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The laity share in the priesthood of Christ

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 15 December 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the preceding catecheses on the laity we have alluded several times to their service of praising God and to the other duties of worship that are their responsibility. Today we wish to develop this theme more directly, taking as our starting point the texts of the Second Vatican Council, where we read: "The supreme and eternal priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work" (LG 34). Under this impulse of the Holy Spirit, the laity come to share in the priesthood of Christ, in the form we earlier defined as common to the whole Church, in which everyone, lay people included, are called to give God spiritual worship. "For besides intimately linking them to his life and his mission, he also gives them a sharing in his priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them" (LG 34).

2. We note that the Council does not merely describe the laity as sharing in the "priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ" (LG 31), but specifies that Christ himself continues to exercise his priesthood in their lives. Hence their participation in the common priesthood of the Church occurs through the commission and action of Christ, the one eternal high priest.

Moreover, this priestly action of Christ in the laity takes place through the Holy Spirit. Christ "vivifies them with his Spirit." This is what Jesus had promised when he stated the principle that the Spirit gives life (cf. Jn 6:63). He who was sent on Pentecost to form the Church has the perennial task of developing Christ's priesthood and priestly activity in the Church, including the laity, who are fully-fledged members of the corpus Christi by virtue of Baptism. With Baptism, Christ's presence and priestly activity is initiated in every member of his body, in whom the Holy Spirit instills grace and on whom he impresses the character. This enables the believer to have a vital share in the worship given by Christ to the Father in the Church. In Confirmation he confers the ability to be committed adults in the faith, actively involved in the Church's mission of giving witness to and spreading the Gospel [1] .

3. By virtue of this sharing in his priesthood, Christ gives all his members, laity included (cf. LG 34), the capacity of offering in their lives that worship which he himself called "worshipping the Father in Spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23). By carrying out this worship the faithful, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, share in the incarnate Word's sacrifice and in his mission as high priest and universal Redeemer.

According to the Council, in this transcendent priestly reality of Christ's mystery the laity are called to offer their whole lives as a spiritual sacrifice, thus cooperating with the entire Church in the Redeemer's continual consecration of the world. This is the laity's great mission: "For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne--all these become 'spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.' Together with the offering of the Lord's body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God" (cf. LG 34; CCC 901).

4. Spiritual worship implies the laity's participation in the Eucharistic celebration, the center of the whole network of relationships between God and human beings in the Church. In this regard, "the lay faithful [too] are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity" (CL 14). In the Eucharistic celebration the laity share actively by offering themselves in union with Christ, priest and victim. Their offering has ecclesial value by virtue of the baptismal character that equips them to give the official worship of the Christian religion to God with Christ and in the Church [2] . Sacramental participation in the Eucharistic banquet motivates and perfects their offering, instilling in them the sacramental grace that will help them to live and work in accord with the demands of the offering made with Christ and the Church.

5. At this point we must stress the importance of participating in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist prescribed by the Church. For everyone it is the highest act of exercising the universal priesthood, as the sacramental offering of the Mass is for priests in exercising the ministerial priesthood. For everyone, participation in the Eucharistic banquet is a condition for vital union with Christ, as he himself said: "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds all the faithful of the importance of participating in Sunday Mass (cf. CCC 2181-2182). Here I would like to conclude with the well-known words from the First Letter of Peter, which describe the image of the laity as sharers in the Eucharistic-ecclesial mystery: "You too are living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5).

[1]   cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., q. 63, a 3; q. 72, aa. 5-6
[2]   cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 63, a. 3"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers frères et sœurs,

Aux personnes de langue française qui sont présentes ici ce matin, j’adresse un salut très cordial et, à l’approche de Noël, je les invite à accueillir généreusement le Sauveur, “ lumière véritable qui éclaire tout homme ”.  De grand cœur, je leur accorde ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to the "Focolarine" taking part in a course of spiritual renewal, and the group of Young people from Australia sponsored by the International Lions Clubs. Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Ai visitatori di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Zum bevorstehenden Weihnachtsfest erbitte ich Euch den Glauben, die Liebe und die Offenheit des Herzens, die Euch ein neues Verstehen des tiefen Inhaltes von Weihnachten und Epiphanie schenken mögen, das mehr erfahren läbt als äubere Wahrnehmung. Euch allen und Euren Lieben daheim erteile ich von Herzen einen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a la peregrinación proveniente de la Arquidiócesis de Panamá.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai gruppi italiani 

Rivolgo un affettuoso benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Saluto, in particolare, gli Agenti della Scuola del Corpo forestale di Stato di Sabaudia (Latina), ed auguro loro un proficuo lavoro a servizio della conservazione e valorizzazione delle risorse naturali. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Ed ora un cordiale saluto a voi, carissimi giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli. L’Avvento ravviva nell’animo dei credenti il desiderio di incontrare Cristo, l’Emanuele, il Figlio di Dio, che dà la vita in abbondanza. Possiate, cari ragazzi e ragazze, andare incontro al Redentore con gioia, riconoscerlo presente nella vostra esistenza e seguirlo fedelmente. L’attesa del Signore sia la ragione e la forza della vostra speranza, cari malati. E voi, cari sposi novelli, fate della vostra adesione al Vangelo l’ideale costante della vostra vocazione familiare. A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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