“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?
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)