The priesthood of all believers

Someone asked me about the meaning of this phrase – they had been commenting on how well the parish seemed to be proceeding in the interregnum and wondered if it was linked to those words.

Well, of course, it is! There’s a particular passage in Peter’s first letter in which he says, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

And remember the scene in the Upper Room after the resurrection when Jesus solemnly ordained, not just the Apostles, but the whole body of believers gathered in the room? He breathed on to them, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit, and gave them the authority for the remission of sins. The details of that scene could never have been written unless it was a commonly accepted truth throughout the whole Church that the Lord had solemnly ordained the whole body of the faithful to exercise his ministry to the world.

There’s a definition of the Priesthood of All Believers that declares this means that every individual has direct access to God and shares the responsibility of ministering to other members of the community of believers.

The man who asked me about this implied that our interregnum had been made easy because we have access to a number of retired clergy to help with services. The success of our parish’s ministry during the interregnum – and I believe my fellow clergy would agree with me – has had a little to do with our input, but a great deal more to do with the work of our lay brothers and sisters.

We are all, as it were, ordained by the laying on of hands at our Confirmation – very similar in essence to the ordination of the Clergy – Confirmation could be considered as the ordination of the Layperson to their sacred office. It’s worth remembering also that the Church accepts as perfectly valid Holy Baptism administered in a proper form by a Layperson, in the unavoidable absence of the Parish Priest, or in a case of emergency.

And no celebration of the Holy Eucharist is valid without the presence of Laypeople whose “Amen” to the Prayer of Consecration is an essential part of the Celebration. The Celebrant acts on behalf of the whole body of the faithful who are present – in being, as it were, their mouth and hands. In addition, the preaching of God’s Word can be, and is, committed to laypeople, who, as Local Lay Ministers, share this very important work with the ordained Clergy; and when, at public worship, the Absolution is pronounced by the Priest or Minister, it is given in the name of the whole Church.

I hope this explanation helps to show that the Church recognises the Priesthood of all believers. The difference between Clergy and Laity is that although they share one Priesthood, there is a definite distinction between the office of the Priesthood and the office of the Laity; the former are people who have been authorised and empowered to perform special duties and offices in the priestly Body, on behalf of its members, such as teaching, administering the Sacraments, pronouncing the Absolution, and, (If they’re Bishops) confirming and ordaining.

It is a truth that the Layperson has a priesthood, which they share with the clergy, and that, in a very true sense – except in just one particular respect – the one is just as much a priest as the other.

Max Young