You are a Parent Forever In the Line of Malchizedek–The Common Priesthood in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

– – –
On our radio program today, we got a call from a gentleman who accidentally offended his wife of 20 years by saying that if he had the relationship he has with God now when he was coming out of high school, he might have become a priest. He said that his wife, upon hearing this, felt like she was some kind of consolation prize.  Of course he didn’t mean it that way.  He said he just meant that he was a little envious of the opportunities a priest has to live so single-mindedly for God and that he sometimes struggles to experience God as deeply as he would like with all the distractions of daily work and family life.

Of course he isn’t alone.  I think most faithful lay people have felt this way from time to time.  I think most faithful Catholics–men and women–feel a similar call to “priesthood” at some point. What most people miss is that this genuine and authentic call to priesthood isn’t necessarily a call to the ministerial priesthood.  For most of us, the call to priesthood is a call to more deeply live the ministry of the “common priesthood,” but frankly, for a lot of Catholics, this feels like “second skimmings.”  That’s not because the common priesthood is any less important in the Kingdom of God, but because we haven’t effectively developed the theology of the common priesthood and what it means to celebrate it .

This is one of the reasons what we are calling the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is so important.  The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life offers a more systematic way to appreciate how the common priesthood of the laity complements the ministerial priesthood and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  It gives us a way to relate to the common priesthood in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re being patted on the head and told, “There, there, lay person.  Of course you matter too.”

Two Priesthoods, One Christ.

Theologian, David Fagerberg, points to this complementarity between the lay and ministerial priesthood when he writes,

The common priesthood of the laity is directed toward the cure of this now corrupted structure of the world, and the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood to equip them for their lay apostolate….. Therefore, “though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial… priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ”  (2004).

It’s inherent to the nature of priesthood to preside over liturgy. For instance, that’s why the church celebrates the institution of both the eucharist and the ministerial priesthood on Holy Thursday.  The two are inextricably tied.  It’s impossible to speak of priesthood without simultaneously referencing the liturgy over which the priest presides. The ministerial priesthood consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ through the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  In a sense, the common priesthood consecrates the world to Christ through the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  In the words of one Eastern-Rite bishop who attended a talk on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life model, “The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life represents the mystical vehicle that allows the grace of the Eucharist to be communicated to all the world through the living Body of Christ.”

What’s the Liturgy of the Common Priesthood?

I would argue that our understanding of the value and dignity of the “common priesthood of the laity” has suffered for so long because we’ve been attempting to talk about it without adequately defining the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life to which it is inextricably attached.  Building the Kingdom of God doesn’t necessarily require us to “do BIG THINGS for Jesus”  like building hospitals and converting entire nations to Christ. For most of us, building the Kingdom of God simply requires cooperating with grace to heal the way sin damages our relationships. The common priesthood facilitates this necessary and essential process of healing through the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.

Loosely speaking, it’s the role of the common priesthood to build and heal the Body of Christ while it is the role of the ministerial priesthood to feed the body of Christ.  And although Catholics haven’t historically tended to think of it in these terms, both roles are of equal importance and dignity. Seen through this lens, creating strong families through the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life isn’t just a nice thing to do.  It is the primary way the common priesthood of the laity participates in the salvific mission of the Church.

Two Liturgies Making Love Incarnate

Similar to the way that the ministerial and common priesthoods represent distinct yet complementary means of participating in the one priesthood of Christ, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life should be thought of as a true liturgy that is distinct from, yet complementary to, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Of course, the relationship between these two liturgies is enhanced by the fact that they are the only two liturgies where love, itself, becomes incarnate in flesh and blood—the former through the conception of children and the latter through the consecration of the Precious Body and Blood.

Your marriage and family life should never be seen as an obstacle to living your call to the priesthood. Your call to the common priesthood isn’t a lesser  The fact is, Catholicism is meant to be “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). The common priesthood is a real priesthood that presides over a real liturgy. Celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life means celebrating–in a manner of speaking–that you are parent forever in the line of Malchizedek (c.f., Hebrews 7:17), a full participant in the one priesthood of Christ that serves as the source of the power, dignity, and spiritual authority of both the ministerial and common priesthood.

Dr Greg Popcak is the author of many books and the director of both and the Peyton institute for Domestic Church Life. You can hear him and his wife Lisa each day on their call-in radio program, More2Life airing Monday-Friday at 10amE on EWTN Radio and SiriusXM130.


Pope Francis Asserts the Power of Lay Catholics

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Pope Francis recently raised eyebrows in his comments affirming the constant teaching of the Church that it is not possible to ordain women to the priesthood.  According to reports,

As he has done in the past, the pope responded that the question was settled in 1994 by St. John Paul II, who taught that because Jesus chose only men as his apostles, the ordination of women in the Catholic Church is not possible.  He was asked, “Really? Never?” And he responded, “If one carefully reads the declaration of St. John Paul, it goes in that direction, yes.”

Of course, many people read this as yet another instance of the Church’s retrograde attitude toward women.  I read it in terms of the Church’s commitment to an empowered laity.

Did you know that one could easily argue that the Church already asserts that every baptized, confirmed and communed Catholic has as much (if not more) spiritual authority as the average Protestant minister?  Every. Single. One.  Men AND women. I am, of course, referring to the doctrine known as the Common Priesthood of the Laity. Here is the catechism….

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”20 The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.”21

Of course, the ministerial priesthood (i.e., ordained Catholic priests) is absolutely at the heart of of the Church because only a priest can consecrate the Eucharist and administer the sacraments.  But both the ministerial and the common priesthood of the laity represent two critically important dimensions of the One Priesthood of Christ. What distinguishes them is that the ministerial priesthood depends upon apostolic succession–a specific and additional gift handed down from Christ, through the original Apostles, to the Church’s ministers today–while the common priesthood depends solely upon the gifts of baptism, confirmation, and communion.   Some non-Catholic denominations also have a legitimate claim to apostolic succession but not most.

The Three Powers of the Common Priesthood.

The common priesthood isn’t a “lesser priesthood.”  Understood properly, it is a tremendously powerful ministry.  First,  while the ministerial priesthood may consecrate the Eucharist, the common priesthood of the laity is charged with consecrating the world to Christ.  Second, it means that the laity are called to the same heights of sanctity and holiness that the ordained and religious are called to.  Finally, it means that every lay Catholic–including every Catholic lay woman–is commanded and empowered to offer their lives as a sacrifice for the good of the Church (the “priestly mission”), proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all they do (the “prophetic mission”) and to serve the world in ways that remind others of the dignity that Christ has communicated to every human person (the “royal mission”).  How is this any less significant a role in the Church than the role any Protestant minister plays in his or her church community or the world?

Most Protestant ministers are simply baptized Christians (and often not confirmed and certainly not communed in the sense Catholics understand communion as an encounter with the Real Presence of Christ) who through study and prayer devote themselves to serving the Kingdom of God.  When people say, “Why don’t Catholics allow women to be ministers like Protestants do?”  This is basically what they are referring to.  People mistakenly assume an equivalence between Protestant ministers and Catholic priests, but this analogy is false.

A False Analogy

Protestant ministers are, from a Catholic perspective, simply lay Christians on fire for Christ and dedicated to serving the Body of Christ.  That’s a tremendous thing, but it just happens to be what every single Catholic lay person is called to be–man and woman. PLUS Catholics receive the graces of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, and communion) while the vast majority of Protestant ministers do not.  In this sense, one could argue that the average Catholic layperson has been gifted an even larger share in the priesthood of Christ because Catholics, unlike Protestant (including Protestant ministers) do not deny themselves the gifts of Confirmation (through which we participate in the Life of the Spirit) and Communion (through which we participate intimately in the life of Christ).

Not Triumphalism

I understand that there will be some who view this post as hopelessly triumphalistic.  I want to be clear.  I am not looking down my nose at Protestants or Protestant ministers.  Many–even most–of these men and women are truly inspirational people and profound witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am simply stating a fact that most people overlook.  Catholics already do have an office that exhibits the spiritual grace and authority that every Protestant minister has if not more so (because of  the sacraments Catholics receive), and that office is called “The Common Priesthood.”  That is, the lay vocation.

Changing the Conversation

To my way of thinking, Pope Francis’ comments affirming the male, ministerial priesthood, represents a powerful opportunity for Catholics to change the conversation and focus on the real, shocking truth, power, and dignity of the common priesthood.

Q: “Why don’t Catholics allow women priests?”

A:  “We do!  In fact, every Catholic lay person who has been baptized, confirmed and communed has at least the same spiritual authority and call as any Protestant minister if not more so.”

That would be a shocking response.  Just imagine the headlines if Pope Francis, or your local bishop, or you answered this way.  It would raise eyebrows for sure.  It would finally present a new and exciting discussion and offer the world something they never heard about.  It would give the Church a chance to lead the conversation, as it should be doing, instead of always seeming to follow awkwardly behind whatever conversation the world is having.

Read More

This is, incidentally the very conversation St John Paul the Great tried to start in 1988 when he wrote On the Vocation and Mission of the LaityIf you think what I’ve written is shocking or surprising in any way, go read that amazing piece of writing.  It will blow your mind.

The Catholic laity has a powerful and legitimate claim to Christ’s priesthood that easily matches and ever surpasses the claim the average Protestant minister has.  And that isn’t a slam against Protestants, that’s a call to the Catholic laity to wake up and become what they are; prophet, royal, priestly witnesses to the gospel who are dedicated to consecrating the world to Christ in everything they do.

Why Doesn’t the Catholic Church Just Get with the Times?

Contraception, abortion, women’s ordination, gay marriage.  These represent just a few of the issues the Church is regularly criticized for being on the “wrong side” of.

So, why can’t the Church change?

Today’s episode of More2Life Radio was titled, “Stand Your Ground.”  We looked at the challenge of knowing when we need to draw a line in the sand and when we need to be more flexible.  Part of that discussion involved an interview with Bishop Jeffrey Montforton of Steubenville (former rector of Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary) about why the Church can’t just modernize.

The answer to both questions (when do we change and when can the Church change) is really the same.    It all comes down to knowing who you are.  As a Church or as individuals, you can change the things that don’t jeopardize the core of your mission–the heart of your identity–but you can’t change the things that do or you cease to exist in any meaningful way.

Catholics have been given a special gift.  God has shared with us, directly, his truth, his vision of what the world was intended to be and is destined to become again.  He has communicated to us what he intended the world to look like from the beginning of time and he has tasked us with the mission of doing whatever we can to make the world fall more in line with that vision.  In other words, it is not the Catholic Church’s mission to look more like the world.  It is the Catholic Church’s job to make the world look more like the Catholic Church–a community of love dedicated to using our time, treasure, talent and selves to work for the good of others and, in the process, become the best version of ourselves.

We can’t fulfill that mission if we accommodate to the culture.   True, we can change things that aren’t at the center of that blueprint for building the Kingdom that God has given us.  We can move some furniture around.  We can change some words here and there as long as we don’t tamper with the meaning behind those words.  But we can’t be a prophetic sign of what the world is supposed to be by allowing ourselves to become what the world already is!

But, of course, there are objections to this.  I can think of two huge ones off-hand.

1.  Oh, Sure!  The world should look just like the Church!?!  You mean we should all be pedophiles?

Answer:  I’m glad you brought that up.  This is a perfect example of how the Church accommodated to the world.  Seriously, what’s more worldly than committing sexual sin and covering it up?  In fact, the reason the world is so angry at the Church for the scandal is because it didn’t behave like Church.  The world WANTS there to be a sign of goodness in the world (the world hates it, but wants it all the same–like kids and rules).  The world NEEDS a sign of grace in the world and for the world to think that the Church isn’t a sign of grace is infuriating to the world.  The relationship between the world and the Church is like the relationship between an abusive husband and his wife; the more the wife tries to accommodate to her abusive husbands expectations, the more the abusive husband comes to hate the woman.  Only when she stands up to his abuse is there any hope.

2.  But Catholicism is just one brand of Christianity.  Lots of other Christians have modernized their teaching.

Answer:  Yes, well, that’s what happens to the branches that fall off the tree.  Jesus Christ created a Church (Matt 16:18) and entrusted to that Church the vision of what the world should look like.  It is the Church’s job to pass that vision–that Tradition (capital T)– from one generation to the next.  Apostolic succession is the means of transmitting that vision.  Those Churches that preserve Apostolic Succession maintain the Tradition, the vision of what the world must become.  Those Christian and Christian-flavored sects that cut themselves off of the apostolic vine lose the Tradition and end up taking their cues more from the world than from Christ’s original vision.  At best, the messages of these various latter-day Christian sects represent  the seeds sown on rocky soil.  Their work sprouts buds that quickly die if they are not transplanted into more fertile soil (Matt 13).  In fact, we see exactly this.  Sociologists of religion show that there is immense turnover in Evangelical mega-churches.  Their gospel-lite message attracts new seekers but their disconnection from the vine causes the new shoots to starve and die.    And that’s the best case scenario.   At worst, these sects sow weeds that threaten to choke out the vision, weeds that will be gathered up with the wheat but then burned on the last day (Matt 13:24-30).

Belief in the Sun-god.

In his encyclical, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis quotes St. Justin Martyr as saying that “no one ever gave his life because of his belief in the Sun.”   That’s because worship of the sun-god was a secular religion.  It didn’t exist to challenge the culture.  It existed to give people a safe way to vent their spiritual feelings. That vision of church is what most people imagine church to be even today.    That has never been the mission of the Catholic Church. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if that’s all church is then to hell with it.   We exist to hold up the truth.  To be a sign for the Truth and, if necessary, to be willing to die to defend that Truth.

The Church cannot change because if it changes it ceases to be Church and becomes an exercise in what Cardinal Ratzinger once referred to as “spiritual auto-eroticism.” God know, no one needs more of that.

The Right Question

When we encounter some teaching that offends us, annoys us, irritates us; some teaching that the Church stubbornly insists it can’t change and makes us say, “Why doesn’t the Church change that already?”  it is best to recognize that the better question is, “Why is this teaching so central to God’s vision of what the world must become and, having discovered that, how can I get on board and do my part in promoting that vision?”

We do not ask how we can change the Church.  We ask how the Church can change us.