Readings: Ex 20:1-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25
1. These Sundays of Lent we have been exploring some of the effects of the sacrament of Baptism. First, we considered how Baptism makes us participants in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Last week we looked at Baptism making us members of the People of God. Today we will reflect on Baptism giving us a share in the priestly office of Christ. What exactly does that mean? The Second Vatican Council explained it clearly in its Constitution on the Church: "The sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation through the sacraments and the exercise of virtues. Incorporated into the Church by Baptism, the faithful are appointed by their baptismal character to Christian religious worship.... The faithful indeed, by virtue of their priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist." (## 11,10)
2. I personally think that this is one of the richest teachings of the Council and one that we still have a long way to go in helping people understand this and making it an active part of their faith. A little history will give us some context. Back in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation denied that there was any legitimate Christian priesthood They couldn’t find any mention of Christian priests in the New Testament. So the leaders in the new Reformation churches took titles like pastor, minister, elder or even prophet. The Catholic Council of Trent, reacting against this Protestant trend, strongly reaffirmed the traditional Catholic teaching on the validity of the priestly order as a church ministry and office. In the centuries that followed the priesthood was praised more and more, often to the detriment of the laity. There was less and less a proper role for the laity. In terms of the sacraments and liturgy, the priest did everything; the laity were merely passive participants. That view the Second Vatican Council wanted to broaden; they wanted to restore the active participation of every baptized person in the church in the sacraments and liturgy. Listen again to those words: "Incorporated into the Church by Baptism, the faithful are appointed by their baptismal character to Christian religious worship.... The faithful indeed, by virtue of their priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist." (## 11,10)
3. There are any number of practical results that come from this. I’d like to mention just three of them. First of all, it says that the faithful participate in the offering of the Eucharist. How does that happen? It happens when you offer your life as a spiritual sacrifice to God during the Eucharist. That means that all you do during the week to live a good Christian life—being honest and fair and just and loving in your dealings with people. These you offer to God at the Eucharist. When the priest raises the bread and wine in offering them to God, in your mind and heart you should be offering yourself as a spiritual sacrifice.
4. A second result of this "appointment by baptismal character to religious worship is that we can once again refer to the priesthood of all the faithful. In the four hundred years before Vatican II that was a no-no idea, even though it had a strong biblical basis. In the first letter of Peter it says: "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (2:5) The priestly character that each of you possess means that worship is your right and responsibility.
5. A third result and one that follows also from the priesthood of all the faithful is the ability of every baptized believer to bless. In blessing those people and things that are proper to your life, you exercise your priestly power. In blessing you make holy and relate to God what you bless. Parents should bless their children. Teachers should bless their students. All these things flow from the sacrament of baptism. Let us be thankful.