The Priesthood of Christ and Other Religions

Gerald O'Collins, SJ

 Gerald O'Collins, SJ / Church Thought / 26 February 2019

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In recent decades Christian scholars have written much about the saving work of Christ reaching those who follow other religions. A dimension needing more consideration is that of the priesthood of Christ. How can the theology of religions be enriched by reflection on the high priesthood of Christ? We begin with the Second Vatican Council, then focus on the Letter to the Hebrews, and finish with Paul and John.

Vatican II on Christ’s priesthood

Writers on Christianity and other religions have remained unaware that an image used by Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) is highly relevant for their area of specialization. The constitution quotes a passage from Pius XII’s 1947 encyclical on liturgical worship, Mediator Dei,[1] significantly replacing “the Word of God” with “Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the New and Eternal Covenant.” The language evokes the teaching on Christ’s priesthood developed by the Letter to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the New and Eternal Covenant, when he assumed a human nature, introduced into this land of exile the hymn that in heaven is sung throughout the ages. He unites the whole community of human kind with himself and associates it with him in singing the divine canticle of praise” (SC 83)

Earlier Sacrosanctum Concilium had limited itself to the Church, and taught that the risen Christ is present “when the Church prays and sings” (SC 7; italics mine). Now the document speaks of one “divine canticle of praise,” led by the High Priest himself, who unites the whole human race in singing this heavenly hymn that he has brought to earth. Whether they are conscious of this or not, all human beings, no matter what shape their religious affiliation takes, are joined with the incarnate High Priest in the priestly act of praising God.

It is only in Sacrosanctum Concilium that Vatican II links all human beings to Christ, presented explicitly in his universal, priestly role of praising God the Father.

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