DECREE ON THE MINISTRY AND LIFE OF PRIESTS
PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS,
ON DECEMBER 7, 1965
1. The excellence of the order of priests in the Church has already been
recalled to the minds of all by this sacred synod.(1) Since, however, in the
renewal of Christ's Church tasks of the greatest importance and of ever
increasing difficulty are being given to this order, it was deemed most useful
to treat of the subject of priests at greater length and with more depth. What
is said here applies to all priests, especially those devoted to the care of
souls, with suitable adaptations being made for priests who are religious.
Priests by sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops are
promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King. They share in
his ministry, a ministry whereby the Church here on earth is unceasingly built
up into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, in order that their ministry be carried on more effectively and their
lives be better provided for, in pastoral and human circumstances which very
often change so profoundly, this sacred synod declares and decrees as follows.
THE PRIESTHOOD IN THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH
2. The Lord Jesus, "whom the Father has sent into the world" (Jn 10:36) has
made his whole Mystical Body a sharer in the anointing of the Spirit with which
he himself is anointed.(1) In him all the faithful are made a holy and royal
priesthood; they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ, and
they proclaim the perfections of him who has called them out of darkness into
his marvelous light.(2) Therefore, there is no member who does not have a part
in the mission of the whole Body; but each one ought to hallow Jesus in his
heart,(3) and in the spirit of prophecy bear witness to Jesus.(4)
The same Lord, however, has established ministers among his faithful to unite
them together in one body in which, "not all the members have the same function"
(Rom 12:4). These ministers in the society of the faithful are able by the
sacred power of orders to offer sacrifice and to forgive sins,(5) and they
perform their priestly office publicly for men in the name of Christ. Therefore,
having sent the apostles just as he himself been sent by the Father,(6) Christ,
through the apostles themselves, made their successors, the bishops,(7) sharers
in his consecration and mission. The office of their ministry has been handed
down, in a lesser degree indeed, to the priests.(8) Established in the order of
the priesthood they can be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper
fulfillment of the apostolic mission entrusted to priests by Christ.(9)
The office of priests, since it is connected with the episcopal order, also,
in its own degree, shares the authority by which Christ builds up, sanctifies
and rules his Body. Wherefore the priesthood, while indeed it presupposes the
sacraments of Christian initiation, is conferred by that special sacrament;
through it priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are signed with a
special character and are conformed to Christ the Priest in such a way that they
can act in the person of Christ the Head.(10)
In the measure in which they participate in the office of the apostles, God
gives priests a special grace to be ministers of Christ among the people. They
perform the sacred duty of preaching the Gospel, so that the offering of the
people can be made acceptable and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.(11) Through the
apostolic proclamation of the Gospel, the People of God are called together and
assembled. All belonging to this people, since they have been sanctified by the
Holy Spirit, can offer themselves as "a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to
God" (Rom 12:1). Through the ministry of the priests, the spiritual sacrifice of
the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the
only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in
the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes.(12) The
ministry of priests is directed to this goal and is perfected in it. Their
ministry, which begins with the evangelical proclamation, derives its power and
force from the sacrifice of Christ. Its aim is that "the entire commonwealth of
the redeemed and the society of the saints be offered to God through the High
Priest who offered himself also for us in his passion that we might be the body
of so great a Head."(13)
The purpose, therefore, which priests pursue in their ministry and by their
life is to procure the glory of God the Father in Christ. That glory consists in
this-that men working freely and with a grateful spirit receive the work of God
made perfect in Christ and then manifest it in their whole lives. Hence,
priests, while engaging in prayer and adoration, or preaching the word, or
offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice and administering the other sacraments, or
performing other works of the ministry for men, devote all this energy to the
increase of the glory of God and to man's progress in the divine life. All of
this, since it comes from the Pasch of Christ, will be crowned by the glorious
coming of the same Lord, when he hands over the Kingdom to God the Father.(14)
3. Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things
that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins,(15)
nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers. The Lord Jesus, the Son
of God, a Man sent by the Father to men, dwelt among us and willed to become
like his brethren in all things except sin.(16) The holy apostles imitated him.
Blessed Paul, the doctor of the Gentiles, "set apart for the Gospel of God" (Rom
1:1) declares that he became all things to all men that he might save all.(17)
Priests of the New Testament, by their vocation and ordination, are in a certain
sense set apart in the bosom of the People of God. However, they are not to be
separated from the People of God or from any person; but they are to be totally
dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them.(18) They cannot be
ministers of Christ unless they be witnesses and dispensers of a life other than
earthly life. But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to
the life and conditions of men.(19) Their ministry itself, by a special title,
forbids that they be conformed to this world;(20) yet at the same time it
requires that they live in this world among men. They are to live as good
shepherds that know their sheep, and they are to seek to lead those who are not
of this sheepfold that they, too, may hear the voice of Christ, so that there
might be one fold and one shepherd.(21) To achieve this aim, certain virtues,
which in human affairs are deservedly esteemed, contribute a great deal: such as
goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, zealous pursuit of
justice, affability, and others. The Apostle Paul commends them saying:
"Whatever things are true, whatever honorable, whatever just, whatever holy,
whatever loving, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything is
worthy of praise, think upon these things" (Phil 4:8).(22)
The Ministry of Priests
4. The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living
God.(1) And rightfully they expect this from their priests.(2) Since no one can
be saved who does not first believe,(3) priests, as co-workers with their
bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.(4) In
this way they fulfill the command of the Lord: "Going therefore into the whole
world preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15),(5) and they establish and
build up the People of God. Through the saving word the spark of faith is lit in
the hearts of unbelievers, and fed in the hearts of the faithful. This is the
way that the congregation of faithful is started and grows, just as the Apostle
describes: "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ"
To all men, therefore, priests are debtors that the truth of the Gospel(6)
which they have may be given to others. And so, whether by entering into
profitable dialogue they bring people to the worship of God,(7) whether by
openly preaching they proclaim the mystery of Christ, or whether in the light of
Christ they treat contemporary problems, they are relying not on their own
wisdom for it is the word of Christ they teach, and it is to conversion and
holiness that they exhort all men.(8) But priestly preaching is often very
difficult in the circumstances of the modern world. In order that it might more
effectively move men's minds, the word of God ought not to be explained in a
general and abstract way, but rather by applying the lasting truth of the Gospel
to the particular circumstances of life.
The ministry of the word is carried out in many ways, according to the
various needs of those who hear and the special gifts of those who preach. In
areas or communities of non-Christians, the proclaiming of the Gospel draws men
to faith and to the sacraments of salvation.(9) In the Christian community,
especially among those who seem to understand and believe little of what they
practice, the preaching of the word is needed for the very ministering of the
sacraments. They are precisely sacraments of faith, a faith which is born of and
nourished by the word.(10) This is especially true of the Liturgy of the Word in
the celebration of Mass, in which the proclaiming of the death and resurrection
of Christ is inseparably joined to the response of the people who hear, and to
the very offering whereby Christ ratified the New Testament in his blood. In
this offering the faithful are united both by their dispositions and by their
discernment of the sacrament.(11)
5. God, who alone is holy and who alone bestows holiness, willed to take as
his companions and helpers men who would humbly dedicate themselves to the work
of sanctification. Hence, through the ministry of the bishop, God consecrates
priests, that being made sharers by special title in the priesthood of Christ,
they might act as his ministers in performing sacred functions. In the liturgy
they continue to carry on his priestly office by the action of his Spirit.(12)
By Baptism men are truly brought into the People of God; by the sacrament of
Penance sinners are reconciled to God and his Church; by the Anointing of the
Sick, the ill are given solace; and especially by the celebration of Mass they
offer sacramentally the Sacrifice of Christ. In administering all sacraments, as
St. Ignatius Martyr(13) has borne witness from the early days of the Church,
priests by various titles are bound together hierarchically with the bishop. And
so in a certain way they make him present in every congregation.(14)
The other sacraments, as well as with every ministry of the Church and every
work of the apostolate, are tied together with the Eucharist and are directed
toward it.(15) The Most Blessed Eucharist contains the entire spiritual boon of
the Church,(16) that is, Christ himself, our Pasch and Living Bread, by the
action of the Holy Spirit through his very flesh vital and vitalizing, giving
life to men who are thus invited and encouraged to offer themselves, their
labors and all created things, together with him. In this light, the Eucharist
shows itself as the source and the apex of the whole work of preaching the
Gospel. Those under instruction are introduced by stages to a sharing in the
Eucharist, and the faithful, already marked with the seal of Baptism and
Confirmation, are through the reception of the Eucharist fully joined to the
Body of Christ.
Thus the Eucharistic Action, over which the priest presides, is the very
heart of the congregation. So priests must instruct their people to offer to God
the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the
offering of their own lives. In the spirit of Christ the Shepherd, they must
prompt their people to confess their sins with a contrite heart in the sacrament
of Penance, so that, mindful of his words "Repent for the kingdom of God is at
hand" (Mt 4:17), they are drawn closer to the Lord more and more each day.
Priests likewise must instruct their people to participate in the celebrations
of the sacred liturgy in such a way that they become proficient in genuine
prayer. They must coax their people on to an ever more perfect and constant
spirit of prayer for every grace and need. They must gently persuade everyone to
the fulfillment of the duties of his state of life, and to greater progress in
responding in a sensible way to the evangelical counsels. Finally, they must
train the faithful to sing hymns and spiritual songs in their hearts to the
Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our
Lord Jesus Christ.(17)
Priests themselves extend to the other hours of the day the praise and
thanksgiving of the Eucharistic celebration in praying the Divine Office,
offered in the name of the Church for all the people entrusted to their care,
and indeed for the whole world.
The house of prayer in which the Most Holy Eucharist is celebrated and
reserved, where the faithful gather and where the presence of the Son of God,
our Savior, offered for us on the altar of sacrifice bestows strength and
blessings on the faithful, must be spotless and suitable for prayer and sacred
functions.(18) There pastors and the faithful are called to acknowledge with
grateful heart the gift of him, Who through his humanity constantly pours divine
life into the members of his Body.(19) Let priests take care so to foster a
knowledge of and facility in the liturgy, that by their own liturgical ministry
Christian communities entrusted to their care may ever more perfectly give
praise to God, the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit.
6. Exercising the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and according to
their share of his authority, priests, in the name of the bishop, gather the
family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit. Through Christ
they lead them in the Holy Spirit to God the Father.(20) For the exercise of
this ministry, as for the other priestly duties, spiritual power is conferred
upon them for the building up of the Church.(21) In building up of the Church,
priests must treat all with exceptional kindness in imitation of the Lord. They
should act toward men, not as seeking to please them,(22) but in accord with the
demands of Christian doctrine and life. They should teach them and admonish them
as beloved sons,(23) according to the words of the Apostle: "Be urgent in
season, out of season, reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine" (2
Priests therefore, as educators in the faith, must see to it either by
themselves or through others that the faithful are led individually in the Holy
Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a
sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us
free.(25) Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing,
will be of little value if they are not directed toward the education of men to
Christian maturity.(26) In furthering this, priests should help men to see what
is required and what is God's will in the important and unimportant events of
life. Also, Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves,
but, according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has
received grace, he must administer the same to others.(27) In this way, all will
discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men.
Although they have obligations toward all men, priests have a special
obligation to the poor and weak entrusted to them, for our Lord himself showed
that he was united to them,(28) and their evangelization is mentioned as a sign
of messianic activity.(29) With special diligence, attention should be given to
youth and also to married people and parents. It is desirable that these join
together in friendly meetings for mutual aid in leading more easily and fully
and in a Christian manner a life that is often difficult. Priests should
remember that all religious, both men and women, who certainly have a
distinguished place in the house of the Lord, deserve special care in their
spiritual progress for the good of the whole Church. Finally, and above all,
priests must be solicitous for the sick and the dying, visiting them and
strengthening them in the Lord.(30)
The office of pastor is not confined to the care of the faithful as
individuals, but also in a true sense is extended to the formation of a genuine
Christian community. Yet the spirit of the community should be so fostered as to
embrace not only the local church, but also the universal Church. The local
community should promote not only the care of its own faithful, but, filled with
a missionary zeal, it should prepare also the way to Christ for all men. In a
special way, catechumens and the newly-baptized who must be educated gradually
to know and to live the Christian life are entrusted to his care.
No Christian community, however, is built up unless it has its basis and
center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist; from this, therefore, all
education to the spirit of community must take its origin.(31) This celebration,
if it is to be genuine and complete, should lead to various works of charity and
mutual help, as well as to missionary activity and to different forms of
The ecclesial community by prayer, example, and works of penance, exercise a
true motherhood toward souls who are to be led to Christ. The Christian
community forms an effective instrument by which the path to Christ and his
Church is pointed out and made smooth for non-believers. It is an effective
instrument also for arousing, nourishing and strengthening the faithful for
their spiritual combat.
In building the Christian community, priests are never to put themselves at
the service of some human faction of ideology, but, as heralds of the Gospel and
shepherds of the Church, they are to spend themselves for the spiritual growth
of the Body of Christ.
Priests' Relationships with Others
7. All priests, in union with bishops, so share in one and the same
priesthood and ministry of Christ that the very unity of their consecration and
mission requires their hierarchical communion with the order of bishops.(32) At
times in an excellent manner they manifest this communion in liturgical
concelebration as joined with the bishop when they celebrate the Eucharistic
Sacrifice.(33) Therefore, by reason of the gift of the Holy Spirit which is
given to priests in Holy Orders, bishops regard them as necessary helpers and
counselors in the ministry and in their role of teaching, sanctifying and
nourishing the People of God.(34) Already in the ancient ages of the Church we
find liturgical texts proclaiming this with insistence, as when they solemnly
call upon God to pour out upon the candidate for priestly ordination "the spirit
of grace and counsel, so that with a pure heart he may help and govern the
People of God,"(35) just as in the desert the spirit of Moses was spread abroad
in the minds of the seventy prudent men,(36) "and using them as helpers among
the people, he easily governed countless multitudes."(37)
Therefore, on account of this communion in the same priesthood and ministry,
bishops should regard priests as their brothers and friends(38) and be concerned
as far as they are able for their material and especially for their spiritual
well-being. For above all upon the bishops rests the heavy responsibility for
the sanctity of their priests.(39) Therefore, they should exercise the greatest
care in the continual formation of their priests.(40) They should gladly listen
to their priests, indeed consult them and engage in dialogue with them in those
matters which concern the necessities of pastoral work and welfare of the
diocese. In order to put this into effect, there should be-in a manner suited to
today's conditions and necessities,(41) and with a structure and norms to be
determined by law-a body or senate(42) of priests representing all the priests.
This representative body by its advice will be able to give the bishop effective
assistance in the administration of the diocese.
Priests, never losing sight of the fullness of the priesthood which the
bishops enjoy, must respect in them the authority of Christ, the Supreme
Shepherd. They must therefore stand by their bishops in sincere charity and
obedience.(43) This priestly obedience, imbued with a spirit of cooperation is
based on the very sharing in the episcopal ministry which is conferred on
priests both through the Sacrament of Orders and the canonical mission.(44)
This union of priests with their bishops is all the more necessary today
since in our present age, for various reasons, apostolic undertakings must
necessarily not only take on many forms but frequently extend even beyond the
boundaries of one parish or diocese. No priest, therefore, can on his own
accomplish his mission in a satisfactory way. He can do so only by joining
forces with other priests under the direction of the Church authorities.
8. Priests by virtue of their ordination to the priesthood are united among
themselves in an intimate sacramental brotherhood. In individual dioceses,
priests form one priesthood under their own bishop. Even though priests are
assigned to different duties, nevertheless they carry on one priestly ministry
for men. All priests are sent as co-workers in the same apostolate, whether they
engage in parochial or extra-parochial ministry. This is true whether they
devote their efforts to scientific research or teaching, or whether by manual
labor they share in the lot of the workers themselves-if there is need for this
and competent authority approves-or finally whether they fulfill some other
apostolic tasks or labor designed for the apostolate. All, indeed, are united in
the building up of the Body of Christ which, especially in our times, requires
manifold duties and new methods. It is very important that all priests, whether
diocesan or religious, help one another always to be fellow workers in the
truth.(45) Each one, therefore, is united in special bonds of apostolic charity,
ministry and brotherhood with the other members of this priesthood. This has
been manifested from ancient times in the liturgy when the priests present at an
ordination are invited to impose hands together with the ordaining bishop on the
new candidate, and with united hearts concelebrate the Sacred Eucharist. Each
and every priest, therefore, is united with his fellow priests in a bond of
charity, prayer and total cooperation. In this manner, they manifest that unity
which Christ willed, namely, that his own be perfected in one so that the world
might know that the Son was sent by the Father.(46)
Older priests, therefore, should receive younger priests as true brothers and
help them in their first undertakings and priestly duties. The older ones should
likewise endeavor to understand the mentality of younger priests, even though it
be different from their own, and follow their projects with good will. By the
same token, young priests should respect the age and experience of their
seniors; they should seek their advice and willingly cooperate with them in
everything that pertains to the care of souls. In a fraternal spirit, priests
should extend hospitality,(47) cultivate kindliness and share their goods in
common.(48) They should be particularly solicitous for the sick, the afflicted,
those overburdened with work, the lonely, those exiled from their homeland, and
those who suffer persecution.(49) They should gladly and joyfully gather
together for recreation, remembering Christ's invitation to the weary apostles:
"Come aside to a desert place, and rest awhile" (Mk 6:31). And further, in order
that priests may find mutual assistance in the development of their spiritual
and intellectual life, that they may be able to cooperate more effectively in
their ministry and be saved from the dangers of loneliness which may arise, it
is necessary that some kind of common life or some sharing of common life be
encouraged among priests. This, however, may take many forms, according to
different personal or pastoral needs, such as living together where this is
possible, or having a common table, or at least by frequent and periodic
meetings. One should hold also in high regard and eagerly promote those
associations which, having been recognized by competent ecclesiastical
authority, encourage priestly holiness in the ministry by the use of an
appropriate and duly approved rule of life and by fraternal aid, intending thus
to do service to the whole order of priests.
Finally, by reason of the same communion in the priesthood, priests should
realize that they are obliged in a special manner toward those priests who labor
under certain difficulties. They should give them timely help, and also, if
necessary, admonish them discreetly. Moreover, they should always treat with
fraternal charity and magnanimity those who have failed in some matters, offer
urgent prayers to God for them, and continually show themselves as true brothers
9. Though priests of the New Testament, in virtue of the sacrament of Orders,
exercise the most outstanding and necessary office of father and teacher among
and for the People of God, they are nevertheless, together with all Christ's
faithful, disciples of the Lord, made sharers in his Kingdom by the grace of
God's call.(50) For priests are brothers among brothers(51) with all those who
have been reborn at the baptismal font. They are all members of one and the same
Body of Christ, the building up of which is required of everyone.(52)
Priests, therefore, must take the lead in seeking the things of Jesus Christ,
not the things that are their own.(53) They must work together with the lay
faithful, and conduct themselves in their midst after the example of their
Master, who among men "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to
give his life as redemption for many" (Mt 20:28). Priests must sincerely
acknowledge and promote the dignity of the laity and the part proper to them in
the mission of the Church. And they should hold in high honor that just freedom
which is due to everyone in the earthly city. They must willingly listen to the
laity, consider their wants in a fraternal spirit, recognize their experience
and competence in the different areas of human activity, so that together with
them they will be able to recognize the signs of the times. While trying the
spirits to see if they be of God,(54) priests should uncover with a sense of
faith, acknowledge with joy and foster with diligence the various humble and
exalted charisms of the laity. Among the other gifts of God, which are found in
abundance among the laity, those are worthy of special mention by which not a
few of the laity are attracted to a higher spiritual life. Likewise, they should
confidently entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church, allowing
them freedom and room for action; in fact, they should invite them on suitable
occasions to undertake worlds on their own initiative.(55)
Finally priests have been placed in the midst of the laity to lead them to
the unity of charity, "loving one another with fraternal love, eager to give one
another precedence" (Rom 12:10). It is their task, therefore, to reconcile
differences of mentality in such a way that no one need feel himself a stranger
in the community of the faithful. They are defenders of the common good, with
which they are charged in the name of the bishop. At the same time, they are
strenuous assertors of the truth, lest the faithful be carried about by every
wind of doctrine.(56) They are united by a special solicitude with those who
have fallen away from the use of the sacraments, or perhaps even from the faith.
Indeed, as good shepherds, they should not cease from going out to them.
Mindful of the prescripts on ecumenism,(57) let them not forget their
brothers who do not enjoy full ecclesiastical communion with us.
Finally, they have entrusted to them all those who do not recognize Christ as
The Christian faithful, for their part, should realize their obligations to
their priests, and with filial love they should follow them as their pastors and
fathers. In like manner, sharing their cares, they should help their priests by
prayer and work insofar as possible so that their priests might more readily
overcome difficulties and be able to fulfill their duties more fruitfully.(58)
The Distribution of Priests, and Vocations to the
10. The spiritual gift which priests receive at their ordination prepared
them not for a sort of limited and narrow mission but for the widest possible
and universal mission of salvation "even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8),
for every priestly ministry shares in the universality of the mission entrusted
by Christ to his apostles. The priesthood of Christ, in which all priests really
share, is necessarily intended for all peoples and all times, and it knows no
limits of blood, nationality or time, since it is already mysteriously
prefigured in the person of Melchisedech.(59) Let priests remember, therefore,
that the care of all churches must be their intimate concern. Hence, priests of
such dioceses as are rich in vocations should show themselves willing and ready,
with the permission of their own ordinaries (bishops), to volunteer for work in
other regions, missions or endeavors which are poor in numbers of clergy.
Present norms of incardination and excardination should be so revised that,
while this ancient institution still remains intact, they will better correspond
to today's pastoral needs. Where a real apostolic spirit requires it, not only
should a better distribution of priests be brought about but there should also
be favored such particular pastoral works as are necessary in any region or
nation anywhere on earth. To accomplish this purpose there should be set up
international seminaries, special personal dioceses or prelatures (vicariates),
and so forth, by means of which, according to their particular statutes and
always saving the right of bishops, priests may be trained and incardinated for
the good of the whole Church.
Priests should not be sent singly to a new field of labor, especially to one
where they are not completely familiar with the language and customs; rather,
after the example of the disciples of Christ,(60) they should be sent two or
three together so that they may be mutually helpful to one another. Likewise,
thoughtful care should be given to their spiritual life as well as their mental
and bodily welfare; and, so far as is possible, the circumstances and conditions
of labor should be adapted to individual needs and capabilities. At the same
time it will be quite advantageous if those priests who go to work in a nation
new to them not only know well the language of that place but also the
psychological and social milieu peculiar to the people they go to serve, so that
they may communicate with them easily, thus following the example of Paul the
Apostle who could say of himself: "For when I was free of all I made myself the
servant of all, that I might win over many. Among Jews I was a Jew that I might
win over the Jews" (1 Cor 9:19-20).
11. The Shepherd and Bishop of our souls(61) so constituted his Church that
the people whom he chose and acquired by his blood(62) would have its priests to
the end of time, and that Christians would never be like sheep without a
shepherd.(63) Recognizing Christ's desire, and at the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit, the apostles considered it their duty to select men "who will be capable
of teaching others" (2 Tim 2:2). This duty, then, is a part oœ the priestly
mission by which every priest becomes a sharer in the care of the whole Church,
lest ministers be ever lacking for the People of God on earth. Since, however,
there is common cause between the captain of a ship and the sailors,(64) let all
Christian people be taught that it is their duty to cooperate in one way or
another, by constant prayer and other means at their disposal,(65) that the
Church will always have a sufficient number of priests to carry out her divine
mission. In the first place, therefore, it is the duty of priests, by the
ministry of the word and by the example of their own lives, showing forth the
spirit of service and the paschal joy to demonstrate to the faithful the
excellence and necessity of the priesthood; then they should see to it that
young men and adults whom they judge worthy of such ministry should be called by
their bishops to ordination, sparing no effort or inconvenience in helping them
to prepare for this call, always saving their internal and external freedom of
action. In this effort, diligent and prudent spiritual direction is of the
greatest value. Parents and teachers and all who are engaged in any way in the
education of boys and young men should so prepare them that they will recognize
the solicitude of our Lord for his flock, will consider the needs of the Church,
and will be prepared to respond generously to our Lord when he calls, saying:
"Here I am Lord, send me" (Is 6:8). This voice of the Lord calling, however, is
never to be expected as something which in an extraordinary manner will be heard
by the ears of the future priest. It is rather to be known and understood in the
manner in which the will of God is daily made known to prudent Christians. These
indications should be carefully noted by priests.(66)
Works favoring vocations, therefore, whether diocesan or national, are highly
recommended to the consideration of priests.(67) In sermons, in catechetical
instructions, and written articles, priests should set forth the needs of the
Church both locally and universally, putting into vivid light the nature and
excellence of the priestly ministry, which consoles heavy burdens with great
joys, and in which in a special way, as the Fathers of the Church point out, the
greatest love of Christ can be shown.(68)
The Life of Priests
The Vocation of Priests to the Life of Perfection
12. Priests are made in the likeness of Christ the Priest by the Sacrament of
Orders, so that they may, in collaboration with their bishops, work for the
building up and care of the Church which is the whole Body of Christ, acting as
ministers of him who is the Head. Like all other Christians they have received
in the sacrament of Baptism the symbol and gift of such a calling and such grace
that even in human weakness(1) they can and must seek for perfection, according
to the exhortation of Christ: "Be you therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father
is perfect" (Mt 5:48). Priests are bound, however, to acquire that perfection in
special fashion. They have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their
ordination and made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest that they
may be able to carry on in time his marvelous work whereby the entire family of
man is again made whole by power from above.(2) Since, therefore, every priest
in his own fashion acts in place of Christ himself, he is enriched by a special
grace, so that, as he serves the flock committed to him and the entire People of
God, he may the better grow in the grace of him whose tasks he performs, because
to the weakness of our flesh there is brought the holiness of him who for us was
made a High Priest "holy, guiltless, undefiled not reckoned among us sinners"
Christ, whom the Father sanctified, consecrated and sent into the world,(3)
"gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and cleanse for
himself an acceptable people, pursuing good works" (Tt 2:14), and thus through
suffering entered into his glory.(4) In like fashion, priests consecrated by the
anointing of the Holy Spirit and sent by Christ must mortify the works of the
flesh in themselves and give themselves entirely to the service of men. It is in
this way that they can go forward in that holiness with which Christ endows them
to perfect man.(5)
Hence, those who exercise the ministry of the spirit and of justice(6) will
be confirmed in the life of the spirit, so long as they are open to the Spirit
of Christ, who gives them life and direction. By the sacred actions which are
theirs daily as well as by their entire ministry which they share with the
bishop and their fellow priests, they are directed to perfection in their lives.
Holiness does much for priests in carrying on a fruitful ministry. Although
divine grace could use unworthy ministers to effect the work of salvation, yet
for the most part God chooses, to show forth his wonders, those who are more
open to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, and who can by reason of
their close union with Christ and their holiness of life say with St. Paul: "And
yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me" (Gal 2:20).
Hence, this holy council, to fulfill its pastoral desires of an internal
renewal of the Church, of the spread of the Gospel in every land and of a
dialogue with the world of today, strongly urges all priests that they strive
always for that growth in holiness by which they will become consistently better
instruments in the service of the whole People of God, using for this purpose
those means which the Church has approved.(7)
13. Priests who perform their duties sincerely and indefatigably in the
Spirit of Christ arrive at holiness by this very fact.
Since they are ministers of God's word, each day they read and hear the word
of God, which it is their task to teach others. If at the same time they are
ready to receive the word themselves they will grow daily into more perfect
followers of the Lord. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Let this be thy study,
these thy employments, so that all may see how well thou doest. Two things claim
thy attention, thyself and the teaching of the faith, spend thy care on them; so
wilt thou and those who listen to thee achieve salvation" (1 Tim 4:15-16). As
they seek how they may better teach others what they have learned,(8) they will
better understand "the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8) and the manifold
wisdom of God.(9) If they keep in mind that it is God who opens hearts,(10) and
that power comes not from themselves but from the might of God,(11) in the very
fact of teaching God's word they will be brought closer to Christ the Teacher
and led by his Spirit. Thus those who commune with Christ share in God's love,
the mystery of which, kept hidden from the beginning of time,(12) is revealed in
Priests act especially in the person of Christ as ministers of holy things,
particularly in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice of Christ who gave
himself for the sanctification of men. Hence, they are asked to take example
from that with which they deal, and inasmuch as they celebrate the mystery of
the Lord's death they should keep their bodies free of wantonness and lusts.(13)
In the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their
greatest task, the work of our redemption is being constantly carried on;(14)
and hence the daily celebration of Mass is strongly urged, since even if there
cannot be present a number of the faithful, it is still an act of Christ and of
the Church.(15) Thus when priests join in the act of Christ the Priest, they
offer themselves entirely to God, and when they are nourished with the body of
Christ they profoundly share in the love of him who gives himself as food to the
faithful. In like fashion they are united with the intention and love of Christ
when they administer the sacraments. This is true in a special way when in the
performance of their duty in the sacrament of Penance they show themselves
altogether and always ready whenever the sacrament is reasonably sought by the
faithful. In the recitation of the Divine Office, they offer the voice of the
Church which perseveres in prayer in the name of the whole human race, together
with Christ who "lives on still to make intercession on our behalf."
As they direct and nourish the People of God, may they be aroused by the
example of the Good Shepherd that they may give their life for their sheep,(16)
ready for the supreme sacrifice following the example of priests who, even in
our own day, have not shrunk from giving their lives. As they are leaders in the
faith and as they "enter the sanctuary with confidence, through the blood of
Christ" (Heb 10:19) they approach God "with sincere hearts in the full assurance
of the faith" (Heb 10:22) they set up a sure hope for their faithful,(17) that
they may comfort those who are depressed by the same consolation wherewith God
consoles them.(18) As leaders of the community they cultivate an asceticism
becoming to a shepherd of souls, renouncing their personal convenience, seeking
not what is useful to themselves but to many, for their salvation,(19) always
making further progress to do their pastoral work better and, where needful,
prepared to enter into new pastoral ways under the direction of the Spirit of
Love, which breathes where it will.(20)
14. In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their
problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so
many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests,
too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly
have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life
with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the
works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although
very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at
this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His
food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.(21)
In order to continue doing the will of his Father in the world, Christ works
unceasingly through the Church. He operates through his ministers, and hence he
remains always the source and wellspring of the unity of their lives. Priests,
then, can achieve this coordination and unity of life by joining themselves with
Christ to acknowledge the will of the Father. For them this means a complete
gift of themselves to the flock committed to them.(22) Hence, as they fulfill
the role of the Good Shepherd, in the very exercise of their pastoral charity
they will discover a bond of priestly perfection which draws their life and
activity to unity and coordination. This pastoral charity(23) flows out in a
very special way from the Eucharistic sacrifice. This stands as the root and
center of the whole life of a priest. What takes place on the altar of
sacrifice, the priestly heart must make his own. This cannot be done unless
priests through prayer continue to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of
In order to measure and verify this coordination of life in a concrete way,
let priests examine all their works and projects to see what is the will of
God(24)-namely, to see how their endeavors compare with the goals of the Gospel
mission of the Church. Fidelity to Christ cannot be separated from faithfulness
to his Church. Pastoral charity requires that priests avoid operating in a
vacuum(25) and that they work in a strong bond of union with their bishops and
brother priests. If this be their program, priests will find the coordination
and unity of their own life in the oneness of the Church's mission. They will be
joined with the Lord and through him with the Father in the Holy Spirit. This
will bring them great satisfaction and a full measure of happiness.(26)
Special Spiritual Requirements in the Life of a Priest
15. Among the virtues that priests must possess for their sacred ministry
none is so important as a frame of mind and soul whereby they are always ready
to know and do the will of him who sent them and not their own will.(27) The
divine task that they are called by the Holy Spirit to fulfill(28) surpasses all
human wisdom and human ability. "God chooses the weak things of the world to
confound the strong" (1 Cor 1:27). Aware of his own weakness, the true minister
of Christ works in humility trying to do what is pleasing to God.(29) Filled
with the Holy Spirit,(30) he is guided by him who desires the salvation of all
men. He understands this desire of God and follows it in the ordinary
circumstances of his everyday life. With humble disposition he waits upon all
whom God has sent him to serve in the work assigned to him and in the multiple
experiences of his life.
However, the priestly ministry, since it is the ministry of the Church
itself, can only function in the hierarchical union of the whole body. Pastoral
charity, therefore, urges priests, as they operate in the framework of this
union, to dedicate their own will by obedience to the service of God and their
fellow men. In a great spirit of faith, let them receive and execute whatever
orders the holy father, their own bishop, or other superiors give or recommend.
With a willing heart let them spend and even exhaust themselves(31) in
whatever task they are given, even though it be menial and unrecognized. They
must preserve and strengthen a necessary oneness with their brothers in the
ministry, especially with those whom God has selected as visible rulers of his
Church. For in this way they are laboring to build the Body of Christ which
grows "through every gesture of service."(32) This obedience is designed to
promote the mature freedom of the children of God; by its very nature it
postulates that in the carrying out of their work, spurred on by charity, they
develop new approaches and methods for the greater good of the Church. With
enthusiasm and courage, let priests propose new projects and strive to satisfy
the needs of their flocks. Of course, they must be ready to submit to the
decisions of those who rule the Church of God.
By this humility and by willing responsible obedience, priests conform
themselves to Christ. They make their own the sentiments of Jesus Christ who
"emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant," becoming obedient even to
death (Phil 2:7-9). By this obedience he conquered and made up for the
disobedience of Adam, as the Apostle testifies, "for as by the disobedience of
one man, many were made sinners, so also by the obedience of one, many shall be
made just"(Rom 5:19).
16. (Celibacy is to be embraced and esteemed as a gift). Perfect and
perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, commended by Christ
the Lord(33) and through the course of time as well as in our own days freely
accepted and observed in a praiseworthy manner by many of the faithful, is held
by the Church to be of great value in a special manner for the priestly life. It
is at the same time a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and a special
source of spiritual fecundity in the world.(34) Indeed, it is not demanded by
the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early
Church(35) and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches. where, besides those
who with all the bishops, by a gift of grace, choose to observe celibacy, there
are also married priests of highest merit. This holy synod, while it commends
ecclesiastical celibacy, in no way intends to alter that different discipline
which legitimately flourishes in the Eastern Churches. It permanently exhorts
all those who have received the priesthood and marriage to persevere in their
holy vocation so that they may fully and generously continue to expend
themselves for the sake of the flock commended to them.(36)
Indeed, celibacy has a many-faceted suitability for the priesthood. For the
whole priestly mission is dedicated to the service of a new humanity which
Christ, the victor over death, has aroused through his Spirit in the world and
which has its origin "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the
will of man but of God (Jn 1:13). Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed
for the Kingdom of Heaven,(37) priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and
exceptional reason. They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart,(38)
they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of
God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of
heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense,
paternity in Christ. In this way they profess themselves before men as willing
to be dedicated to the office committed to them-namely, to commit themselves
faithfully to one man and to show themselves as a chaste virgin for Christ(39)
and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be
manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse.(40)
They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity
already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry
nor take wives.(41)
For these reasons, based on the mystery of Christ and his mission, celibacy,
which first was recommended to priests, later in the Latin Church was imposed
upon all who were to be promoted to sacred orders. This legislation, pertaining
to those who are destined for the priesthood, this holy synod again approves and
confirms, fully trusting this gift of the Spirit so fitting for the priesthood
of the New Testament, freely given by the Father, provided that those who
participate in the priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of Orders-and also
the whole Church-humbly and fervently pray for it. This sacred synod also
exhorts all priests who, in following the example of Christ, freely receive
sacred celibacy as a grace of God, that they magnanimously and wholeheartedly
adhere to it, and that persevering faithfully in it, they may acknowledge this
outstanding gift of the Father which is so openly praised and extolled by the
Lord.(42) Let them keep before their eyes the great mysteries signified by it
and fulfilled in it. Insofar as perfect continence is thought by many men to be
impossible in our times, to that extent priests should all the more humbly and
steadfastly pray with the Church for that grace of fidelity, which is never
denied those who seek it, and use all the supernatural and natural aids
available. They should especially seek, lest they omit them, the ascetical norms
which have been proved by the experience of the Church and which are scarcely
less necessary in the contemporary world. This holy synod asks not only priests
but all the faithful that they might receive this precious gift of priestly
celibacy in their hearts and ask of God that he will always bestow this gift
upon his Church.
17. (Relationship to the world and temporal goods, and voluntary poverty.) In
their friendly and brotherly dealings with one another and with other men,
priests are able to learn and appreciate human values and esteem created goods
as gifts of God. By living in the world, let priests know how not to be of the
world, according to the word of our Lord and Master.(43) By using the world as
those who do not use it,(44) let them achieve that freedom whereby they are free
from every inordinate concern and become docile to the voice of God in their
daily life. From this freedom and docility grows spiritual discretion in which
is found the right relationship to the world and earthly goods. Such a right
relationship is of great importance to priests, because the mission of the
Church is fulfilled in the midst of the world and because created goods are
altogether necessary for the personal development of man. Let them be grateful,
therefore, for all that the heavenly Father has given them to lead a full life
rightly, but let them see all that comes to them in the light of faith, so that
they might correctly use goods in response to the will of God and reject those
which are harmful to their mission.
For priests who have the Lord as their "portion and heritage," (Num 18:20)
temporal goods should be used only toward ends which are licit according to the
doctrine of Christ and the direction of the Church.
Ecclesiastical goods, properly so called, according to their nature and
ecclesiastical law, should be administered by priests with the help of capable
laymen as far as possible and should always be employed for those purposes in
the pursuit of which it is licit for the Church to possess temporal
goods-namely, for the carrying out of divine worship, for the procuring of
honest sustenance for the clergy, and for the exercise of the works of the holy
apostolate or works of charity, especially in behalf of the needy.(45) Those
goods which priests and bishops receive for the exercise of their ecclesiastical
office should be used for adequate support and the fulfillment of their office
and status, excepting those governed by particular laws.(46) That which is in
excess they should be willing to set aside for the good of the Church or for
works of charity. Thus they are not to seek ecclesiastical office or the
benefits of it for the increase of their own family wealth.(47) Therefore, in no
way placing their heart in treasures,(48) they should avoid all greediness and
carefully abstain from every appearance of business.
Priests, moreover, are invited to embrace voluntary poverty by which they are
more manifestly conformed to Christ and become eager in the sacred ministry. For
Christ, though he was rich, became poor on account of us, that by his need we
might become rich.(49) And by their example the apostles witnessed that a free
gift of God is to be freely given,(50) with the knowledge of how to sustain both
abundance and need.(51) A certain common use of goods, similar to the common
possession of goods in the history of the primitive Church,(52) furnishes an
excellent means of pastoral charity. By living this form of life, priests can
laudably reduce to practice that spirit of poverty commended by Christ.
Led by the Spirit of the Lord, who anointed the Savior and sent him to
evangelize the poor,(53) priests, therefore, and also bishops, should avoid
everything which in any way could turn the poor away. Before the other followers
of Christ, let priests set aside every appearance of vanity in their
possessions. Let them arrange their homes so that they might not appear
unapproachable to anyone, lest anyone, even the most humble, fear to visit them.
Aids to the Life of Priests
18. (Aids to encourage the spiritual life.) In order that, in all conditions
of life, they may be able to grow in union with Christ, priests, besides the
exercise of their conscious ministry, enjoy the common and particular means, old
and new, which the Spirit never ceases to arouse in the People of God and which
the Church commends, and sometimes commands,(54) for the sanctification of her
members. Outstanding among all these spiritual aids are those acts by which the
faithful are nourished in the Word of God at the double table of the Sacred
Scripture and the Eucharist.(55) The importance of frequent use of these for the
sanctification of priests is obvious to all. The ministers of sacramental grace
are intimately united to Christ our Savior and Pastor through the fruitful
reception of the sacraments, especially sacramental Penance, in which, prepared
by the daily examination of conscience, the necessary conversion of heart and
love for the Father of Mercy is greatly deepened. Nourished by spiritual
reading, under the light of faith, they can more diligently seek signs of God's
will and impulses of his grace in the various events of life, and so from day to
day become more docile to the mission they have assumed in the Holy Spirit. They
will always find a wonderful example of such docility in the Blessed Virgin
Mary, who was led by the Holy Spirit to dedicate herself totally to the mystery
of man's redemption.(56) Let priests love and venerate with filial devotion and
veneration this mother of the Eternal Highpriest, Queen of Apostles and
Protector of their own ministry.
In the fulfillment of their ministry with fidelity to the daily colloquy with
Christ, a visit to and veneration of the Most Holy Eucharist, spiritual retreats
and spiritual direction are of great worth. In many ways, but especially through
mental prayer and the vocal prayers which they freely choose, priests seek and
fervently pray that God will grant them the spirit of true adoration whereby
they themselves, along with the people committed to them, may intimately unite
themselves with Christ the Mediator of the New Testament, and so as adopted
children of God may be able to call out "Abba, Father" (Rom 8:15).
19. (Study and pastoral knowledge.) Priests are admonished by their bishop in
the sacred rite of ordination that they "be mature in knowledge" and that their
doctrine be "spiritual medicine for the People of God."(57) The knowledge of the
sacred minister ought to be sacred because it is drawn from the sacred source
and directed to a sacred goal. Especially is it drawn from reading and
meditating on the Sacred Scriptures,(58) and it is equally nourished by the
study of the Holy Fathers and other Doctors and monuments or tradition. In
order, moreover, that they may give apt answers to questions posed by men of
this age, it is necessary for priests to know well the doctrines of the
magisterium and the councils and documents of the Roman pontiffs and to consult
the best of prudent writers of theological science.
Since human culture and also sacred science has progressed in our times,
priests are urged to suitably and without interruption perfect their knowledge
of divine things and human affairs and so prepare themselves to enter more
opportunely into conversation with their contemporaries.
Therefore, let priests more readily study and effectively learn the methods
of evangelization and the apostolate. Let opportune aids be prepared with all
care, such as the institution of courses and meetings according to territorial
conditions, the erection of centers of pastoral studies, the establishment of
libraries, and the qualified supervision of studies by suitable persons.
Moreover, let bishops, either individually or united in groups, see to it that
all their priests at established intervals, especially a few years after their
ordination,(59) may be able to frequent courses in which they will be given the
opportunity to acquire a fuller knowledge of pastoral methods and theological
science, both in order that they may strengthen their spiritual life and
mutually communicate their apostolic experiences with their brothers.(60) New
pastors and those who have newly begun pastoral work, as well as those who are
sent to other dioceses or nations, should be helped by these and other suitable
means with special care.
Finally, the bishops will be solicitous that there will be some who dedicate
themselves to a deeper study of theology, that there will not be lacking
suitable teachers for the formation of clerics, that the rest of the priests and
the faithful will be helped to acquire the doctrine they need, and that healthy
progress will be encouraged in the sacred disciplines, so necessary for the
20. (Providing equitable remuneration for priests.) As those dedicated to the
service of God and the fulfillment of the office entrusted to them, priests
deserve to receive an equitable remuneration, because "the laborer is worthy of
his hire," (Lk 10:7)(61) and "the Lord directed that those who preach the Gospel
should have their living from the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:14). Wherefore, insofar as an
equitable remuneration of the priests would not be provided otherwise, the
faithful themselves-that is, those in whose behalf the priest labors-are truly
obliged to see to it that they can provide what help is necessary for the
honorable and worthy life of the priests. The bishops, however, should admonish
the faithful concerning this obligation of theirs. And they should see to if
whether each individual for his own diocese or, more aptly, several together for
their common territory-that norms are established according to which suitable
support is rightly provided for those who do fulfill or have fulfilled a special
office in the service of the People of God. The remuneration received by each
one, in accord with his office and the conditions of time and place, should be
fundamentally the same for all in the same circumstances and befitting his
station. Moreover, those who have dedicated themselves to the service of the
priesthood, by reason of the remuneration they receive, should not only be able
to honorably provide for themselves but also themselves be provided with some
means of helping the needy. For the ministry to the poor has always been held in
great honor in the Church from its beginnings. Furthermore, this remuneration
should be such that it will permit priests each year to take a suitable and
sufficient vacation, something which indeed the bishops should see that their
priests are able to have.
Special importance ought to be given to the office fulfilled by sacred
ministers. Therefore the so-called system of benefices should be relinquished or
at least so reformed that the place of the benefits, or the right to revenue
from the endowment attached to an office, would be held as secondary, and the
first place in law would be given to the ecclesiastical office itself. From this
it should be understood that whatever office is conferred in a stable manner is
to be exercised for a spiritual purpose.
21. (On setting up common funds and establishing a system of social
assistance for priests.) We should always keep before our eyes the example of
the faithful of the early Church in Jerusalem, who "held all things in common"
(Acts 4;32) "and distribution was made to each according to each one's need"
(Acts 4:35). So it is supremely fitting, at least in regions where the support
of the clergy completely or largely depends on the offerings of the faithful,
that their offerings for this purpose be collected by a particular diocesan
institution, which the bishop administers with the help of priests and, when
useful, of laymen who are expert in financial matters. Further it is hoped that
insofar as is possible in individual dioceses or regions there be established a
common fund enabling bishops to satisfy obligations to other deserving persons
and meet the needs of various dioceses. This would also enable wealthier
dioceses to help the poorer, that the need of the latter might be supplemented
by the abundance of the former.(62) These common funds, even though they should
be principally made up of the offerings of the faithful, also should be provided
for by other duly established sources.
Moreover, in nations where social security for the clergy is not yet aptly
established, let the episcopal conferences see to it that-in accord with
ecclesiastical and civil laws-there may be either diocesan institutes, whether
federated with one another or established for various dioceses together, or
territorial associations, which under the vigilance of the hierarchy would make
sufficient and suitable provision for a program of preventive medicine, and the
necessary support of priests who suffer from sickness, invalid conditions or old
age. Let priests share in this established institute, prompted by a spirit of
solidarity with their brothers to take part in their tribulations(63) while at
the same time being freed from an anxious concern for their own future so that
they can cultivate evangelical poverty more readily and give themselves fully to
the salvation of souls. Let those in charge of this act to bring together the
institutes of various nations in order that their strength he more firmly
achieved and more broadly based.
CONCLUSION AND EXHORTATION
22. Having before our eyes the joys of the priestly life, this holy synod
cannot at the same time overlook the difficulties which priests experience in
the circumstances of contemporary life. For we know how much economic and social
conditions are transformed, and even more how much the customs of men are
changed, how much the scale of values is changed in the estimation of men. As a
result, the ministers of the Church and sometimes the faithful themselves feel
like strangers in this world, anxiously looking for the ways and words with
which to communicate with it. For there are new obstacles which have arisen to
the faith: the seeming unproductivity of work done, and also the bitter
loneliness which men experience can lead them to the danger of becoming
The world which today is entrusted to the loving ministry of the pastors of
the Church is that which God so loved that he would give his only Son for it.(1)
Truly this world, indeed weighed down with many sins but also endowed with many
talents, provides the Church with the living stones(2) which are built up into
the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.(3) This same Holy Spirit, while
impelling the Church to open new ways to go to the world of today, suggests and
favors the growth of fitting adaptations in the ministry of priests.
Priests should remember that in performing their office they are never alone,
but strengthened by the power of Almighty God, and believing in Christ who
called them to share in his Priesthood, they should devote themselves to their
ministry with complete trust, knowing that God can cause charity to grow in
them.(4) Let them be mindful of their brothers in the priesthood as well, and
also of the faithful of the entire world who are associated with them. For all
priests cooperate in carrying out the saving plan of God,(5) that is, the
Mystery of Christ, the sacrament hidden from the ages in God, which is only
brought to fulfillment little by little through the collaboration of many
ministries in building up the Body of Christ until it grows to the fullness of
time. All this, hidden with Christ in God,(6) can be uniquely perceived by
faith. For the leaders of the People of God must walk by faith, following the
example of faithful Abraham, who in faith "obeyed by going out into a place
which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out not knowing where he
was going" (Heb 11:8). Indeed, the dispenser of the mysteries of God can see
himself in the man who sowed his field, of whom the Lord said: "then sleep and
rise, night and day, and the seed should sprout without his knowing" (Mk 4:27).
As for the rest, the Lord Jesus, who said: "Take courage, I have overcome the
world," (Jn 16:33) did not by these words promise his Church a perfect victory
in this world. Certainly this holy synod rejoices that the earth has been sown
with the seed of the Gospel which now bears fruit in many places, under the
direction of the Holy Spirit who fills the whole earth and who has stirred up a
missionary spirit in the hearts of many priests and faithful. Concerning all
this, this holy synod gives fervent thanks to the priests of the entire world.
"Now to him who is able to accomplish all things in a measure far beyond what we
ask or conceive in keeping with the power that is at work in us-to him be glory
in the Church and in Christ Jesus" (Eph 3:20-21).
1. Second Vatican Council,
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963;
AAS 56 (1964) pp 7ff; Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium Nov. 21, 1964: AAS 57
(1965) p 5ff;
Decree Christus Dominus on Pastoral Duties of Bishops, Oct. 28,
1965; Decree on Priestly Training, Oct. 28, 1965.
1. Cf. Mt 3:16; Lk 4:18; Acts 4:27, 10:38.
2. Cf. 1 Pt 2:5,9.
3. Cf. 1 Pt 3:15.
4.Cf. Rev 19:10; Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Nov. 21, 1964, n 35: AAS 57 (1965) p 40-41.
5. Council of Trent, 23rd session, chapter 1, canon 1: Denzinger 957 and 961
(1764 and 1771).
6. Cf. Jn 20:21; Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Nov. 21, 1964, n 22: AAS 57 (1965) pp 21-28.
7. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 22: AAS 57 (1965) pp 33-36.
8. Cf. ibid
9. Cf. Roman Pontifical Ordination of a Priest, preface. These words are
already found in the Verona Sacramentary (ed. L.C. Moehlberg, Rome 1956, p 122);
also in Frankish Missal (ed. L.C. Moehlberg, Rome 1957, p 9) and in the Book of
Sacramentaries of the Roman Church (ed. L.C. Moehlberg, Rome 1960, p 25) and
Roman German Pontificals (ed. Vogel-Elze, Vatican City 1963, vol. I, p 34).
10. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 10: AAS 57 (1965) pp 14-15.
11. Cf. Rom 15:16 (Greek).
12. Cf. 1 Cor 11:26.
13 St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei 10, 6: PL 41, 284.
14. Cf. 1 Cor 15:24.
15. Cf. Heb 5:1.
16. Cf. Heb 2:17; 4:15.
17. Cf. 1 Cor 9:19-23 (Vg.).
18. Cf. Acts 13:2.
19. Paul VI, encyclical
Ecclesiam Suam, Aug.6, 1964: AAS 56 (1964), pp 627
20. Cf. Rom 12:2.
21. Cf. Jn 10:14-16.
22. Cf. St. Polycarp, Epist. ad Philippenses, 6, 1 (ed. F.X. Funk, Apostolic
Fathers, I, p 303).
1. Cf. 1 Pt 1:23; Acts 6:7; 12:24. "(The apostles) preached the word of truth
and founded Churches." (St. Augustine, On Psalms, 44, 23; PL 36, 508).
2. Cf. Mal 2:7; 1 Tim 4:11-13; 1 Tim 1:9.
3. Cf. Mk 16:16.
4. Cf. 2 Cor 11:7. All that has been said regarding bishops also applies to
priests inasmuch as they are cooperators of the bishops. Cf. Statuta Ecclesiae
Antiqua, c. 3 (ed. Ch. Munier, Paris 1960, p 79); Decree of Gracian, c. 6, D.88
(ed. Friedberg, 1, 307); Council of Trent, Decree De Reform., Session 5, c. 2, n
9 (Ecumenical Council Decrees, ed. Herder, Rome 1963, p 645); Session 24, c. 4
(p 739); Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 25: AAS 57 (1965), pp 29-31.
5. Cf. Constitutiones Apostolorum II, 26, 7: "(Priests) are teachers of
sacred science as the Lord himself commanded when he said: 'Going, therefore,
teach, etc.'" (ed. F.X. Funk, Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum, I,
Paderborn 1905, p 105); Leonine Sacramentary and other sacramentaries up to the
Roman Pontifical, preface of the ordination of priests: "By this providence,
Lord, you have added to the apostles of your Son fellow teachers of the faith
through whom the apostles have filled the whole world with their teaching." Ordo
Book of the Mozarabic Liturgy, preface to the ordination of priests: "Teacher of
peoples and ruler of subjects, he keeps intact the Catholic faith and announces
true salvation to all." (ed. M. Ferotin, Paris, 1904, col. 55).
6. Cf. Gal 2:5.
7. Cf. 1 Pt 2:12.
8. Cf. Rite of priestly ordination in the Alexandrian Jocobite Church:
"...Gather your people to the word of doctrine like a foster-mother who
nourishes her children" (H. Denzinger, Oriental Rites, Book II, Wurzburg 1863, p
9. Cf. Mt 28:19; Mk 16:16; Tertullian, On Baptism, 14, 2 (The Body of
Christians, Latin Series, I p 289, 11-13); St. Athanasius, Against the Arians,
2, 42 (PG 26, 237); St. Jerome, On Matthew, 28, 19 (PL 26, 218 BC): "First let
them teach all nations, and then pour water on those who have learned. It cannot
be that the body receive the sacrament of baptism unless the soul first has
received the truth of faith;" St. Thomas, "Exposition of the first decretal," n
1: "Sending his disciples to preach, our Savior enjoined on them three things:
first, that they teach the faith; second, that they confer the sacraments on
believers.... (ed. Marietti, Opuscula Theologica, Taurini-Rome 1954, 1138).
10. Cf. Second Vatican Council,
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4,
1963, n 35, 2: AAS 56 (1964), p 109.
11. Cf. ibid, nn 33, 35, 48, 52 (pp 108-109, 113, 114).
12. Cf. ibid, n 7 (pp 100-101); Pius XII, encyclical letter, Mystici
Corporis, June 29, 1943: AAS 35 (1943), p 230.
13. St. Ignatius Martyr, Smyrn., 8, 1-2 (ed. F.X. Funk, p 282, 6-15);
Constitutions of the Apostles, VIII, 12, 3 (ed. F.X. Funk, p 496); VIII,29, 2 (p
14. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 28: AAS 57 (1965), pp 33-36.
15. "The Eucharist indeed is a quasi consummation of the spiritual life, and
the goal of all the sacraments" (St. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q.73, a.3 c); cf.
Summa Theol. III, q. 65, a. 3.
16. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q. 65, a. 3, ad 1; q. 79, a.1, c. and
17. Cf. Eph 5:19-20.
18. Cf. St. Jerome, Epistles, 114, 2 (PL 22, 934), See Second Vatican
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963, nn 122-127: AAS 56
(1964), pp 130-132.
19. Paul VI, encyclical letter Mysterium Fidei, Sept. 3, 1965: AAS 57 (1965),
20. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 28: AAS 57 (1965), pp 33-36.
21. Cf. 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10.
22. Cf. Gal 1:10.
23. Cf. 1 Cor 4:14.
24. Cf. Didascalia, II, 34, 3; II, 46, 6; II,47, 1; Constitutions of the
Apostles, II, 47, 1 (ed. F.X. Funk, Didascalia and Constitutions, I, pp 116, 142
25. Cf. Gal 4:3; 5:1 and 13.
26. Cf. St. Jerome, Epistles, 58, 7 (PL 22, 584).
27. Cf. 1 Pt 4:10 ff.
28. Cf. Mt 25:34-45.
29. Cf. Lk 4:18.
30. Other categories could be named, e.g. migrants, nomads, etc. The Decree
on the Pastoral Duties of Bishops, Oct. 28, 1965, treats of these.
31. Cf. Didascalia, II, 59, 1-3 (ed. F.X. Funk, I, p 170); Paul VI,
allocution to Italian clergy present at the 13th week-long congress at Orvieto
on pastoral aggiornamento, Sept. 6, 1963: AAS 55 (1963) pp 750ff.
32. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 28: AAS 57 (1965), p 35.
33. Cf. cited Ecclesiastical Constitution of the Apostles, XVIII: (ed. Th.
Schermann, Die allgemeine Kirchenordnung, I, Paderborn 1914, p 26; A. Harnack,
T. u. U., II, 4, p 13, nn 18 and 19); Pseudo-Jerome, The Seven Orders of the
Church (ed. A.W. Kalff, Wurzburg 1937, p 45); St. Isidore of Hispali,
Ecclesiastical Offices, c. VII (PL 83, 787).
34. Cf. Didascalia, II, 28, 4 (ed. F.X. Funk, p 108); Constitutions of the
Apostles, II, 28, 4;II, 34, 3 (ibid., pp 109 and 117).
35. Constitutions of the Apostles, VIII, 16, 4 (ed. F.X. Funk, 1, p 522, 13);
cf. Epitome of the Constitutions of the Apostles, VI (ibid., II, p 80, 3-4);
Testamentum Domini, (transl. I.E. Rahmani, Moguntiae 1899, p 69). Also in Trad.
Apost. (ed. B. Botte, La Tradition Apostolique, Munster, i. W. 1963, p 20).
36. Cf. Nm 11:16-25.
37. Roman Pontifical on the ordination of a priest, preface: these words are
also found in the Leonine Sacramentary, the Gelasian Sacramentary and the
Gregorian Sacramentary. Similar words can be found in the Oriental Liturgies:
cf. Trad Apost.: (ancient Latin version of Verona, ed. B. Botte, La Tradition
Apostolique de St. Hippolyte. Essai de reconstruction, Munster i. W. 1963, p
20); Constitutions of the Apostles, VIII, 16, 4 (ed. F.X. Funk, I, p 522, 16-
17); Epitome on the Constitutions of the Apostles, 6 (ed. F.X. Funk, II, p 20,
5-7); Testamentum Domini (transl. I.E. Rahmani, Moguntiae 1899, p 69);
Euchologium Serapionis, XXVII (ed. F.X. Funk, Didascalia and Constitutions, II,
p 190, lines 1-7); Maronite Rite of Ordination (transl. H. Denzinger, Rites of
the Orientals, II, Wurzburg 1863, p. 161). Among the Fathers can be cited:
Theodore of Mopsuestia, On First Timothy, 3, 8 (ed. Swete, II, pp 119-121);
Theodoretus, Questions on Numbers, XVIII (PG 80, 372 b).
38. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 28: AAS 57 (1965), p 35.
39. Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter
Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, Aug. 1,
1959: AAS 51 (1959), p 576; St. Pius X, Exhortation to the Clergy Haerent Animo,
Aug. 4, 1908: Acts of St. Pius X, vol. IV (1908), pp 237 ff.
40. Cf. Second Vatican Council,
Decree on the Pastoral Duties of Bishops,
Oct. 28, 1956 nn 15 and 16.
41. The Cathedral Chapter is already found in established law, as the "senate
and assembly" of the bishop (Code of Canon Law, c.391), or if there is not one,
an assembly of diocesan consultors (cf.
Code of Canon Law, cc. 423-428). It is
our desire to give recognition to such institutions so that modern circumstances
and necessities might better be provided for. As is evident, this synod of
priests forms the pastoral consilium spoken of in the
Decree on the Pastoral Duties of Bishops of Oct. 28, 1965 (n.27), of which the laity can also be
members, and whose function is mainly to map out a plan of action for pastoral
work. Concerning priests as counselors of the bishops, one might refer to the Didascalia, II, 28, 4 (ed. F.X. Funk,II, p 108); also Constitutions of the
Apostles, II 28,4 (ed. F.X. Funk, I, p 109); St. Ignatius Martyr, Magn. 6, 1
(ed. F.X. Funk, p 234, 10-16); Trall. 3, 1 (ed. F.X. Funk, p 244, 10-12);
Origen, Against Celsus, 3, 30: "Priests are counselors or 'bouleytai'" (PG 11,
957 d-960 a).
42. St. Ignatius Martyr, Magn. 6, 1: (ed. F.X. Funk, p 234, 10-13); St.
Ignatius Martyr, Trall., 3, 1: (ibid., p 244, 10-12); St. Jerome, On Isaiah, II,
3 (PL 24, 61 A).
43. Cf. Paul VI, allocution to the family heads of Rome and Lenten speakers,
March 1, 1965, in the Sistine Hall: AAS 57 (1965), p 326.
44. Cf. Constitutions of the Apostles, VIII 47, 39: (ed. F.X. Funk, p 577).
45. Cf. 3 Jn 8.
46. Cf. Jn. 17:23.
47. Cf. Heb 13:1-2.
48. Cf. Heb 13:16.
49. Cf. Mt 5:10.
50. Cf. 1 Thes 2:12; Col 1:13.
51. Cf. Mt 23:8. Also Paul VI, encyclical letter
Ecclesiam Suam, Aug. 6,
1964: AAS 58 (1964) p 647.
52. Cf. Eph 4:7 and 16; Constitutions of the Apostles, VIII, 1, 20: (ed. F.X.
Funk, I, p 467).
53. Cf. Phil 2:21.
54. Cf. 1 Jn 4:1.
55. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 37: AAS 57 (1965), pp 42-43.
56. Cf. Eph 4:14.
57.Cf.Second Vatican Council,
Decree on Ecumenism, Nov. 21, 1964: AAS 57
(1965), pp 90ff.
58. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium, Nov 21,
1964, n 37: AAS 57 (1965), pp 42-43.
59. Cf. Heb 7:3.
60. Cf. Lk 10:1.
61. Cf. 1 Pt 2:25.
62. Cf. Acts 20:28.
63. Cf. Mt 9:36.
64. Roman Pontifical, on the ordination of a priest.
65. Cf. Second Vatican Council,
Decree on Priestly Training, Oct. 28, 1965, n
66. Paul VI, allocution of May 5, 1965: L'Osservatore Romano, 5-6-65, p 1.
67. Cf. Second Vatican Council,
Decree on Priestly Training, Oct. 28, 1965, n
68. The Fathers teach this in their explanations of Christ's words to Peter:
"Do you love me? ...Feed my sheep." (Jn 21:17); This St. John Chrysostom,
Priesthood, II, 1-2 (PG 47-48, 633); St.Gregory the Great, Reg. Past. Liber, P I
c. 5 (PL 77, 19 a).
1. Cf. 2 Cor 12:9.
2. Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter
Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, Dec. 20, 1935: AAS
28 (1936) n 10.
3. Cf. Jn 10:36.
4. Lk 24:26.
5. Cf. Eph 4:13.
6. Cf. 2 Cor 3:8-9.
7. Cf. among others: St. Pius X, exhortation to the clergy Haerent Animo,
Aug. 4, 1908: St. Pius X, AAS 4 (1908), pp 237ff. Pius XI, encyclical letter
Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, Dec. 20, 1935; AAS 28 (1936). Pius XII apostolic
exhortation Menti nostrae, Sept. 23, 1950: AAS (1950) 657ff. John XXIII,
Sacerdoti Nostri Primordia, Aug. 1, 1959: AAS 51 (1959) 545ff.
8. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol. II-II, q. 188, a. 7.
9. Cf. Heb 3:9-10.
10. Acts 16:14.
11. Cf. 2 Cor 4:7.
12. Cf. Eph 3:9.
13. Cf. Roman Pontifical on the ordination of priests.
14. Cf. Roman Missal, Prayer over the Offerings of the Ninth Sunday after
15. Paul VI, encyclical letter Mysterium Fidei, Sept. 3, 1965: AAS 57 (1965),
pp 761-762. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec.
4, 1963, nn 26 and 27; AAS 56 (1964), p 107.
16. Cf. Jn 10:11.
17. Cf. 2 Cor 1:7.
18. Cf. 2 Cor 1:4.
19. Cf. 1 Cor 10:33.
20. Cf. Jn 3:8.
21. Cf. Jn 4:34.
22. Cf. 1 Jn 3:16.
23. "May it be a duty of love to feed the Lord's flock" (St. Augustine, Tract
on John, 123, 5: PL 35, 1967).
24. Cf. Rom 12:2.
25. Cf. Gal 2:2.
26. Cf. 2 Cor 7:4.
27. Cf. Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38.
28. Cf. Acts 13:2.
29. Cf. Eph 5:10.
30. Cf. Acts 20:22.
31. Cf. 2 Cor 12:15.
32. Cf. Eph 4:11-16.
33. Cf. Mt 19:22.
34. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964 n 42: AAS 57 (1965) pp 47-49.
35. Cf. 1 Tim 3:2-5: Tt 1:6.
36. Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Ad Catholici Sacerdotii Dec. 30, 1935: AAS
28 (1936) p 28.
37. Cf. Mt 19:12.
38. Cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34.
39. Cf. 2 Cor 11:2.
40. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 42 and 44: AAS 57 (1965), pp 47-49 and 50-51; Decree on the Renewal of
Religious Life, Oct. 18, 1965, n 12.
41. Cf. Lk 20:35-36; Pius XI, encyclical letter Ad Catholici Sacerdotii
Dec.20, 1935, AAS 28 (1936) pp 24-28; Pius XII, encyclical letter Sacra
Virginitas, March 25, 1954, AAS 46 (1954) nn 169-172.
42. Cf. Mt 19:11.
43. Cf. Jn 17:14-16.
44. Cf. 1 Cor 7:31.
45. Council of Antioch, canon 25: Mansi 2, 1328; Decree of Gratian, c. 23, C.
12 q. 1. (ed. Friedberg, 1, pp 684-685).
46. This is to be understood especially with regard to the laws and customs
prevailing in the Eastern Churches.
47. Council of Paris a, 829, can 15: M.G.H. Sect. III, Concilia, t. 2, para 6
622; Council of Trent, Session XXV, De Reform., chapter 1.
48. Ps 62:11 (Vulgate 61).
49. Cf. 2 Cor 8:9.
50. Cf. Acts 8:18-25.
51. Cf. Phil 4:12.
52. Cf. Acts 2:42-47.
53. Cf. Lk 4:18.
54. Cf. Code of Canon Law, 125 ff.
55. Cf. Second Vatican Council Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, Oct.
28, 1965, n 6; Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Nov. 18, 1965, n 21.
56. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21,
1964, n 65: AAS 57 (1965) pp 64-65.
57. Roman Pontifical On the Ordination of Priests.
58. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,
Nov. 18, n 25.
59. This course is not the same as the pastoral course which is to be
undertaken immediately after ordination, spoken of in the Decree on Priestly
Training, Oct.28, 1965, n 22.
60. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Pastoral Duties of Bishops. Oct.28,
1965, n 16.
61. Cf. Mt 10:10; 1 Cor 9:7; 1 Tim 5:18.
62. Cf. 2 Cor 8:14.
63. Cf. Phil 4:14.
Conclusion and exhortation
1. Cf. Jn 3:16.
2. Cf. 1 Pt 2:5.
3. Cf. Eph 2:22.
4. Cf. Roman Pontifical, on the ordination of priests.
5. Cf. Eph 3:9.
6. Cf. Col 3:3.