Through baptism and faith, one enters the People of God and receives a share in this People’s unique priestly vocation. Indeed, all the Christian faithful are members of the priesthood of believers. Some are later ordained to the ministerial priesthood. What does it mean for the laity to participate in the priesthood of believers when the sanctuary of the church is often restricted to the ordained minsters?
Laypersons have an exalted role in the Church insofar as they take the message and grace of Christ to the world. In speaking about the priestly work of the laity, the Second Vatican Council declares: “For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit—indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born—all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives” (Lumen gentium, 34). Furthermore, the laity “exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity” (Lumen Gentium, 10).
What stands out in this is that the lay faithful should embrace their priesthood by offering all their activities in the world to God in Christ. All of their activities can be priestly, sacrificial actions by which they consecrate the world to God! This is far from the common misconception of the priestly action within the Church being restricted to Sunday Mass. Rather, laypeople are called to be salt to the earth and leaven in the dough of the world. These are cultic, sacrificial images because Christ wanted his People to be a “kingdom of priests” (1 Pet 2:5) who consecrate the whole world to God, offering spiritual sacrifices as they witness to Christ throughout the world. What an amazing role the laity have!
The laity bring all their apostolates, their sufferings and joys, their family members and friends, to the altar of the Lord in the Eucharistic celebration. The offertory procession and preparation of the gifts at Mass is not a time for day-dreaming—it is the time for the laity to spiritually place every aspect of their lives on the altar as the sacrifice offered to God. Christ transforms this offering in the Eucharist, which becomes the source of life for the laity as they return into the world to bear witness to Christ. With this in mind, I call the Catholic laity to embrace their proper role in the Church in consecrating the world itself to God.
(Copyright © 2016)