Dec 15, 2002

Vatican issues Instruction on Priestly Ministry in Parishes

Online EditionVol. VIII, No. 9:

December 2002 – January 2003

Vatican issues Instruction on Priestly Ministry in Parishes:
Priests not free to make "arbitrary adaptations" to the Liturgy, it stresses 

"Consciousness of being a minister of Jesus Christ, and of His Mystical Body, also implies fidelity the Church’s will as concretely expressed in the norms of law", states a new Instruction, The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community, released by the Holy See in August.

"Docility to the Church’s liturgical laws and dispositions, that is to say, fidelity to the norms which organize divine worship in accordance the will of the Eternal High Priest and of His Mystical Body, merits special importance", the Instruction continues. "Arbitrariness, subjective expressions, improvisations, disobedience in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist patently contradict the essence of the Holy Eucharist, which is the sacrifice of Christ". Such unauthorized changes provoke division, the document points out.

The 40-page Instruction, dated August 4, 2002, emphasizes the "irreplaceable" role of the pastor. It was introduced to the media at a press conference chaired by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, who was assisted by the Congregation’s Secretary, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak.

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos observes: "It should be very clear to a priest that there is only one Church".

The Instruction is largely devoted to the distinction between the roles of the priest and the lay faithful. It also encourages priests in their efforts to follow the example of Jesus Christ, offering their lives in service to the Church.

A pastor, said the cardinal prefect, is "a man of communion", serving as a link between the local community and the universal Church. The cardinal added that the pastor should be "a model of adherence to the Magisterium of the Church", and continued that a pastor should "truly feel like a father to the community and to each one of its members. He is an authentic leader of souls".

"A priest does not simply ‘work’ as a priest", the cardinal reminded his audience, emphasizing the vocational nature of the priesthood and the primacy of priests’ sacramental ministry.

Archbishop Ternyak explained that the document is careful to "define the role of the priest as a sacramental leader" of his congregation. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos remarked that the document is intended to help strengthen morale and a sense of purpose among the pastors of the Catholic Church, at a time when many priests face special difficulties. It also warns strongly against two companion dangers: the clericalization of the laity and the secularization of the clergy.

The Instruction points out that "There are functions within the Sacred Liturgy which can be exercised by the faithful who have not received the Sacrament of Orders. Other functions, however, are proper and absolutely exclusive to ordained ministers. Respect for the different states of life, and for their complementary nature in the Church’s mission, requires that all confusion in this matter be carefully avoided".

To avoid such confusion, the Instruction seeks to help priests regain a thorough understanding of their role as sacramental ministers. Every priest should celebrate the Mass daily, the document observes; and priests should make the Eucharistic celebration the center of their lives and their pastoral service.

The Instruction is addressed primarily to the priests who serve in the 218,196 parishes of the Catholic world – of which roughly two-thirds are headed by a pastor. (Fewer than one percent of the world’s parishes are under the supervision of a lay caretaker.) According to the latest available statistics there are slightly more than 415,000 priests in the world.

The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community is available on the Adoremus web site.

(Information from was used in this story.)



The Editors