PIUS XII 1939-1958

The Participation of the Faithful in the Priesthood of Christ *

[From the same Encyclical, “Mediator Dei,” November 20, 1947]

 

2300 It is expedient that all the faithful in Christ understand that it is their supreme duty and dignity to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. . . .

 

Yet, because the faithful in Christ participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, they do not on this account enjoy sacerdotal power. It is indeed quite necessary that you keep this clearly before the eyes of your flocks.

 

For there are those . . . who today revive errors long since condemned, and teach that in the New Testament the name “priesthood” includes all who have been cleansed by the water of baptism; and likewise that that precept by which Jesus Christ at the Last Supper entrusted to the apostles the doing of what He Himself had done, pertained directly to the entire Church of the faithful in Christ; and that hence, and hence only, has arisen the hierarchical priesthood. Therefore, they imagine that the people enjoy true sacerdotal power, but that the priest acts only by virtue of an office delegated by the community. So they believe that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is truly called a “concelebration,” and they think that it is more expedient for priests standing together with the people to “concelebrate” than to offer the Sacrifice privately in the absence of the people.

 

It is superfluous to explain how captious errors of this kind contradict those truths which we have stated above, when treating of the rank which the priest enjoys in the mystical body of Christ. Yet we think that we must call this to mind namely, that the priest acts in place of the people only for this reason, that he plays the part of our Lord, Jesus Christ, insofar as He is the Head of all the members, and offers himself for them, and that for this reason he approaches the altar as a minister of Christ, inferior to Christ, but superior to the people.* The people, on the other hand, inasmuch as they do not in any way play the part of the divine Redeemer, and are not a conciliator between themselves and God, can by no means enjoy the sacerdotal right.

 

All this, indeed, is established by the certitude of faith; yet, furthermore, the faithful in Christ are also to be said to offer the divine victim, but in a different way.

 

Now some of Our predecessors and doctors of the Church have declared this very clearly. “Not only,” says Innocent III of immortal memory, “do the priests offer the Sacrifice, but all the faithful also; for what is specially fulfilled by the ministry of the priests, this is done collectively by the prayers of the faithful.” * And it is pleasing to bring to bear on this subject at least one of the many statements of St. Robert Bellarmine: “The Sacrifice,” he says, “is offered chiefly in the person of Christ. And so the oblation that follows the Consecration is a kind of attestation that the whole Church consents in the oblation made by Christ, and offers it at the same time with him.” *

 

The rite and the prayers of the Eucharistic Sacrifice no less clearly point out and show that the oblation of the victim is performed by the priests together with the people. . . .

 

It is not surprising that the faithful of Christ are raised to such a dignity. For, by the waters of baptism, by the general title of Christian they are made members of the mystical body of Christ, the priest, and by the “character”, as it were, imprinted upon their souls, they are assigned to divine worship; and so they participate in the priesthood of Christ Himself according to their condition. . . .

 

But there is also a very profound reason why all Christians, especially those who are present at the altar, are said to offer the Sacrifice.

 

In this very important subject, lest insidious error arise, we should limit the word “offer” by terms of exact meaning. For that unbloody immolation, by which, when the words of consecration are uttered, Christ is made present on the altar in the state of a victim, is performed by the priest alone, because he bears the role of Christ, and not because he plays the role of the faithful in Christ. And so, because the priest places the victim upon the altar, he offers to God the Father, the same Victim by which he offers an oblation for the glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the good of the whole Church. But the faithful in Christ participate in this oblation in a restricted sense in their own fashion, and in a twofold manner, namely, because they offer the Sacrifice not only through the hands of the priest, but also, in a manner, together with him; indeed, because of this participation the oblation of the people is also referred to the liturgical worship.

 

Moreover, it is clear that the faithful in Christ offer the Sacrifice through the hands of the priest from this, that the minister at the altar plays the part of Christ, as of the Head, making His offering in the name of all His members, whereby indeed it happens that the whole Church is rightly said to offer the oblation of the Victim through Christ. But that the people together with the priest himself offer the Sacrifice is not established because of this, because the members of the Church, just as the priest himself, perform a visible liturgical rite, which belongs only to the minister divinely assigned to this; but for the reason that they join their prayer of praise, impetration, expiation, and thanksgiving with the prayers or intention of the priest, even of the High Priest Himself; so that in the very same oblation of the Victim, also according to an external rite by the priest, they may be presented to God, the Father. For the external rite must by its very nature manifest internal worship; but the Sacrifice of the New Law signifies that supreme allegiance by means of which the principal Offerer Himself, who is Christ, and together with Him and through Him all of His mystical members attend and venerate God with due honor.

 

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