Priesthood of baptized

Question: The Church teaches that lay Catholics share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ. Can you provide a fuller understanding of these offices, and what limits or distinctions are in order?  

Mary McCarthy, St. Augustine, Fla.

Answer: Yes, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “The anointing with sacred chrism … signifies a gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one ‘anointed’ by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet and king” (No. 1241). 

The common priesthood of believers and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, while being ordered to one another, differ in essence. It is not simply a difference in degree, but a difference in kind. 

Biblically, priests are those who offer sacrifice to God. Thus in the common priesthood of all the baptized, believers are to offer their own life as a sacrifice to God, serving God and caring for all God’s people. The whole life of a believer should be a sacrifice pleasing to God, as we offer our time, talent and treasure. All the faithful are also called to offer a sacrifice of praise by taking part in the sacred liturgy and in prayer in vivid and conscious ways. 

Prophets are those who speak for God, who are God’s voice in the world. As prophets, believers must first hear and heed the Word of God and, having done so, proclaim the authentic Word of God to this world by what they say and do. Clearly the prophet must proclaim only that which befits sound doctrine, only that which the Lord has revealed to his Church, in the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. 

Kings are those who exercise authority. And thus the baptized believer must first of all take authority over his or her own life. Believers must rule over their unruly passions, over disordered drives of the soul and body, and so forth. 

Having gained self-mastery, Christians are also called to exercise lawful authority in this world. Of course, this must begin in the family with parents. But the royalty of the baptized must extend beyond merely the family, into the whole world, as believers seek to extend the kingship of Christ, throughout the whole social order.

Grave and mortal sin

Question: A recently published book that claims to dispel “myths and maybes” of the Catholic Church, says that “grave” sin is not “mortal” sin. Thus the author says that missing Mass is a grave sin, but it is not a mortal sin. Is this so?  

Thomas Simpson, Gilbert, Ariz.

Answer: No, grave and mortal mean the same thing in Catholic moral teaching. Hence, missing Mass without a serious reason is a mortal sin (see Catechism, No. 2181). 

It is true today many moral textbooks and Church documents use the word “grave” more often than “mortal.” There are likely pastoral reasons behind this. For it was a growing tendency for many poorly catechized people to think “mortal” sin referred only to killing someone. So, there came the tendency to use the word “grave,” meaning “weighty or very serious sin” to refer to mortal sin. But, as you point out, this has led to other pastoral problems, wherein people do not often understand that grave and mortal mean the same thing. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.