Baptism and the Common Priesthood (Part II)
January 20, 2013 Baptism and the Common Priesthood (Part II)
(Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1066-1284)
We are in the week of prayer for Christian unity. Last Sunday we started to speak about baptism, which the Catechism considers «the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are established in a certain communion with the Catholic Church, though imperfect. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers and sisters by the children of the Catholic Church.” “Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.”» (1271).
Last week we came to see the first effect of baptism, which is the forgiveness of sins. Today we will see the second effect of baptism, the new birth in the Holy Spirit.
1- The Sacramental Grace of Baptism
This second effect of baptism can be divided in two parts: sanctifying grace and the sacramental character. The grace of baptism is beautifully described by the Catechism: Baptism «makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, […] a “partaker of the divine nature,” a member of Christ, a coheir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit».
To be “partakers of the divine nature”, as St. Peter says, means to share in what makes God to be God. As well, we are called “human beings” because we all share the human nature; we are called “children of God” and we really are because we participate, through baptism, in the divine nature.
To be made a temple of the Holy Spirit means that we can love and worship the Lord in our own heart. God is our guest, the whole day. It also means that we have to respect our body as we respect a sacred place, like a church.
2- The Sacramental Character and the Baptismal Priesthood.
Now we’ll look at the sacramental character. «The three sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders confer, in addition to grace, a sacramental character or “seal” by which the Christian shares in Christ's priesthood and is made a member of the Church according to different states and functions» (1121).
«This configuration to Christ and to the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible, it remains forever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church. Therefore these sacraments can never be repeated». No sin can erase this character (Cf. 1172), and so, even when we lose the first effect of the grace with a mortal sin, it remains something in us like a disposition to the grace and to conversion. What a beautiful gift the sacramental character!
Let’s talk now particularly of the sacramental character of Baptism. For those who are baptized, the character is an «indelible spiritual mark (character) of his or her belonging to Christ» (1272). «The Holy Spirit has marked us with the seal of the Lord “for the day of redemption.” ”Baptism indeed is the seal of eternal life.” The faithful Christian who has “kept the seal” until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of his Baptism, will be able to depart this life… in the hope of resurrection» (1274). Baptism, if we live according to it, is a pledge of eternal life.
The sacramental character is described as a participation in the priesthood of Jesus (Cf. 1121, 1268), and this means two things. First, the sacramental character gives to Christians the ability to receive all sacraments, and to lay people the ability of act as ministers in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The sacrament of Marriage is the highest exercise of the baptismal priesthood. Fr. Buela (the founder of my order) says that we should teach this more often to our lay people.
Second, this participation in the priesthood of Jesus gives us the ability to worship the Lord, not only in the liturgy of the Church but also «by the witness of holy lives and practical charity» (Cf. 1273).
I find this consideration so appealing: the way a Christian exercises his or her baptismal priesthood is also related with the things we do every day. As well as a priest consecrates the host because of his priesthood and it becomes the body of Christ, a lay person consecrates his or her own work to God because of his or her baptismal priesthood, and it becomes the work of Christ. I consecrate the host, you consecrate your work. I consecrate bread, you consecrate yourselves. The bread becomes the physical Body of Christ, you become the mystical Body of Christ.
Christians are meant to consecrate the world to God, to make the world a worthy offering for God. In what way? By doing everything for the Glory of God, according to the commandments, by working in a spirit of thanksgiving, by keeping God present in their daily lives, etc. In this way indeed, they themselves become an offering to God, as St. Paul says: «offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship» (Rom 12:1).
3- Duties and Rights
«Just as Baptism is the source of responsibilities and duties, the baptized person also enjoys rights within the Church: to receive the sacraments, to be nourished with the Word of God and to be sustained by the other spiritual helps of the Church» (1269). Among our duties, we must serve everyone in the communion of the Church, and obey the pastors of the Church, respect them and love them. Also: «“[the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God» (1270).
-- Let us pray to the Lord for the unity of Christians. That all those who have been baptized in Christ may one day pray together in one Church. Let us pray also for ourselves, that we may be faithful to the grace we have received in baptism until the end of our life. -Fr. Andrew