The Priesthood Of the Faithful

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REVIEW OF THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE FAITHFUL FROM WORSHIP vol. 80: No. 4 (JULY, 2006), 368-9 (Used here with permission)

The Priesthood of the Faithful: Key to a Living Church:

By Paul J. Philibert, O.P., Collegeville, MN:

Liturgical Press 2005. Pages, 173 Paper

$15.95 ISBN: 0-8146-3023-5

Paul Philibert offers here a beautiful theological meditation on the priesthood of the faithful. If this doctrine has been relegated to the margins by Catholics since the Reformation, Philibert wants to pull it into the center of ecclesial consciousness. He tries to do so through a sustained and substantive argument that is, at the same time, a kind of spirituality of the stuff of life.

Noting that the church in North America faces a kairos moment, a series of challenges that are also opportunities for a new vision, Philibert calls all of the baptized to reclaim their priesthood by recognizing their ordinary, daily existence as an offering to God. The first half of the book (Chapters 1 through 4) lays out the liturgical/sacramental foundations of this "ordinary" idea. Baptism is foundational and ongoing -- for serious Christians never completely "dry off" from this rite (22). Following his reflections on baptismal rebirth in Chapter 2, Philibert turns to the sacraments in general in Chapter 3. Here he employs creatively the scholastic distinction between sacramentum tantum, res et sacramentum, and res tantum, which he calls "symbolic matter," "graced sign," and "realized mystery." Just as in the Eucharist, bread and wine (symbolic matter) become Christ's body and blood (graced sign) in order that we might become Christ's body (realized mystery), so too in our daily lives, the stuff of our struggles in marriage or our toil at work are the "symbolic matter" that become "graced signs" whenever we call the Holy Spirit into these situations. Infused by the Spirit, this uneventful, unremarkable life of ours actually leads us to the "realized mystery" of holiness and harmony in the Body of Christ (53). Philibert names this realized mystery the priesthood of the faithful, a life lived in union with the one high priest, Jesus Christ. Chapter 4 shows how Christ's priesthood puts an end to the age-old system of ritual blood sacrifice. The baptismal priesthood is not about destruction and loss, but about love and life.

The second half of the book (Chapters 5 through 8) explores what kind of pastoral response the priesthood of the faithful demands. Following the three-fold work of Christ as prophet, king, and priest, Philibert underlines the essential link between faith formation and the ability of believers to offer a prophetic voice (Chapter 5); he identifies the family as one arena for exercising the reign of God (Chapter 6); and he reflects on intentionality as the key to transforming every activity into prayer (Chapter 7). The final chapter calls for a "symbolic imagination" which throws together (the root meaning of "symbol") the experience of day-to-day reality and the experience of faith. Within the context of baptismal commonality, Philibert addresses lay Catholics, lay ecclesial ministers, priests, and bishops. By raising up the baptismal priesthood, Philibert does not dismiss the priesthood of the ordained. But he does place it in its proper context: it is the "graced sign" meant to serve the "realized mystery" of the priesthood of all the faithful.

A final word about the book's title: Too often we use the phrase "the faithful" to refer to those in the church who are not ordained, the laity as distinct from the clergy. (Philibert himself seems to slip into this usage at points.) But what this book describes is not some "priesthood of the laity" that stands alongside that of the ordained. It presents a priesthood of the whole body of Christ -- a call to discipleship in the midst of the every day, which is a challenge for both the ordained and the non-ordained alike.

Xavier University - Edward P. Hahnenberg

Cincinnati, Ohio

Book Review Archive

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(The latest submissions are listed first.)


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