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The Church needs to empower and equip the lay priesthood

Pope Francis recently created the new secular “ministry of catechist.” As a secular ministry, the role is neither meant to be seen as a stepping stone to the Sacrament of Holy Orders nor intended to clericalize the laity in any way. This is an interesting distinction, because it could be viewed as one of the first steps the Church has ever taken to officially define responsibilities integral to what is known as the lay priesthood.

The “priesthood of the laity” is a well-established concept, but it remains a poorly defined and even more poorly understood role. All Catholics who have received the sacraments of initiation (particularly baptism) participate in the one priesthood of Christ — even if they never receive holy orders. Catholicism teaches that there are two complementary priesthoods in the Church: the ministerial (ordained) priesthood and the lay priesthood. The ministerial priesthood is responsible for administering the sacraments and, in particular, consecrating the Eucharist. The lay priesthood is responsible for taking up that sacramental grace and consecrating the world to Christ.

The Catholic Church is literally a “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:6 ). Every single Catholic is a priest in some sense. Because of its intimate tie to the Eucharist, it’s true that the ministerial priesthood plays a featured role in this ecclesial priestly kingdom, but contrary to most of our experience of the Church, it is the lay priesthood that is meant to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to building the kingdom of God. It is the lay priesthood’s job to make the world holier by modeling Christ’s sacrificial love in all of our relationships, prophetically witnessing to a dynamically Christian approach to work, love, leisure and a living faith, and serving with Christ to use our gifts to build a more just, grace-filled, godly society for the greatest and the least. This is simply too big a job for the ministerial priesthood. The ministerial priesthood exists to equip the lay priesthood to go out and bring the world to Christ.

Read more at OSV

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