Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2016: Day Four, “A priestly people called to proclaim the Gospel”Jan 21st, 2016 | By Casey Chalk | Category: Blog Posts
Biblical text for 2016:
Day Four: A priestly people called to proclaim the Gospel.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (RSV).
St. Peter calls his first century audience a “royal priesthood” — a startling declaration, whether one was a Jew or Gentile. For Jews, the priesthood had been reserved for a very particular group of people, a group defined by ancestral lineage. John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was of this patrimony: a priest of the sons of Aaron. Now Peter (who, by the way, was a fisherman by trade and almost certainly not of the priestly class) claims any Jew — through union with Christ — can be a priest? This would be shocking. For Gentiles this would be even more remarkable, that they, though not even descended from Abraham by natural birth, might be welcomed into such a family. Yet this is what God had promised to Abraham in the first reading, that he would be an ancestor not just of the Jewish people, but of “a multitude of nations.”
How is it that — for lack of a better word — nobodys would be allowed to assume such a title? The Catechism, citing Rev 1:6, Rev 5:9-10, and 1 Pet 2:5,9, observes that Jesus Christ is “high priest and unique mediator” between God and man. He is the true high priest, the fulfillment of the priesthood. Though not of the family of Aaron or Levi, the writer of Hebrews tell us that Jesus was a priest through the “order of Melchizedek,” the guarantor of a “permanent priesthood” (Hebrews 7:24). Referencing the prophetic fulfillment of Psalm 110:4, Jesus is a “priest forever.” Jesus then, as prophet, priest, and king, has the power to make those united to His Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”5 The Catechism, relying on Lumen Gentium 10 § 1, affirms: “the whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.”6
The catechism, again relying on Lumen Gentium 10 § 2, further explains: “The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, ‘each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.'” Furthermore, “the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit…”7 Protestants taught to be suspicious of the Catholic priesthood and its “sacerdotalism” may be surprised to discover that the Church teaches that the baptized faithful participate in the “one priesthood of Christ” directed by the Holy Spirit and oriented toward the perfection of faith, hope, and love. Of course, in Catholic teaching, the sacrament of Holy Orders delineates a special role for priests and bishops, though this in no way detracts from the integral role all Christians play in this mystical sacerdotal reality.
Moreover, though many Protestants may be separated from the Catholic Church, the Church affirms that they as baptized Christians can participate in this priesthood. All Christians, despite our differences and divisions, are capable of offering up our prayers and even our very lives as a holy offering, “acceptable and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). Surely our prayers offered for the sake of the unity of Christ’s people would be pleasing to our Lord, and will not go unanswered. This is a remarkable source of unity for all Christians, yet how often overlooked, how little appropriated to deepen a shared prayer life. I hope that in this shared calling we might find not only a common prayer and common life, but a common thinking about our shared participation in Christ and redemptive history. This can serve to unite us more deeply as we pursue our shared goal of deeper intimacy with Christ and His Mystical Body.
Lord Jesus, you said that everyone will know that we are your disciples if there is love among us. Strengthened by your grace, may we work tirelessly for the visible unity of your Church, so that the Good News that we are called to proclaim will be seen in all our words and deeds. Amen.8
- Your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. [↩]
- The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. [↩]
- And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? [↩]
- Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. [↩]
- CCC 1546 [↩]
- CCC 1546 [↩]
- CCC 1547 [↩]
- Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Resources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the throughout the Year 2016, available here. [↩]