning star ANNOUNCING THE COMING DAY
      We sing to you, o light bringing men out of darkness. We give you praise, o guiding light who shows us the way to heaven.
      We sing to you Messiah foretold by the prophets. We give you praise, o son of David and son of Abraham.
      We sing to you, Messiah, the hope of the people. We give you praise, O Christ our Lord and king, humble meek of heart.

      So John we are to try and be humble kings, servants, prophets and priestly people . Maybe that might help.

      • In John’s Gospel Christ said:

        ‘ I tell you most solemnly,
        whoever believes in me
        will perform the same works as I do myself,
        he will perform even greater works,
        because I am going to the Father.
        Whatever you ask for in my name I will do,
        so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
        If you ask for anything in my name,
        I will do it.’

        I think this means when we see the poor , or marginalized
        we’re not supposed to look the other way. To be Christ-like,
        holy & kingly people we have to try and help them, just like St.
        Francis followed Christ. He pu words into action He preached
        by action.

  3. John – I hope hope this favorite poem of mine clears up hings a little;

    image of God
    born of God’s breath
    vessel of divine Love
    after his likeness
    dwelling of God
    capacity for the infinite
    eternally known
    chosen of God
    home of the Infinite Majesty
    abiding in the Son
    called from eternity
    life in the Lord
    temple of the Holy Spirit
    branch of Christ
    receptacle of the Most High
    wellspring of Living Water
    heir of the kingdom
    the glory of God
    abode of the Trinity.
    God sings this litany
    eternally in his Word.
    This is who you are.

    a litany of the person – anonymous trappist monk

    Remember that we are the home of the Majesty
    and we we’re the heirs of the kingdom. It is by our
    actions that this happens and ‘they’l know we are Christians by our love’ .

  4. Dear Br. Cole,

    Your article, “A Priestly People,” interests me for a couple of reasons. First, the more removed I am in years from the (imposed) religious experiences of my youth, the more curious I am in theological explanations of them. Second, the more I know about Catholic theology, the more I am interested in the gap between my experiences of Catholicism and the emancipatory (though sacrificing) set of experiences that it is supposed to offer adherents.

    To rephrase my interest into two questions: Was the imposition that I felt the result of badly taught theology? Or is there something inherently imposing about Catholicism (contradicting the true freedom that it promises)?

    Lent for me involved giving something up as an ongoing reminder of – and as a symbolic form of partaking in – the suffering that Jesus is said to have endured for our salvation. For the most part, I had no problem with this, and actually enjoyed the discipline of abstaining from chocolate (or whatever), linked as it was to the delight of eventually reacquainting myself with it on Easter.

    However, starting in my late teens, I did have a problem with the fact that being a Catholic in general involved giving much up. Details aside, I felt as though I was being denied the freedom to experience life in its fullness. Although I did not want to sin for the sake of it, I did want the authoritative confidence that comes with personal experience, with the knowledge that something is good or bad because one has tried it (or been tried by it). Also, I intuited that many Catholic “sins” – like sex outside an official marriage– are not necessarily bad. (Eventually, I would see certain Catholic teachings as outright immoral, notably on the topic of homosexuality).

    At first, I accepted my problem within the framework of Catholicism as I understood it. That is, I could live with having to give up much in the way of experience because I believed that it was a necessary sacrifice– not only for my salvation but for that of others. When I stopped believing that this sacrifice was necessary, I stopped believing in God in any theological sense. That is, I reasoned, if Catholicism were at all flawed in principle, the entire edifice must be. (A friend once observed that this basis for rejecting Catholicism was very Catholic).

    Why did I stop believing that the sacrifice was necessary? To my knowledge, I did not stop in order to rationalize committing any “sin” (though I had often envied others who were free to live without the constraints of rules that I followed in spite of my intuitive reservations about their validity). Rather, I stopped because the sacrifice started to impede relationships with good people who were free to figure things out for themselves.

    So what does all this have to do with your article? Interestingly, the latter suggests a coherent explanation for my experiences of imposition: an explanation that, if true, implies that my desire for free personal experience was a source of error, a source that my particular Catholic community evidently did not effectively guard me against.

    The explanation, as I perceive it, contains two main points.

    First, no one asks to be born. That is, on a basic biological level, admission to any human society involves a large degree of submission to its authorities, for good reason – if a baby were free to experience life to the fullest, its life would likely not last long. In this sense, technically imposed admission to “Christ and Christ’s Church” as an infant is not an inherent imposition, even though the infant does not ask for it. More broadly, rules are good and emancipatory insofar as they direct people away from harmful experiences that they would otherwise succumb to in ignorance, thereby freeing their time up for healthy experiences.
    Second, all societies by definition involve a degree of disconnect from other societies. Thus, my having impeded relationships with non-Catholics was not in itself an indictment of Catholicism.

    I’m running out of steam – just as I’m approaching the crux of my response. In brief, I think that Catholic theology was taught badly to me. For example, I think that my community could have done a better job of making certain rituals (like giving up something for Lent) more connected to everyday personal experience. Your suggestion in your Lent video to give up an actual vice (though easier said than done) strikes me as a good one.

    Still, I think that Catholicism is inherently imposing (however unintentionally in principle if not always in practice). As I see it, it’s a glorified form of giving chocolate up for Lent. That is, it strikes me as overly symbolic. But instead of a day of over-eating chocolate it promises an eternal reward for temporal sacrifices, often to people who do not fully accept (or who have not been fully appraised of) the terms and conditions.

    To conclude. It’s interesting to see the theological coherence of Catholicism; however, there’s still nothing therein that I see as necessary. So, if it helps you and others, good for you. The problem I have is with its self-styled necessity. Just as certain facts about biology and society invalidate outright dismissals of Catholicism, so do the same facts invalidate outright acceptance of it (from the perspective of someone on the outside).

    Best regards,


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