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How we are all kings and priests, according to St. Leo the Great


Pascal Deloche | Godong

Philip Kosloski - published on 11/10/21

All the baptized share in a special type of kingship and priesthood that is not what you would expect.

The Catholic Church has always taught that all the baptized share in a unique kingship and priesthood. This does not mean that everyone is a ruler or that everyone gets to preside at Mass.

Instead, it is a different type of priesthood and kingship, one that follows after the example of Jesus Christ, the source of both.

St. Leo the Great explains the qualities of these offices in a sermon featured in the Office of Readings. First he gives some background, explaining how this gives us a “common dignity.”

In the unity of faith and baptism, therefore, our community is undivided. There is a common dignity, as the apostle Peter says in these words: And you are built up as living stones into spiritual houses, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And again: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.

Then St. Leo details what it means to be a “priest” or “king” in baptism.

For all, regenerated in Christ, are made kings by the sign of the cross; they are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special service of our ministry as priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are a royal race and are sharers in the office of the priesthood. For what is more king-like than to find yourself ruler over your body after having surrendered your soul to God? And what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?

The type of kingship and priesthood all the baptized inherit is not an earthly one, but a spiritual one. We are “kings” in our spiritual lives, ruling over our passions and directing them in the service of God. We are all spiritual “priests,” given the opportunity to sacrifice our very lives to God.

These spiritual offices may not be what we desire in life, but they are given to us through baptism, in imitation of Jesus Christ. If we want to know how to truly be a “king” or “priest,” we must gaze upon Jesus on the cross. That is our example.

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