Philibert, professor of pastoral theology at Fribourg, presents a clear theology, a provocative vision, and a vibrant spirituality in a well-written book that establishes the claim he makes in title and subtitle. Christians are initiated through baptism into Christ's priesthood. A sacramental existence follows. In it the prophetic, royal, and priestly dimensions of baptismal priesthood unfold to reveal "the visible, earthly expression of Christ's heavenly priesthood and eternal ministry" (p. 19). This, he argues, is the identity and spirituality of Christians. All members of the Church must recognize their dignity as a gifted People of God, baptized into the Body of Christ.
Baptism is the base. It gives Christians their paschal identity in Christ and makes them one divinized reality with him. As Jesus is the sign or sacrament that God is with us and as his life expresses that reality, so the community of Christians and their lives are the visible sacrament of Christ's continuing presence.
Baptismal priesthood is the source of all ministry. Baptism initiates a person into community, and community gives rise to ministry. However, all members share Christ's missions of prophecy, pastoral concern, and worship in a common priesthood, not just those in ministry. As prophets, Christians speak for the Spirit. They live in the ordinary in such a way that God's Word becomes humanly intelligible. Christians participate in Christ's royal mission, his self-gift for others in suffering and death. Their self-gift is their transformation and their effort to transform the world.
The faithful are priests because they are members of the Body of Christ, the only priest. Human experience is integrated into the "ongoing incarnation." Their daily lives are spiritual sacrifices, graced signs realizing the mystery of Christ's transformation of the human world, because their self-offering is one with his self-gift.
Philibert reprises traditional Catholic sacramental theology in what he calls an "epiclesis ecology." He applies this to Eucharist and to the common priesthood. Epiclesis ecology consists of three interdependent stages of sacramental action, the transforming action of the Spirit: symbolic matter (bread and wine, ordinary lives), graced sign (Christ's sacrifice to which our self-gifts are joined), and realized mystery (Christ living in us). An appendix provides a good, non-technical historical overview of this element of the theological tradition.
Philibert also uses this pattern to examine the relationship of the common and ministerial priesthoods. Using an image from John Paul II, he sees the relationship as a dance or "mutually enriching interplay of energies" (p. 150). The two are equal in dignity and mutually dependent, but ministerial priesthood is graced sign and common priesthood is the realized mystery. Both must share dialogue about priorities, respect for differing competencies, and efforts to structure the lay apostolate.
He argues that lay ecclesial ministers also function as graced signs, means of sanctification with priests. They assist priests, he says, as priests assist bishops. (I prefer "collaboration" to "assistance.") Their role is ambiguous, but as "both lay faithful and ecclesial leaders" they model baptismal priesthood in its fullness. Philibert is not altogether successful in developing a theology of lay ecclesial ministers, but I wish I had had the benefit of his reflections when I wrote on this in The Dilemma of Priestless Sundays. (Susan K. Wood also deals with this issue; see her Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003].)
Philibert makes an intriguing connection with recent Catholic piety when he discusses "Morning Offering" and "Little Prayers" during the day as ways to direct faith and intentionality. Such prayer by intentionóthe affection of the heart rather than the attention of the mindólinks the ordinary to the eternal mystery. He provides beautiful models for such prayer that are Trinitarian rather than Marian but otherwise traditional. Though Philibert does not use the analogy, such prayer is the anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer of the Christian's daily liturgy.
He provides no pre-conciliar history of the doctrine, but he does develop an impressive pastoral theology. He makes ample use of scripture, Vatican II documents, papal sources, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to establish his claims. He could also cite Hopkins' poetry and Chardin's vision of la messe sur le monde, to mention just two non-theologians. He may be too exclusively Roman Catholic: Martin Luther and John Calvin are allies of his theology of baptismal priesthood and deserve credit for reviving a forgotten truth.
Certainly, they would agree with Philibert that this new life in Christ is "our greatest dignity and our only hope" (p. 154). Those who read this book will likely agree with him too that "a living church is a church awake to the dynamic significance of its baptismal vocation . . . a priestly people who 'consecrate the world itself to God'" (p. 155).