The Mass, being in the vernacular, now brings out more clearly than ever the intimate participation of the faithful in the Holy Sacrifice. The liturgy says throughout "we" and "our" and "us", "your sacrifice and mine". Somehow they share in the offering of the Mass. Somehow the faithful participate; they must, otherwise the language of the liturgy would be unintelligible. They participate in the priesthood. The question is, how? It is worth going into this subject because it is part of divine revelation.
We have the explanation in the first letter of Saint Peter, the first letter of the first Pope, in which he speaks on the priesthood of all Christians. My intention is first to quote what he says, and then explain briefly what the Church says he means, all the while make applications to our own personal and corporate spiritual life.
He (speaking of Christ) is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house. As scripture says: "See how I lay in Zion a precious cornerstone that I have chosen" and "the man who rests his trust on it will not be disappointed". That means that for you who are believers, it is precious; but for unbelievers, "the stone rejected by the builders has proved to be the keystone, a stone to stumble over, a rock to bring men down". They stumble over it because they do not believe in the word; it was the fate in store for them.
But you are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart" to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were "not a people" at all and now you are the People of God; once you were "outside the mercy' and now "you have been given mercy".
I urge you, my dear people, while you are "visitors and pilgrims", to keep yourselves free from the selfish passions that attack the soul. Always behave honorably among pagans so that they can see your good works for themselves and, when the day of reckoning comes, give thanks to God for the things which now make them denounce you as criminals.As we prayerfully reflect on the inspired words of the first Vicar of Christ, we find they contain four great mysteries of Christian revelation that are like four pillars of the priesthood of the faithful. They are: vocation, community, faith, and responsibility.
We do not often enough think of being a Christian as not merely "a" vocation, but "the" vocation, of which all other vocations are only aspects and variety. God's ways are not men's ways. The fact is plain that not all have actually, existentially received this call. We have. In our own country there are millions who haven't the vaguest notion of who Christ is!
Some years ago I happened to be traveling on a train on Christmas Day. I got into conversation with two little boys whose ages were about seven and ten. As we were talking, I found out they knew that the day was Christmas. "But," I asked them, "what is Christmas?" Well, they told me something about Santa Claus and Christmas trees. So I further asked them, "Do you know today is Somebody's birthday?" Both said it was not their birthday. "No, it is some great Person's birthday-Jesus' birthday." They had no idea. And behind them, of course, was the ignorance of their parents.
We, unworthily, have been called. That is why Peter uses the word "chosen". We have been called, selected; we have been preferred. Truly it cannot be because God foresaw such great heroic virtue in any of us. No Lord, depart from me a sinner! Never get the idea that having a vocation or being called is something which the one who is called merits. God calls whom He wills. But He does choose. Having been chosen, we then have an extraordinary dignity. All our consequences of being Christians follow from the fact that we have been called specially.
We are called to something; that something is a community. That is why Saint Peter uses words that are symbolic of community. He speaks of Christians forming a spiritual house made up of many stones; that was in the days before they made houses of wood. It takes many stones to build a house. We are a chosen race having a common ancestry in Jesus Christ. That is what a race is, people who somehow have a common heredity. We are, he said, a consecrated nation, having all been born. And that is what "nation" really means: people somehow born together, politically speaking, within a geographic space; and spiritually speaking, all born of grace. We form one nation, a nation of grace. And we are a people set apart. We are not to be, because we are not, like those who are not called; and we'd be out of our Christian minds to suppose that there is any credit to us.
Our priesthood as Christians, therefore, is that of a community. We belong together; we are members of the Body of Christ. Christianity is not solitary-that is a contradiction in terms. There are no solitary Christians, which doesn't mean we don't sometimes feel lonely. We have solidarity; we are not solitary. Human nature is individual, is divided, is in pieces, grace creates community.
By our faith we believe, which means we grasp what we cannot see; we accept on the word of God. He sees. We take His word; we embrace what He tells us is true. But let us never think that because we do not see with reason when we believe, we do not see. Yes we do! We see by faith. One of the most comforting phrases in Latin is "lumen fidei", the light of faith. We have it. We can see things that people who don't have the faith just don't see. When we kneel down before the Holy Eucharist, reason tells us it is bread; faith tells us it is Jesus. We love other people including those who don't love us; reason sees an enemy, while faith sees a friend. This is seeing. A person dies. Reason sees the life principle of the body leaving the body and leaving a corpse; faith sees the human spirit leaving this world, thank God, for a better one. Faith sees.
The heart of the Christian priesthood is faith. Whether it is the priesthood of the faithful, which is why they are called faithful and why they are priestly, or whether it is the priesthood of those who are ordained, the heart of the Christian priesthood is faith.
One of the great joys of this common priesthood of the faithful is to be in the company of other people who also believe. We have all had enough experience in life to know what the opposite means. This is not make believe; it's real. The moment we enter a home or a group or a religious community and are among people who believe like we do, we relax and feel that we belong, even though we may never have met before. It is as though we have known each other all our lives. And we have, because in Jesus Christ we have long ago met before we have met in body.
Our faith could not be more sublime. It could also not be more demanding. This priesthood is not something merely to reflect on; it is something to put into practice. How?
Needless to say, what Peter specially had in mind is the kind of sacrifice on this level, which those who are Christians are called upon to practice to be members of a community. We are not spiteful unless other people are around; or deceitful unless there is somebody to deceive. Why be hypocritical if there's nobody to impress; or envious, if we don't see someone better or better off than ourselves; or critical, unless we are living so closely with someone else that we can watch every breath they breathe? The sacrifice of our selfish passions is our lifetime of sacrifices, and Peter tells us that this is the first and continuous exercise of our priesthood of believers.
The unbelieving world will oppose us, and does oppose us just because of what we are: mothers with families; men practicing chastity; priests faithful to their commitment; religious behaving like religious. There are many that admire Sisters in religious garb; they thank God and thank Sisters for looking like Sisters. But not all. Sometimes, may God forgive them, our worst enemies and the greatest sacrifice of patience we are called upon to practice is from those who have been with us but who have left us.
Saint Peter finally says that we exercise our priesthood of believers by our praising God, which he calls our spiritual sacrifice because it comes from within the spirit of man. You might wonder why Peter would call this praising God a sacrifice. When we talk about the sacrifice of the New Law, we mean necessarily the sacrifice of self. What does praising God mean? Very simply, it means not praising self. Concretely, we praise God in what we call our "acts of adoration". To praise God is to adore God. The greatest temptation to which man is prone is to adore himself. If the word sounds strange, the reality is not strange at all. Adoration of God, otherwise known as praising God, means paying attention to God, acknowledging Him; it means admiring God.
We finally praise God by our admiration of God, which means that we so often, even daily, have to turn away from the mirror of self-admiration. We know this is costly. Faith tells us that it is here that we practice our priesthood, not just once in a while, but all day and every day, participating in the priesthood of the Savior, sacrificing ourselves like Him. But in addition, since He is God as well as man, we must also sacrifice ourselves for Him.
Jesus, our great High Priest, help us to better understand what it means to share in your priesthood. Help us to live this kind of priestly life, a life of daily, total, self-sacrifice.
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