ECENTLY, I delivered a paper at the annual conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. The theme of the conference was Romano Guardini, in honor of the centenary of his classic book, The Spirit of the Liturgy (1918). The title of my presentation was “Romano Guardini and the Priesthood of the Baptized.”
In researching this topic, I have grown more keenly aware of the need for renewal in the common understanding of the baptismal priesthood. The Second Vatican Council speaks very clearly about the subject in Lumen gentium, nos. 10–11. Too often, however, it seems that we are hesitant to speak about the priesthood of the baptized, for fear that it might somehow denigrate or take away from the ministerial priesthood. A healthier view might see the necessity of understanding both forms of the priesthood together.
Disclaimer: I may be the only member of the millennial generation who still regularly uses cassette tapes. Most of the cassettes I own are retreats and catechism talks by Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen. While listening to one of his retreats, given to the presbyterate of Gary, Indiana in 1973, I was struck by a section in which he speaks forcefully, albeit indirectly, about the need for the laity to recover a sense of their share in the baptismal priesthood.
Although the retreat was directed chiefly at priests, there were also religious sisters and members of the laity present for the conferences. Here is my transcription of Sheen’s comments directed toward the laity:
Lay people: you are Christ. You belong to the royal priesthood. The royal priesthood differs from the hierarchical priesthood in two ways. First of all, you make spiritual offerings, we [ministerial priests] make a Eucharistic offering. Secondly, we are directly united with Christ the Head, you are in the Body and then are united to Christ the Head through His priests. But that we need not stress.
What I wish to emphasize is that, simply because you have the faith, you offer something. You are not just coming here and offering Mass, offering something in the collection. You’ve also got to be victims! And this we’ve forgotten. . . . We are all victims. . . . We are tied up to Christ, Who offers Himself. 1
In Sheen’s view, the difference between the baptismal and ministerial priesthoods was not in need of stress. It was, rather, the commonality between them—namely, the ability to unite oneself to the sacrifice of Christ—that required attention.
In Ratzinger’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, titled in homage to Guardini’s text, the future pontiff argues that, during the canon, the human action steps back in order to allow the divine action to take priority. Ratzinger goes even so far as to observe: “In this real ‘action,’ in this prayerful approach to participation, there is no difference between priests and laity. . . . Participation in that which no human being does, that which the Lord himself and only he can do—that is equally for everyone.” 2
Renewal of this sense among the faithful, I have found, was a prevailing goal of the Liturgical Movement of the early twentieth century. Even now, in the early twenty-first century, such renewal remains a largely unfulfilled goal.
HILE composing this blog, I discovered that Sheen’s retreat for the Diocese of Gary, IN is now available on CD. I would highly recommend this retreat, as well as his famous Dublin retreat, to priests and seminarians. I have found much spiritual profit—as well as homiletic material—in these retreats.
Details of next year’s conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy have already been announced. The theme will be The Sacred Liturgy and the Family, and it will be held at the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in Providence, RI from September 26–28, 2019. The call for papers is posted on the SCL website.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Fulton J. Sheen, Bishop Sheen Retreat for Clergy, cassette 1, side 2, “Christ, Priest and Victim” (North Haledon, NJ: Keep the Faith, Inc., 1973).
2 Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 174.