Q. What does “priesthood of all the faithful” mean? I thought that there were only certain men called to be priests.
A. In the Old Covenant, God called his chosen people, the people of Israel, to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6).
All Israelites were members of a priestly nation because they were set apart from the rest of the world. God also chose those of the tribe of Levi, to be set apart from the other tribes of Israel for liturgical service, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Those in the ancestral line of Aaron were set apart as the high priests of Israel.
The priesthood of Aaron and all the Levites prefigures the ordained ministry of the New Covenant. While the Levitical priesthood sought to bring about communion with God through prayers and sacrifices, it was not able to bring about salvation, which only the redemptive work of Christ, through his Paschal Mystery, was able to accomplish.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of the Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth” (CCC 1548). Jesus came to teach, govern and sanctify the world, and this continues through the ministerial priesthood. Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest acts in the person of Christ, the head of the body.
The priest serves as the visible presence of Christ in the community. While the priest is not preserved from human weakness and sin, he is to dedicate his life to configuring himself to Christ.
The Catechism tells us that “By baptism [the baptized] share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission” (CCC 1268). The sacramental character conferred on the baptized, allows them to participate in the Paschal Mystery—the suffering, death and resurrection—of Jesus through the sacraments. Christians exercise their priesthood by uniting their own spiritual sacrifices to the one sacrifice of Jesus to the Heavenly Father.
The ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all the faithful are different in essence, but they are ordered toward one another. The ministerial priest, through the character that he receives in Holy Orders, teaches, governs and offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. The faithful exercise the priesthood by receiving the sacraments and in the everyday living out their Christian lives.
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