Priest, prophet, and king — who, me?
Embracing our threefold call to holiness
Upon witnessing the Baptism of my first grandchild, I once again heard the threefold description in our call to holiness. After the Baptism comes the anointing with sacred chrism oil, wherein the priest or deacon prays these words:
As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.
This anointing is a stirring reminder of the sublime dignity conferred on us. We, too, must embrace these shared offices of priest, prophet, and king.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear about the priestly office.
Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ. … “to be a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people …” (1 Peter 2:9). Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers (CCC, 1267, 1268).
(Note: The Catechism also references the common priesthood in paragraphs 1141, 1143, 1268, 1305, 1535, 1547, 1591, and 1592.)
Two participations in the one priesthood of Christ
It surprises some to learn that the common priesthood is not a reference to the clergy. Ordained priests, by Holy Orders, become members of the ministerial priesthood. Yet the common priesthood designates all the baptized. Sharing in the priesthood of Christ begins at one’s Baptism.
The common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood worship together at Mass. We are a priestly community. The lay faithful worship alongside the ordained priest(s). Both make offerings to God. The priest is specifically ordained to confect the Eucharist — to offer and consecrate the bread and wine — on behalf of those gathered. The laity, too, actively participate by offering themselves and their gifts and sacrifices to God.
Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6, see 5:9–10; 1 Peter 2:5,9). … The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king (CCC, 1546).
Prophets and kings
Besides the priestly office, there is also a prophetic and a kingly one. In the ministerial priesthood, these are fulfilled by preaching and teaching and in governance of the Church.
How might the laity live these prophetic and kingly offices? Vatican II described the lay vocation this way:
[I]t belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will … so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer (CCC, 898).
With faith and the grace of the sacraments, we must bring Christ to our families, towns, and the wider culture. The faithful are sent out from Mass to go and serve Christ wherever life takes them. They are very much in the front lines for Christianity, to consecrate the world, to make it holy. This understanding was expressed by Pope Pius XII and later echoed by St. John Paul II:
Lay believers are in the front line of Church life; for them the Church is the animating principle of human society. Therefore, they in particular ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church (CCC, 899).
The laity act prophetically when they speak the truth, and live the Gospel by example before their families, neighbors, and co-workers. Their mission is “accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world” (CCC, 905).
The laity’s kingly office is exercised by their leadership in temporal affairs, acting as Christ would. Jesus, the king of heaven, gave his life to conquer sin and death, to bring resurrection and new life. By bringing Christ’s leadership and governance in our own spheres, we offer renewal and new life where it is most needed.
“Moreover, by uniting their forces let the laity so remedy the institutions and conditions of the world when the latter are an inducement to sin, that these may be conformed to the norms of justice, favoring rather than hindering the practice of virtue. By so doing they will impregnate culture and human works with a moral value” (CCC, 909; Lumen Gentium, 36 § 3).
Finally, lay leadership helps the local church to flourish.
“The laity … cooperate with their pastors … for the sake of [church] growth and life … through the exercise of different kinds of ministries according to the grace and charisms which the Lord has been pleased to bestow on them” (CCC, 910; Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 73).