A key aspect of the priesthood, set forth by Jesus in the New Covenant, is that priest and victim are one and the same. Prior to this, the priests of the Old Covenant sacrificed animals: lambs, bulls, goats, turtle doves, etc. But in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the priesthood of the New Covenant, the priest offers himself as victim.
Regarding Jesus and His priesthood, Scripture says,
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb 10:4-10).
So priest and victim are one and the same. Christ does not offer animals (which cannot take away sin) but offers Himself as the Lamb of God.
This insight is essential for us who share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, whether as ministerial priests or as those who share in the royal priesthood of Christ given to all believers at baptism (see Catechism # 1268). Although the royal and ministerial priesthoods are different in kind (not merely in degree), they have in common the fact that every priest offers sacrifice. The New Testament priest (royal or ministerial) is called to offer himself, not merely an animal, or money, or time, etc.
But what does this mean on a daily basis? How can we bring such a concept in for a landing, so to speak, so that it is not merely an abstract notion?
In the reading this past Sunday in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass there is a passage from First Peter which helps to specify three examples of how we offer a sacrifice to God not merely distinct from us (such as money or time or talent) but also one which is personal. The text says,
Dearly beloved, Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps who did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. Who when He was reviled, did not revile: when He suffered, He threatened not, but delivered Himself to him that judged Him unjustly: who His own self bore our sins in His body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice; by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray: but you are now converted to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Pet 2:21-25).
Note the reference to Christ’s priesthood, in which He is both priest and victim:
He delivered Himself to him that judged Him unjustly: who His own self bore our sins in His body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice; by whose stripes you were healed.
That there are three ways that describe how Christ offered His very self. They are ways that we are called to imitate as well, for priest and victim are one and the same.
I. Resisting Temptation – The text of 1 Peter above speaks of Jesus as one who did no sin. It is easy to sin, to give in to temptation. It is much harder not to sin, to resist temptation.
Here, then, is our first sacrifice: that we engage in the difficult act of resisting temptation and sin. Sin does offer pleasures, but the bill comes later. The sacrifice is to refuse those pleasures, offered to us by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We sacrifice pleasures or we postpone them until there are sinless ways to gain them.
The royal priesthood of believers is called to offer this personal sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of obedience to which the Old Testament pointed:
Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams (1 Sam 15:22).
Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do (Eccl 5:1).
Here is our first priestly sacrifice: the sacrifice of our will, of our obedience to God.
Priest and victim are one and the same.
II. Reverencing the Truth – The text also says of Jesus, neither was deceit found in His mouth. There was in Jesus no duplicity; he did not gainsay the truth. Even His opponents said of Him, Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are (Mat 22:16). Ultimately, Christ would pay the supreme sacrifice for this and be led out to the cross.
We, who would be members of the royal priesthood of believers, must likewise be willing to sacrifice our safety, our popularity, our access to higher places, our very lives in order to speak the truth. It is easy to compromise, to go along with what is popular. It is easy to quote trendy sayings. It is easy to be silent when the truth is scoffed at or ridiculed. It is harder—sacrificial—to speak the truth and to defend what is true.
And indeed we will pay a price for it in most cases. Some people will merely raise an eyebrow or scoff at us; others will ridicule us or label us as haters, bigots, and the like. Still others will seek to exclude us, compel us to change, or even criminalize us.
And herein lie the sacrifices we must be willing to make. Often they will be small sacrifices, but at times they will be costly. The martyrs of all ages are witnesses to the personal cost of speaking and living the truth. Those of the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ must be willing to attest to the truth, even at great cost.
Priest and victim are one and the same.
III. Resisting Retaliation – The text further says of Jesus the High Priest, Who when He was reviled, did not revile: when He suffered, He threatened not, but delivered Himself. The most instinctual human response is to retaliate against those who scoff at or seek to harm us. It is easy to hate; it is hard to love. It is easy to strike back; it is hard and sacrificial to absorb the hit but let the cycle of anger and hatred end with me.
Satan wants to see hatred and vengeance cascade through the human family and history. But Jesus put the cross in his way. It was as if He threw a wrench in the gears of Satan’s hate machine so as to grind it to a halt.
We, too, are asked to sacrifice a significant degree of our honor and become like sand in the gears of the cycle of hate and vengeance. It is a sacrifice to say, “The cycle of retribution ends with me. I will not perpetuate it. I will absorb the blow and not retaliate. I will not flee evil; I will confront it without entering its world or adopting its tactics. I will likely suffer for this, but I will not become what I must resist. I will fight it with the paradoxical weapons of love and the cross.”
We make this sacrifice because in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, priest and victim are one and the same.
Here, then, is a brief summary (with examples) of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which priest and victim are one and the same. Again, the royal priesthood of all the baptized, while different in kind (not merely in degree) from the ministerial priesthood, shares this truth with it: priest and victim are one and the same.
Offer the sacrifice of your very self to God.