Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, had a three-fold office and mission during His time with us on Earth. He was priest, prophet, and king. However, He did not simply occupy these roles like those before Him. We have plenty of examples of great priests, prophets, and kings throughout scripture and salvation history. Rather, He came to fulfill each of those roles in its perfection so that the Kingdom of Heaven might be made manifest on Earth.
When we are baptized, we are conformed to Christ and we become one of the members of His body with Christ as the head. We are animated by the Holy Spirit. Due to this conformity with Him, we become cooperative participants in this three-fold office, so that we can continue His mission of growing His kingdom long after His ascension into Heaven.
That is, the faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world. (CCC #897)
Now, there is probably a good chance you do not go about your daily life thinking about how you might be fulfilling your Christian duty as priest, prophet, and king, so we will take a closer look at what this means for us as the lay faithful members of the Church.
Priest – Christ’s first office is that of priest. We may think of many things when we think of a priest. We think of shepherds, fathers, and spiritual leaders. However, a priest has one primary job over all others and that is to make sacrifices. Priests from the Old Testament made sacrifices with both animals and the first fruits of their harvest to give praise and thanksgiving to God the Father for His blessings upon them. Jesus fulfilled the priesthood by making the perfect sacrifice of Himself, the unblemished Lamb of God, on the crucifix, to make atonement for our sins. We could never match Jesus’ priestly sacrifice, but we are certainly called to participate in it in our daily lives. We can choose to make sacrifices by offering our daily work to the Lord, forgoing complaining, dying to ourselves for the greater good of another, and placing our commitment to our vocation on a figurative altar before God. In thoughtfully offering these sacrifices throughout our day, we share in the priestly office of Christ. “And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives” (CCC #901). When we offer our entire lives and everything we do back to the Lord, we are duly worshipping God in all things. Note here also, the words we say during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The priest says: “Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” We then respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” By reciting these words at every Mass, you are acknowledging your role in the priesthood of Christ and laying your sacrifices on the altar along with the celebrating priest as he re-presents the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus. We should not be mere bystanders at Mass, but instead, be fully and intentionally cooperating in the priestly office.
Prophet – The second office of Christ is that of prophet. When we think of the prophets of the Old Testament, we recall how they prepared the way for Jesus to come. They proclaimed God’s will, called for repentance, implored conversion through evangelization, and warned of the dangers of disobedience. Jesus then came to fulfill the prophetic office since He is the Word of God in the flesh. In other words, He is the culmination and perfection of every prophetic word to come before Him. So, how do we carry on the prophetic office in our world today? “The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office: it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by a life of faith and love and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips praising his name.” (Lumen Gentium #12). When we speak or act, we ought to do so as Christians in a way that gives witness to Jesus, so that others may encounter Him through us. This will look different for each of us, as we all have different gifts, and each situation will have its own nuances. However, always be prepared. You may be called to teach, to be a witness of love, to evangelize, or even to admonish at any given time. So long as you seek to be sustained by the Spirit of Truth and your motivation is love of God and love of others, you are participating in the prophetic office of Christ.
King – The final office of Christ on Earth was that of a king. One way we can participate in the kingship of Jesus is by striving for mastery over the reign of sin in our lives. The Catechism quotes St. Ambrose saying:
That man is rightly called a king who makes his own body an obedient subject and, by governing himself with suitable rigor, refuses to let his passions breed rebellion in his soul, for he exercises a kind of royal power over himself. And because he knows how to rule his own person as king, so too does he sit as its judge. He will not let himself be imprisoned by sin or thrown headlong into wickedness. (CCC #908)
We see here that we have the power to be king over our own selves, rather than become slaves to our own vices. Also, Jesus’ kingdom transcends any earthly kingdom and is, instead, a universal kingdom in which we are all united under Him. The word “Catholic” means universal and therefore describes the Church’s missionary work of building up the heavenly kingdom on earth. “This character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord Himself. By reason of it, the Catholic Church strives constantly and with due effect to bring all humanity and all its possessions back to its source in Christ, with Him as its head and united in His Spirit.”
(Lumen Gentium #13). This distinction between earthly kingdoms and heavenly ones is important. Earthly kingdoms seek to amass or sustain land or riches. However, none of these temporal goods can serve us in the heavenly kingdom. For this reason, Jesus is a servant king – one who appeals to the inherent dignity of the human person and caters to those needs so that His subjects might inherit His kingdom. Jesus is a king who desires what is best for each of His subjects, rather than what is self-serving. Therefore, when we participate in the kingly office of Jesus Christ, we are doing so as servant leaders, always seeking to do what is best for others, so that they may experience the love and joy of the heavenly kingdom on earth.
Now that you know you are called to be a priest, prophet, and king, how does that change the way you perceive your day-to-day actions? Think of the different scenarios in which you typically find yourself, whether they be at work or in your personal life. How might you more intentionally approach them as a priest, a prophet, or a king? Can you be more intentional about offering sacrifice? Can you intentionally proclaim the word of God by the way you live your life? Can you be a master over the sin in your life or can you serve others for their greater good? Any of these simple daily actions can help you exercise your duties as priest, prophet, or king on a more regular basis in your life.