Instruction for Priest
Dec 31, 2007

Instruction for Priest

Instruction for Priest

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Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Vatican Instruction

The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community

Congregation for the Clergy


This "Instruction", addressed to all Parish Priests and their brother collaborators involved in the "cura animarum", is being relayed to them through the kind offices of their Bishops. The document must be seen in the context of a deep reflection and study, which has been ongoing for a number of years on this topic.

With the publication of the Directories on the ministry and life of Priests and that of the Permanent Deacons, along with that of the Interdicasterial Instruction, Ecclesiae de mysterio , and the Circular Letter, The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium, Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community, we find the resonance of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially Lumen Gentium, Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Catechism of the Catholic Church , and the Code of Canon Law, in an uninterrupted expression of the Magisterium.

The document follows the same track as the great missionary impetus of the Duc in altum, which necessarily leads to the indispensable task of the evangelization of the Third Christian Millenium. For this reason, mindful also of the many recommendations produced by a worldwide consultation on this matter, it has appeared appropriate to seize this opportunity to present a doctrinal section with elements which will provoke a reflection on those fundamental theological values which impel towards missionary activity and which are sometimes somewhat obfuscated.

The relationship between the ecclesiological-pneumatic dimension, which touches directly upon priestly ministry, and that ecclesiological dimension, which helps in understanding the significance of specific function., has been highlighted.

This "Instruction" has the underlying purpose of directing particular affection towards those priests who carry out their precious office as Parish Priests and who, through beset by many challenges, are always in the midst of their people. The delicate and valuable office they hold, provides the opportunity to offer greater clarity with regard to the essential and vital difference which exists between the common priesthood and the ordained priesthood. This, in turn, gives rise to a proper understanding of priestly identity and the essential sacramental dimension of the ordained minister.

As it has been the intent to follow the line indicated by the Holy Father in his Allocution to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation, which is particularly rich in its practicality, it appears helpful to addend it here:

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Monsignors and Fathers,

Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

1. With great joy I welcome you, on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy. I cordially greet Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation, and I thank him for his kind words addressed to me in the name of all present. I greet the Cardinals, Bishops and the participants in your Plenary Assembly, which has focused on an important topic for the life of the Church: the Priest, Pastor and Guide of the Parish Community. Stressing the function of the priest in the parish community, one brings to the fore the centrality of Christ who should always be prominent in the mission of the Church.

Christ is present to his Church in the most sublime way in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. In the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council teaches that the priest acting in persona Christi celebrates the Sacrifice of the Mass and administers the Sacraments (cf. n. 10). As my venerable predecessor Paul VI so aptly observed in his Encyclical Letter Mysterium fidei, which followed the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7, Christ is also present through preaching and the guidance of the faithful, tasks to which the priest is personally called (cf. AAS 57 [1965] 762).

2. The presence of Christ, which thus takes place in a daily and ordinary way, makes the parish an authentic community of the faithful. It is therefore of fundamental importance for the parish to have a priest as its pastor and the title of pastor is specifically reserved to the priest. The sacred Order of the presbyterate represents the indispensable and irreplaceable condition for him to be appointed pastor validly (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 521, 1). Certainly, other faithful can actively collaborate with him, even full-time, but because they have not received the ministerial priesthood, they cannot replace him as pastor.

What determines this singular ecclesial centrality of the priest is the fundamental relation he has with Christ, Head and Pastor, as his sacramental representation. In the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, I noted that "the priest’s relation to the Church is inscribed in the relation which the priest has to Christ, such that the "sacramental representation’ to Christ serves as the basis and inspiration for the relation of the priest to the Church" (n. 16). The ecclesial dimension belongs to the substance of the ordained priesthood. It is totally at the service of the Church, so that the ecclesial community has an absolute need for the ministerial priesthood to have Christ the Head and Shepherd present in her. If the common priesthood results from the fact that the Christian People are chosen by God as a bridge with humanity and that every believer belongs to this people, the ministerial priesthood is the fruit of an election, of a specific vocation: "he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve" (Lk 6:13-16). Thanks to the ministerial priesthood, the faithful are made aware of their common priesthood and they live it (cf. Eph 4:11-12); the priest reminds them that they are the People of God and makes them able to "offer spiritual sacrifices" (cf. I Pt. 2:5), through which Christ himself makes us an eternal gift to the Father (cf. I Pt. 3:18). Without the presence of Christ represented by the priest, the sacramental guide of the community, this would not be an ecclesial community in its fullness.

3. As I said before, Christ is present in the Church in an eminent way in the Eucharist, the source and summit of ecclesial life. He is really present in the celebration of the holy Sacrifice, and when the consecrated bread is kept in the tabernacle "as the spiritual heart of the religious and parish community" (Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium fidei, AAS 57 [1965], 772).

For this reason, the Second Vatican Council recommends that "parish priests ensure that the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the center and culmination of the entire life of the Christian community" (Decr. Christus Dominus, n. 30). Without Eucharistic worship as its beating heart, the parish dries up. Here it is helpful to recall what I wrote in the Apostolic Letter Dies Domini: "Among the many activities of a parish, none is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist" (n. 35). Nothing will ever be able to replace it. The Liturgy of the Word by itself, when it is really impossible to ensure the Sunday presence of a priest, is praiseworthy to keep the faith alive, but it must always keep the regular celebration of the Eucharist as the goal to be achieved.

Where a priest is lacking one must ask the Lord with faith and insistence, to raise up numerous and holy labourers for his harvest. In Pastores dabo vobis I repeated that "today the prayerful expectation of new vocations should become an ever more continual and widespread habit within the entire Christian community and in every one of its parts" (n. 38). The splendour of the priestly identity, the integral exercise of the pastoral ministry united to the efforts of the whole community in prayer and personal penance, are the irreplaceable elements for an urgent pastoral activity to recruit vocations. It would be a fatal mistake to be resigned to present difficulties, and act as if we should prepare ourselves for a Church of tomorrow that some imagine as being almost without priests. In this way, the measures adopted to remedy the present scarcity, in spite of all good will, would be seriously harmful for the Ecclesial Community.

4. Moreover, the parish is a privileged place to announce the Word of God. It includes a variety of forms and each of the faithful is called to take an active part, especially with the witness of a Christian life and the explicit proclamation of the Gospel to non-believers to lead them to the faith, or to believers to instruct them, confirm them and encourage them to a more fervent life. As for the priest, he "proclaims the word in his capacity as ‘minister’", as sharer in the prophetic authority of Christ and the Church" (Pastores dabo vobis, n. 26). To fulfil this ministry faithfully, corresponding to the gift received, he "ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the Word of God" (ibid.). Even though he may be surpassed in the ability to speak by non-ordained members of the faithful, this would not reduce his being the sacramental representation of Christ the Head and Shepherd, and the effectiveness of his preaching derives from his identity. The parish community needs this kind of effectiveness, especially at the most characteristic moment of the proclamation of the Word by ordained ministers: for this reason the liturgical proclamation of the Gospel and the homily that follows it are both reserved to the priest.

5. Also the function of guiding the community as shepherd, the proper function of the parish priest, stems from his unique relation to Christ the Head and Shepherd. It is a function having a sacramental character. It is not entrusted to the priest by the community, but, through the Bishop, it comes to him from the Lord. To reaffirm this clearly and exercise this function with humble authority is an indispensable service to truth and to ecclesial communion. The collaboration of others, who have not received this sacramental configuration to Christ, is hoped for and often necessary.

However, these cannot in any way substitute the task of the pastor proper to the parish priest. The extreme cases of shortage of priests, that advise a more intense and extended collaboration of the faithful not honor ed with priestly ministry, in the pastoral care of a parish, do not constitute an exception to this essential criterion for the care of souls, as is indisputably established by canonical norm (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 517, 2). In this controversial sector, the interdicasterial Exhortation Ecclesiae de mysterio, that I approved in a specific way, is a sure guide to follow.

In fulfilling his duty as guide, which is his personal responsibility, the pastor will surely obtain help from the consultative bodies foreseen by canon law (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 536-537); but these must remain faithful to their reality as consultative bodies. Therefore it will be necessary to guard oneself from any form that tends de facto to weaken the leadership of the parish priest, because the very structure of the parish community would be distorted.

6. I now turn my affectionate and grateful thoughts to pastors throughout the world, especially to those who work in the outposts of evangelization. I encourage them to continue in the mission of evangelization that is strenuous but precious for the whole Church. I recommend to each one to turn, in the daily exercise of pastoral care, to the maternal help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, seeking to live in profound communion with Her. In the ministerial priesthood, as I wrote in the Letter to Priests, on the occasion of Holy Thursday 1979, "there is the wonderful and penetrating dimension of nearness to the Mother of Christ" (n. 11). When we celebrate Holy Mass, dear Brother priests, the Mother of the Redeemer is beside us. She introduces us into the mystery of the redemptive offering of her divine Son. "Ad Jesum per Mariam": may this be our daily program of spiritual and pastoral life!

With these sentiments, while I assure you of my remembrance in prayer, I impart to each one a special Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly extend to all the priests of the world.


Part I

The Common Priesthood of the Faithful and The Ordained Priesthood

1. Lift up you eyes (John 4, 35)

1. "I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest" (John 4:35). These words of the Our Lord well illustrate the immense horizon of the incarnate Word’s mission of love. "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). His entire earthly life, which was completely consonant with the Father’s salvific will, is a constant manifestation of that divine will which desires the salvation of mankind and that all come to that salvation eternally willed by the Father. He has bequeathed this historical mission to the Church and consigned it in a special way to her ordained ministers. "Great indeed is the mystery of which we have been made ministers. A mystery of love without limit, for "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1).

The priestly ministers of Jesus Christ, invested with the character and grace of the Sacrament of Orders, and constituted witnesses and ministers of divine mercy, voluntarily undertake to serve all in the Church. In whatever social, cultural or historical circumstances, including contemporary society, heavily marked as it is by an ethos of secularism and consumerism which erode the meaning of Christianity for many of the faithful, the Lord’s ministers should always be mindful of the victory that overcomes the world: our faith" (I John 5:4). Indeed, contemporary society affords an opportunity to recall the conquering power of faith and of love in Christ, and to be mindful that, notwithstanding difficulties and even a certain diffidence, the Christian faithful — as well as many non-believers — greatly appreciate, and depend on, the pastoral availability of priests. They expect to find that the priest is a man of God, just as Saint Augustine says: "Our knowledge is Christ and our wisdom is also Christ. He gives us faith with regard to temporal realities and it is He who reveals eternal realities to us". We live in an era of new evangelization and should therefore go and search out those who await the opportunity of encountering Christ.

2. In differing degrees, Christ transmitted, his own quality of Pastor of Souls to Bishops and Priests through the Sacrament of Orders so as to render them capable of acting in his name and of representing his potestas capitis in the Church. "The profound unity of this new people does not mean that there are not different and complementary tasks in its life. Those whose task it is to renew in persona Christi what Jesus did at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice, "the source and summit of the entire Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11), are linked in a special way to first Apostles. The sacramental character which distinguishes them by virtue of their reception of Holy Orders ensures that their presence and ministry are unique, indispensable and irreplaceable". The presence of an ordained minister is an essential condition for the Church’s life and not merely for her effective organization.

3. Duc in altum! Every Christian who experiences the light of faith in his soul and desires to walk at the pace set by the Supreme Pontiff must try to translate into deeds this urgent and decisively missionary call. The Pastors of the Church, whose sense of the supernatural allows for the possibility of discerning the ways in which God desires to guide His people, must especially understand this same call and implement it zealously and readily. "Duc in altum! The Lord invites us to put out into the deep, with trust in his word. Let us learn from the Jubilee experience and persevere in the task of bearing witness to the Gospel with the enthusiasm that contemplating the face of Christ engenders in us!"

4. It is important to recall how the Holy Father understands the fundamental goals set out by him at the end of the Great Jubilee of 2000, and offered to the particular Churches for concrete realization. Inviting all the local Churches to undertake this task, the Pope pointed to the need to profit from the grace received, "by putting it into practice in resolutions and guidelines for action".

This grace touches upon the Church’s mission of evangelization which requires personal sanctity on the part of both her pastors and faithful, a fervent apostolic sense concordant with their specific states of life which imbues their responsibilities and duties, and an awareness that the eternal salvation of many depends on faithfully manifesting Christ both in word and in deed. Hence, there emerges an urgent need to give greater impulse to the priestly ministry in the local Churches, especially in parishes. Such should be based on an authentic understanding of the ministry and life of priests.

We priests "have been consecrated in the Church for this specific ministry. We are called in various ways, to contribute, wherever Providence puts us, to the formation of the community of God’s People. Our task …is to tend the flock God entrusted to us, not by constraint but willingly, not as domineering over those in our charge, but by setting them an example (cf. I Pt 5:2-3). (…) This is our way of holiness, which leads us to our ultimate meeting with the "supreme shepherd" in whose hands is the "crown of glory" (I Pt 5:4). This is our mission at the service of the Christian people".

2. Central Elements of the Ministry and Life of Priests

a) Priestly identity

5. Priestly identity has to be seen in the context of the divine salvific will since it is a fruit of the sacramental action of the Holy Spirit, a sharing in the saving work of Christ, and completely oriented to the service of that work in the Church as it unfolds in history. Priestly identity is three dimensional: pneumatological, Christological and ecclesiological. This primordial theological structure of the mystery of the priest, who is a minister of salvation, can never be overlooked if he is adequately to understand the meaning of his pastoral ministry in the concrete circumstances of the parish. He is the servant of Christ. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, the priest becomes the servant of mankind. His very being, ontologically assimilated to Christ, constitutes the foundation of being ordained for the service of the community. Total commitment to Christ, aptly effected and witnessed through celibacy, places the priest at the service of all. The marvelous gift of celibacy is clarified by, and draws inspiration from, assimilation to the nuptial gift of the crucified and risen Son of God to a redeemed and renewed mankind.

The very life and work of the priest — his consecrated person and his ministry — are inseparable theological realities. Their object is service in promoting the Church’s mission which is the eternal salvation of all mankind. The reason for the existence of the priesthood is to be found and discovered in the mystery of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ and the People of God journeying through history, which has been established as the universal sacrament of salvation. "The ecclesial community has absolute need of the ministerial priesthood so as to have Christ, Head and Shepherd, present in her midst".

6. The baptismal or common priesthood of Christians, which is a genuine participation in the priesthood of Christ, is an essential property of the New People of God "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…" (I Pet 2:9); [He] has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father" (Aps 1:6); [Thou] hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God (Aps 5:10) … they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him" (Aps 20:6). These passages recall Exodus and transfer what was said of the Old Israel to the New Israel: "You shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6). They also recall Deuteronomy: For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth (Dt 7:6).

"While the common priesthood is a consequence of the fact that the Christian people has been chosen by God as bridge with mankind and involves every believer who has been inserted into this people, the ministerial priesthood is the fruit of being chosen, it is the fruit of a specific vocation: "[Jesus] called his disciples, and chose from them twelve" (Lk 6:13-16). By virtue of the ministerial priesthood, the faithful are made aware of their common priesthood and actualize it (cf. Eph 4:11-12); the priest constantly reminds them that they are the People of God and prepares them to "offer spiritual sacrifices" (cf. I Pet 2:5), through which Christ himself make of us and eternal offering to the Father (cf. I Pet 3:18). Without the presence of Christ, represented by the priest, who is the spiritual leader of the community, this would not fully be an ecclesial communion".

In this priestly people, the Lord instituted a priestly ministry to which some are called so that they might serve the faithful in pastoral charity through the potestas sacra. The common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood differ from each other not only in grade but also in essence. The difference between the two priesthoods is, therefore, not simply one of greater or lesser participation in the priesthood of Christ, but one of essentially different ways of participating in that priesthood. The common priesthood of the faithful is based on baptismal character which is the spiritual seal of their having been claimed for Christ. It "enables and commits Christians to serve God by a vital participation in the sacred liturgy of the Church and to exercise their baptismal priesthood by the witness of holy lives and practical charity".

The ministerial priesthood, on the other hand, is based on the sacramental character received in the Sacrament of Orders which configures the priest to Christ so as to enable him to act in the person of Christ, the Head, and to exercise the potestas sacra to offer Sacrifice and forgive sins. A new and specific mission is sacramentally conferred on those of the baptized who have received the grace of the ministerial priesthood: to embody Christ’s triple office — prophetic, cultic and regal — as Head and Shepherd of the Church in the midst of the people of God. In exercising their specific functions, they act in persona Christi Capitis, and consequently, in the same way, they act in nomine Ecclesiae.

7. "Our sacramental priesthood, therefore, is both ‘hierarchial’ and ‘ministerial’. It is a particular ‘ministerium’, that is a ‘service’, with regard to the community of the faithful. It does not, however, derive from that community nor from its ‘call’ or ‘delegation’. Rather, the ministry is a gift for the community which comes from Christ himself and from the fullness of his priesthood (…) Conscious of this reality, we understand how our priesthood is ‘hierarchial’, that is, how it is connected with the power to form and govern a priestly people (cf. ivi), and how, precisely because of this, it is also ‘ministerial’. We exercise an office through which Christ himself incessantly ‘serves’ the Father in the work of our salvation. Our entire priestly life is, and ought to be, deeply imbued by this service if we wish adequately to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice ‘in persona Christi’".

In recent times, the Church has experienced problems of "priestly identity", deriving sometimes from an unclear theological understanding of the two ways of participating in the priesthood of Christ. In some areas, these difficulties have progressed to the point of losing that profound ecclesiological balance which is proper to the perennial and authentic Magisterium.

At the present time, however, circumstances are such that it is possible to overcome the danger of "clericalizing" the laity and of "secularizing" the clergy.

The generous commitment of the laity in the areas of worship, transmission of the faith and pastoral collaboration, in the face of shortages of priests, has tempted some sacred ministers and laity to go beyond that which is permitted by the Church and by their own ontological sacramental capacities. This results in a theoretical and practical under estimation of the specific mission of the laity to sanctify the structures of society from within.

This same crisis of identity has also brought about the "secularization" of some sacred ministers by the obfuscation of their absolutely indispensable specific role in ecclesial communion.

8. In the Church, the priest, alter Christus, is the minister of the essential salvific actions. Acting in persona Christi Capitis, he is the fount of life and vitality in the Church and in his parish by virtue of his sacrificial power to confect the Body and Blood of the Redeemer, his authority to proclaim the Gospel, and his power to conquer the evil of sin through sacramental forgiveness. The priest himself is not the source of this spiritual life. Rather, it comes from Him who distributes it to all the people of God. The priest, anointed by the Holy Spirit, is the servant who enters the sacramental sanctuary: Jesus Christ Crucified (cf. Jn 19:31-37) and Risen, from whom salvation comes.

With Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, the priest is aware that, with her, he is "an instrument of salvific communication between God and man", albeit in a different way: the Blessed Virgin through the Incarnation, the priest through the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The relationship between priests and the Blessed Virgin Mary is based not only on a need for protection and assistance but more so on an awareness of an objective fact: "the presence of Our Lady", that "operative presence with which the Church lives the mystery of Christ".

9. As a participant in the directive action of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of his Body, the priest, at the pastoral level, is specifically empowered to be a "man of communion", government and of service to all. He is charged with promoting and maintaining unity between the members and the Head, and between the members. By his vocation, he unites and serves this double dimension of Christ’s pastoral function (cf. Mt 20:28; Mark 10:45; Lk 22:27). For its development, the Church’s life requires energies which can only be supplied by this ministry of communion, government and service. It requires priests who are totally assimilated to Christ whose vocation originates in full appropriation of Christ. It requires priests who, "in" and "with" Christ, live all the virtues manifested by Christ the Shepherd, and who are motivated by, and draw inspiration from, assimilation with the nuptial offering of the Crucified and Risen Son of God to a redeemed and renewed mankind. It requires priests who wish to be sources of unity and of fraternal offering of self to all — especially the most needy. It requires men who, recogniz ing that their priestly identity derives from the Good Shepherd, internally live that image and externally manifest it in a manner immediately recogniz able to all.

The priest renders Christ, Head of the Church, present through the ministry of the Word which is a sharing in his prophetic office. In persona et nomine Christi, the priest is minister of the evangelizing word which calls all to conversion and holiness. His is minister of the word of worship which praises God’s greatness and gives thanks for His mercy. He is minister of the word of the sacraments which are the effective source of grace. In these multiple ways, the priest, with the power of the Holy Spirit, prolongs the teaching of Christ in His Church.

b). Unity of Life

10. Because of the ministry entrusted to priests, which in itself is a holy, sacramental configuration to Jesus Christ, priests have a further reason to strive for holiness. This does not mean that the holiness to which the priest is called is in any way subjectively greater than that to which all the faithful are called in virtue of Baptism. While holiness takes different forms, holiness is always the same. The priest, however, is motivated to strive for holiness for a different reason: so as to be worthy of that new grace which has marked him so that he can represent the person of Christ, Head and Shepherd, and thereby become a living instrument in the work of salvation. In fulfilling his ministry, consequently, he who is "sacerdos in aeternum" must strive to follow the example of the Lord in all things by uniting himself with Him "in discovering the Father’s will, and in the gift of himself to he flock". Unity of life, or interior unity between the spiritual life and ministerial activity, is founded on love for the divine will and pastoral charity. Growth in this unity of life, founded on pastoral charity, is promoted by a solid prayer life so much so that the priest becomes, at one and the same time, a witness to charity and a master of the spiritual life.

11. The Church’s history is redolent with splendid models of truly radical pastoral self-sacrifice. These include a great number of holy priests who have reached sanctity through generous and indefatigable dedication to the care of souls, commitment to asceticism and a profound spiritual life, among them the Curé of Ars, patron of parish priests. These pastors, consumed by the love of Christ and its attendant pastoral charity, are a lived expression of the Gospel.

Some currents in contemporary culture regard interior virtue, mortification and spirituality as forms of introspection, alienation, or of egoism which are incapable of understanding the problems of the world and of people. In some instance, this has led to a multifarious image of the priest: it ranges from the sociologist to the therapist, from the politician to the manager. It has even led to the idea of the "retired" priest. In this context, it has to be recalled that the priest is a full-time bearer of an ontological consecration. His basic identity has to be sought in the character which has been conferred on him by the Sacrament of Holy Orders and from which pastoral grace derives. The priest, therefore, must always know what he has to do, precisely as a priest. As Saint John Bosco says, the priest is a priest at the altar; he is a priest in the confessional; he is a priest in the school; he is priest on the street; indeed, he is a priest everywhere. In certain contemporary situations, some priests are led to believe that their ministry is peripheral to life, whereas, in reality, it is at the very center of life since it has the capacity to enlighten, reconcile and renew all things.

It can happen that some priests, having begun their ministry full of enthusiasm and ideals, experience disaffection, disillusionment, or even failure. There are multiple reasons for this phenomenon: deficient formation, lack of fraternity in diocesan presbyterates, personal isolation, or lack of support from the Bishop and the community, personal problems, health, bitterness at not being able to find responses or solution to problems, diffidence with regard to the ascetical life, abandonment of the spiritual life or even lack of faith.

Indeed, a dynamic ministry that is not based on a solid priestly spirituality quickly become an empty activity devoid of any prophetic character. Clearly, the disintegration of the priest’s internal unity results, in the first place, from the decline of his pastoral charity, which amounts to a decline in "that vigilant love for the mystery that he bears within his heart for the good of the Church and of mankind".

Spending time in intimate conversation with, and adoration of, the Good Shepherd, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, is a pastoral priority far superior to any other. Every priest, who is a leader of his community, should attend to this priority so as to ensure that he does not become spiritually barren, nor transformed into a dry channel no longer capable of offering anything to anyone.

Spirituality is, without doubt, the most important pastoral concern. Any pastoral initiative, missionary program , or effort at evangelization that eschews the primacy of spirituality and divine worship is doomed to failure.

c). The specific journey to holiness

12. The ministerial priesthood, to the extent that it conforms to the life and priestly work of Christ, introduces a new dimension to the spiritual life of those who receive this most precious gift. It is a spiritual life based on participation in the gratia capitalis of Christ in His Church, which matures through ministerial service to the Church: it is a holiness in ministry and through ministry.

13. Deepening "awareness that one is a minister of Jesus Christ" is, therefore, of vital importance for the spiritual life of the priest and for the effectiveness of his very ministry. Ministerial relationship with Jesus Christ "gives rise to, and requires in the priest, the further bond which comes from his ‘intention’, that is, from a conscious and free choice to do in his ministerial activities what the Church intends to do". The phrase "to do in his ministerial activities what the Church intends to do" is enlightening for the spiritual life of all sacred ministers and invites them to a greater appreciation of personal instrumentality in the service of Christ and the Church, and to give that expression concrete expression through their ministerial activity. "Intention", in this sense, necessarily implies a relationship with the actions of Christ in, and through, the Church. It also implies obedience to His will, fidelity to His commands, and docility to His actions: the sacred ministry is the instrument through which Christ and His Body, the Church, operate.

This is a permanent personal disposition: "This bond tends by its very nature to become as extensive and profound as possible, affecting one’s way of thinking, feeling and life itself: in other words, creating a series of moral and spiritual ‘dispositions’ which correspond to the ministerial actions performed by the priest".

Priestly spirituality requires a climate of proximity to the Lord Jesus Christ, of friendship and personal encounter with Him, of ‘shared’ ministerial mission, of love for and service to, His Person in the ‘person’ of His Body and Spouse which is the Church. To live the Church and give oneself to her ministerial service implies a profound love for the Lord Jesus Christ. "This pastoral charity flows especially from the eucharistic sacrifice. This sacrifice is therefore the center and root of the whole life of the priest, so that the priestly soul strives to make its own what is enacted on the altar. But this cannot be achieved except through priests themselves penetrating more intimately through prayer into the mystery of Christ".

In penetrating that mystery, the Blessed Virgin Mary, united with the Redeemer, comes to our assistance because "when we celebrate the Holy Mass, the Mother of the Son of God is in our midst and introduces us to the mystery of His redemptive sacrifice. Thus, she is the mediatrix of all the grace flowing from this sacrifice to the Church and to all the faithful". Indeed, "Mary was associated with the priestly sacrifice of Christ in a singular way by sharing His will to save the world through the Cross. She was the first and perfect spiritual participant in His oblation as Sacerdos et Hostia. As such, she can obtain and give to those who share ministerially in the priesthood of her Son, the grace to respond all the more to the demands of the spiritual sacrifice which the priesthood demands: in particular she can obtain and give the grace of faith, hope and perseverance in the face of trials which stimulate a more generous participation in the redemptive sacrifice".

For the priest, the Eucharist must occupy "the truly central place both in his ministry and in his spiritual life", because all of the Church’s spiritual good derives from the Eucharist, which per se is the source and summit of all evangelization. Hence, the importance of proper preparation before offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of its daily celebration, of thanksgiving and of the visit to the Blessed Sacrament during the course of the day.

14. In addition to daily celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the priest prays the Liturgy of the Hours, an obligation he freely undertook sub grave. The priest intensifies his love for the divine Shepherd and makes him present to the faithful from the immolation of Christ on the altar to the celebration of the Divine Office with the entire Church. The priest has received the privilege of "of speaking to God in the name of all", indeed of becoming almost "the mouth of the Church". In the Divine Office he supplies what is lacking in the praise of Christ and, as an accredited ambassador, his intercession for the salvation of the world is numbered among the most effective.

d.) Fidelity of the priest to ecclesiastical discipline

15. An "awareness of being of being a minister" implies an awareness of the organic action of the Body of Christ. In order to make progress, the life and mission of the Church requires order, rules and laws governing conduct — in short, a disciplinary regime. Prejudice against ecclesiastical discipline has to be overcome, beginning with the very expression itself. Fear of citing ecclesiastical discipline or requiring the fulfilment of its demands must also be overcome. When the norms of ecclesiastical discipline are observed, tensions are avoided which otherwise would compromise the unitary pastoral effectiveness which the Church needs so as to fulfil her mission of evangelization. A mature appropriation of one’s own ministerial responsibilities takes it for granted that the Church "organized as a social and visible structure…must also have norms: in order that its hierarchical and organic structure be visible; in order that the exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to it, especially that of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, may be adequately organized".

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. The objective of the Church’s legislation is the greater perfection of the Christian life so as better to accomplish her saving mission. That legislation should therefore be observed with sincerity and good will.

Among the various aspects of ecclesiastical discipline, 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 Sacred Liturgy is an exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, a sacred action par excellence, "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed … [and] the fount from which all her power flows". In this area, consequently, the priest should be even more aware of being a minister and of his obligations to act in accordance with the commitments he freely and solemnly undertook before God and the Church. "Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop…No other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy of his own accord". 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. The same is true of the celebration of the other sacraments, especially of the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance through which those who are penitent and intend to amend their lives have their sins forgiven and are reconciled with the Church

Likewise, priests should be careful to promote an authentic and conscious participation of the laity in the Sacred Liturgy, since the Church promotes such participation. 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.

e). The priest in ecclesial communion

16. In order to serve the Church, which is an organically structured community of the faithful invested with the same baptismal dignity and a diversity of charisms and functions, it is necessary to know and love her as she is willed by Jesus Christ, her founder, and not as passing philosophies or different ideologies would fashion her. The ministerial function of service to the community, which is based on configuration with Christ, demands a knowledge of, and respect for, the specific role of the lay faithful, and the encouragement of every possible means of having all assume their proper responsibilities. The priest is at the service of the community. He is also sustained by his community. He needs the specific contribution of the laity not only for the organization and administration of the community, but also for faith and charity: a certain osmosis exists between the faith of the priest and that of the other faithful. Christian families and fervent communities have often assisted their priests in times of crisis. It is, likewise, highly important for the priest to know, esteem and respect the nature of following Christ in the consecrated life, which is a precious treasure of the Church and a witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in her.

To the extent that priests are living signs and servants of ecclesial communion they become part of the living unity of the Church in time, that is, of Sacred Tradition of which the Magisterium is the custodian and guarantor. Reference to Tradition invests the ministry of priests with a solid basis and an objectivity of testimony to the Truth, which came in Christ and was revealed in history. Such helps to avoid a prurience with regard to novelty which injures communion and evacuates the depth and credibility of the priestly ministry.

The parish priest is called to be a patient builder of communion between his own parish and the local Church, and the universal Church. He should be a model of adherence to the perennial Magisterium of the Church and to its discipline.

f). Sense of the universal in the particular

17. "The priest needs to be aware that his ‘being in a particular Church’ constitutes by its very nature a significant element in his living a Christian spirituality. In this sense, the priest finds precisely in his belonging and dedication to the particular Church a wealth of meaning, criteria for discernment and action which shape both his pastoral discernment and his spiritual life". This is an important point which should be clearly understood in a manner which takes account of how "membership in and dedication to a particular Church does not limit the activity and life of priests to that Church: a restriction of this sort is not possible, given the very nature both of the particular Church and of the priestly ministry".

The concept of incardination, as modified by the Second Vatican Council and subsequently assumed into the Code of Canon Law, overcomes the danger of too tightly restricting the ministry of priests not only in geographical terms, but especially in psychological and even theological terms. Belonging to one particular Church and to the pastoral service of her internal communion, which are ecclesiological elements, also essentially incorporate the life and activity of priests and lends them a specific structure consisting of determined pastoral objectives, goals, personal commitments to specific tasks, pastoral encounters and shared interests. In order to know and love a particular Church more effectively, better understand membership of, and dedication to her, serve her to the point of giving one’s own life so as to be sanctified through her, sacred ministers must always be aware that the universal Church " is a reality which is ontologically and temporally prior to every particular Church". Indeed, the universal Church is not the sum total of all particular Churches. The particular Churches, in and with the universal Church, must be open to the reality of a true communion of persons, charisms, and spiritual traditions which transcends geographical, psychological or intellectual boundaries. It should be perfectly clear to priests that the Church is one. Universality or catholicity should always pervade the particular. A profound, genuine and vital bond of communion with the See of Peter is the guarantee and necessary condition for this. Acceptance, diffusion, and conscientious application of papal documents, and of other documents published by the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, are its concrete expression.

Up to now we have given consideration to the life and work of all priests. Our reflection must now concentrate on those who have been specifically constituted as parish priests.

Part II


3. The Parish and the Office of Parish Priest

18. The more important ecclesiological aspects of the theologico-canonical idea of parish were considered by the Second Vatican Council in the light of Tradition, Catholic doctrine, and the ecclesiology of communion. They were subsequently given canonical form in the Code of Canon Law. Post-conciliar papal teaching, implicitly or explicitly, developed them from various perspectives but always in reference to the ordained priesthood. A resume of the main doctrinal, theological and canonical issues arising from this material will be useful especially in working out a more effective response to the pastoral challenges facing the parochial ministry of priests at the dawn of the third millennium.

By analogy, much of what is said in relation to the pastoral leadership given by parish priests also applies to priests who assist in parishes, as well as to those appointed to specific pastoral duties such as chaplains in prisons, hospitals, universities and schools and to those charged with the care of migrants and tourists etc.

A parish is a specific community of the christifideles, established on a stable basis within a particular Church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a parish priest as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop. Thus, the entire life of the parish, as well as the significance of its apostolic commitments to society, have to be understood and lived in terms of an organic communion between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood; of fraternal and dynamic collaboration between pastors and faithful, with absolute respect for the rights, duties and functions of both, and mutual recognition of their respective proper competence and responsibility. The parish priest, "in close communion with his Bishop and with his faithful… should avoid introducing into his pastoral ministry all forms of authoritarianism and forms of democratic administration which are alien to the profound reality of the ministry". In this regard, the interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesia de Mysterio, approved in forma specifica by the Supreme Pontiff, remains in full force. Its integral application assures that correct ecclesial praxis which is fundamental for the very life of the Church.

The intrinsic bond with the diocesan community and the Bishop, and his hierarchical communion with the Successor of Peter, ensure the parochial community’s membership of the universal Church. The parochial community is therefore a pars dioecesis animated by the same spirit of communion, an ordered baptismal co-responsibility, a common liturgical life centered on the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and a common missionary spirit shared by that community. Indeed, every parish "is founded on a theological reality, because it is a Eucharistic community(94). This means that the parish is a community properly suited for celebrating the Eucharist, the living source for its upbuilding and the sacramental bond of its being in full communion with the whole Church. Such suitableness is rooted in the fact that the parish is a community of faith and an organic community, that is, constituted by the ordained ministers and other Christians, in which the pastor-who represents the diocesan bishop -is the hierarchical bond with the entire particular Church".

Thus, the parish, which is like a diocesan cell, should give "an outstanding example of community apostolate, for it gathers into a unity all the human diversity that are found there and inserts them into the universality of the Church". The communitas christifidelium is a the fundamental element of the parish. In a certain sense, the term underlines the dynamic relationship between those persons who, under the indispensable leadership of a proper pastor, are its constituents. As a general rule, such are all the faithful in a given territory, or some of the faithful in the case of personal parishes which have been constituted on the basis of rite, language, nationality or for other specific purposes.

19. Another basic element for the idea of parish is that of the cura pastoralis or cura animarum which is proper to the office of parish priest and principally expressed by preaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments, and in the pastoral government of the community. In the parish, which is the normal context for pastoral care, "the parish priest is the proper shepherd of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of that community under the authority of the diocesan bishop with whom he has been called to share in the ministry of Christ so that, in the service of that community, he may discharge the duties of teaching, sanctifying and governing, with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and the assistance of the lay members of the faithful and in accordance with the norms of law". The concept of parish priest is redolent of great theological significance while permitting a Bishop to establish other forms of the cura animarum in accordance with the norms of law.

It recent times, it has become necessary to adapt pastoral care in the parishes to various circumstances such as shortages of priests in some areas, overpopulated urban parishes, depleted rural parishes, or parishes with reduced numbers of the faithful. Such has required the introduction of certain innovations in the universal law of the Church concerning the pastoral care of parishes. Needless to say, these innovations do not involve any innovations at the level of principle. Among such initiatives is the possibility of entrusting the pastoral care of souls, in one or more parishes, in solidum to several priests, on the condition that only one will act as moderator, directing the common pastoral activity of all, and personally assuming responsibility for it before the Bishop. On the basis of a multiple title, a single parochial office and the single pastoral care of a parish can be entrusted to several priests who participate in the office entrusted to them in an identical manner, and whose direction is personally undertaken by a brother priest who acts as moderator. Entrusting the pastoral care of a parish in solidum can prove useful in resolving difficulties arising in those dioceses in which reduced numbers of priests are obliged to distribute their time among several ministerial activities. It can also prove a useful way of promoting pastoral coresponsibility among priests and, in a special way, for promoting the custom of the common life among priests which should always be encouraged.

It cannot, however, be prudently overlooked that pastoral care in solidum, which can only be given to priests alone, can give rise to certain difficulties. It is natural for the faithful to identify with their own parish priest. The continuing rotation of priests among themselves can be confusing or misunderstood in the parish. The great value of the spiritual paternity of the parish priest in his parish is clearly evident. The role of sacramental "pater familias" played by the parish priest, and its consequent ties, is pastorally effective.

In cases where pastoral necessity require such, a diocesan Bishop may entrust several parishes to the pastoral care of one priest on a temporary basis.

Where circumstances require it, and as a provisional measure, a parish may be entrusted to an administrator. It should be recalled, however, that the office of parish priest, which is essentially pastoral, requires fullness and stability. The parish priest must be an icon of the presence of the historical Christ. The demands of configuration to Christ underline the importance of this commitment.

20. The mission of pastor in a parish, which implies the full care of souls, absolutely requires the exercise of priestly orders. Hence, in addition to ecclesial communion, canon law explicitly stipulates that only a man constituted in the sacred order of the presbyterate can be validly nominated to the office of parish priest.

With regard to the parish priest’s duty to proclaim the word of God and to preach authentic Catholic doctrine, canon 528 explicitly mentions the homily and catechetical instruction; initiatives to promote the spirit of the Gospel in every ambit of life; the Catholic education of children and young people; as well as efforts involving the correct collaboration of the laity to ensure that the Gospel message reaches those who have abandoned the practice of the faith and those who do not profess the true faith, so that they might come to conversion through the grace of God. Clearly, the parish priest is not obliged personally to fulfil all of these duties. Rather, he is obliged to ensure that they are discharged in his parish in an opportune manner and in conformity with the doctrine and discipline of the Church. Such are realized as circumstances permit and subject to his personal responsibility. Some of the obligations incumbent on the parish priest must always be discharged exclusively by an ordained minister, as in the case of preaching during the celebration of the Holy Mass. "Although he may be overshadowed by the eloquence of the non-ordained faithful, this does erase the fact that he sacramentally represents Christ, Head and Shepherd, and the fact that the effectiveness of his preaching derives from this reality". Other functions of the parish priest, such as catechesis, can be habitually carried out by the laity who have been properly trained doctrinally and who integrally live the Christian life. In such instances, the parish priest is obliged to maintain personal contact with these people. Blessed John XXIII wrote "it is most important that the clergy are at all times faithful in their duty of teaching. ‘In this respect, it is useful to hold and insist — as Saint Pius X says — that priests are bound more gravely to no other office, nor more strictly to any other obligation’".

As is clear, the parish priest is bound by effective pastoral charity not only to encourage all of his collaborators but also to be vigilant in their regard. In some countries in which there are faithful who belong to diverse language groups, where no personal parish has been erected nor adequate arrangements made for them, the territorial parish priest is the proper parish priest for such members of the faithful. He is obliged to provide for their particular needs, especially in matters pertaining to their specific cultural sensibilities.

The Editors