22 January 2009 Thursday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 7, 25-8,6; Psalm 40; Mark 3, 7-12
In the first reading from Hebrews, there are three “priesthoods” being referred to. The first is the priesthood of Melchizedek, an ancient figure in the time of Abraham. Who is Melchizedek? We do not know his birth nor his death; but they said that his priesthood is forever (Psalm 40 and Hebrews v.3). What we know is that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and that Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils of war, a ‘tithe’ to Melchizedek. The gesture showed his superiority, and therefore, it was interpreted that all those who descended from Abraham like the Levitical priests are also blessed by Melchizedek. Thus, his priesthood is perpetual — it forever blessed generations of Israelite priests. And thus, Psalm 110, 4 states that all priests are like Melchizedek, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” The second is the priest of the Israelite tribe of Levi called the Levites (remember the parable of the Good Samaritan?). The tribe of Levi was legislated in Numbers 18 as priests. Thus they take charge of the services at the Temple.
And finally, the priesthood of Christ. His priesthood is forever like Melchizedek and performs the functions of the Levitical priests who offers prayers and sacrifice at worship in the Temple. But Christ was not a Levite because He descended from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of David (Heb 7, 13-14). And thus Christ’s priesthood was not appointed by a law of physical descent (Numbers 18), but by the living Word of God addressed to Him in Psalm 110, 4 (Heb 7, 15-17). The basic deficiency of the Israelite priesthood is that it is dependent on mortals whose priestly activity is terminated by death. But Christ’s is Eternal, because he exercises His priesthood in heaven continually and forever. And thus, Christians are lucky because we have Christ, the eternal high priest.
When we became Christians in baptism, we became priests (along being prophets and kings). We participate and share in the priesthood of Christ. This is called our common priesthood. Within this common priesthood, there are those who are called to the ordained ministry, who preside over in worship. In the New Testament, there are legitimate offices (officia) in the community of the faithful. Only one office was regarded as of ‘divine law’ — that of preaching, a duty of every believer. There is also a ‘distinction’ between office and community. There are particular officeholders who are called by the Holy Spirit and ‘ordained’ by those having authority in the community, as being inducted into their office with petitionary prayers for the sake of public order in the community. The Council of Trent in Chapter 1 said that those who are in this “new, visible and external priesthood” are “given the power of consecrating, offering and administering His body and blood, and likewise, of remitting and retaining sins, which was given by Christ to the apostles and to their successors in the priesthood.”
Having said all these, whenever we offer prayers or intercede for a family, friend or a community’s needs, we practice our common priesthood. This becomes true especially at mass. The priest is now called the presider because He presides over the worship. He is not called the celebrant, because WE are all celebrating with him. That is why the format of the mass is a dialogue: there is a response involved in all the prayers like an Amen or a phrase. That is why we are encouraged to sing. If we respond, pray, and sing at the Eucharist, we are exercising our priesthood.
It is unfortunate that many people at mass are petrified like concrete statues. Sometimes, when people do not participate, I feel that they just want me to get it over with. It is my job to do the mass. Parang utang na loob ko pang pumunta sila doon. Participation is not just about making the mass lively like a show on television. Participation is far deeper: it is about being one with the community who worships, appreciating this privilege Christ’s bestowed on us, and sharing Christ’s priesthood. Little do many people know that when they come uninterested and unparticipative, they are refusing a great gift. You see, many of us come to mass with a long list of needs, the least that we can do to the One who can answer our deepest desires is to respond and sing. What’s an hour compared to the fulfillment of your petitions?