Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 489


But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you,
because of the grace given me by God
to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles
in performing the priestly service of the Gospel of God,
so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable,
sanctified by the Holy Spirit.



I am struck by Saint Paul's use of the word "priestly" as he describes his vocation. That's the only time in all his letters that he uses the word priest. I am not a biblical scholar but, as I understand, the notion of Jesus as priest came late to the New Testament writers. It was introduced by the Letter to the Hebrews, which Saint Paul did not write. 
The priest in the Jewish religion of that time ministered only in the temple in Jerusalem. They had no role in the synagogues which were spread throughout the diaspora, from India to Spain. The synagogues were led by rabbis with their ministry of teaching. The priesthood was a ceremonial role performed only by men of the Levite tribe. It consisted of offering the people's sacrifices: oxen, lambs, doves or pigeons. 
In this sentence the Apostle says he is "performing a priestly service of the Gospel of God" as he brings Gentiles to the Lord. By preaching, baptizing and "breaking of the bread"  he included these strangers among the priestly people. 
The Book of Revelation also three-times describes Christians as "priests serving God our Father." 
Soon after the Second Vatican Council there was a lot of excitement and confusion among some Catholics about this "priesthood of the people." Some people envisioned "a church without priests (and good riddance!)" But, of course, they didn't have to look far to discover millions of Christians worshipping God without priests. The Protestant Reformation explored, surveyed, pioneered and settled that territory a long time ago.   
I don't think that's what Saint Paul had in mind. Perhaps it was only an evocative word for him. It suggested something, a new path which Hebrews and Revelation would explore. As I said, he used the word only once.
When I think of the word priest I recall the young poet John Keats and his first line of Endymion,
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Since the Second Vatican Council, as many Catholic volunteers have stepped up to be Eucharistic Ministers, lectors, and ministers of hospitality during the Mass, and into innumerable positions of both service and leadership outside of the Mass, we are seeing how the priest gathers the people into the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church that performs the priestly ministry, offering the sacrifice of themselves in union with Jesus Christ, in the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the peace of God our Father. 
Saint Paul saw it as he neared the end of his career and uttered the word priestly

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.