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?