Every Catholic is a Priest
If you are a practicing Catholic, then you are a priest, a baptized priest. Saint Peter, the first pope, put it this way when writing to the first century Catholics: “...You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus.” (1 Pe 2; 5) This invites the question as to whether it is an authentically catholic reading of this passage to refer to the laity as possessing a priesthood. We have nothing less than the authority of Saint Thomas Aquinas who said, “A devout layman is united with Christ by spiritual union through faith and charity, but not by sacramental power: consequently he has a spiritual priesthood for offering spiritual sacrifices, of which it is said (Ps. 1:19): "A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit"; and (Rm. 12:1): "Present your bodies a living sacrifice." Hence, too, it is written (1 Pt. 2:5): "A holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices." Summa Theologica Third Part, Question 82, “Reply to objection 2.
Of course, there is a big difference between an ordained priest and a baptized priest. An ordained priest, of course, has the authority to celebrate Mass, to hear confessions and remit sins, to baptize under normal circumstances, to officiate at weddings and funerals, to sacramentally anoint the sick. But there is also a big similarity between the two. A priest by baptism is also given power from above. Contrary to the beliefs of some Christians, power is not a dirty word. Our Lord himself used it when he told the apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you...” Acts 1; 8 The reason why we are uncomfortable with the word power is that it is so often desired and seized upon sinfully. Powers given to us by the Holy Spirit remain His powers, not ours. We are merely the instruments of use. The fundamental sin involved in occultism, many New Age practices, good old-fashioned witchcraft and too often the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) mentality is the desire to grasp power as a possession, not as a loaned privilege remaining under the complete control of the Giver.
Now I want to say a few more words about power here, because I believe that having an upright attitude toward power and authority is a crucial starting point for intercession and exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In our fallen nature we are all drawn to the notion of power, and I believe there are two natural roots of this desire. In the first place, we all started out in our conscious life as infants. In our early years, we have been hurt by those with more power than ourselves. Parents, adults, teachers, coaches, as well as peer bullies injured us physically or emotionally and in a fallen world we perceive that we need power to protect ourselves and to fight against injustice. Secondly, in our world it is the powerful who are accorded the most respect, and who are generally given the highest paychecks and obtain the most wealth. It does not take us long to perceive that if we want an abundance of good things we will need to obtain worldly power first. Take note of the fascination most children have with superheroes! In my mind, we should adopt a new impulse for power, one of mercy. God’s children suffer pain and temptation on Earth, and pain and loss in Purgatory. It is right and good to desire all the power that God is ready to give us to grant protection, healing and relief to others!
To get back to the point, as lay Catholics we are given true spiritual authority. We can baptize in emergencies and confer the Sacrament of Matrimony upon our consenting spouse, we can serve at the altar and minister the Word and the Eucharist subject to certain restrictions, we can pray effectively for others as God grants, we can gain indulgences for ourselves and for souls in Purgatory. In addition, we can pray effectively against the activities of demons and invoke the holy angels to help us. We can pray for God's blessing upon persons, places and things according to the will of God. We can offer up our sufferings in union with Christ to defer God's judgment upon others and advance their salvation. We can make holy use of sacramentals, blessed objects and holy water to procure graces for ourselves and others. We can make use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as we receive them to bring conversion and healing and to build up the Body of Christ, the church. Those who are into the fantasy gaming genre may note that the clerical spells of fantasy games are more visibly dramatic but not more significant in scope to that which we can accomplish in our spiritual practices. This can also be very good news to men and women who have felt a calling to the priesthood, but by reason of gender or marriage are ineligible for priestly ordination. You already are priests, and are gifted by your baptism with true spiritual authority and a gifting to minister to the Body of Christ according to the gifts you have received!
In addition to the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, we also can refer to the Vatican Council itself. The Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity elaborates:
"The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate." DECREE ON THE APOSTOLATE OF THE LAITY, APOSTOLICAM ACTUOSITATEM, SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS, POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 18, 1965
So how are we to receive this calling in our lives? It seems to me, sadly, that most Catholics are simply unaware of both the privilege and the responsibility. That having been said, it is equally true that many who are aware feel too busy to commit themselves to it. That begs the question as to how much time is really required to properly exercise our priesthood. As a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, I have only been asked to sincerely pray a morning offering at the start of each day and then live the day out according to God’s will as best I understood it. Certainly no significant drain of time at all but the value of each day being offered to God! Along this line I have an odd analogy to draw. A tea bag can sit in a box for five minutes, or it can steep in a cup of hot water for five minutes. The same time elapses for the tea bag either way, but the tea bag which steeps is sharing its wealth of aroma, flavor and nutrients for the benefit of the drinker and those present, while the tea bag in the box just sits to the present benefit of no one. In the same way, our days as Catholics can be spent steeped in prayer and spiritual virtues as an aroma for nearby souls both visible and invisible, or they can be spent in a sort of spiritual coma brought on by the exclusive focus on the temporal world around us.
Furthermore, let us remember that living our priesthood as Catholics brings us to an intimate relationship with the Eucharistic Christ. On Sunday we receive Him in Holy Communion; He abides in our hearts through the week. It is a greater privilege to be intimate with Christ than to have the authority to do things in His name. This cannot be said enough. Many married men and many women have lamented the fact that the Church does not open the ordained priesthood to them. Too often they are more attracted to spiritual authority than to intimacy. They fail to realize that the essence of holiness is more closely tied to love than to power or authority! Our priesthood in Christ empowers us to minister and serve, but the essence of it is a living union with the Risen Lord!
Many are the Catholics who are unable to break with sin or a bad habit due to a certain emptiness in their hearts which pleasure temporarily fills. Many have never experienced the degree to which intimacy with Christ can fill that emptiness and make resistance to sin both possible and achievable! More will be said about this in the chapter on prayer. For now let me just say that the Church places no limit on the degree of intimacy that the lay Catholic may experience with the Risen Lord. In fact, to my knowledge there is no certain teaching that ordained ministry nor religious consecration automatically places the individual “closer” to the Lord than the baptized Catholic who lives in the world can be!