January Study and the Dominican Seminar

Last year's Chrism Mass at Westminster Cathedral (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

A number of members belonging to the Fraternity were away taking part at the 2011 Dominican Seminar which was about Blessed John Henry Newman. We await their reports with baited breath, but in the meantime the boys at GodzDogz have reported on that here. A good group turned up at St Dominic’s for the monthly meeting. Our monthly study focused on the notion of the priestly people. With Scripture readings from both the Old Testament and the New, we discussed the shift in the understanding of the priesthood from the Old Covenant to the New and why Christ’s sacrifice on the cross made him both high priest and sacrifice.

Here is the short introduction we had before sitting down to grapple with the texts themselves:

THE PRIESTLY PEOPLE

During Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain this September he urged British Catholics to “become more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people called to consecrate the world through lives of faith and holiness”.

But what does it mean to be a priestly people? And how do we live lives of faith and holiness and share in the priestly ministry of the baptised?

Chapter II of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, the council document dedicated to the Church, deals most closely with the notion of the priestly people.

Section 10 of the document explains:
“Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people ‘ a kingdom and priests to God the Father’. The baptised, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness to His marvellous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.

“Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people acting in the person of Christ he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in the virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving in the witness of a holy life and by self-denial and active charity.”

In texts from Hebrews that we have for today’s Scripture study, we see Christ set up as the high priest. Where before the arrival of Christ, Israel alone is a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” and the priesthood is hereditary, after the coming of the Messiah, this is universalised and opened up to all who share in Christ’s sacrifice. Just as Christ is at the head of the Church as its high priest, so too the priestly people have priests who lead them.

In order to understand Christ as high priest, let us reflect briefly on how the priesthood was understood in Judaism. The priests of Israel offered sacrifices in the temple on the Jewish day of Atonement, in which animals were slaughtered outside the temple and then being brought into the sanctuary, blood was sprinkled and the sacrifice came to represent a cosmic sacrifice which was important for creation to continue as it was.

Christ, as high priest, chosen by God, offers himself up as the sacrificial offering, for the atonement of sins. By this action, “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” purifies “conscience from dead works to serve the living God”.

Christ comes to represent the “living stone” because of his resurrection he is filled with new life, and Christians who share in his spiritual life, become living stones and build a spiritual temple which is the Church.

By sharing in Christ’s life and resurrection, through the sacraments, we are sanctified and become priestly people, offering both the sacrifice of the Mass and of ourselves.

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