Reading God's Word as a Priestly People
As a biblical study, Sharing Christ’s Priesthood is suited to both individual as well as group or class use. Author Mike Aquilina writes in a straightforward style that is easily accessible to the average layperson, making individual home study ideal for any Catholic. Even for those unfamiliar with the subject or unable to find a Bible study group in which to participate, this book would be well received. Anyone seeking an introduction to the Catholic teaching on priesthood, as rooted in Scripture, will find this volume an excellent gateway to a broader study of the subject. At ninety-four pages, it is concise and yet contains the essential information necessary to gain deeper insight into the concept of priesthood from Genesis to the Book of Revelation and into our present time.
As with any effective biblical study, the goal is not to merely present information, but to encourage the reader to think, act, and pray about the subject at hand. Some issues, such as the tradition of celibacy among the ordained priesthood or the exclusion of women from Holy Orders, if treated in full, could easily fill many books (and of course, such books are available at any good Catholic bookstore for further reading). But Aquilina’s task here is not to address and analyze fully the historical, spiritual, and theological reasons behind such practices or to offer a compete analysis of the priesthood in general. With a mind toward thinking, acting, and praying on the Word of God, the author gives a brief outline of the biblical history of God’s holy priesthood and prompts the reader to reflect more deeply in one’s own heart and mind.
So for example, celibacy in the priesthood receives a brief explanation, but the reader is encouraged to ponder further the implications and spiritual significance of this discipline, and to discuss the issue with friends and fellow Catholics. In a group setting this might prompt a fruitful discussion in which greater insight can be shared among the participants. An individual outside of group study could seek out books or other sources, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that would shed more light in areas that deserve a broader treatment.
Anyone who has read more technical or theologically rigorous works on priesthood and those who are well versed in Catholic Scriptural exegesis will find nothing new in Sharing Christ’s Priesthood. But for those who are unaccustomed to Bible studies or find theology intimidating, this book presents a wonderful synthesis of many biblical texts organized on the theme of priesthood. Even those who are unfamiliar with Catholicism (for instance, persons enrolled in RCIA programs) who wish to be introduced to the Catholic understanding of priesthood would do well to read - and pray about - the information Aquilina presents.
The organization of the text, which is divided into six “Sessions” (or Chapters) creates a logical flow that helps connect the dots between biblical ideals and our present reality. Each Session can be used as a format for group study so that the entire book can be covered in six group meetings. However, I could see how the Sessions could be further divided for a more thorough examination of the material.
The first three “Sessions” cover the biblical concept of priesthood as it developed in three distinct periods of salvation history. Beginning “in the beginning” Aquilina traces the priesthood from the time of Adam and the Fall of Man and the promise made to Abraham; then secondly, through the coming of the Old Law with Moses and the Levitcal priesthood and the Jewish Temple; and finally the third Session presents Christ and the Christian concept of priest. The last three Sessions cover the common priesthood of all believers, the priesthood of the Apostles, and the priesthood today, respectively. Throughout each Session, Bible versus are frequently cited and assembled quite effectively to create a seamless narrative. Most of these biblical verses are printed in their entirety, except at the beginning of each of the six Sessions where the participants are asked to read an extended passage (usually an entire chapter or more of the Bible) to prepare for the material covered in that Session.
This book does at least two things very well. First, Mike Aquilina does a fine job of presenting a complicated subject in a format and in language that is digestible for the average lay Catholic. In covering the entire length of the Bible, as well as centuries of history and complex theological issues to explain the essence of priesthood in less than a hundred pages, Aquilina has provided a handy resource for educating the faithful in a way that is unintimidating and frankly an enjoyable and easy read.
Second, the author presents a priesthood that is personal and accessible to every believing Christian. Priesthood does not belong exclusively to those who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Rather everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ shares in His priestly nature, and is called to offer sacrifice to God in union with the One Sacrifice of Jesus (the true High Priest). Those who are ordained into the ministerial priesthood certainly carry an awesome responsibility in offering the Sacrifice of the Mass and administering the Sacraments, but the Christian concept of priest includes all those who are baptized. We are al called to the priestly vocation in our daily lives.
This book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, was timed for release during the “Year for Priests” as declared by Pope Benedict XVI, from June 2009 to June 2010, and is highly suited to the purpose of engaging the average Catholic in celebrating the priesthood during this occasion. But the importance of the subject matter and the universal need for greater biblical understanding among Catholics on this and many other teachings of the faith will ensure that Sharing Christ’s Priesthood will provide spiritual sustenance for years to come.
To purchase your own copy of Sharing Christ's Priesthood - A Bible Study for Catholics by Mike Aquilina, visit the catholiccompany.com website.