Online Edition – Vol. 5, No. 7: October 1999
Vatican Congregation for the Clergy
The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium
In mid-July the Congregation for the Clergy sent to the bishops of the world a new circular letter, The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium: Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments, Leader of the Community. Dated March 19, 1999, the letter to priests addresses the special role of the priest in the New Evangelization, and stressed the centrality of the Eucharist.
The letter, published in the September 9 issue of Origins, says that today, "the need for sacramental mediation or for the hierarchical structure of the church as well as the reasons for them are … called into question". Thus, "the priest is obliged to complement the objective spiritual authority which is his in virtue of sacred ordination with a subjective authority deriving from sincerity and holiness of life".
The sacramental role of priests is vital, the letter says: "Priests, in celebrating the sacraments, act as ministers of Christ, and, through the Holy Spirit, participate in His priesthood in a special way. Hence the sacraments are moments of worship of singular importance for new evangelization". Since many who have stopped practicing the faith "occasionally participate in the Liturgy", a credible lifestyle on the part of priests should be complemented "with a high standard of ceremony and liturgical celebration".
The letter draws a clear distinction between the priest and the faithful: "Since priests participate in the authority of Christ, they differ notably from the faithful. These realize, however, that the presence of Christ in their ministry is not to be understood as if they were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, and even sin".
Given the priest’s special place in guiding the faithful, "he should not fear to exercise proper authority for he has been constituted in authority for this very purpose. Those in authority must overcome the temptation to exempt themselves from this responsibility. If they do not exercise authority, they no longer serve".
Part of serving is being known and recognized by those one serves, so the priest must "make his authentic presence evident in the community…. In this context it is easy to understand the significance and pastoral role of the discipline concerning clerical garb, to which the priest should always conform since it is a proclamation of his limitless dedication to the brethren and to the faithful in his service to Jesus Christ. The more society is marked by secularization, the greater the need for signs".
From the Congregation for the Clergy
Millennium Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary, star of the new evangelization, who gladdens and renews the hearts of the apostles and their helpers in their spreading the Gospel at the dawn of the third millennium, cause to grow in priests an increasing realization that they are primarily responsible for new evangelization.
Mary, first of the evangelized and first evangelizer, who with incomparable faith, hope, and charity responded to the angel, intercede for those configured to your Son, Christ the priest, so that they too may respond in the same spirit to the Holy Father’s urgent call made to them in the Father’s name on the occasion of the great jubilee.
Mary, teacher of lived faith, who accepted the divine Word in total availability, teach priests to know the Word in prayer and to devote themselves to His service in humility and love, so that the same Word may continue to exercise His all-saving power in the third millennium.
Mary, full of grace and mother of grace, protect your priestly sons who, like you, are called to be collaborators of the Spirit, who causes Jesus to be born in the hearts of the faithful. Teach them to be faithful dispensers of the mysteries of God during this anniversary of the birth of your Son, so that with your help they may open the way of reconciliation to sinners, make the Eucharist the summit of their lives and of the lives of those entrusted to them.
Mary, morning star of the third millennium, continue to guide the priests of Jesus Christ in following your example of love of God and love of neighbor. May they know how to be true pastors. May they guide the footsteps of all men to your Son, true light enlightening all men (Jn 1:9). May priests, and through them all God’s people, listen lovingly to His call on the eve of a new millennium in the history of salvation: "Do what He tells you" (Jn 2:5). The vicar of Christ tells us that "with renewed force, the year 2000 should echo the proclamation of the truth: Ecce natus est nobis salvator mundi".
From :"The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium: Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments, Leader of the Community"
Congregation for the Clergy