The “universal priesthood,” although misunderstood by non-Catholic Christians, has always undergirded the Church’s understanding of the right worship of God. Indeed, it was our first Pope who wrote: “Come to him, a living stone, [...and] let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). We know that the greatest sacrifice that we can offer is the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar in Holy Mass, and yet it is the Eucharist itself that reveals the essential difference between the two kinds of priests: those who are ordained, and the common priests, known as the lay faithful.
What exactly are we doing at Mass? We are giving honor and glory to the one, true God, who revealed himself to us as a communion of love. Since God the Son took flesh so that we might be redeemed and restored after our rebellion, the ritual sacrifice that is offered on every Catholic altar is in keeping with the memorial that he established. While an ordained priest is required to confect the Eucharist, it is incumbent on all present to offer themselves on the altar as well: their virtues, their spiritual gifts, and their very lives. Jesus is truly made present with the words and right intention of the priest, but the laity—by bringing the matter of the sacrifice to the hands of the priest—offer their prayers and sufferings, indeed, all that is to be made whole through the Eucharistic sacrifice, which then rises like incense to God the Father.
So it is with this in mind that we must counter any call to leave the Church, despite the shocking unworthiness of some of her ordained ministers. Having seen that the common priesthood and the ordained priesthood, while essentially different, are both ordered to Christ, it becomes obvious that each depends on the other. The ordained priests are certainly “at the service” of the laity (CCC, 1547), but their holiness and fruitfulness are always profoundly affected by the fidelity of those they serve, and our abandonment of Christ in this trial would be deeply unworthy of his tremendous gift of self.
The Church as a whole is a mystical body whose health and well-being affect all its members. Mature reflection recalls that many sacrifices have been made over the centuries for the building up of this spiritual body—one from which we each benefit in innumerable ways, and that the responsibility now falls to us to assure the right worship of God in our turn. This requires serious reflection about the ways in which we have failed to support our priests in prayer, how we have dodged the difficult teachings so that we may conform to the wider world in comfort and spiritual laziness, and how we may have allowed our “sacrifice of praise” to be lukewarm and morally indifferent. Nothing can justify the egregious actions of some members of the Church hierarchy, and transparent honesty is essential in order to restore trust, but neither can anything justify any sort of lay righteousness that ignores our own failure to live out the demands of the Gospel and our own resistance over recent decades to sound teaching.
There is no guarantee that any local church will endure — most early Biblical communities are mere archeological ruins today. What will indicate where our children worship is as much our responsibility as it is that of our priests — more so on most counts. The ball is in our court, and amidst the calls for reform and repentance must come the common priest’s embrace of his baptismal call. With prayer and sincere attention to the right worship of God, we will right the Barque of Peter so that our descendents may be proud.
Mrs. Kineke is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, and can be found online at feminine-genius.com.