Though it has been obscured during different ages of her life, the Church has taught the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers since the very beginning. Our baptism immerses us into the fullness of the life of Christ, granting us participation in his threefold role of prophet, priest, and king. Scripture goes so far as to call Christians a “royal priesthood.”
But what does it mean to be a priest? Often, we assume that priesthood is limited to the sacramental priesthood and the dispensing of the mysteries of the New Covenant—offering Mass, hearing confessions, and the like.
While these priestly duties are indeed critical to the life of the Church, they are not necessary to the essence of the priesthood, especially since we know laymen do not have the power to do these things. No, at its heart, all priesthood is about sacrificial mediation. It is about offering a sacrifice of praise to the living God.
The Heart of Priesthood
The priestly role goes back to the foundation of creation and the action and reaction at the heart of all reality. In the beginning, God placed mankind in the garden and surrounded him with a world teeming with life.
Man, as the only rational creature, was meant to receive this gift of creation, not passively but with active thanksgiving. He was meant to bless it and return thanks for it. That is why we bless our food—“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts.”
Physics tells us that for every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This holds true from the spiritual realm. God gives. All of creation and all good things flow from his Fatherly goodness. Man is meant to receive all things from God, bless them with thanksgiving, and return for them a sacrifice of praise. The return of praise for gift is what priesthood is at its heart.
God gives. Man receives, blesses, and returns. It is an ebb and flow, like waves washing against the shore. Like a great echo resounding to the praise of God. Action and return, gift and thanksgiving.
But what about mediation? All of creation praises the eternal God with without ceasing. Yet man alone, the image bearer of God, can offer this praise rationally and with conscious worship. We alone can bless and return with conscious participation. We were meant to mediate the praise of all creation back to God on creations behalf. This is our duty, and it should be our delight.
Saved in Thanksgiving
The offering of sacrificial praise is not accidental to man’s nature. It is essential. Man was made to be a priest. The more we offer ceaseless praise to the Almighty Father, the more human we become.
Due to sin, however, we often fail in this priestly role of grateful sacrifice. We do not give thanks, we do not praise God. We grumble and complain, we whine and lament our lot in life. It takes nothing from God, but it is to our own detriment.
It is our salvation to give thanks for all things. We are saved in thanksgiving. In the preface of the Mass, these truths are articulated beautifully:
The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit. Lift up your hearts. We have lifted them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just.
It is truly meet and just, right for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God…
In giving thanks we are healed; in giving thanks we are justified; in giving thanks we are restored to eternal life.
In everything, then, let us give thanks. Let us lift up to the Father of Lights hearts overflowing with praise—for in so doing we are made whole.