The Priesthood of All Christians


St. Peter Chrysologus, bishop of Ravenna (ca. 450 AD). Sermo 108: PL 52, 499-500.

"Listen now to what the Apostle urges us to do. I appeal to you, he says, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status.

"How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

"The Apostle says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Brethren, this sacrifice follows the pattern of Christ's sacrifice by which he gave his body as a living immolation for the life of the world. He really made his body a living sacrifice, because, though slain, he continues to live. In such a victim death receives its ransom, but the victim remains alive. Death itself suffers the punishment. This is why death for the martyrs is actually a birth, and their end a beginning. Their execution is the door to life, and those who were thought to have been blotted out from the earth shine brilliantly in heaven.

"Paul says: 'I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy. The prophet said the same thing: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me. Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on our forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continuously the sweet-smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.'"

St. Leo the Great (d. 461), Sermon 4. (From Nov. 10, Office of Readings, Roman Breviary):

"In baptism the sign of the cross makes kings of all who are reborn in Christ, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates them priests. So, apart from the particular obligations of our ministry, any Christian who has the gifts of rational and of spiritual understanding knows he is a member of a kingly race and shares in the priestly office. For what could be more royal than a soul which by subjecting itself to God becomes ruler of its own body? Or what more priestly when it consecrates a pure conscience to God and offers on the altar of its heart the spotless sacrifice of its devotion?"

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