This text was unanimously approved
by all the participants in the Symposium,
at the conclusion of their labors on 28 October 1995.
Congregation for the Clergy
International Symposium on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the
Promulgation of the Conciliar Decree
TO ALL PRIESTS IN THE WORLD
For the past thirty years, the conciliar decree Presbyterorum Ordinis has set the direction of the Church regarding a definition of the identity, ministry and life of priests and reflects the joys, hopes, difficulties and concerns of priests who have consecrated their life to Christ, Head and Shepherd, Eternal High Priest.
Encouraged by the support of the Holy Father, we, the participants at this International Symposium, promoted by the Congregation for Clergy in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the promulgation of the conciliar decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, have reflected on the person of the priest at the beginning of the Third Millennium facing the obligation of a New Evangelization. In prayer, reflection and an exchange of ideas, cum Petro et sub Petro, we have considered all the priests of the world who silently and daily carry out their priestly ministry with joy in service to the Christian community. We have been aware, in our hearts and especially in our thoughts, of those priests who are alone, those tested by illness, the elderly; priests who are persecuted because of Christ and his Church, or victims of war and violence; priests who for whatever reason live with whatever difficulty in their service of God and of the Church.
Our presence as bishops, Chairmen of Bishops’ Committees for Clergy from throughout the world, and as priests, delegates of these Conferences of Bishops, presents an opportunity to renew our faith in Christ the Lord and Teacher who is the center and end of all history, the Lord of Ages.
We are aware that there is no lack of difficulties and challenges. The epic changes of these last thirty years and the approach of the Third Millennium of the Christian Era demand that all priests be heralds of the New Evangelization, fearless witnesses of the love that God has for all creation, joyful in daily fidelity and in ready and willing availability to the Lord who is the Master of the harvest.
We confirm that the person and work of priests in the Church and in the world are indispensable and irreplaceable. Ministers of the Eucharist, dispensers of divine mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, consolers of souls, guides for the faithful in all of the most difficult moments in life, priests act by the mandate of and in the person of Christ the Head.
During this Symposium we have again noted that we need to proceed continually toward a full realization of our priestly identity. Our spirituality impels us to renew our faith, hope and love for God.
We are convinced that permanent formation is a duty with priority and urgency. Servants of ministry, rooted in the Word of God, we are called to grow each day in grace to be true witnesses of the Gospel.
Servants of communion, we ought to continually realize a greater personal and communal union for the service of the Church which is the family of the children of God. Servants of mission, we are called to respond with enthusiasm to the signs of the times seeking to understand and evaluate with the criteria of evangelical discernment the cultural and social circumstances which rapidly change and which challenge our mission of service to all people.
In our generous devotion which is earnest and continuous, we always have the certainty of the gratuitousness of the call in our own lives and discover that there is no place for discouragement. Our service is always a joyful gift which draws upon the love and blessing of God.
We, bishops and priests, representatives of the Conferences of Bishops throughout the world:
THE IDENTITY OF THE PRIEST
Because it is joined with the episcopal order the office of priests shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up and sanctifies and rules his Body. Hence the priesthood of priests, while presupposing the sacraments of initiation, is nevertheless conferred by its own particular sacrament. Through that sacrament priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the Head of the Church.
Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2
Knowledge of the nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood is an essential presupposition, and at the same time the surest guide and incentive towards the development of pastoral activities in the Church for fostering and discerning vocations to the priesthood and training those called to the ordained ministry.
Pastores Dabo Vobis, 11
the ministerial priesthood renders tangible the actual work of Christ, the Head, and gives witness to the fact that Christ has not separated himself from his Church, rather he continues to vivify her through his everlasting priesthood.
Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 1
In order that the priest might be "the salt and leaven" in actual social and cultural circumstances, we recommend an ongoing profound awareness regarding priestly identity. It is the clarity and the continual understanding of a priest’s proper identity that establishes equilibrium in his life and the fruitfulness of the pastoral ministry which he assumes. Toward this end, it is recommended:
1. Priests, in an environment of contemplative silence, reflect on their proper vocation which is both gift and ministry: a gift for which to be grateful and a ministry to discover and appreciate.
2. For the fulfillment of this vocation it is necessary that he configure himself essentially to the image of Christ the priest who shows its specific features in the witness of his faithfulness and in the joyous gift of himself in ministry.
3. The ecclesiological dimension assumes an important and decisive aspect of priestly identity which is expressed in communality and priestly fraternity. This is brought about in communion with a Trinitarian life, with Christ and, in the Church, with the Supreme Pontiff, with the College of Bishops, with the lay faithful, with men and women religious and, in a special way, with their particular bishop and their brothers in ministry, in a visible and significant form. It is a communion, therefore, which is not established by human consensus nor by majority, but, rather, in the Lord Himself who is both Truth and Love.
4. To this end, bishops, as fathers and pastors, are urged to offer their priests always greater opportunities to reflect on their priestly identity, making use of the means that are most effective to achieve this end: retreats, days of recollection and fraternal fellowship, conferences. Additionally, they should knowingly encourage respect which comes from a concerned familiarity with their own priests. With particular solicitude, it is recommended that they adequately present to all their priests all documents either of the Pontiff or the Dicasteries of the Holy See which pertain to the ministry and life of priests. Those who are chosen as presenters of these documents should be chosen for their preparation and proven orthodoxy.
5. The deepening awareness of and systematic study of the theology of the sacrament of Orders, whether during the time of seminary formation or during programs of permanent formation, is a necessary undertaking. In this way priests will acquire an understanding which is not only theoretical but also concrete regarding their identity so much so that these ideas find their pertinence in all the exigencies of a priest’s life and ministry.
6. At this time in the life of the Church and of the world, the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience and chastity take on a particular relevance. Regarding celibacy, we recall that it ought to be accepted and seen as both gift and charism. It is appraised as such by all of Tradition and is providentially received in the Latin Church as a necessary condition for approaching priesthood. It is seen as a precious gift which the Lord has made to the Church. An appreciation of its biblical, theological and pastoral bases, along the lines drawn up by the recent ecclesial Magisterium ought to be an integral part of study and teaching on the identity and spirituality of priesthood. Those who are called to this charism live it with joy in a spirit of gratitude to the Lord and of total dedication to their brothers and sisters.
7. We trust that a contribution of the next Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Clergy on the Permanent Diaconate might be to distinguish more clearly the relationship of priests to the other grades of Orders. In this way additional aspects will be discovered for presenting and understanding the identity of priests.
8. The repeated and comprehensively thorough examination by means of theological reflection which takes into consideration the traditions of the Catholic Church and those of the venerable Orthodox Churches regarding the identity, spirituality and pastoral service of priests will also bring about in this area a worth while exchange of gifts and communion of purposes.
9. On the theological level and on the working level, it is vitally important to appreciate the distinction between baptismal priesthood and the ordained priesthood. Since in some countries, because of the lack of priests, the participation of deacons, religious and lay faithful in the guidance of parochial communities is becoming more frequent, an elaboration of the norms for a correct understanding and application of Canon 517, §2 of the Code of Canon Law is necessary. It would be well in this regard to have a document which, in a complete appreciation of every vocation and of the necessary integrity of priestly ministry, ensures the apostolic richness of the new evangelization.
10. While recognizing the esteemed work earned out through the good efforts of Institutes of Consecrated Life, it would be well if in the area of the formation of future diocesan priests, in so far as possible — aware of the actual conditions present within each diocese — a greater involvement of diocesan clergy in the formation team could be ensured so that a personal and living witness of diocesan spirituality appropriate for priesthood within that local Church is presented.
THE MISSION AND MINISTRY OF PRIESTHOOD IN THE
CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD IN THE PROCESS OF
CHANGE TOWARDS A NEW EVANGELIZATION
Priests exercise the function of Christ as Pastor and Head in proportion to their share of authority. In the name of the bishop they gather the family of God as a brotherhood endowed with the spirit of unity and lead it in Christ through the Spin? to God the Father. For the exercise of this ministry, as for the rest of the priests ‘functions, a spiritual power is given them, a power whose purpose is to build up (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10).
Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6
Priests are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the One High Priest, embodying his way of life and making him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care.
Pastores Dabo Vobis, 15
The priest, "as a visible continuation and sacramental sign of Christ in his own position before the Church and the world, as the enduring and ever-new source of salvation, "finds himself inserted into the Trinitarian dynamics with a particular responsibility. His identity springs from the ministerium verbi et sacramentorum.
In the perspective of ecclesiological communion, within which priestly ministry must be considered, it would seem well to offer some proposals to make the missionary activity of priests more effective. This is especially needed since, with the proximity of the Third Millennium, priests are obligated by a new evangelization.
1. Because of the incisiveness of apostolic drive, a fervent programme of work open to the Lord’s will is indispensable. Such a project ought to be in place either on the level of the Conference of Bishops or that of the diocese, parishes and communities. Once the directions for work have been determined, in keeping with the Magisterium of the Church, it is altogether indispensable to establish a precise time limit for the achievement of definite objectives, periodically verifying the progress already achieved.
2. The pastoral vocation deserves a privileged place within the context of everything ordinarily pastoral. It is proposed, therefore, that in every diocese some priests be dedicated full-time to the work of promoting vocations whether for the minor seminary or the major seminary. From this would follow a clear understanding that vocations are gifts from God and that all the Christian people ought to seek out vocations through constant prayer. An altogether special sensibility ought to be promoted regarding the sanctity of clergy as well as regarding their pastoral need for confession and spiritual direction (cf. Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 5 3-54).
3. To encourage an apostolic unity, as well as to stimulate reciprocal help among priests in carrying out their mission, it is suggested that diocesan and interdiocesan (if possible even national or international) structures be created to exemplify faithfulness to the Magisterium and to ecclesiastical discipline which would help every priest to be aware of the universal Church.
4. A fundamental part of the pastoral mission is the formation of conscience of the baptized within a cultural situation of a lessening of a sense of ethical discernment. In a particular way, priests are obliged to transmit with clarity the teachings of the Church regarding divorce, abortion, and euthanasia because it is not licit for anyone to take a human life which is such from the moment of conception to natural death.
5. Speaking of the relationships with the lay faithful, it is therefore recommended:
6. Regarding the mass-media: to be able to make use of these powerful means for evangelization, it is necessary that the Conferences of Bishops take up the matter of professional preparation of priests, religious and lay faithful, among those most suited to undertake this ministry.
7. In every diocese and parish one must take into consideration all those things which characterize a society in continuous change: immigration, tourism, the reality of war, violence in general, the various faces of poverty, in order to undertake that which is of the spirit. Special attention should be given also to Christians who find themselves in complex and irregular pastoral situations. One must seek out an adequate pastoral response which is clearly in conformity with the salvific mission which the Redeemer has given to his Church.
8. Without in any way losing sight of the authenticity of the Gospel message and of necessary prudence, legitimate forms of inculturation are to be sought out, forms which include cultural values and characteristics of every people in light of the fullness of revelation in Christ.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF PRIESTS
"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). But priests are bound by a special reason to acquire this perfection. They are consecrated to God in a new way in their ordination and are made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest, and so are enabled to accomplish throughout all time that wonderful work of his which with supernatural efficacy restored the whole human race. Since every priest in his own way assumes the person of Christ he is endowed with a special grace. By this grace the priest, through his service of the people committed to his care and all the People of God, is able the better to pursue the perfection of Christ, whose place he takes.
The human weakness of his flesh is remedied by the holiness of him who became for us a high priest "holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26).
Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12
By sacramental consecration the priest is configured to Jesus Christ as Head and Shepherd of the Church... By virtue of this consecration brought about by the outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of Holy Orders, the spiritual life of the priest is marked, molded and characterized by the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, and which are summed up in his pastoral charity.
Pastores Dabo Vobis, 21
Priests maintain their ministry with a spiritual life to which they give absolute pre-eminence, avoiding any neglect due to other activities. Precisely in order to effectively carry out his pastoral ministry, the priest must enter into a special and profound rapport with Christ the Good Shepherd, who alone remains the principal protagonist in any pastoral action.
THE MEANS OF SPIRITUAL PERFECTION
1. Being aware of the urgent need for intimate union with God, the priest must set aside time for personal prayer, spiritual reading and for the Rosary. Regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and of spiritual direction are indispensable for growth in one’s own spiritual life. The contemplative aspect of adoration and profound intimacy with the Lord in the Eucharist and in the Sacred Scriptures are also requirements.
2. Marian devotion must be given particular attention. As Mother of God and Mother of Priests, the Blessed Virgin must be constantly present in the mission and spiritual life of the priest.
3. Likewise days of retreat and of priestly fraternity on the local, diocesan, national and international levels are to be encouraged (cf. Directory, 81; 85).
MINISTRY AS A MEANS OF PERSONAL SANCTIFICATION
4. In attempting to strike a balance between the interior life and pastoral activity, priests strive to make of the ministry itself a means of personal sanctification, making of their pastoral work a true prayer.
5. Priests knowingly offer everything to God with an open heart and so can generously embrace the sacrifices demanded by their mission.
6. Priests live out their vocation in union with Christ the Good Shepherd, the source of all charity. The eucharistic life, lived daily and intimately becomes, in itself, an impetus for a more dedicated service in one’s own diocese and touches even the life of the Church universal.
7. They are trained in pastoral charity so as to have a welcoming attitude towards all, especially for their colleagues in difficulty and for those who do not yet know the Truth, who need not only bread and material assistance, but also, and above all, need Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
THE COMMUNION AND THE FRATERNITY
"All priests, who are constituted in the order of priesthood by the sacrament of Order, are bound together by an intimate sacramental brotherhood; but in a special way they form one priestly body in the diocese to which they are attached under their own bishop. For even though they may be assigned different duties, yet they fulfill the one priestly service for people... They all contribute to the same purpose, namely the building up of the Body of Christ, and this, especially in our times, demands many kinds of duties and fresh adaptations. For this reason it is of great importance that all priests, whether diocesan or regular, should help each other, so that they may be fellow-helpers of the truth" (cf. John 3:8).
Presbyterorum Ordinis, 8
"By its very nature, the ordained ministry can be carried out only to the extent that the priest is united to Christ through sacramental participation in the priestly order, and thus to the extent that he is in hierarchical communion with his own Bishop. The ordained ministry has a radical ‘communitarian form’ and can only be carried out as a ‘collective work’... Each priest, whether diocesan or religious, is united to the other members of this Presbyterate on the basis of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and by particular bonds of apostolic charity, ministry and fraternity."
Pastores Dabo Vobis, 17
"He is, in fact inserted into the ‘Ordo Presbyterorum constituting that unity which can be defined as a true family in which the ties do not come from flesh nor from blood but from the grace of Holy Orders."
1. As a first point, we wish to highlight the importance of the bishop as the authority figure of father and as a friend, always willing to assume his appropriate and non-delegable responsibility.
2. The priest, for his part, should foster these filial and fraternal encounters with his proper bishop and his brothers in the priesthood through a constant effort of good will, "anticipating one another with honor." He should be always aware of and avail himself of the various worthwhile initiatives operative m various dioceses.
"To enable them to foster union with Christ in all circumstances of life, priests, in addition to the meaningful carrying out of their ministry, have at their disposal the means both common and particular, new and old, which the Holy Spirit has never ceased to raise up among the People of God and which the Church recommends and in fact sometimes commands for the sanctification of her members."
Presbyterorum Ordinis, 18
"The gift of the Spirit does not take away the freedom of the priest. It calls on the priest to make use of his freedom in order to co-operate responsibly and accept permanent formation as a task entrusted to him. Thus permanent formation is a requirement of the priest’s own faithfulness to his ministry, to his very being. It is love for Jesus Christ and fidelity to oneself But it is also an act of love for the People of God, at whose service the priest is placed. In deed, an act of true and proper justice: the priest owes it to God’s People, whose fundamental ‘right’ to receive the word of God, the sacraments and the service of charity, the original and irreplaceable content of the priest’s own pastoral ministry, he is called to acknowledge and foster. Ongoing formation is necessary to ensure that the priest can properly respond to this right of the People of God."
Pastores Dabo Vobis, 74
"Ongoing formation presents itself a necessary means to priest of today in order to achieve the aim of his vocation: the service of God and of his People. In practice, this consists in helping all priests respond generously to the commitment demanded by the dignity and the responsibility which God conferred upon them through the sacrament of Orders; in guarding, defending, and developing their specific identity and vocation, and in sanctifying themselves and others through the exercise of their ministry."
1. While reconfirming the priority of permanent formation, we see the need for a solid base of higher studies in philosophy and theology on the university level. We advise that the greatest number possible of priests should have a licence in philosophy and in theology. This means that, after ordination, several years would be invested in pursuing these studies. The emphasis however, should not be on the achieving of academic degrees but on the absolute need for an integrated programme of formation.
2. From the beginning years of seminary training, bishops should promote the mentality among their students, vis-a-vis formation, that it is a requirement flowing directly from the Sacrament of Orders. Bishops should appoint certain priests to the task of permanent formation. These priests should be from among the most competent and exemplary. As a concrete suggestion we think they should be such that they work directly and faithfully with the bishop in this task.
3. We think that it would be opportune to establish regional institutes of permanent formation which would assure conformity with the aims of the Holy See. In the interim, itinerant faculties could be utilized.
4. National and continental organizations should be established to determine the programmes and to co-ordinate the different programmes of permanent formation (spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral).
5. The Congregation for the Clergy, in its role of fostering the life and ministry of priests is giving special attention to their permanent formation. The Congregation does this by following closely the projects proposed by the different Episcopal Conferences; by offering suggestions for more effective collaboration, either through the Institute "Sacrum Ministerium" which the Dicastery directs in Rome and is geared towards the future directors of permanent formation, or by means of the review "Sacrum Ministerium," which aims at an updating of the clergy.
6. Bishops must urgently consider the need to provide highly trained and competent teachers in order to provide for the adequacy of permanent formation. Furthermore they should invite their priests to nurture themselves on reading lists that are specifically and deliberately chosen. An adequate updating in the world of science and culture must not be neglected because it is an integral part of any preparation for dialog with today’s world and for its evangelization.
7. Wherever possible, centers of priestly spirituality, retreat and prayer houses, should be established. In these places priests should find counsel, friendship, spiritual and formational assistance and the encouragement to share their experiences and needs.
8. We also consider it to be of supreme importance that newly ordained priests should be entrusted to a priest, with pastoral and spiritual experience, who will be a father figure as well as a friend and guide for the first years of priesthood.
9. We ask also that at different ecclesiastical levels —universal, national, regional schools, service resources and subsidies be made available to form the formators of priests themselves.
10. As a foundation for continuing formation, based on the positive experiences of some dioceses, we propose the introduction of a propaedeutic year in the seminary before the beginning of ecclesiastical studies. This year would be specifically dedicated to the spiritual life, the strengthening of the life of union with God and the acquiring of the minimum level of catechetical formation as well as to the aspect of human maturity and integration of the personality.
We, the participants at this International Symposium, Cardinals and Archbishops of the Roman Curia, Superiors and Officials of the Congregation for the Clergy, Bishop Presidents of the commissions for Clergy of the various Episcopal Conferences, Priests representing the clergy of the world, religious and lay collaborators, gathered here in the Vatican, wish to express our sincerest appreciation to you, Priests stationed all over the world, in the name of the whole Church, we want to say thank you.
Thank you, Fathers, for your life consecrated to Christ by the bishop’s laying on of hands, a sign of the sacramental character which configures you ontologically to Christ, Pastor and Spouse of the Church. This same action makes of you, both from your insertion within the body of believers and from your position of leadership in that same body, visible signs of his salvific love and of his sanctifying activity.
Thank you, Fathers, dedicated to the care of souls, in parishes, communities, in the areas of learning, work, in suffering and in being present wherever man is to be found. Thank you for the hours passed in the confessional, the time given to meeting and listening to people helping them discover and live out the plan of God in their lives. Thank you for the administration of the Sacraments, for your faithful and devout daily celebration of the Holy Mass, for being the voice of the Church and of all Creation in the daily recital of the Divine Office.
Thank you for your devotion seen in the manifold works of each day in which you are involved and in your fatigue. We think of all of you, laboring in areas where there are a reduced number of priests and how this situation adds to the weight of your daily work load, demanding of you a generosity of spirit that is nothing short of heroic.
Thank you Fathers, confessors of the faith, who carry in your bodies the signs of the passion of Christ and of His Church. You are for all a constant reminder of the essence of authentic love: to give one’s life for the work of Christ.
Thank you Fathers, missionaries who bring to the ends of the earth and to the limits of the human soul, Christ, the only salvation and Redeemer of man.
Thank you, members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and of Societies of Apostolic Life, who live out your priesthood in the richness of the charisms of your Founders. To you contemplative priests who, in your monasteries, are responsible for the beating of the heart of the world, we say "Thanks"!
Thank you, young priests, who with your "yes," have offered your lives to Christ and to his Church. May your enthusiasm be renewed each day in every circumstance in which you find yourself.
Thank you, senior priests and those who are ill who, despite the weakness you now experience, fully live out your ministry in new existential situations.
Thank you, Fathers who, moved by the social teachings of the Church, and in communion with her, bear witness to the special task of obtaining justice for the poor, for indigenous peoples, for emigrants and migrants and for all the marginalized.
Thank you, Fathers, who in a contemporary moment marked by the culture of death, courageously defend the culture of the value of life from its beginning until its end.
Thank you, Fathers, who bravely face every challenge of the world, righteously proud of your identity, and who wear also with love the external sign of ecclesiastical dress as a reminder of pastoral service and witness in a secularized world.
Thank you men and women, who encourage your priests by your affection and prayers, sustain them in their work and engage with them in an appropriate collaboration in priestly ministry.
A very special thanks to you, mothers and fathers of priests!
Thank you, Peter, who by your example of priestly life and your Magisterium, confirm your priestly brothers in their attachment to Christ and in their generous service to the Church and thus to mankind itself.
A very special sentiment of affection and solidarity is proffered to all priests who find themselves difficult moments of loneliness, of tiredness and discouragement. Be sure of this: you are not alone! The presence of Christ is visible in the fraternity of the Presbyterate and in the face of your Church.
From the perspective of pastoral charity, we wish to commit ourselves to prayer and penance for our brothers who have left the ministry.
At the threshold of the Third Millennium, we are conscious of the magnificent task which belongs to every priest to bring the originality of the person of Christ and his message to a world marked by contradictions; at the same time becoming ourselves credible and visible signs of Christ, the Good Shepherd. This is the grand divine-human adventure to which we are all called and which must be lived out in a spirit of joy and courage.
O Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, we wish to take you into our homes and we entrust everything to you, please sustain us in our journey.