The priesthood of Melchizedek and the priesthood of the faithful

“You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.” So reads the famous verse from Hebrews Chapter 5 and in the Responsorial Psalm in the readings for today’s Mass.

And as Vatican II emphasised in Lumen Gentium §10, the whole Church – all Christians – share in this priesthood of Christ.

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”. The baptised, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.

As we saw in our reflection for 8 January, one of those Council Fathers, who did the most to promote this understanding, was the Jocist bishop, Emile-Joseph De Smedt.

But how does this priesthood of all Christians relate specifically to lay people?

Bishop De Smedt responds:

In the vast field of the apostolate there are areas wherein the hierarchy is not directly involved, and which pertain directly to the laity. We are here speaking of secular life, both public and private. By means of the faithful, Christ introduces into this sphere Christian principles, a Christian atmosphere, a Christian way of making use of temporal goods and means. This is the vocation and the specific mission of the faithful who live in such surroundings.

This, he says, echoing Cardijn, is “the apostolate that is proper to the layperson.”

This, however, prompts a series of questions from Bishop De Smedt:

But how will they acquit themselves of this task? Will they fulfill it as it should be fulfilled? In other words, will they be sufficiently able, enterprising, persevering, and will they follow methods that are in conformity with the spirit of the gospel? Will the results they achieve be adequate? The pastors of the People of God cannot be indifferent to all these problems.

And he offers his own answer to this question too:

Jesus wishes to make use of the organisation of the Church so as to ensure that everybody does his duty, that his members perform their tasks perfectly. Consequently, pastors, who are preoccupied with the climate that prevails in our modem world, and realising the unique part that lay people can play in the sanctification of the profane have addressed themselves to the more generous among the faithful, saying: “organise yourselves and help one another so that a growing number of Christians may become aware of the demands of their priestly role. You yourselves must become responsible apostles wherever you live.”

This, Bishop De Smedt explained, was the work of movements such as the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and other “Specialised Catholic Action” movements.

As he concluded:

In all instances it will be the action of Christians who have understood that the kingdom of Christ will not come on earth and society will not become Christian unless dedicated lay people help one another to act like Christians worthy of the name, making their Christianity incarnate and rendering the general atmosphere more favourable to the requirements of the life of Christ among His People.


What understanding do lay people today have of their own “priesthood of the faithful”?


How important is this?


What could you do personally, or with your peers, your parish do to foster this understanding?


Stefan Gigacz

Read More

Mass Readings for 15 January (USCCB)

Emile-Joseph De Smedt, The priesthood of the faithful (Paulist Press, 1961

Emile-Joseph De Smedt (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Acting as a leaven

The Church celebrates St Hilary of Poitiers, a Doctor of the Church, today. 

Hilary was a defender of the Divinity of Christ and battled Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. 

Hilary, in this pursuit, suffered controversy, problems, pain and frustration.    

Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, too, had suffered controversy, problems, pain and frustration in promoting the dignity of the lay apostolate. Cardijn, the founder of the Young Christian Worker (YCW), promoted and defended “the specifically lay apostolate of lay people.”  

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium #31 states: 

31. The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. 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.

What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. It is true that those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession. But they are by reason of their particular vocation especially and professedly ordained to the sacred ministry. Similarly, by their state in life, religious give splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transformed and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes. But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.

This view of the lay apostolate, however, is rare. 


In May 2018, the Australian Church began its Fifth Plenary Council journey, culminating four years later, in August 2022, where 35 motions were put to a consultative and a deliberative vote.  

There have been diverging views of Australia’s Fifth Plenary Council, including the role of the lay apostolate. 

Stefan Gigacz analysed the Fifth Australian Plenary Council from a Cardijn perspective in August 2021 and noted, “…The collapse in awareness within Australian Catholicism of the ‘lay apostolate’ is evident in the now almost universal use within the church (including on the ACBC website) of the term ‘lay ministry’ (or ‘lay pastoral ministry’). This almost exclusively refers to internal church work and is oblivious to every lay person’s unique and indispensable role in the ‘world’ (as distinct from the ‘church’)…”


Vatican II and Cardijn had a specific definition and explanation for the lay apostolate from the Bible and Church’s teachings. Stefan had captured this in his book, The Leaven in the Council, and various other places.   

Do we agree with Vatican II’s teachings on the lay apostolate? 

Do we agree with what Cardinal Cardijn taught on the lay apostolate? 


What can we do to understand Vatican II’s teachings on the lay apostolate?

What can we do to promote the teachings of Vatican II on the lay apostolate? 


Greg Lopez

Lay people as priests, prophets and kings

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the feast of the arrival of the three kings, the three wise men of tradition, who became known to history as Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar.

They are also known for having brought Mary, Joseph and Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Moreover, as Philip Kosloski has written, these gifts had a very important symbolic meaning:

The gold represents Christ’s kingship; frankincense, a sweet-smelling resin used in worship, his priesthood; and myrrh, an ointment used in burial, foreshadows his death.

The three gifts can thus be seen as symbolising Jesus’ three roles (tria munera) as king, priest and prophet, an idea that became very important for Cardijn and the YCW.

In his pioneering 1953 book, Jalons pour une théologie du laïcat (Lay People In the Church: A Study for a Theology of the Laity), French Dominican theologian, Yves Congar, who had preached retreats for YCW leaders during the 1930s and worked closely with many YCW chaplains and leaders, developed this idea, emphasising that lay people as well as priests shared in this triple ministry of Jesus.

And in 1961, in preparing for the Second Vatican Council, Belgian Bishop Emile-Joseph De Smedt, another prominent promoter of the YCW and a close collaborator of Cardijn, made the same point in a pastoral letter later published in English as The Priesthood of the Faithful.

Bishop De Smedt, whose sister Livine was a fulltimer for the Flemish VKAJ (Girls YCW) explained it as follows:

The priestly work of the faithful consists of:

Life in union with Christ offering sacrifice in the midst of his people;

Life in union with Christ teaching in the midst of his people;

Life in union with Christ ruling in the midst of his people.

The apostolic work of pastors stands:

In the service of Christ offering sacrifice in the midst of his people;

In the service of Christ teaching in the midst of his people;

In the service of Christ ruling in the midst of his people.

Congar, De Smedt and other theologians worked hard and successfully to introduce this concept into the Vatican II documents. As a result, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium stated that the whole Church, including all lay people share in this kingship, priesthood;

31. The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. 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.

And §2 the Decree on the Lay Apostolate, Apostolicam Actuositatem, makes this even more clear:

The laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.

They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelisation and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardour of the spirit of Christ.

Serve, educate and represent

But, practically, however, how can lay people act as prophets, kings and priests in their ordinary, daily lives?

Cardijn himself provided the answer to this. The YCW, he wrote, “is at once and inseparably a school, a service, a representative body.”

It is thus:

A school of lay apostolate in their life, their environment, within the mass of their comrades.

A service of lay apostolate in their life, their environment, within the mass of their comrades.

A representative body of lay apostolate in their life, their environment, within the mass of their comrades. A practical school, a school of training, in which they learn to see, to judge, and to achieve the apostolic value of their whole life, in all its aspects, its details, the most humble and daily ones, at home, in their district, in their street, in the factory, in the office, on the way to work, in meal-times and breaks, in their leisure, always and everywhere, in their courtship, their engagement, their marriage; not a theoretical school, or a purely doctrinal school, but a school in which they exercise themselves, and work out and perfect their own training; an essentially active and acting school, with its enquiries and activities imparting a social sense, a social spirit, a social conduct, in a much more gripping way than any lessons and lectures which leave the listeners passive and inactive; a school which reveals to them the beauty and the grandeur of their humble life as young workers, which exalts them and creates in them and in the whole of their life that indispensable unity which gives them with strength of conviction and character, pride in their Christian, apostolic and radiating life; a school which transforms their life of young workers into a lay priesthood and a lay apostolate, whose fruitfulness astonishes and delights those who witness it.

In other words, for Cardijn, lay people participate in Christ’s triple ministry by

a) educating others (a prophetic role),

b) serving their peers (kingship or leadership as service) and

c) representing them (acting as priestly intermediaries).

And the YCW teaches young workers how to achieve this through the see-judge-act.

Let’s try it ourselves.


How do I serve my peers in my daily life?

How do I help educate them?

How do I advocate on their behalf or represent them?


Do you see any ways of doing this better?


Decide on a concrete action this week in which you will endeavour to educate, serve and advocate for your friends, peers and colleagues.


Stefan Gigacz


The Epiphany of the Lord, Readings (USCCB)

Philip Kosloski, Why did the Magi bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? (Aleteia)

Lumen Gentium (Vatican)

Apostolicam Actuositatem (Vatican)

Peter De Mey, “Sharing in the threefold office of Christ, a different matter for laity and priests? The tria munera in Lumen Gentium, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Apostolicam Actuositatem and Ad Gentes,” in The Letter and the Spirit: On the Forgotten Documents of Vatican II, ed. Annemarie Mayer, Peeters, 2018, 155-179. (Academia)

Missionaries of the Interior

St Therese of Lisieux would be 150 today if she was still alive. She was born on this day in 1873 in Alencon, France. But why would this be of interest to people today? Pope Pius XI proclaimed her to be the patroness of Catholic Action when Fr Joseph Cardijn took the JOC leaders on a pilgrimage to Rome in September, 1929. Pope Pius XI described all Jocists as “missionaries of the interior” and presented each pilgrim with a medallion in honour of St Therese of Lisieux, whom he had named as the patron saint of missionaries. 

St Therese had a missionary heart. She wrote in her journal, which was later published as Story of a Soul: “I would be a Missionary, not for a few years only, but, were it possible, from the beginning of the world till the consummation of time. ” She never left the Carmelite convent she entered. Her missionary work was done through walking with missionaries given to her as “brothers” by her superior. 

In 1937, Fr Joseph Cardijn preached at the Eucharistic Congress held in Lisieux. In his homily, he said “… may Saint Thérèse of Lisieux obtain that this National Congress, this Eucharistic Congress, facilitates a Eucharistic renewal among all workers in France and among all workers in the world for their own happiness and for universal peace.” The celebration of the Eucharist is essential to the life and work of all missionaries, including those whose mission is to those they meet each day in the workplace.

If we listen with a missionary heart to the Gospel for the Mass of January 2, then we will hear John the Baptist describe himself as “a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord” (John 1:23). He was quoting the prophet Isaiah. All prophets are apostles; they are sent by God to announce his kingdom on earth. This is their mission. Indeed, it is the mission of all who seek to follow Christ. Like the apostles we meet in the Gospel, like St Therese of Lisieux and like Fr Joseph Cardijn, we, too, announce through the way we live as disciples of Jesus, “make a straight way for the Lord.” 

Missionary work is not accomplished without preparation, without prayer and reflection. John the Baptist would have spent years preparing for his few short years of proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom. Jesus spent thirty years preparing for his mission, which lasted just three years. He handed on his mission to his disciples, who also spend years preparing for their part in the mission. The Eucharistic renewal that Fr Joseph Cardijn called for during the homily he preached in the Cathedral in Lisieux on July 10, 1937 is the heart of the mission of all workers, indeed, of all people.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council described the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11). This, then, must be the change that is sought by all missionaries, including those engaged in mission in the workplace. We seem so far away from this in Australia today, where only about eight percent of Catholics celebrate the Eucharist regularly. So, how do we change this? How do we “make a straight way for the Lord” in the workplace and in our homes? 

We start with ourselves, with our relationship with Jesus and what we share with him. How does going to Mass affect our lives? How does it show in our relationships with our family, our friends and those we meet and work with in the community? Here is a simple action that can be done at the same time each day: in prayer, join Jesus on the altar as he offers himself to the Father for all people for all time.

Pat Branson


Joseph Cardijn, Sermon at the Lisieux Eucharistic Congress 1937 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)