Who are the People of God?

Chapter two of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) gives prominence to a scriptural and patristic image of the Church as the People of God. The Father began this formation process with the Israelites and brought it to fulfillment in the Church. A person is initiated into God’s people not by physical birth, but by a spiritual birth through faith in Christ and Baptism. God’s people include the popes, patriarchs, bishops, priests, deacons, the laity, religious men and women—each group with its special mission and responsibility.

Jesus Christ is the head of this people whose law is love of God and neighbor. Its mission is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and a seed of the possibility of unity, hope, salvation, and holiness for humanity. Its destiny is the Kingdom of God, already partially experienced on earth and fully known in heaven. All God’s people, through their Baptism, participate in Christ’s offices of priest, prophet, and king.

All of the baptized share in Christ’s priesthood. This participation is called the “common priesthood of all the faithful.” Their works, prayers, activities of family and married life, apostolic endeavors, relaxation, and even the sufferings and setbacks of life can become spiritual offerings pleasing to God when united to the sacrifice of Christ. Such acts of God’s people become forms of divine worship that by his design sanctify the world.

Based on the common priesthood of all the faithful and ordered to its service is the ordained, ministerial priesthood. This priesthood is conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The ministerial priesthood differs in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful because it confers a sacred power for the service of the faithful. (CCC, no. 1592)

God’s people also share in Christ’s role as prophet. This means both teaching and witnessing God’s Word in the world. A real prophet, by teaching and good example, leads others to faith. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach always. Sometimes use words.” Priests, laity, and religious can all collaborate in the Church’s missionary and evangelization activity, catechetical ministry, the teaching of theology, and the use of all forms of contemporary media. While witness is essential, we should be always aware of opportunities to share our faith verbally with each other and with all those who do not yet profess it. This prophetic role is exercised with the guidance of the bishops, who have a special teaching responsibility entrusted to them by Christ.

God’s people share in Christ’s kingly mission, which is to lead others through loving service to them. Jesus came not “to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). We are called, in imitation of the Lord Jesus, to be people who offer ourselves willingly in service to others. Actions of such service can point to Christ’s Kingdom of love, justice, mercy, and salvation to all persons, cultures, governments, and other structures of society. We are also called to a life of service to the Church herself. Servant leadership is a responsibility of all God’s people within their differing roles and responsibilities. Bishops have a particular responsibility of leadership and governance in the Church.

“Lay members of the Christian faithful can cooperate in the exercise of this power [of governance].” . . . The Church provides for their presence at particular councils, diocesan synods, pastoral councils; the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish, collaboration in finance committees, and participation in ecclesiastical tribunals, etc. (CCC, no. 911, citing Code of Canon Law, can. 129 §2)

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

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