By a happy coincidence, we in the Diocese of Steubenville were blessed with a pair of ordinations (one to the diaconate and one to the priesthood) on this weekend in which the readings for Mass are filled with motifs of priesthood and temple.
The First Reading (Acts 6:1-7) records the appointing of seven men to assist the Apostles. These men have always been understood by the Church as the first deacons. One of the things that strikes me about this passage is the clear top-down authority structure of the Church. Although the congregation is consulted in the selection of these men, they are ultimately “appointed” by the Apostles when they lay hands on them and pray for them, a rite later called “ordination.” As a Protestant I was always wondering what the biblical form of Church government was. In hindsight, it’s not hard to see.
Not to be missed in the First Reading is the last verse, which mentions the many conversions among the Jewish priesthood. These conversions fulfill the promise of God to the House of Levi (see Jeremiah 33) that the Levites would never lack a man to serve as priest before the LORD. All these Old Covenant priests who became part of the Church found their Levitical priesthood fulfilled in the royal priesthood that is granted to each Christian by baptism.
The Second Reading (1 Peter 2:4-9) is perhaps the most explicit passage in the New Testament which addresses our common priesthood in Christ. “You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” St. Peter tells the early Christians, making it clear that the promises made to ancient Israel (Exodus 19:5-6)—which were rejected at the rebellion of the Golden Calf—have now come to rest on the New Covenant community, the Church. Every Christian shares in the priesthood of Christ.
The Gospel Reading (John 14:1-6) actually operates on an underlying Temple motif. “I go to prepare a place for you ... in my Father’s House are many dwellings ....” These are Temple allusions. The word “place” (Gk topos, Heb maqom) frequently in Scripture has a specialized meaning of “sacred place, sanctuary” (cf. Gen 28:16-19; John 11:48; etc.). The “Father’s House” elsewhere in the New Testament is a reference to the Temple (cf. John 2:16). The Temple was the largest “house” in the entire nation, replete with an enormous number of chambers for different liturgical and logistical functions (see Ezek 41:5-11). The “structure” that Jesus is going to prepare for the Apostles is a Temple, wherein they will dwell as priests. Their priest is not only royal but ministerial, because he speaks these words (John 14:1-6) to them at the Last Supper, during which he also commissioned them to sacrifice the one kind of sacrifice which will continue to be offered in the New Covenant, the Thanksgiving Sacrifice (Heb Todah, Gk eucharistia).
People think the “place” Jesus is preparing is Heaven. That’s not wrong. But it would be better to identify it as the Church. The Church Triumphant is Heaven, and vice-versa. The Church is the Temple which Jesus prepares for the Apostles to dwell therein (see Ephesians 2: 19-22).
Most of us are royal priests, not ministerial priests. Our sacrifice is not the direct celebration of the Sacrament, but of our very lives: going to work, raising kids, changing diapers, getting the groceries. It seems mundane but it is the raw material that we offer to God (Romans 12:1). The test for us will be tomorrow morning, when the alarm rings while it is still dark, and the work week begins. Will we make this day, this week, a holy offering to God?