1 Peter 2:9
But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
First of all, happy Mother’s Day to all of you who dedicate your lives to the care of others. It is not just about being a natural mother. Those of you who are teachers, nurses, and other caretakers… all of you participate in a mother’s role. Especially in these days, we thank you.
Today, I want to talk about this royal priesthood that Saint Peter mentions in his letter. All of us share in the common priesthood of Jesus Christ. Yes, there is a difference in the ministerial priesthood that I have. But, in comparison to the priesthood of all believers, and what that is supposed to mean, the ministerial priesthood takes on a roll of service to the body of Christ.
It is the body of Christ, as a whole, that lives as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own…” Using the analogy of the body of Christ, I would like to extend this a little bit more. St. Paul in one place says that Christ is the head. If I may be permitted, I would suggest that Mary is the heart. And that the ministerial priesthood is the blood.
Mary as the heart seems to be an easy assumption. Mothers are at the heart of every family. The ministerial priesthood, as the blood of the body of Christ, brings what the body needs to function, just as blood brings oxygen and nutrients to different parts of the body. So, we have the head, the heart, the blood. But that is only a small part of what the body of Christ is. So much more is seen when we look at any human being. And that is what everyone else is. The blood is not the most visible parts of the body, unless something has gone wrong. In the same way, it is not up to the priests to be the main evangelizers. That belongs to you!
But now I want to go into a little more detail on the idea of this royal priesthood. I think it is a good thing to speak about, especially in these days, when we are finding ourselves somewhat limited in our ability to gather as the body of Christ. I think that is the reason why those of us who have been longing for the Mass have felt such a loss. It is because it causes a separation in the body of Christ.
But, I also think there is an equally important part of understanding this royal priesthood that can easily be overlooked in our modern experience of the church. Jesus is sometimes referred to as the priest, the altar, and the sacrifice – all in one. And we are called to model that same thing.
If we return our thoughts to before the liturgical reform in the church, we find that very few people would receive Communion on a weekly basis. Instead, people came to Mass to participate – mainly as a witness – in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Their participation included witnessing what happened on the altar, and offering themselves in union with Christ to the Father.
This is an attitude toward the Mass that has been dismissed by many as a result of the liturgical reform, in favor of the notion of us being community above being the body of Christ that is called to be a sacrificial offering to God for the world. Now, I am not calling for a return to very few people receiving Communion. But I do believe that we have lost a sense of the purpose of our worship that has left us impoverished spiritually.
It is not, and never should have been, in my opinion, just about getting a chance to receive Jesus, as valuable as that is. It is, or should be, about us making ourselves ready to offer ourselves in service to the body of Christ, and the world. This is how we imitate Christ!
If our faith is only about what we receive when we come to church, whether it is to be made to feel good because the priest gives a “feel good homily”, or if it is reduced to getting our weekly dose of Communion, we are failing to use the Sacrifice of the Mass to the greatest extent that it is called to be.
How do we make this part of our spiritual approach to our worship? Let me suggest a very specific way to do that. I have used part of this as a penance for people who come with certain issues to Confession. But I want to expand it now into a broader application of our participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Here is what I give as a penance: place the people you are having a problem with in the middle of the hosts when the priest raises them up to consecrate them; place the problems you are having with people in the chalice with the wine when the priest raises it up to consecrate it as the blood of Christ. In Hebrews, chapter 9, we are told that the blood of Christ washes away all unrighteousness, everything that is not holy; it cleanses our consciences.
So, when we receive Communion, we can receive Jesus and the people we are having problems with, without the problems because the blood of Christ has washed away the problems.
Now, here is where I want to expand the idea. Place yourself in the hosts when the priest raises them to consecrate them. + You are putting yourself on the cross with Jesus in that moment. + Put whatever temptations you face in the chalice, so that the blood of Christ heals any weakness that you have that makes you yield to temptation.
If you have done this, you have already participated in the Sacrifice of the Mass. You are acting as a member of the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ, which is exactly who Saint Peter said we are. At this point, you have fully participated in the Sacrifice of the Mass, because it is a sacrifice, an offering of yourself in union with Christ to the Father. This is why it is so important to come to Mass, even if you are not able to receive Communion. And in a special way, even if you are prohibited from receiving Communion.
The primary point is to enter into the example of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. That is why we call this the Sacrifice of the Mass! By virtue of our participation, and selection by God, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that [we] may announce the praises” of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Please do not mistake these comments as an attempt to discourage you from Communion if you are able to receive. I believe the reception of Communion is valuable to our soul. In fact, receiving Communion at least once a year, during the Easter season, is required of every Catholic who is capable of doing so. You are not required to receive Communion every week! Did you know that? ?
I think we need to restore the idea of what participating in the Sacrifice of the Mass should be. We are all the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ. We are part of a holy nation – that does not mean the United States – but a holy nation that is made up of saints. We have been called out of darkness into the wonderful light of Christ. And we are called to reflect that light into the world that still lives in darkness.
This is how the people of God, members of the common priesthood of Jesus Christ, all of us – all of us – need to live as members of the body of Christ. This world lives in terrible darkness. Being brought to the light, or having the light brought to the world, is painful for those who are used to the dark. But that is our mission. That is why we are sent from the Mass in the name of Christ. That is also why the world hates us: because we bring light to the darkness, and the darkness cannot withstand it.
Jesus, you have been pleased to name us as part of the royal priesthood that you have imparted to the world. You have filled us with the light of your truth. Help us to take that light into a world… that just does not understand. Help us to live out in our lives the reality of the Sacrifice of the Mass so that we can draw others to you. Amen.