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One of the themes most emphasized by the documents of Vatican II was the importance of the People of God. Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, has 41 references to the People of God. This is the subject of Chapter II, following Chapter I, which speaks of The Mystery of the Church. In this Chapter II, the document presents the People of God as sharing in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly power of Christ.

Beginning with the priesthood of all the baptized, Lumen gentium says: “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light…Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.”[1]

In our earlier articles, we have seen how unity among Catholics is an exercise of our priesthood; we have seen how living out that priesthood demands a total trust in God; finally we have seen that the essential action of a priest is to offer sacrifice. In this article we will look more closely at what sacrifice involves.

We have seen that “sacrifice” means “make sacred,” either as the verb “to make something sacred” or as a noun, “something that is to be, or that has been made sacred.” I make something sacred by giving it to God. I hand it over to Him and it becomes sacred by contact with Him.

But the sacrifice doesn’t end there. When I give something to God, when I hand it over to Him, it leaves my hands and my hands are left empty. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the God who created nature abhors a vacuum even more. The emptiness of my hands drawn into them God’s reciprocal gift, for He is never outdone in generosity.

What does God give when He responds to a sacrifice? We say that God gives His grace, but what does that mean? What is grace? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Grace is a participation in the life of God.”[2] It is “the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification.”[3]

What does this mean? We are about to celebrate Christmas, the moment when God the Son came into our world as one of us, as a member of the human race. St. Athanasius said that “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”[4] Just as the Son of God did not cease to be God when He became human, so we do not cease to be human when we share in the nature of God through grace. St. John of the Cross says that we become “God through participation.”[5]

How can we understand this? The best example I can think of is that of a paper clip and a magnet. A magnet attracts a paper clip because of the iron in the clip’s metal. When the clip touches the magnet, it absorbs and takes its magnetism. It becomes a magnet without ceasing to be a paper clip. As a paper clip, it has no ability to attract other paper clips, but as long as it is in contact with the magnet, it can act as a magnet, and it becomes a magnet to other paper clips.

It is a crude comparison, but it gives us the basic idea. Of ourselves, we cannot do what God does. We cannot love as He loves, with a love that changes and makes beautiful and loveable and whole everything that He touches. Of ourselves, our love cannot change anything for the better. But when we are in touch with God through sacrifice we are changed and deified. We become God by participation. His life changes our life, His love changes our love, and because of our contact with Him, His transforming life and love flow through us to change us and to change the lives of others.

This is the priesthood of the faithful in action. How it is lived out in everyday life will be the subject of our next article.

Notes

[1] Lumen gentium, II, 10

[2] “Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1997

[3] Ibid. #1999

[4] St. Athanasius, De inc., 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.

[5] “Dark Night”, II, 20, 5


Image: Adobe Stock. By pat_hastings.


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Sr. Gabriela of the Incarnation, O.C.D. (Sr. Gabriela Hicks) was born in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in the Gold Rush country of California, which she remembers as heaven on earth for a child! She lived a number of years in Europe, and then entered the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Flemington, New Jersey, where she has been a member for forty years. www.flemingtoncarmel.org.

God by Participation
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