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 April 9, 2007 • VOL. 45, ISSUE 7 • Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Eastertime: A reflection on the priesthood of the faithful

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we continue to celebrate the great mystery of Christ’s resurrection in these first days of the Eastertime, I want to return to a theme that I touched on in my homily for the Mass of the Sacred Chrism on the Thursday before Palm Sunday.

The principal focus of my reflection was the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Obviously, this is a mystery which was very much in our hearts and minds during the last days of Lent. However, the priesthood of Christ does not only concern his Passion; Christ’s priesthood continues in his presence in glory before the Father in heaven. The Letter to the Hebrews makes that clear.

So it is very appropriate in these Easter days for us to return once again to considering the priesthood of Christ.

In order to understand Christ’s priesthood, we have to be clear about the covenants which God entered into with his people in the course of salvation history. In all the kinds of religious experiences of the human race, there are many forms of priesthood.

But what is specific to the priesthood in salvation history is determined by the specific character of the covenants God established with his chosen people.

Sacred Scripture, God’s own Word, invites us to consider that the reality which is the closest parallel to the covenant is marriage. The prophets make that clear, especially Hosea, and Ezekiel.

And in the New Testament we find Saint Paul speaking eloquently on this matter in the Letter to the Ephesians. A covenant is a communion of life which free persons enter into by mutually giving themselves to one another and each party accepting that gift from the other.

The scriptural saying that underscores this point is that in marriage, “two become one flesh.”

So, in the covenants of salvation history, both the Old Covenant and the New, two become one flesh: God and his chosen people become one.

A covenant is always established by a sacrifice, and that sacrifice represents, symbolizes, makes present the reciprocal gift of self that is involved in the covenant.

In fact, the sacrifice shows that a covenant is not simply a legal reality--a sort of contract, but it is a relationship of love. In the covenant, the one who makes the offering and that which is offered are one and the same.

In the Old Covenant, this mutual gift of self was represented by the animal sacrifices of cattle and sheep, but in the New Covenant, the sacrifice is more than a representation. The sacrifice is the very gift of the parties of the covenant. The sacrifice is Christ.

In this sacrifice, the Father, through his Son, gives himself to his people; and the people, through Christ, their Head, give themselves to the Father. So Christ is the priest. He is the one who institutes this new and everlasting Covenant.

Of course, the moment of consummation of his priesthood is Calvary, when his sacrifice is consummated, but his role as High Priest achieves its perfect fulfillment in his resurrection and his ascension as he returns in glory to the right hand of his Father.

The Letter to the Hebrews says that he stands before his Father, in the triumph of his risen flesh as our priest; there he makes intercession for us. He is always, for all eternity, the means by which the Father’s love is poured out into the world and the means whereby we return our love to the Father in thanksgiving that he has first loved us.

“Christ entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).

This priesthood of Christ, which remains forever, has two ways of being shared in. The one that perhaps first comes to mind is the priesthood of the ordained: the priesthood shared in by bishops and priests and supported by our deacons.

Those of us who are ordained to the ministerial priesthood are consecrated to making sacramently present in the Church the headship of Christ, who is our shepherd and the bridegroom of the Church.

There is also a more foundational priesthood in the Church, what is called the priesthood of the faithful, the common priesthood, not common because it is pedestrian, but common because it is common to us all, is shared in by all the baptized.

This means that through our Baptism and Confirmation, all of us received a share in the priestly work of Christ. Christ, our priest, has the ministry of consecrating the whole world to the Father.

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, set about trying to seize the world from God’s grasp and live in it and guide it on their own terms. So when Christ comes into the world, he heals this rupture, he carries the world back into the Father’s embrace.

By Baptism and Confirmation, all of us have the task of being instruments for Christ to continue this work of bringing the world back to the Father.

Our first offering to the Father is our very selves, spiritually and physically: our hearts, our minds, our emotions, our flesh. Saint Paul says that we must make of our very bodies a spiritual sacrifice (See Rom. 12:1).

Some people wonder why there is such a strong emphasis on and rigorous ideal for sexual morality among Christians. It is precisely because our bodies are not our own.

Our bodies are members of the very flesh of Christ, and so our bodies are part of the offering he makes even now as he stands in his flesh before his Father in glory. We express this truth every time we are one with Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

It is not only our personal selves which we are called to offer to the Father; we also make a gift to the Father of everything that is touched by our hearts and minds and flesh and blood.

For most of us that means our first offering, the first sphere in which we exercise our priestly share in the work of Christ, is our families, because there is no sphere more intimately tied up with ourselves than our families. Our homes--as we strive to make them places of peace, community, love and service-- our homes are sacrifices we make to Christ.

It is not only our homes that we offer to God, our families that we make part of our sacrifice along with Christ, our Head, to the Father. Everything we as Christian citizens do to build up the civic community is part of our priestly work.

As we work to guarantee the right to life from conception until natural death, as we try to end violence in our midst, as we work to build up the common good by building up our schools; all of these are ways to fulfill our share in Christ’s priestly service.

In our region, in particular, as we seek to build a community that respects people of different ethnic backgrounds, different cultures, we make a sacrifice of our world to the Father.

As we deal with very difficult political problems, try to find solutions to such challenges as how we will treat the stranger among us, arrive at an immigration policy and immigration laws that do justice and respect the dignity of the individual while preserving the good order of our country, we are exercising the priesthood of the faithful.

All the ways of being responsible citizens are ways to be priests of the New Covenant, making sure that our corner of the world, and every part of the world that we touch, is carried back to the Father as an offering.

Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection, is a great victory. Christ rising from the dead is his triumph over sin and rebellion, hatred and death. It is in the resurrection that the Father opens his arms to accept the world back into his embrace. There can be no doubt for us who believe that the world will always belong to God the Father.

As we go about our daily tasks, as we fulfill our duties and responsibilities, we do this as extensions of Christ our priest, sharing in his victory over evil and sin and all that divides, so that we can be his instruments to carry the world back to God the Father as a sacrifice in which he takes great delight.

May these days of Easter be filled with great joy and peace, not only in your homes but in all the places you live and work.


Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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