Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
Go to any Sunday Mass and ask a member of the congregation, “Are you a priest?” They will smile, think you are not a Catholic and politely tell you, “No, the Father standing at the altar is our priest. He will celebrate the Mass and we, members of the laity, will attend his Mass.” We are here because we have an obligation to attend Mass every Sunday and on certain other Holy Days of obligation.
What an injustice! The Priesthood of the laity is very clear in the Catechism of the Church which teaches that the, “Priesthood of Christ is composed of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. Baptism and Confirmation is the Common Priesthood. Holy Orders is the Ministerial Priesthood. “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.” (Catechism 1546, 1547)
The Priesthood of the Laity is very evident on Holy Thursday. The Church has long seen Holy Thursday as the day on which Christ instituted the Priesthood as well as the Eucharist. The preface for the Chrism Mass is also the preface of the Priesthood. The Priesthood is intimately connected with the Eucharist.
During the Chrism Mass the Bishop blesses the oil of the catechumens and the oil of the sick and then consecrates the sacred chrism…The oil of the sick and the catechumens receive simple blessings. The consecration of the sacred chrism to be used in Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination is quite different and is surrounded by special signs. First, a sweet smelling essence is added to the oil. Then the Bishop breathes over the oil, a powerfully symbolic gesture recalling the Holy Spirit which God breathed over the formless void at the dawn of creation.
Those of you who are old enough know that the Priesthood of the Laity was most evident in the old terminology of the Mass. What is now the Liturgy of the Word used to be called the Mass of the Catechumens. What is now the Liturgy of the Eucharist was called the Mass of the Faithful. Only those who were Baptized, and therefore priests, could even be present for the Mass of the Faithful which was the sacrificial part of the Mass.
This practice is renewed today in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA. When the Liturgy of the Word (the Mass of the Catechumens) is finished the Catechumens (those not baptized) have to leave.
How do you explain this great injustice? The Reformation happened 500 years ago but we are still fighting it today. In the 16th century Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and a Roman Catholic priest, denied the Sacrament of Holy Orders and therefore denied the Ministerial Priesthood. That left him with Baptism and Confirmation, the Common Priesthood, which he called the Priesthood of the Laity.
At the Council of Trent the Church emphasized the Ministerial Priesthood which Luther denied and said little or nothing about the Common Priesthood which Luther was promoting as the Priesthood of the Laity. This opened up the neglect of the laity and the possibility of clericalism in which the Pope appoints the Bishops who are responsible only to the Pope. The Pope also appoints the Cardinals who elect the Pope. That left the laity which composes about 99 % of the Church with no authority whatever.
The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People of the Second Vatican Council reminded us of “the laity’s special and indispensable role in the mission of the Church. Indeed, the Church can never be without the lay apostolate; it is something that derives from the layman’s very vocation as a Christian. Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful was this activity in the Church’s early days.” (Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom.16:1-16; Phil. 4:3)
Did you say you have an obligation to go to Mass on Sunday? Forget the obligation. This is your privilege as a member of the laity! You are a priest concelebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary by which we are all saved. You are offering your body on the patin with the host and your blood in the chalice with the wine. In so doing you are fulfilling the request of Jesus, “Do this in memory of me.” (1Cor. 11: 24-26)
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