Wisdom 6:1-11 warns us that it is extremely dangerous for anyone to have power and prestige. Those in
power are subject to “a rigorous scrutiny,” even though—or because—their “authority was given by the Lord.” “For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy, but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test.”
The Eucharist is meant to exclude any pretense of superiority. First, during the Penitential Rite all introduce themselves as sinners. No “seats of honor” are allowed. No one takes precedence in the Communion line. All present: assembly, liturgical ministers, and presider, are equal as persons and participants.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone (1 Corinthians 12, whole chapter).
If God is acting in all, all are equally important. How, then, do we explain the apparent precedence given to deacons and ordained priests over the laity at Mass? These wear special dress. They are seated in the sanctuary. They alone stand at the altar. They receive Communion first. Is this in the spirit of Jesus’ words: “You also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example”? Yes. It is if we understand.
All differences are due to distinctions in roles, not dignity. The dress is to show function, not superiority. The sanctuary is not an “elite section” but a workspace “where the altar stands, the word of God is proclaimed, and where the [ordained] priest, deacon, and other ministers exercise their offices.” They alone stand at the altar, because they have something to do there. Those who don’t should stand back, even though they are equally involved in offering the sacrifice. The presider and deacon receive Communion first, not because they are “higher” than the laity, but because they are “leading the dance.” It is their job.
All who hold “position” in the Church—pastors, deacons, teachers, those involved in R.C.I.A. and sacramental formation—should make this equality clear through explanation and credible through example. In everything they do they should show that both in mentality and action they see themselves as servants. In fact, as “last of all” (Mark 9:35. See General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, nos. 5, 18, 93, 95, 295. ).
In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus tells the lepers he cured, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” This, plus a reference to Zachary “serving as priest before God,” and to David feeding his men with bread it was “not lawful for any but the priests to eat,” are the only three contexts in the Gospels in which the words “priest” (found 33 times) or “priests” (61 times) do not indicate enemies of Jesus. What does that suggest to us?
What the main enemies of Jesus—the high priests, scribes, and Pharisees— had in common was prestige and power. We need to protect our priests with love from the dangers inherent in both.
Initiative: Be Christ’s steward. Share with everybody as much truth as you can.