A commenter on an earlier post recommended that I check out what the First Epistle says about ‘the priesthood of all believers’. I assume he is referring to this passage of Sacred Scripture:

As you come to him…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christyou are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The typical Protestant understanding of this passage is used to dismiss the idea of a sacramental priesthood in favor of a congregationalist, egalitarian interpretation. Basically, “there is no such thing as a priest because this passage says the people of God are a ‘holy priesthood.’ This is called ‘the priesthood of all believers.’ In that respect it is used as an exclusive and negative tool. It endorses the priesthood of all believers, but the real motive is to destroy the sacramental priesthood.

However, while the passage teaches that we are a ‘royal priesthood’ the idea is of the whole people of God. We are a holy nation. Therefore St Peter is referring to the holy and priestly function of the whole church. As the Body of Christ in the world we are a holy priesthood. We make sacrifices, we intercede and minister to the whole world.

What I love about the Catholic Church is that it is ‘More Christianity’. We don’t deny that the whole people of God exercise a priestly function in the world, furthermore, we also teach  that each of the baptized are also called to live lives of sacrificial ‘priesthood’. In this respect we fully endorse the idea of the ‘priesthood of all believers’. However, we do not therefore take the negative step and deny the need for a special, ministry of ordained ‘shepherds’ or ‘elders’ (what the NT calls presbyters–and from which we get our English word ‘priest’)

In fact, the very epistle from which this passage is taken offers evidence of the existence of a special, ordained ministry. In the first four verses of chapter 5, Peter gives instructions to his ‘fellow elders’ and ‘shepherds of the flock’. He calls them overseers–the word used in the early church for bishops. Taken with the rest of the New Testament evidence and the evidence of the early church writings we can safely conclude that St Peter understood, endorsed and encouraged the ordained ministry that we today call the priesthood.