Is everyone in the Church equal?

Mission Lab

All the members of the Church are equal, but they have different duties and roles. They are united to each other as the one People of God whose Head is Christ.

Describing the Church as the “People of God” emphasizes the fact that the Church is composed of people, including the Pope, bishops, priests, deacons, and the laity. As the Second Vatican Council said, the Church is “a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (cf. St. John Chrysostom, De Oratio Domino, 23). In this assembly of people, there is a basic equality of all persons.

Just as God made Moses the leader of His people in the Old Testament, so Christ gave His Apostles and their successors the right to teach and to command in His Name. This authority is given to them for the service and welfare of the People of God.

The Church is also a “priestly people,” but the ministerial priesthood is essentially different from “the priesthood of the faithful.” All, however, are equal and united as the one People of God.

By Baptism, the laity are made one body with Christ and members of the People of God. Sharing, in their own way, in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ, they play a vital role in carrying out the mission of the Church in the world. St. Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

The baptized, therefore, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood. Through all the works of Christians, they may offer spiritual sacrifices to and proclaim the perfection of Him Who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Thus all Christians, persevering in prayer and praising God, should offer themselves as sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. They should bear witness to Christ (cf. Romans 12:1) and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope of an eternal life which is theirs (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

The laity are distinguished by their “secular character.” Although those in Holy Orders can at times be engaged in secular activities and professions, they are, by reason of their vocation, especially ordained to the sacred ministry. The laity are called by God to work for the sanctification of the world like a leaven, from within, by carrying out their proper tasks according to the spirit of the Gospel. They are consecrated into a royal priesthood and a holy people so that they too might offer spiritual sacrifices of everything they do, and in this manner witness to Christ in the world.

Priests should minister to the needs of one another and of the laity. The laity should enthusiastically cooperate with and support their priests. All clergy, religious, and laity are brothers and sisters in the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus, while there is a basic equality among all members of the Church, there is a diversity of functions and responsibilities.