When I was in Girl Scouts (a long time ago!), at summer camp one year we learned a couple of Israeli songs. One was called “Hine Ma Tov” and it is very popular with Jewish singers. (A good rendition can be found here: Hine Ma Tov הנה מה טוב.) The lyrics are:

Hine ma tov uma na’im
Shevet achim gam yachad.

The English translation is:

How good and pleasant it is
When kindred live in unity.

I never forgot this song, but it was only when I entered religious life and was reading the Bible that I discovered that it is more than just an enjoyable song. It is the beginning of Psalm 133:

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.[1]

In the Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 133 is recited once a month. It is easy to understand the popularity of this psalm. Unity among people is a very precious thing and it is becoming a very rare thing, especially in our society. Divisions between people and groups are becoming the rule, even among families, and they can be extremely bitter. We all long for peace and unity, and this psalm reassures us that it is possible through God’s grace. In fact, it is only possible through His grace. We need the anointing of the Holy Spirit who brings together all those who accept His attraction.

Yet there is something more in this psalm. The anointing of the Holy Spirit in Baptism is what unites the People of God, yet this psalm goes beyond that anointing. It says that the unity given by the Spirit is like the anointing of Aaron, the high priest. It is like “precious oil…running down on the beard of Aaron.” The unity given by the Holy Spirit is a priestly unity. It is an overflowing of the anointing given to Aaron. What does this mean?

I remember in a retreat given by one of our Carmelite Friars when, speaking of the Mass, he said to us “The rest of the day is your Mass.” To unpack all that is contained in this sentence would demand a series of articles. To understand it, we must look deeply into the meaning of the Mass to discover its essence, and then deepen our understanding of our own lives as we go about our everyday actions. All these are meant to be an extension of the Mass celebrated at the altar by the priest and congregation.

This is the priesthood of the faithful. The reality of the priesthood of the faithful has always been an essential teaching of the Church, deeply rooted in the Old Testament, as we see in Psalm 133, and brought again into focus at the Second Vatican Council. But what is it? What does it involve?

Religious consecration, the act by which men and women consecrate themselves totally to God, is not a sacrament. It is a witness to the full meaning of the sacrament of Baptism. Unlike priests who are consecrated by a special anointing, we religious have no need of a sacrament. We already have the sacramental basis of our vocation, which is to “Show to the Church and the world a clear sign of the Kingdom.”[2] We received this sacramental basis of our vocation in Baptism. We have no graces that are not given to each of the faithful through their Baptism. We have nothing that all the faithful do not receive. Our call is to witness to the greatness of those Baptismal graces.

One expression of our witness is to “live together in unity.” This is tremendously challenging because we are not called to live together in “uniformity.” Uniformity is like a choir all singing the same notes. It can be beautiful, but a choir singing in harmony is far more beautiful, and the harmony we and all the faithful are called to live can only be achieved by the action of the Holy Spirit. Which brings us back to the priestly anointing described in Psalm 133.

Living together in unity witnesses to the Kingdom in our relationships between ourselves. There is another aspect of religious life that witnesses to our relationship to the created world. When we enter, we are taught to treat all the items of the monastery as though they were the sacred vessels used at Mass. This is a very old monastic tradition that goes back at least to the Rule of St. Benedict. In giving instructions to the Cellarer of the abbey (the one who handles all the items of the community): “Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar.”[3] This is something to remember when washing dishes or raking leaves or making beds. The reason for this instruction was given by the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And the cooking pots in the house of the LORD shall be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar; and every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the LORD of hosts.”[4]

How can this be? Zechariah is describing what will happen when “the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.”[5] He is describing the Kingdom to which religious are to witness and to which all the faithful are called already in this life. We laymen and women are called to “exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel.”[6] This may sound like a far cry from washing the dishes and filing documents at work, but dishes and documents are part of the created world, and “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”[7]

Living in unity, transforming all creation through the way we use it, we are called to a great vocation. This vocation has been overshadowed by other great truths of our faith, yet it has always been present. There have always been people and events down through the centuries to remind us of the greatness to which every member of the faithful is called. These reminders are the saints, the ordinary, everyday saints like Monica, Margaret of Castello, Frances of Rome, Casimir, Charles Lwanga, and Louis and Zelie Martin.

But the great model of the priesthood of the faithful is, of course, Mary. Recently, The Tablet—the English Catholic magazine—published an article entitled “Why Did Rome Try to Banish This Image?” The image referred to is a 7th century mosaic depicting Mary wearing the pallium. [8] The rationale behind the various images and treatises about the “Virgin Priest” are explained in this way, going back to St. Ambrose: “Mary represents the Church, and the Church is a priestly community in which the sacraments of redemption are administered.” Not surprisingly, the article gives the image and the treatises associated with it as indications that women are called to the ministerial priesthood.

However, when we consider the duties and privileges of the priesthood of the faithful, we find that Mary fulfills them perfectly. As a nation of priests, the faithful offer themselves and all that they handle to God. Mary’s every action was an offering to God. The lay faithful are called to effect “the evangelization and sanctification of men.” As we read in the Gospels, Mary’s presence and action proclaimed the Word of God and called all those she met to holiness: “Do whatever He tells you.”[9] Through her many apparitions, she has continued down through the ages the “penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel.”

There are no miracles recorded in the Gospels that were worked by Mary herself. It was her presence and her active discipleship that drew believers together around her and guided them to her Son. God did much in Mary that was unique to her, but she did nothing in this life that we cannot do: she said Yes to God; she prayed and pondered; she bore a child and cherished him; she loved and cared for her husband; she kept a home; she stood firm in suffering; she drew people to her Son and Savior. In all this, by her faith-filled love, she lifted up to God all who came to her and all to whom she came. By God’s grace we can do the same. This is what it means to be a priestly people.

Hine ma tov uma na’im
Shevet achim gam yachad.

How good and pleasant it is
When kindred live in unity.

In our next article we will consider the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful.


[1] The other song we learned was Kol Dodi, which is from the Song of Songs, 2, 8. Qiyan Krets – Kol Dodi – Bing video

[2] Collect for the Mass for Vocations to the Consecrated Life.

[3] Rule of St. Benedict, chapter XXXI

[4] Zech. 14, 20-21

[5] Zech. 14, 5

[6] Apostolicam Actuositatem, #2

[7] Rom. 8, 19-21

[8] A list of images depicting Mary in priestly vestments can be found here: Gallery of images of Mary in priestly vestments – Women Priests

[9] Jn 2, 6

Image: David is anointed King by Lawrence OP. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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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.

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