How sharing in the Body of Christ can lighten your sufferings

Have you ever found yourself before the Blessed Sacrament feeling like nobody but Jesus could understand what you were going through or be able to offer any useful assistance? American journalist, social activist and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement did.

“The word ‘comfort’ means to be strong together, to have fortitude together. There is the reminder of community. Once when I suffered and sat in church in a misery while waves and billows passed over me, I suddenly thought, with exultation, ‘I am sharing suffering,’ and it was immediately lightened.’”

These words were found in one of Dorothy Day’s diary entries, compiled together in the book “On Pilgrimage.” In her diary, she talks about how compassion means “to suffer with,” and if we all share in suffering together, it will lighten the burden for everyone.

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We all share in the Body of Christ. The priest, in the person of Christ, offers the prayers of the community to God every time the Eucharistic Prayer is said during Mass. When we pray the Prayer of the Faithful, we are living out our baptismal priesthood as we offer to God our prayers for all of humanity and the salvation of souls. There is power and comfort in praying together.

Baptized into a priestly vocation

Baptized into the family of God, we are “established as priest, prophet, and king” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 783). Even the laity are responsible for living out a priestly vocation. Pope St. John Paul II expounds on this in his encyclical letter Redemptor Hominis. He writes about how we unite ourselves with Christ through our celebration and partaking of the Eucharist, and through this our intercessions are brought to God our Father:

“For by becoming ‘children of God, adopted sons, we also become in his likeness ‘a kingdom and priests’ and obtain ‘a royal priesthood,’ that is to say we share in that unique and irreversible restoration of man and the world to the Father that was carried out once for all by him, who is both the eternal Son and also true Man” (Redemptor Hominis, No. 20).

Ministerial priesthood and priesthood of the lay faithful

In Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church promulgated by Pope St. Paul VI, he explains both the similarities and the differences between priesthood of the lay faithful and the ministerial priesthood.

“Each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest … acting in the person of Christ … makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity” (Lumen Gentium, No. 10).

The priest serves his parish community by acting in persona Christi. The bridge between heaven and earth is made possible through the Catholic priest, and through Christ working in him, our prayers are brought up to God both through the prayers of the faithful and during the offertory.

Building up the Church

As Pope St. John Paull II said, “the Eucharist builds the Church.” When the bread and wine are brought to the priest before consecration, the parish community is encouraged to unite their own hearts with the gifts brought to the altar. If we are suffering, we can bring that suffering to the table. If we are bursting with gratitude, we can bring our thankfulness to the table. When you see the gifts being brought forward, this is your time to bring forth all of yourself to your Creator. Entrust your heart to him, asking him to use your offerings as he wills, whether that be for your own intentions, the suffering of those in your parish community, or even those across the sea.

Dorothy Day’s suffering was lightened when she remembered that she was not alone in her suffering. We are not alone either. Mary stood underneath the crucifix where her son was dying. She shared intimately in the mystery of Jesus’ suffering, and she did it for us.

“Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven” (CCC, No. 618, quoting St. Rose of Lima).

The Blessed Mother gave her son to us to show that it is possible to climb this ladder, and to show us that we are not alone. She accompanies us, the Communion of Saints accompanies us, and so, too, do our brothers and sisters who we sit next to in church.

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