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Congregation for the Clergy


a greater love

International Symposium on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the

Promulgation of the Conciliar Decree

Presbyterorum Ordinis





Cardinal Jose Sanchez

Most Reverend Crescenzio Sepe 2



By means of the international symposium we want to celebrate the Thirtieth Anniversary of the proclamation of the Conciliar Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis. We want to do this not with a purely celebratory approach to an event that is over and gone, but in an ecclesial way i.e. in a dynamic, missionary, and forward looking way that is faithful to the substance of the decree.

With the passing of time a magisterial document should not lose its validity, but take on an expanded meaning in the light of new questions and challenges which the Church has to take up in a serious study.

Such has been the case in the past thirty years, in which strong winds have blown, social contexts have changed, and dramatic challenges have suddenly appeared, to which the Magisterium has responded carefully and coherently under the guidance of the Spirit of God.

The Magisterium has produced a coherent body of teaching that began with Presbyterorum Ordinis, moved forward with the Synods of 1971 and 1990, and the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, and has developed with the Directory on the Ministry and Live of Priests published by the Congregation for the Clergy in 1994. In our symposium six Cardinal experts have delivered the six principal papers that dealt with the principal themes of the life and ministry of priests. There were also the communications given by theologians, pastoral experts and lay persons that were rich, relevant and timely, but limitations of space force us to offer the briefest summaries.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. Richard Malone.

2 Cardinal Jose Sanchez was then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe is Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy.


In these years, the Congregation for the Clergy has been guided by an awareness of the indispensable nature of the priesthood, by an awareness of the totality of the priest’s pastoral ministry, as well as by the fact that evangelization cannot prescind from the clarity of priestly identity nor from the sanctity of priests. We have to admit that the attacks on the Church that try to reduce her to the purely horizontal dimension have been aimed at her priesthood. The Congregation has not spared any energy either in its publications (e.g. the English volume, Magisterium and Celibacy, the Catecheses of the Pope on Priests and Permanent Deacons, and the semiannual review Sacrum Ministerium), nor in setting up an institute for the permanent formation of priests nor by organizing symposia on crucial dimensions of priestly life. We intend to act in a positive way.

The attentive and sapiential re-reading of the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis and of the successive body of teaching up to the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests took place from the 23rd to the 27th of October 1995, and was the occasion for finding a way of summing up the teaching, planning and organizing it for the further education of priests and those who form them. We have to guide and shape priestly will and action in the spirit of communion. The effort demands courage, determination, good will and strong interior motivation.

From the daily experience of our work in the Congregation, we have reached the firm realization that the Church can count on a great corps of faithful priests who bear the daily burden and fatigue with tenacity, with internal peace and joy even in the midst of difficulty. They are engaged in many areas in their daily zealous ministry overcoming every obstacle at the precious outposts of evangelization. Unfortunately, the mass media ignore these generous, quiet and hard working priests, devoted to their duty, true witnesses of the greater love, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the four hundred thousand and more priests in the world. Instead the media pay a great deal of attention to a few cases of priests in difficulty, on whom they concentrate their attention with the unfortunate result of showing only a negative image of the priesthood. The result is a certain amount of bitterness, discouragement and a sense of loneliness among great numbers of faithful and clergy. It can lead the weak astray.

In the last thirty years the Congregation has noticed a certain amount of change in the area of priestly life and ministry. Years ago the main issues were the many desertions of the priesthood, conflicts between bishops and priests, and the critical impact of secularization on the Church. Today, despite various persistent difficulties, there is a positive quantitative and qualitative recovery which makes one hope for a priestly second spring.

Today we find other causes for problems of priestly identity, for example, the cultural pressures on the priest to move from a sacral to a social role, in accord with the democratic mechanisms that characterize our society as secular, democratic, functional and pluralist. There is an effort to transform the hierarchical Church that Christ established into the equivalent of a purely humanist organization, transforming the saving mystery into a vague order of philanthropy and solidarity, and priests into a band of social workers and sentimental communicators.

In the last ten years another problem has attracted the attention of the Congregation: the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the pastoral ministry of priests. In this area we discover splendid examples of generous, intelligent and constructive collaboration. In such a situation we can only confirm and encourage. There are also serious cases in which the priestly role is lost in the attempt to clericalize the laity and laicize the clergy.

Clearly, doctrinal errors contribute to the rise of the abuses. They can also arise from not putting into practice the established disciplinary norms which express and respect in practice the distinction and complementarity of functions that are vital for ecclesial communion.

In sum, one understands very well that concern for priestly identity and ministry is concern for the foundational elements of the life of the Church. Interest in priests, concern for their ongoing formation and their sanctification, promoting their missionary motivation, fraternity and interior joy all amount to giving the greatest imaginable impetus to the evangelization of the world. The cause of the priest is the cause of Christ, the cause of souls and the cause of the fruitfulness of the Redemption in our time. The Congregation for the Clergy has organized the present symposium and publishes the papers in the hope that it will contribute to the ongoing reflection of bishops, priests and will inform the faithful who feel an active responsibility for living their baptism and confirmation.

We want to promote a frank and fraternal dialogue in the bond of ecclesial communion, looking to the good of priests, in order to promote in a form of concrete docility to the Spirit the golden resources of evangelization. As part of the symposium that we held in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Successor of Peter along with the Cardinals and bishops listened to the witness of priests, laity and even of non Catholics on the priesthood and together we lived an afternoon that became a feast of the priesthood. It was not just a spectacle even if there was entertainment, but it was an attempt to create the complete, even emotional, involvement of our confreres in the world to show them our respect and gratitude. We did this with the assistance of television which transmitted the event in world vision.

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, to whom we consecrate this work and everything we do for the good of priests, make this enterprise fruitful.






"The greatest love" is the title of this interesting Recital, during which we have had the opportunity to hear various testimonies on the priesthood, 30 years after the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis on the ministry and life of priests.

I thank those who prepared it with care and competence. In particular, I thank the Cardinal Prefect, Jose T. Sanchez and the Secretary, Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe of the Congregation for the Clergy, who in promoting the International Symposium of these days have also wished to organize this significant artistic event, which is rich in priestly spirituality. I also thank the artists, the technicians of the live television broadcast as well as those who have taken part both here in the Paul VI Auditorium and directly linked it with Jerusalem, Fatima, Ars and Wadowice. I thank RAI which, collaborating with the Vatican Television Center and Telepace, have made broadcasts possible to many nations of the world.

I then address a deferential greeting to our brothers and sisters of the other Christian denominations who have wished to take part in our meeting.

I would like to thank my successor, Cardinal Macharski, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Church of Krakow, and all those who had a part in my priestly journey. At this point I would also like to offer my testimony as a priest for almost 50 years. However, I first want to greet you all affectionately, dear Brothers in the priesthood. I embrace each with cordial gratitude: the diocesan and religious priests, especially those who are elderly, sick or weary. Thank you for your witness which is often silent and not easy; thank you for your fidelity to the Gospel and to the Church. I know the joys and worries of your daily apostolic work. I am close to you with my prayers and affection. A sign of my spiritual closeness, dear priests, is also the Letter which I write and send to you every Holy Thursday. It is lovely today to think again together about the gift of the priesthood, which links us all in the bond of the sacrament of Holy Orders.


1 English text of the address given on Friday, October 27, 1995 taken from L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly English Edition.


Who is the priest? What is the priesthood?

The priesthood is a vocation. No one can claim this dignity himself, but only those who are called by God. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it very clearly when he affirms that the divine vocation to the priesthood does not only concern priests of the Old Testament, but first and foremost Christ himself the Son who is consubstantial with the Father, made a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, the one priest "forever" of the new and eternal Covenant. In the Son’s vocation to the priesthood a dimension of the Trinitarian mystery is expressed.

At the same time, Christ’s priesthood is a consequence of the Incarnation. Born of Mary, the eternal, only-begotten Son of God enters into the order of creation. He becomes a priest, the one priest, and this is why those who possess the sacramental priesthood in the Church of the New Covenant participate in his unique priesthood.

The priesthood is a gift. The Bible states: "One does not take upon himself, but he is called by God" (Hebrews 5:4).

The priesthood is the nerve center of the Church’s whole life and mission.

The priesthood is a mystery, which is greater than man. Before such a reality it is necessary to repeat with St. Paul: "how unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (cf. Romans 11:33).

On 1 November next I will be entering my 50th year as a priest. Thinking about the story of my vocation, I must confide that it was an "adult" vocation, although in a certain sense it was foreseeable in the period of my adolescence. After my matriculation at Wadowice Secondary School in 1938, I began to read Polish philology, at the Jagiellonian University, Krakow; this corresponded to my interests and leanings at the time, but these studies were interrupted by the Second World War, in September 1939. In September 1940 I started work, first in a stone quarry and then in the Solvay factory. My priestly vocation matured in me precisely in that difficult situation. It matured amidst my country’s suffering; it matured in physical work among the workmen; it also matured thanks to the spiritual direction of various priests, especially that of my confessor. In October 1942 I presented myself at Krakow’s major seminary and was admitted. From that time, although I continued working as a factory-hand in Solvay factory, I became a clandestine student of the Faculty of Theology at the Jagiellonian University and numbered among the students of the major seminary in Krakow. I was ordained a priest on 1 November 1946 by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, in his private chapel.

The priest is a man of the Eucharist. In the span of nearly 50 years of priesthood, what is still the most important and most sacred moment for me is the celebration of the Eucharist. My awareness of celebrating in persona Christi at the altar prevails. Never in the course of these years have I failed to celebrate the Most Holy Sacrifice. If this has occurred, it has been due entirely to reasons independent of my will. Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of every day of my life. It is at the heart of the theology of the priesthood, a theology I learned not so much from text books as from living examples of holy priests. First and foremost, from the holy Cure of Ars, Jean Marie Vianney. Still today I remember his biography written by Fr. Trochu, which literally overwhelmed me. I mention the Cure of Ars but he is not the only model of the priesthood who impressed me. There were other holy priests who I admired, having known them either through their hagiographies, or personally, because they were contemporaries. I looked to them and from them I learned what the priesthood is, both as a vocation and as a ministry.

The priest is a man of prayer. "I nourish you with what I myself live on," St. Anselm said. The proclaimed truths must be discovered and adopted in the intimacy of prayer and meditation. Our ministry of the word consists in expressing what was first prepared in prayer.

However, this is not the only dimension of priestly prayer. Since the priest is mediator between God and men, many turn to him asking for prayers. Thus prayer, in a certain sense, "creates" the priest, especially as Pastor. And at the same time every priest "creates himself’ constantly, through prayer. I am thinking of the marvelous prayer of the Breviary, Officium Divinum, in which the whole Church, through the lips of her ministers, prays together with Christ; I am thinking of the vast numbers of requests and prayer intentions that are constantly presented to me by various people. I take note of the intentions mentioned to us by people from all over the world and I keep them in my chapel on my prie-dieu, so that they are constantly in my mind, even when they cannot literally be repeated every day. There they stay and it can be said that the Lord Jesus knows them, for they are among the notes on my prie-dieu and also in my heart.

Being priests today. The theme of priestly identity is always timely, because it is a question of our "being ourselves." During the Second Vatican Council and immediately afterwards, much was said about this. The problem probably originated in a certain pastoral crisis, in the face of secularization and the abandonment of religious practices. Priests began to wonder: are we still necessary? And many priests displayed symptoms of a certain loss of their own identity.

From the start, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, the priest was "taken from among men and made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (cf. Hebrews 5:1). This is the best definition of the priest’s identity. Every priest, according to the gifts bestowed upon him by the Creator, can serve God in various ways and with his priestly ministry, can reach various sectors of human life, bringing them closer to God. However, he remains and must remain a man chosen among others and "made their representative before God."

Priestly identity implies fidelity to Christ and to the People of God to whom we are sent. It is not only something intimate which concerns the priest’s self-awareness. It is reality that is constantly examined and verified by men, because the priest is "taken from among men and made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins."

But how can a priest totally fulfil his vocation? You know the secret well, dear priests: it is by trusting in God’s support and constantly striving for holiness. This evening I would like to wish each of you "the grace to rekindle daily the gift of God you have received with the laying on of hands (cf Timothy 1:6), to feel the comfort of the deep friendship which binds you to Jesus and unites you with one another, the comfort of experiencing the joy of seeing the flock of God grow in an ever greater love for him and for all people, of cultivating the tranquil conviction that the One who began in you the good work will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (cf Philippians 1:6)" (Pastores Dabo vobis, n. 82).

May Mary most holy Mother of priests, sustain you with her example and intercession.






Most Reverend Julian Herranz Casado 2




The light which the Second Vatican Council has brought to the Church in all fields of her doctrine and life is so great, and that which it has projected concretely on the vocation and mission of priests so intense, that it is necessary to begin this intervention by sincerely disclosing even from the outset the limits which we consciously place upon ourselves. This address wishes to be only a synthetic, even if reasonably complete, vision of the whole of conciliar teaching with regard to the presbyterate, 3 especially in the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, in the light of postconciliar teaching on the matter. 4 It is a vision reflected upon today in view of the pastoral needs of the years to come.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Christopher J. Schreck; wherever possible, quoted texts are rendered according to published English translations.

2 Titular Archbishop of Vertara, President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

3 Cf. Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 28; Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis; Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops Christus Dominus, 16, 28; Decree on Priestly Formation Optatam Totius, 22; Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, 25; Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church Ad Gentes Divinitus, 39.

4 Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Sacerdotalis Coelibatus, 24 June 1967: AAS 59 (1967), 657-697; Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, Circular Letter Inter ea, 4 November 1969: AAS 62 (1970), 123-134; Synod of Bishops, Document on the Ministerial Priesthood Ultimis Temporibus, 30 November 1971: AAS 63 (1971), 898-922; Codex Iuris Canonici, 25 January 1983, cc. 232-264, 273-289, 1008-1054; Congregation for Catholic Education, Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, 19 March 1985: EV, S1, 918-1072; John Paul II, Letters to Priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday; post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 25 March 1992: AAS 84 (1992), 657-804; Catechesis on Priests, in the general audiences from 31 March to 22 September 1993; Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, 31 January 1994, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1994.


It does not escape me that, in effect, a comprehensive vision such as that just described has been, in a certain way, already developed not only in the relevant regulations of the new Code of Canon Law, but also in some recent documents, such as the postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis or the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests. To have recourse to their pages would be a journey particularly suited to the attainment of our goal, and one that we will not hesitate to pursue. But, keeping in mind the historical circumstance which we commemorate in this symposium, we will also travel by other thoroughfares. I recall, in fact, a wise consideration with regard to the image of the priest outlined in Presbyterorum Ordinis that was raised by the distinguished secretary of the relevant conciliar commission, Monsignor Alvaro del Portillo: Yes, the Holy Spirit brought the fathers to outline in the Decree a clear and updated image of the priest, but this image can only be well appreciated if framed within the whole of the ecclesiology and of the evangelizing purpose of the Council.

The thirty years since the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis not only justify but recommend presenting this address, from the methodological point of view, as an analytical re-reading of that source document together with other conciliar texts to which it is directly linked. A new consideration of these texts, which have not ceased to be the object of meditation and study in these three decades, is today a necessity in order to confront particular ecclesial situations — at times conflicting and problematical —which demand clarity and decision in the work of governance. Moreover, the time that has elapsed and the tremendous mass of theological, juridical-canonical, and pastoral work carried out

I think especially of the splendid pontifical teaching of the last decades — permit us today to make a clear and more profound analysis of the doctrinal and disciplinary contents of these teachings.

In effect, in order to return to disclose and sketch today the figure of the priest as understood in Vatican II, it is necessary to reflect on the conciliar theological keys which provide its basis and content. The image of the priest which the Council offers depends strictly upon its fundamental ecclesiological teachings, analogous to the way in which these ecclesiological teachings are found in close relation to its Christological teachings. There is, therefore, a certain route to follow before reaching the goal.

Furthermore, as the then-Cardinal Karol Woytyla wrote in a valuable comment on conciliar doctrine, one has to keep in mind that: "The doctrine of the priesthood of Christ, and participation in it, lies at the very heart of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and contains, in some way, all that the Council wanted to say about the Church and the world." 5 This is a profoundly true consideration, whose accuracy can be assessed by looking at the very life of the postconciliar Church with its areas of light and areas of shadow.

Whence, in fact, do some of the serious ecclesial imbalances in this period arise we think, for example, of certain confusions and abuses regarding the nature of pastoral ministry and the exercise of its functions — if not in the realm of a deficient theological and pastoral use of the conciliar doctrine on the priesthood and, more concretely, (its doctrine) on the relationship between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood? And behind these problems is there not hidden a profound ignorance of the ecclesiological and Christological keys of Vatican II? Stated in positive terms: is it not true, for example, that the theological and pastoral contributions of these two contemporary ecclesiological documents — the Apostolic Exhortations Christifideles Laici and Pastores Dabo Vobis — are oriented precisely toward a clear deepening of the conciliar doctrine of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and toward the distinctive participation of sacred ministers and faithful laity in same?


5 Karol Woytyla, La renovacion en sus fuentes, Spanish edition, Madrid, 1982, 182 (cf. n. 11).


Inevitably, we find ourselves before an important doctrinal question, loaded with exceptional pastoral significance, whose roots reach the deepest levels of Catholic christology and ecclesiology. As we were able to note a moment ago — and I permit myself to insist on it again, since it concerns one of the central ideas of our analysis — to compile an accurate exposition of the teachings of the Council regarding the ministerial priesthood requires a prior understanding, adequate to the reality, of the knowledge of her own mystery that the Church in Vatican II has attained. The Council’s image of the priest — the same could be said of the conciliar image of the other Christian faithful — is a pure reflection of its ecclesiological vision, and what emerges therefrom depends from the beginning on how this vision is set forth.

I think that a few words of the Holy Father John Paul II shed light on the idea that we are expressing: "The Second Vatican Council" — the Pope wrote in his first Letter to Priests —"deepened the idea of the priesthood and presented it, throughout its teaching, as the expression of the inner forces, those ‘dynamisms,’ whereby the mission of the whole people of God in the Church is constituted." 6 In effect, the Church, thanks to the Council, has reached a new and deeper horizon of comprehension of the priestly mystery, consistent with her essence. This new understanding developed along with a consciousness, itself also renewed, of the proper condition of a priestly people, 7 destined in Christ for the service of a salvific mission, which actualizes in time the mission of the Lord. Precisely in this vision of the mission of the Church as fruit of the effort to express the inner powers which configure it, there has happily taken place — as the Pope’s words point out — the conciliar deepening on the understanding of the priesthood. It is within these dynamisms that we must situate our re-reading and our present analysis.


6 John Paul II, Letter to Priests Novo Incipiente, 8 April 1979: AAS 71(1979), 393-417; 3.

7 Cf. Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 9-10.




The documents of the Second Vatican Council, and among them those which refer to our argument, are the fruit of the Church’s faith and work, and in particular of the episcopal college. They were elaborated with great exertion, sparing no effort humanly speaking, 8 but above all with the intense sense of faith which the Holy Spirit keeps burning in the Church. In remembering today, thirty years afterwards, the genesis of the Council’s teachings through which the Bride of Christ has seen her knowledge and articulation of her own ministry mature, and in attentively analyzing their content, it is not difficult to rediscover — if I am permitted to say so with a bold but appropriate expression — some of the profound signs which the hand of God has left behind.

All of the Council’s doctrine, and concretely that which refers to priests, was elaborated day after day, session after session, starting from a few fundamental presuppositions which focused and oriented the immense mass of work of Vatican II, and which it seems to me necessary to highlight — even if very briefly —because they are truly keys to the reading and deepening of our question.


8 We recall, as an example, the conciliar path of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis: 5 years of work; 10 successive drafts of a brief document; more than 10,000 votes, studies, proposals, suggestions, and in the final days 2198 modi, with final proposals for modifications. To arrive on 7 December 1965 at the 2390 placets of the 2394 Fathers of the Council, it was certainly necessary to journey down a long road.




Do we wish to bring to light the image of the priest intended by the Council with all of its theological, spiritual, and disciplinary presuppositions? Then let us remember first of all what the primary objectives of the convocation and realization of the Second Vatican Council were, in order then to survey the panorama of answers which are disclosed in considering that original purpose, at once so decisively innovative and evangelizing. There we will find a first key to respond to our question.

It is well-known that Vatican II was conceived, from its beginnings, as a means and a singular opportunity to promote the renewal of the Church and the timely aggiornamento of her pastoral activity. "Illuminated by the light of this Council" —remarked John XXIII in his speech opening the assembly — "the Church, — we confidently trust — will become greater in spiritual riches and, gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear. In fact, by bringing herself up to date where required, and by the wise organization of mutual cooperation, the Church will make men, families, and peoples really turn their minds to heavenly things." 9

The awareness of needed renewal with which the Council was brought to birth was to continue leaving its mark throughout constitutions, decrees and declarations. Therefore, the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis centers its attention, right from the beginning, on the "extremely important and always more arduous task to be performed (by priests) in the area of the renewal of the Church of Christ." 10 This consciousness of renewal and of evangelization determined also the spirit with which these documents were received, and they began to be put into practice in the whole Church.

"It is to be hoped" — wrote the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Woytyla in 1972 — "that this implementation of Vatican II will be guided by the idea that the renewal initiated by the Council is an historical stage in the self-realization of the Church.


9 John XXIII, Discourse Gaudet Mater Ecclesia on the Solemn Opening of the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962: Enchiridion Vaticanum (EV), 1, 37*

10 Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 1: EV, 1, 1243.


In fact, through the Council, the Church has spelled out not only what she thinks of herself but also in what manner she wishes to realize herself." 11

This conviction was fully confirmed and enriched in its formulation during the extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1985, called twenty years after the close of the Council to verify and promote even more its realization. 12 A brief affirmation made there takes on great importance for us: "The council ... had been convoked in order to promote the renewal of the Church with a view to evangelizing a radically changed world." 13 Renewal, then, and, inseparably, evangelization of a world subject to profound transformations: these were the two faces of this "gift of God to the Church and to the world," that was Vatican II, and which truly must be considered with the Synod fathers of 1985 as "the great grace of this century." 14

Here, therefore, is a key to understand the spirit which imbues the Council’s image of the priest: a strong desire for theological, spiritual and disciplinary renewal of the ministry and life of priests, in order to propel them and assist them to perform their great and indispensable mission in the present time. This is the same reading key, perfectly grasped and expressed in so many ways by John Paul II, and which is found in a passage of the pastoral exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, that we restrict ourselves to quoting: "Today in particular, the pressing pastoral task of the new evangelization calls for the involvement of the entire People of God, and requires a new fervor, new methods and a new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the Gospel.

This task demands priests who are deeply and fully immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of embodying a new style of pastoral life, marked by a profound communion with the Pope, the Bishops and other priests, and a fruitful cooperation with the lay faithful, always respecting and fostering the different roles, charisms and ministries present within the ecclesial community." 15


11 "Alle fonti del rinnovamento. Studio sull’attuazione del Concilio Vaticano II, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1981, Introduzione (Spanish translation cited in n. 3 above).

12 "The end for which this Synod has been convoked has been the celebration, the verification and the promotion of the Second Vatican Council. With gratitude of heart we feel we have truly achieved this result, with the help of God" (Synod of Bishops, Extraordinary General Session, 1985. Final Report Ecclesia sub Verbo Dei Mysteria Christi Celebrans pro Salute Mundi, 7 December 1985, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1985; cf. EV, 9, 1780).

13 Synod of Bishops, Extraordinary General Session, 1985. Message Nos, Episcopi to the Christian Faithful on the Second Vatican Council as Gift of God to the Church and to the World, 7 December 1985: OR, 8 December 1985; EV, 9, 1775.

14 Cf. ibid., 1778.

15 John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 18. Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, Introduction.




The Second Vatican Council was pervaded by a lively sense of the universal saving will of God, already manifested in the works of creation, fully revealed in the redemptive incarnation, and brought to completion without reservation in the gift of the Paraclete. One can say, with some foundation, that reference to salvific divine love nurtures all conciliar doctrine, in which a real consciousness of salvation is manifested.

This terminology, "consciousness of salvation," 16 refers us back to what we above called "consciousness of renewal," and we use it in order to do so. In reality, both are inseparably united in conciliar teaching. In the consideration of the mystery of Christ which the Council offers us and, within that, of the mystery of the Church, both perspectives are, in effect, interconnected. The Pope has recently expressed this reality in splendid terms: "It was a council similar to earlier ones, yet very different; it was a council focused on the mystery of Christ and his Church, and at the same time open to the world. This openness was an evangelical response to recent changes in the world, including the profoundly disturbing experiences of the 20th century, a century scarred by the First and Second World Wars, by the experience of concentration camps and by horrendous massacres. All these events demonstrate most vividly that the world needs purification; it needs to be converted." 17


16 Terminology that we elsewhere find in the work cited of Cardinal Woytyla, Alle fonti del rinnovamento; cf. chapters II and III and following.

17 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, to the episcopate, the clergy and the faithful on preparation for the Jubilee of the year 2000, 10 November 1994, 18.


If "our priestly life and activity continue the life and activity of Christ himself’; 18 if priests are called to prolong the presence of the Master; 19 if, finally, every priest can say of his sacramental configuration to Jesus Christ: "Here lies our identity, our true dignity, the source of our joy, the very basis of our life," 20 one cannot but keep in mind at the same time that the Council contemplates Christ always with its gaze intensely riveted on his saving mission. This does not mean that the Council overlooks other perspectives, but that this will be, for the most part, the dominant perspective, the perspective that will orient the great doctrinal texts elaborated in the Council aula and certainly the text of Presbyterorum Ordinis. Vatican II’s vision of Christ is, as it were, dazzled before the rediscovered grandeur of the economy of salvation, in which the Church, too — and with her the Christian priesthood — rediscovers the essence of her own being.

In this regard, one probably cannot find a more paradigmatic and significant conciliar passage than the opening of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: "Christ is the light of all nations. Hence this most sacred Synod, which has been gathered in the Holy Spirit, eagerly desires to shed on all men that radiance of His which brightens the countenance of the Church. This it will do by proclaiming the gospel to every creature (cf. Mark 16:15). By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity.


18 John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 18.

19 Ibid., 15.

20 Ibid., 18.


For this reason, following in the path laid out by its predecessors, this Council wishes to set forth more precisely to the faithful and to the entire world the nature and encompassing mission of the Church." 21 A contemporary re-reading of this memorable passage

— which one of the major protagonists of the work of the Council has called: "The point of departure and, at the same time, the center of reflection, which the Church conducted throughout the Council in regard to her own nature and mission" 22 — allows us to discern, as we said a little earlier, as it were, an imprint of the action of Providence, which continued to mark out in sure steps the direction to follow 23 for the conciliar and postconciliar Church.

Clearly, a consideration of the mystery of the Church, based on an earlier contemplation of the mystery of Christ, lumen gentium, would bring an ecclesiological teaching endowed with characteristic accents — accents which then would be coherent currents in the teaching on the priesthood and the laity, and therefore, according to the nomenclature we are following, keys to decipher the true conciliar image of the priest.


21 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 1: EV, 1, 284.

22 Alvaro del Portillo, Consacrazione e Missione del sacerdote, Edizioni Ares, Milan, 19902, 24.

23 How can one not recognize this same imprint in the famous speech of Pope Paul VI at the opening of the Second Session of the Council? In it he spoke those unforgettable words which determined the staffing point, the route and the objective of the Council: "Christ! ... Christ is our starting point, Christ our leader and our way, Christ our hope and our goal (...). May this our present assembly shine with no other light than Christ, the light of the world. May our minds seek no other truth than that proclaimed by the words of the Lord, our only teacher. May our sole ambition be to give whole-hearted, loyal obedience to His commands" (Paul VI, Discourse Salvete Fratres on the Opening of the Second Session of the Council, 29 September 1963: EV, 1, 145*).




The application to the Church of the notion of communion, as expression of her mystery, has sunk roots in the theological and canonical doctrine of the last decades and has also found a place for itself in magisterial teaching 24 and in the new legislative corpus of the Church. 25 The Council’s vision of the Church, essentially based on the revelation of the Trinitarian plan of salvation, dwells felicitously in the consideration of the eternal will of the Father, the redemptive incarnation of the Son and the gift of the Spirit. Trinitarian communion, the unity of the Father and the Son in their reciprocal love, is diffused among men through the missions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and is permanently prolonged through the Church, the true locale and source for the communion of men with God and among themselves. The Church of Vatican II is known as the communion of those who have received the status of sons of the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit: she is truly de unitate Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti plebs adunata. 26

A vision such as this of the mystery of the Church — "the ecclesiology of communion is the central and fundamental idea of the council’s documents," as was stated in the Synod of 1985 27 — establishes a basic orientation with regard to the manner of studying its essential elements (nature and mission of the Church, unity and diversity of members, complementarity of functions, etc.), from which, as is logical, important theological and disciplinary consequences derive.


24 Cf. John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, 30 December 1988, 18-20; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on the Church as communion, Communionis Notio, 24 May 1992: AAS 85 (1993), 840ff.

25 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, 25 January 1983: AAS 75 (1983), part II. VII-XIV.

26 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 4: EV 1, 288.

27 Synod of Bishops, Extraordinary General Session 1985, Relatio Finalis, II, C, 1: EV 9, 1800; cf. John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, 30 December 1988, 19.


This conception of the Church as communion resounds in all that the Council and the postconciliar Magisterium 28 teach on the priesthood and on the ministry of priests.

A current reading of the conciliar texts permits us to understand with greater clarity just how important the influence of the second chapter of Lumen Gentium has been with respect to everything regarding the definition of an operational model of the Church. Certainly, great importance has adorned the notion of the People of God, already endowed with full meaning on its own, even if inseparable from other notions. Without doubt, what turns out to be decisive is the intimate connection of this notion of the Church with the priesthood of Christ, in which all the baptized "by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood." 29 Thus, the Church of Vatican II, Ecclesia de Trinitate, Church-communion, must also be described — with words of Lumen Gentium taken up by Presbyterorum Ordinis — as communitas sacerdotalis, 30 which not only sheds light on the mystery of her nature, but also points toward the content of her mission and the way to realize it.

Nevertheless, there still remains an essential, determinative element of this priestly community to emphasize. The Church is recognized and manifested in the same texts of Lumen Gentium and Presbyterorum Ordinis as "communitas sacerdotalis organice exstructa." 31 "The entire Church in all her components lives in the mystery of a ‘missionary communion.’ This means an ‘organic communion analogous to that of a living, functioning body characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states of life, of ministries, charisms and responsibilities’ (Christifideles Laici, 20); it also means a ‘unity in mission,’ (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2; Christifideles Laici, 55) which actively involves all the baptized in the work of building up the mystical body of Christ and in courageously proclaiming the Gospel to the world." 32


28 Cf., for example, John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 12ff; Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, 21ff.

29 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 10.

30 Ibid., 11; cf. Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2.

31 Ibid.

32 John Paul II, Discourse to the Participants in the Symposium on the Collaboration of the Laity in the Pastoral Ministry of Priests, 22 April 1994, 1. Cf. "Sacrum Ministerium" 1 (1995), 62. Cf. Discourse to the Participants in the International Symposium on Canon Law, the Vatican, 23 April 1993: AAS 86 (1994) 244-248.


The existence in the Church, with respect to the pursuit of her mission, of two forms of priesthood, the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, essentially different even if reciprocally ordered one to the other insofar as both derive from the unique priesthood of Christ, 33 turns out to be a doctrine of extraordinary importance — a real keystone of Catholic ecclesiology and discipline in describing the conciliar image of the priest. What level of truth would such a description have if the exigencies which derive from this organic ecclesiastical structuring were taken into serious consideration? The correct framing of the question of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood is certainly fundamental: not only to pursue an academic treatment of our theme but also and above all to "promote the common discipline of the whole Church" 34 and to avoid allowing "abuses [to] creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning the ministry of the word, [and] the celebration of the sacraments." 35

In this sense, the Pope has recently admonished: "The particular gift of each of the church’s members must be wisely and carefully acknowledged, safeguarded, promoted, discerned and coordinated, without confusing roles, functions or theological and canonical status. Otherwise the body of Christ is not built up nor does its mission of salvation correctly develop.(...) We cannot jeopardize the church’s hierarchical constitution in order to summon pastors to a humble, loving awareness of service or out of a desire to bring the lay faithful to a full realization of their dignity and responsibility.

We cannot increase the communion and unity of the Church by ‘clericalizing’ the lay faithful or by ‘laicizing’ priests.,, 36


33 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 10.

34 CIC, canon 392, 1.

35 CIC, canon 392, 2.

36 John Paul II, Discourse to the Participants in the Symposium on the Collaboration of the Laity in the Pastoral Ministry of Priests, 22 April 1994, 3-4. Cf. "Sacrum Ministerium" 1(1995), 63-64.




We still wish to put in prominence, or rather simply cite, a final point of conciliar ecclesiology, necessary in order to understand the form and content of the priestly mission of the Church organice exstructa. We find it expressed in a passage of Lumen Gentium, which describes the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ with these words: "It was for this reason that God sent His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things (cf. Hebrews 1:2), that He might be Teacher, King, and Priest of all, the Head of the new and universal people of the sons of God." 37

The explanation of the mission of Christ according to the schema of the threefold munus, which enjoyed a solid traditional basis, has turned out to be, as we well know, one of the decisive features of conciliar doctrine. The functions of the different members of the Church in service to her common mission will likewise be described by the Council according to this schema. These functions, although distinct in their concrete contents to the benefit of the diversity of gifts and personal charisms, are nevertheless endowed with the same structure. 38 And around this schema, important theological developments of the postconciliar Magisterium have come to fruition as well as, to the degree possible, the regulations of the new Code of Canon Law. We now wish only to emphasize the centrality of the doctrine of the threefold munus in order to delimit the bounds of the specific function of the priest in service to the mission of the Church. At the same time, this is determinative in specifying the Council’s image of the priest.


37 Ibid., 13.

38 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25-27; Decree Christus Dominus on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, 12-16; Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4-6.




Beginning with these key points in the ecclesiology of Vatican II, which we have considered opportune to place synthetically in evidence, we are now prepared to turn our attention to the image of the priest. The clearest impression that one draws from reading the conciliar texts dedicated to the priesthood is that the Council has, in effect, succeeded, as was its general intention, to elaborate a doctrinal exposition of real renewal.

The principal cause of such a renewal, insofar as it concretely regards the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, is certainly to be sought in the decisive acceptance of the theological perspectives opened up by Lumen Gentium, which allowed the assumption and the bringing together to a higher synthesis of various earlier ecclesiological concepts. The study of the mystery of the Church and of all ecclesial realities, in particular the priesthood, will be framed by the original and profound point of view of the participation of the priest in the consecration and mission of Christ, Head and Shepherd.

By situating the ministerial priesthood of priests and its functions within the framework of the mission of Christ and the Church, one gains a fundamentally dynamic vision of it, as the secretary of the conciliar Commission De Disciplina Cleri et Populi Christian 39 defined it, himself an exceptional witness in the subject matter we are addressing. It is interesting to read one of his 1966 declarations: 40


39 Cf. Alvaro del Portillo, Consacrazione e Missione del sacerdote, op. cit., 26.

40 The text is a passage from a work correctly entitled: La figura del sacerdote delineata nel Decreto Presbyterorum Ordinis. The original edition appeared in the review Palabra 12-13 (1966), 4-8.


During the conciliar debates on this Decree — reports Monsignor del Portillo — two positions were presented which, considered separately, could have appeared opposed or quite contradictory: on the one hand, the announcement of the message of Christ to all men was insisted upon; on the other hand, emphasis was placed on the worship and adoration of God as ends toward which everything must tend in the ministry and life of priests. Some effort was required to synthesize and reconcile these positions, and the Commission worked, sparing no endeavor, to harmonize the two conceptions, which are neither opposed nor mutually exclusive. In effect, the two different doctrinal positions on the priesthood acquire their full emphasis and significance when both are inserted into a more comprehensive synthesis, in which it becomes apparent that they are absolutely inseparable and complementary aspects which give definition to each other: the ministry for the sake of men is only understood as a service offered to God, while the glorification of God demands that the Priest feel an anxiety to be united to that praise which is proper to all men.(...) In this way, one has a dynamic perspective of the priestly ministry, which by announcing the Gospel produces faith in those who do not yet believe, so that they may belong to the People of God and unite their sacrifice to that of Christ, forming a single Body with Him. 41

In fact, the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis develops along a Trinitarian and Christocentric plan in which the whole economy of salvation and, therefore, the Church herself, insofar as "universal sacrament of salvation" 42 — is contemplated in the light of the priesthood of Christ, or in the light of his priestly consecration-mission, in which he has made the members of his Body, in various ways, participants. Paragraph 2 of the Decree begins with this precise affirmation; and with this beginning, in a certain sense, the essential aspect of the Decree’s content is summarized, insofar as consecration and mission are the two notions which underlie and give support to all the Decree’s subsequent teaching on priests. The intimate and profound interdependence of these two concepts is the connecting thread of the whole document.


41 Ibid., 26-27.

42 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 48: EV, 1, 416.


The question which we ask ourselves in this setting has also been implicitly the same question that from the beginning guided the drafting of the conciliar Decree: What is the image of the priest — what are the fundamental features of his personality? —among the other members of the ecclesial community and in the midst of the secular structures of the contemporary world? How in our own times do we express the supernatural and human richness of the priest’s identity and the beauty and absolute necessity of his ministry? To such questions, which we have said must be answered according to the perspective of the priesthood of Christ, the Council responded by basing its answer on the two fundamental notions previously highlighted: consecration and mission. To these it is necessary to add a third concept, vocation, which precedes the other two and in which they find their foundation.

The priest is a member of the People of God, chosen from among other members with a particular call (vocation), in order to be consecrated by a special sacrament (consecration) and sent (mission) to perform specific functions in service to the People of God and to all humanity. A man chosen, a man consecrated, a man sent. These are undoubtedly, in their unity and inseparability, the fundamental characteristics of the image of the priest outlined by the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis. Therefore, only by deepening our reflection on these characteristics will it be possible to find the correct answers to the questions (old or new, true or false) which can be posed to us on the life and ministry of the priest, in the Church and in society.




Chosen by whom? By the Christian community? Chosen perhaps by himself? Already when the Second Vatican Council was being celebrated, as we do on the present occasion, it seemed useless and even foolish to pose a question like this which can only receive the same and always invariable Catholic response. But there existed then, and there continue to exist now, different positions from which — with relatively diverse but basically very similar arguments — these insidious problems are hurled against the Church and before public opinion. 43 It is patently clear in conciliar teaching that the vocation of the priest is absolutely inseparable from his consecration and his mission. The one who chooses him is also the same who consecrates him and sends him:

that is, Christ himself, through the apostles and their successors.

Note how this doctrinal reality is ratified by the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis in one of its initial points: "Now, the same Lord has established certain ministers among the faithful in order to join them together in one body where ‘all the members have not the same function’ (Romans 12:4). These ministers in the society of the faithful would be able by the sacred power of their order to offer sacrifice and to remit sins. They would perform their priestly office publicly for men in the name of Christ." 44


43 As, for example in our own times, E. Schillebeeckx in his work on ecclesial ministry Kerkelijk ambt. Voorgangers in de gemeente van Jezus Christus, Bloemendall, 1980, in which he upholds the thesis that a layman chosen by a Christian community to be leader or director is by that very fact rendered capable of presiding at the eucharistic celebration; cf. De sociale context van de verschuivingen in het kerkelijk ambt, in Tijdschrift voor Theologie 22 (1982), 24-59. In his new 1985 work on the same theme (Pleidooi voor mensen in de Kerk. Christelijke identiteit in de Kerk, Baarn, 1985; cf. Per una Chiesa dal volto umano, Brescia, 1986), Schillebeeckx somewhat reformulates his position, even if serious difficulties remain on the idea which he maintains with regard to the relationship between ordained ministry and apostolic succession. As is well known, the theses of the Dutch Dominican were rejected by the Magisterium (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Problems Regarding the Ministry of the Eucharist, 6 August 1983; Notificazione della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, 15 September 1986; in L’Osservatore Romano, 24 September 1986).

44 "Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2: EV, 1, 1245.


In emphasizing the divine institution of the ministerial priesthood (or of the presbyterate, to which the Council text actually refers), the accent falls on the divine calling of the priest. He is not, therefore, a delegate of the community before God, nor a functionary or employee of God before the people. He is a man chosen by God from among men in order to realize the mystery of salvation in the name of Christ. The notion of divine vocation —inseparable, we repeat, from the other two aspects already mentioned and which we will next address — is essential to oppose certain overly democratizing notions, nevertheless present and unfortunately influential in some Church circles.

Such an overly democratizing conception of the Church, as was pointed out in an important symposium convened at the Vatican in 1994, 45 can arise only from a defective view of the very nature of the Church. Even if this is not sensed to be a problem as such by the majority of the Christian people, certainly this conception is being disseminated in particular circles in Central Europe and North America. Nevertheless, the majority of the faithful, even those who lack solid doctrinal formation, have a Catholic sensus Ecclesiae, consistent with revealed doctrine, as well as a clear awareness of the distinction between priests and laity by reason of the sacrament of orders. They do not, therefore, pose problems with regard to the hierarchical nature of the Church because they well know that Christ has willed it so. But there are also some small groups and communities that while affirming that they are not denying the hierarchical character of the Church, advocate an unbalanced egalitarianism between laity and sacred ministers far removed from Catholic ecclesiological doctrine on key points, as — for example — the affirmation of the essential distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood; or those who by equivocally invoking the concept of the inculturation of the Church, demand the assumption of democratic systems for the election of sacred pastors.

Today, this is a serious problem, very closely related to so called functionalism, which consists, in the words of the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, in: "An erroneous mentality which reduces the ministerial priesthood to strictly functional aspects. To merely play the role of the priest, carrying out a few services and ensuring completion of various tasks would make up the entire priestly existence.

Such a reductive conception of the identity of the ministry of the priest risks pushing their lives towards an emptiness, an emptiness which often comes to be filled by lifestyles not consonant with their very ministry." 46 We find ourselves, then, addressing theological tendencies and disciplinary situations which demand from authority the necessary doctrinal clarity and the adoption of appropriate pastoral measures.


45 Symposium on the Collaboration of the Laity in the Pastoral Ministry of Priests, organized by the Congregation for the Clergy, 19-22 April 1994. For a brief synopsis of the content, cf. Sacrum Ministerium 1(1995), 59-67.

46 Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, 44.




Although chosen by God to perform the priestly function under official auspices, in the name of Christ, priests clearly are something more than mere holders of a public office and sacred exercise in service to the community of the faithful. The priesthood "is essentially and above all a configuration, a mysterious and sacramental transformation of the person of the man-priest into the person of Christ himself, the only Mediator." 47 The conciliar image of the priest is that of a man configured ontologically to Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, in order to perform a specific mission.

Presbyterorum Ordinis — keeping in view the noteworthy development which doctrine on the episcopate and on the common priesthood of the faithful had achieved in other documents of the Council — wished to emphasize the special sacramental consecration of priests, which makes them participants in the very priesthood of Christ, the Head of the Church. And so it has done, demonstrating the connection of the ministerial priesthood with the priestly fullness and pastoral mission of the bishops — whose collaborators priests are — and likewise at the same time clearly distinguishing the ministerial priesthood from the common priesthood of all the baptized.

"So it was that Christ sent the apostles" — one reads in the Decree — ‘just as He Himself had been sent by the Father. Through these same apostles He made their successors, the bishops, sharers in His consecration and mission. Their ministerial role has been handed down to priests in a limited degree. Thus established in the order of the priesthood, they are co-workers of the episcopal order in the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission entrusted to the latter order by Christ." 48 Thus was brought to fruition the important doctrinal contribution of Lumen Gentium on the degrees of the sacrament of orders as different participations in the priestly consecration and mission of Christ, 49 and the priesthood was described in the light of the episcopate. In this way, the presbyteral priesthood was well situated within the context of the communion of the episcopal college, in a perspective of great theological and spiritual richness.


47 Alvaro del Portillo, Consacrazione e Missione del sacerdote, op. cit., 55-56.

48 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2: EV, 1, 1245.

49 Cf. Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 28.


Since these aspects will certainly be treated in a more detailed manner in other interventions of this symposium, I shall limit my presentation to commenting only on one point of the conciliar passage quoted above, which I consider essential to grasp and to defend in our historical context. I refer to the question of apostolic succession and the ordained ministry.

The whole Church is apostolic insofar as she inherits and continues the Church of the apostles. And within the Church, the ordained ministry (the episcopal ministry and the presbyteral ministry as its collaborator) inherits and continues the ministry of the apostles. "In the Church" — the International Theological Commission opportunely reminded us — "every hierarchical ministry is linked to institution by the apostles. Such ministry, willed by Christ, is essential for the Church; and through her mediation, the salvific act of the Lord is made present sacramentally and historically for all generations." 50


50 International Theological Commission, El sacerdocio catolico, 1970, thesis 1.


The spiritual power which the ordained ministry possesses does not, in fact, derive from the community, but from the apostolicity of its mission, transmitted through the sacramental imposition of hands. 51 Ordained ministers are bearers of a charism (consecration-mission) which begins in the sending of the Son from the Father, is transmitted to the apostles, and confers the necessary authority to lead the community. Ordained ministry is established on the foundation of the apostles, for the upbuilding of the Church (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14) and for the life of the world.

Finally, the presbyteral priesthood, through the imposition of hands and the anointing — proper to the sacrament of orders —continues the mission received by the apostles from Christ; it is empowered by apostolic authority and is a witness with that authority to the Tradition. The presbyteral priesthood was instituted to build up and to give vitality to the Church, in which and for which it exists. It is in this sense that John Paul II has written: "Consequently, the ordained priesthood ought not to be thought of as existing prior to the Church, because it is totally at the service of the Church. Nor should it be considered as posterior to the ecclesial community, as if the Church could be imagined as already established without this priesthood." 52

The ontological configuration of the presbyter to Christ the priest through the sacramental character of orders was expressed by the Council in a traditional formula: agere in persona Christi capitis, 53 and consequently, in persona Ecclesiae, inasmuch as Christ the Head and his Body form a unity. This formula theologically designates the capacity to act as "representative" of Christ and of the Church. "The priest’s fundamental relationship" — the Pope further explained in Pastores Dabo Vobis — "is to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd. Indeed, the priest participates in a specific and authoritative way in the ‘consecration/anointing’ and in the ‘mission’ of Christ (cf. Luke 4:18-19).


51 Cf. 1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22; and 2 Timothy 1:6.

52 John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 16.

53 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2: EV, 1, 1246.


But intimately linked to this relationship is the priest’s relationship with the Church. It is not a question of ‘relations’ which are merely juxtaposed, but rather of ones which are interiorly united in a kind of mutual immanence. The priest’s relation to the Church is inscribed in the very relation which the priest has to Christ, such that the ‘sacramental representation’ to Christ serves as the basis and inspiration for the relation of the priest to the Church." 54

The formula agere in persona Christi capitis thus allows us to express exactly the essence of the ministerial condition as capacity to participate, through the reception of the sacrament of orders, in the actions proper to Christ, Head and Shepherd, in regard to the Church. The basis of this participation is the power received, while its purpose is to make salvation present, here and now through specific actions (Ministerium verbi et sacramentorum), as the life of the Church and, through the Church, the life of the world. One can observe, then, in this formula the sacramentality of the specific actions of the ordained ministry with respect to the life of the Church.

The ministerial image of the priest makes full reference to this sacramentality, in that "while the priest is in the Church, he is also set in front of it." 55 In fact, as Pastores Dabo Vobis teaches:

"Thus, by his very nature and sacramental mission, the priest appears in the structure of the Church as a sign of the absolute priority and gratuitousness of the grace given to the Church by the Risen Christ. Through the ministerial priesthood the Church becomes aware in faith that her being comes not from herself but from the grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Apostles and their successors, inasmuch as they exercise an authority which comes to them from Christ, the Head and Shepherd, are placed — with their ministry — in the forefront of the Church 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." 56


54 John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 16.

55 Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, 12.

56 John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 16.




"Priests [of the New Testament]" — again teaches Presbyterorum Ordinis — "are taken from among men and appointed for men in the things which pertain to God." 57 The priest is a man called and consecrated to be sent to all men, in service to the salvific action of the Church as shepherd and minister of the Lord. Therefore, only in the performance of their specific mission, realized in the light of the mystery of Christ and of the communion of the Church, will priests be able to find their proper identity. 58 The third essential aspect of the image of the priest outlined by the Council appears so clearly.

Vatican II wished to recall and to reaffirm the cultic or ritual dimension of the priesthood, in continuity with the tradition of the Council of Trent, but at the same time Vatican II wished to underline strongly the priesthood’s missionary dimension, not as two distinct moments, but as two simultaneous aspects of the same exigency for evangelization. The objective of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis was not to unite two diverse conceptions of the priesthood but to set forth the doctrine on the priesthood from the starting point of the basic principles which inspired the Council’s ecelesiology, which principles we have recalled synthetically at the beginning of this presentation. In Christ the priest, the worship reserved to the Father and the announcement of the Gospel among men, his brothers, constitute a single reality of salvation. And, in an analogous manner, the Council will say to priests that they are configured to Christ and are able to act as his representatives and in his name and that, therefore, "God gives them the grace to be ministers of Christ Jesus among the people.


57 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 3: EV, 1,1249.

58 Cf. Synod of Bishops, Document on the Ministerial Priesthood Ultimis Temporibus, 30 November 1971, part II, 1: EV, 4, 1178.


They shoulder the sacred task of the gospel, so that the offering of the people can be made acceptable through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit." 59 The announcement of the Gospel is, therefore, considered from a profoundly cultic point of view.

Beginning with the normative reference to the priestly existence of Christ and of the apostles, the Decree speaks forcefully of the needed evangelizing presence of priests among men: "Hence they deal with other men as with brothers. This was the way that the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, a man sent by the Father to men, dwelt among us and willed to become like His brothers in all things except sin." 60 The priest must be present in a vital and effective way in the life of men; such would not be the case if his activities were limited to ritual functions or if he waited for others to come to break through his isolation.

With admirable spiritual energy, Presbyterorum Ordinis proclaimed a teaching that I have no hesitation to define as fundamental in the field of our study: "Priests of the New Testament are indeed set apart in a certain sense within the midst of God’s people. But this is so, not that they may be separated from this people or from any man, but that they may be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has raised them up. They cannot be ministers of Christ unless they are witnesses and dispensers of a life other than this earthly one. But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of men. Their ministry itself by a special title forbids them to be conformed to this world. Yet at the same time this ministry requires that they live in this world among men." 61


59 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2: EV, 1, 1247.

60 Ibid., 1249.

61 Ibid.


The presence of the priest in the world will always be characterized by this dialectical aspect — especially significant with regard to priestly lifestyle and behavior in the midst of any society tendentiously materialistic which is inherent to the nature of his mission. "This is why such a mission will be able to be fulfilled only if the priest — consecrated by the Spirit — knows how to be among men (pro hominibus constituitur) and, at the same time, separated from them (ex hominibus assumptus); if he lives with men, he will understand their problems, appraise their values, but at the same time in the name of another reality, he will witness to and teach other values, other horizons of the spirit, another hope." 62 In this way, priests will likewise succeed at solving a problem which is sometimes exaggerated or distorted on the sociological level. I refer to their valid entry into the social life of the community, into the ordinary life of men. Today, in fact, more than ever the lay person — the intellectual, the worker, the employee — wants to see in the priest a friend, a man of simple and cordial traits (a man, they say, within reach), who well knows how to understand and to appraise noble human realities. But at the same time, the lay person wants to see in the priest a witness to the things to come, to the sacred, to eternal life, a man who knows how to gather and to teach the laity, with fraternal care, about the supernatural dimension of their existence, the divine destiny of their life, the transcendent reasons for their thirst for happiness: in a word, a man of God. 63

If I may, I would like to be permitted, before concluding, one final brief consideration on the image of the priest outlined by the Council. The three essential theological features just now presented must be integrated with a deep need for the ascetical order: sanctity through the spirituality specific to the priesthood.


62 Alvaro del Portillo, Consacrazione e Missione del sacerdote, op. cit., 41.

63 Cf. Julian Herranz Casado, I rapporti sacerdoti-laici, in Studi sulla nuova Legislazione della Chiesa, Rome, 1990, 246-247.




In the third chapter of Presbyterorum Ordinis, concretely in the first article dedicated to the call of priests to perfection, we find another aspect of the conciliar image upon which we are reflecting. One could even say that this is the most characteristic aspect insofar as the doctrine set forth in these passages — I refer essentially to numbers 12-14 of the Decree — based on originality, profundity, and beauty, not only presupposes all of the preceding teaching on the priesthood and on the ministry specific to priests, but, in a certain sense, brings it to completion. In these passages, in my view, our Decree reaches its summit.

If we take account of the fact that what undergirds the entire Council is promoting a renewal of the Church capable of propelling her toward a more effective evangelization of society, it is useful to observe that in these pages dedicated to priestly sanctity the same spirit resonates with particular vigor. It is worth listening: "This most holy Synod desires to achieve its pastoral goals of renewal within the Church, of the spread of the gospel throughout the world, and of dialogue with the modern world. Therefore it fervently exhorts all priests to use the appropriate means endorsed by the Church as they ever strive for that greater sanctity which will make them increasingly useful instruments in the service of all of God’s People." 64

In the conciliar texts, and particularly in-our Decree, one notes the tendency to set forth a strong spirituality capable of conducting all priests with pastoral duties in a special way, secular priests, to whom the text is directed — to Christian perfection. It is a perfection which priests, like all the baptized, are called to reach in accord with the will and the gifts of God, but for priests this carries a particular obligation due to their own sacramental configuration to Christ since they work in his name as his representatives. 65 Here is outlined, then, a spirituality based simply and strongly on the gospel, and in perfect harmony with the Decree’s constant concern to manifest the unity between consecration and mission of the priest, or between dedication to pastoral service of the mission of the Church and involvement in the human community.


64 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12: EV, 1, 1285 (emphasis added).

65 Cf. ibid., 1282.


From this it follows that from the beginning the Decree stresses an essential aspect: the priest is called to reach sanctity through the exercise of his own ministerial functions, which not only demand of him this commitment to perfection, but promote it and foster it. 66 Consequently, the spiritual life of the priest must tend to reach a level which renders it suitable and proportioned to the ministry received. The call to holiness and the exercise of the ministry reciprocally restore and sustain each other in the priesthood. The sacramental gift which the Spirit has infused in the priest demands, by means of a dynamic proper to him, intimate union with Christ and sanctity of life. "The Spirit, by consecrating the priest and configuring him to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd, creates a bond which, located in the priest’s very being, demands to be assimilated and lived out in a personal, free and conscious way through an ever richer communion of life and love and an ever broader and more radical sharing in the feelings and attitudes of Jesus Christ." 67

By performing his proper ministry according to the example of Christ, whose food was to do the will of the Father, the priest reaches unity of life, that is, the desirable union and harmony between his interior life and his duties, so often disparate, which derive from his own pastoral ministry. The reference to priests’ unity of life and to its foundation, which consists in "uniting themselves with Christ in acknowledging the Father’s will and in the gift of themselves on behalf of the flock committed to them," 68 is one of the most significant elements in the Decree’s ascetical doctrine on conciliar spirituality.


66 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12: EV, 1, 1284.

67 John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 72.

68 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 14: EV, 1, 1291.


Theological reflection on such a notion of unity of life requires that one take into consideration another concept no less important, which the Council mentioned in relation to the first: the notion of "pastoral charity," on which there has since been so much reflection and teaching in the Church. We cannot now linger any longer on this, but as confirmation of its centrality in the priestly image outlined by Presbyterorum Ordinis, let it suffice to recall some words of the recent Directory developed by the Congregation for the Clergy: "Pastoral charity constitutes the internal and dynamic principle capable of uniting the multiple and diverse pastoral activities of the priest and, given the socio-cultural and religious context in which he lives, is an indispensable instrument for drawing men to a life in Grace. Informed by such charity, the ministerial activity must be a manifestation of the charity of Christ. With this charity the priest will demonstrate in his bearing and conduct the total self-giving of himself to the flock with which he has been entrusted." 69

It seems to me that it is to this notion of pastoral charity, even before other ecclesiological and eschatological reasons, that one attaches the Christological reason for perfect and perpetual continence for the kingdom of heaven, which, while not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, "with respect to priestly life, the Church has always held in especially high regard." 70 In fact, by priestly celibacy — teaches the Decree — "priests are consecrated to Christ in a new and distinguished way. They more easily hold fast to Him with undivided heart. They more freely devote themselves in Him and through Him to the service of God and men. They more readily minister to His kingdom and to the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus become more apt to exercise paternity in Christ, and do so to a greater extent." 71




In the re-reading of Presbyterorum Ordinis which we have done in the context of Vatican II — we have attempted to connect, at least implicitly, an analysis of its contents (only those most significant for our theme) with the pastoral projection of conciliar doctrine, which is always lively and full of stimulating ideas.


69 Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, 43.

70 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16: EV, 1, 1296.

71 Ibid.


We returned to the Decree in order to search its pages for the image of the priest it has bequeathed us, but reading from our precise ecclesial and socio-cultural situation, in which, along with the lights and the needs of all time, there appear the typical characteristics of the present times. We have made use of different testimonies of the postconciliar Magisterium, in which we have been able to appreciate the echo and the fruits of the Council’s fertile sowing.

From the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis to the Directory for the Ministry and the of Priests by way of Pastores Dabo Vobis to cite only the three basic documents of our symposium — thirty years have passed, thirty years of life lived and endured in the Church, years of theological reflection, of pastoral work, of evangelizing action. In the light of these documents the present times speak to us, above all, of fidelity and development, of continuity and realization. Or, they speak to us of what has occurred in these years, during which we have seen that the Council’s teaching has been widely received by the whole Church, along with a general urgency to put it faithfully into practice, even if there has been and will be no shortage of difficulties, some of which it seemed fair to point out.

The Second Vatican Council, as we have repeated in various points of this presentation, came to light in the Church with a call to renewal and evangelization. And it is certain that, at a distance of three decades from its conclusion, there are so many easily perceivable signs of the positive influence of its spiritual and pastoral dynamism. The conciliar spirit of renewal, under the providential guidance of the Roman Pontiffs who have succeeded to the See of Peter, has imbued liturgical life, canonical norms, and catechetical instruction during these years. The Church has truly renewed her doctrine, her legislation, and her life in accordance with Vatican II, and is ready to pursue her apostolic mission at the lofty level that the times demand. Moreover, the Church has been engaged for some years, at the impetus of John Paul II, in an enterprise of evangelization, 72 which must be, in the words of the same Pope, "new in ardor, methods, and expression," 73 and which, by this fact, "demands priests who are deeply and fully immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of embodying a new style of pastoral life." 74


72 Cf., for example, his exhortations in this sense, beginning with the Discourse at the European Act of Santiago de Compostela (9 November 1982): Insegnamenti V, 3, 1982, 1257-1263, and passing over so many other successive documents until, for example, the recent encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 6 August 1993, nn. 106-108.

73 John Paul II, Discourse to the Bishops of CELAM, 9 March 1983, III: Insegnamenti, VI, 1(1983), 698.

74 John Paul II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 18.


Beginning, then, with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and its doctrine on priests, so faithfully developed by the postconciliar Magisterium, we now look ahead with the Pope to this "new springtime of Christian life" 75 which is announced in advance with the proximity of the third millennium and which will become reality "if Christians are docile to the action of the Holy Spirit.,, 76

The direction pointed out to the Church universal for the immediate future by John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, leads through "a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church." 77 It is a commitment that all the faithful must accept, but, we may add, that priests must accept in a special way, since they are called to the front lines in the battle of the new evangelization, insofar as they are sacramentally configured to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd, who goes ahead of his flock.


75 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, to the episcopate, the clergy and the faithful on preparation for the Jubilee of the year 2000, 10 November 1994, 18.

76 Ibid.

77 Ibid., 20 (emphasis added).


The new evangelization, which must vigorously manifest the centrality of Christ in the cosmos and in history, has not only an ascendent dimension Christ as fulfillment of all man’s yearnings — but is also and above all a descending mediation: "In Jesus Christ" — says the Pope to humanity — "God not only speaks to man but also seeks him out. The incarnation of the Son of God attests that God goes in search of man." 78 This divine search, which recalls the image of the good shepherd and the lost sheep, is indispensably part of the instrumental action which we priests, as shepherds in the Shepherd, are called to undertake during these years with renewed zeal.

To seek out men, to encounter them with the offer and the gifts of our role of service: to this we ministers of Jesus Christ have been called by our specificity as priests. To seek them out where they are, in the context of contemporary anthropological and ecclesial realities and concerns, as well as those that are ecumenical, this is the context in which the whole Church — all her faithful, laity, priests, and religious, with the variety of their gifts, charisms, and vocations must appear as a sign of this God who seeks men out to engage the "dialogue of salvation." 79

The history of salvation is structured around the binomial word-sacrament, memory-celebration, on which priestly existence must also hinge. The sacramental moment, constitutive and foundational, must be accompanied by the word of the life of each person, by the Christian witness of faith, hope, and charity.

The priest, man of faith, especially must have, and show forth, a distinctly Christological outlook. Impersonating Christ in virtue of the sacrament of orders, the priest must be and must manifest a sacramental actualization of the presence of Christ, the center of history, "the one savior of the world, yesterday, today and forever." 80


78 Ibid., 7 (emphasis added).

79 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint on the ecumenical task, 25 May 1995, 35.

80 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, to the episcopate, the clergy and the faithful on preparation for the Jubilee of the year 2000, 10 November 1994, 40.


The priest, man of hope, must help men to discover the authentic key to interpret the future. Even if "quickening in our world the seeds of the full salvation which will come at the end of time" 81’ is the mission of all the faithful, and in particular of the laity, it properly belongs to the priest, through word and sacrament, to make present and efficacious in the faithful "the one who builds the kingdom of God within the course of history.., the principal agent of the new evangelization," 82 that is to say, the Holy Spirit, without whom it would be impossible to bring such a mission to completion. The priest, man of charity, in love with God and his ministry, and fully identified with its tasks, must be capable of pointing all toward the Father, source of every gift, source of the infinite love which never fails.

We priests must be perceptibly a living word of faith, hope, and charity. And this requires a full personal availability to translate into effective witness, that which, already from the beginning, is a sacramental reality. Without such personal availability the life of a priest will never evangelize. Quite the contrary, the priest would turn out to be only an efficacious but inert instrument of grace for those who are already in Christ.

As a result of his full availability to be bearer and icon of Christ, Head and Shepherd, among his brothers, the image of the priest acquires a necessarily Marian contour. Together with Mary, the fiat, not only pronounced but lived, transforms the life and ministry of the priest into a powerful force that urges the Church and the world toward the Trinity. "In this broad perspective of commitments" — we can conclude with the Holy Father — "Mary most holy, the highly favored daughter of the Father, will appear before the eyes of believers as the perfect model of love toward both God and neighbor. As she herself says in the canticle of the ‘Magnificat,’ great things were done for her by the Almighty, whose name is holy." 83


81 Ibid., 45.

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid., 54.




Most Reverend Carmelo J Giaquinta 2




The image of the priest in Pastores Dabo Vobis is found fundamentally in chapter II of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation, dedicated to the Nature and Mission of the Ministerial Priesthood. The topic includes an existential question of major interest: how ought the priest today concretize his own existence and own ministry? This topic requires the consideration of other elements. First, the occasion and the purpose for which the synod was convened: "the formation of priests in the present situation." Second, it is necessary to concentrate on the text of the exhortation. Third, it is absolutely necessary to recall that the exhortation is none other than a new step of the self-consciousness on the subject that the Holy Spirit has given rise to, above all after the Council.




The exhortation underscores the origin of every gift, also of that of the priesthood, in the mysterious unity of the Trinity.

To understand the ministerial priesthood it will be necessary to compare it directly with the mystery of Christ. The relationship with Christ, head and shepherd is found in numbers 13-15, that between the priest and the Church in n. 16; that of the priest with his own bishop, with the presbyterate and with the laity inn. 17.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Archbishop of Resistencia.




To live the priestly identity fully, it is necessary that the ideal corresponds to the way of acting: the exterior image ought to correspond to the interior and vice versa. The subject of a lifestyle, which is found principally in numbers 3 and 18, has been most neglected in recent decades and, therefore, ought to be stressed now.




It is necessary also, at this historic moment, to focus attention strongly on everything that pertains to the radicalism of the priest, the radicalism which is demonstrated through the practice of the evangelical counsels. Such practice makes its mark profoundly on the interior and exterior life of the priest. This has not always been that way. In the past in seminaries there was discussion on chastity, poverty, and obedience but not always in direct connection with the counsels, as if these were imported from religious life.




An important aspect of the priestly image is "the particular bonds of apostolic charity and of fraternity."

There has been a confusion between the communitarian life of the priest and that of the religious. Many times this confusion causes rejection.

It does not seem that this was the intention of the Lord when he formed the group of the Twelve around himself: they were the new patriarchs for the governing of the twelve tribes of the new Israel.

The collegiality of the apostles, which the council highlights to rediscover episcopal collegiality, today is able to inspire fraternal forms of life among the bishop and his priests, and among priests themselves.




Reverend Antonio Aranda 2


On January 31, 1994, the Congregation for the Clergy published the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, a document of great interest and usefulness which offers a magnificent synthesis of the principal questions, dealing with this subject, treated by the conciliar and postconciliar Magisterium.

From the overall picture and the individual chapters there emerges a clearly delineated figure of the priest. It is essentially identical to that offered by the conciliar decree and by the postconciliar apostolic exhortation. Nevertheless it has specific characteristics which are derived principally from the particular goals of the Directory.

The document wishes to respond to the principal questions both of the doctrinal and of the disciplinary and pastoral orders, posed to priests by the task of the new evangelization (cf Directory, n. 4). It also treats of the text conceived and elaborated with an eminently practical goal: to give priests precise help, offering them light and guidance on central questions of their ministry and life.

The Directory begins with the following words taken from Pastores Dabo Vobis: "Today, in particular, the pressing pastoral task of the new evangelization, that involves all the People of God and requires new fervor, new methods and a new expression for the proclaiming and witnessing of the Gospel, needs priests who are deeply and fully immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of embodying a new style of pastoral life" (PDV, n. 11). This is the horizon in which the Directory is placed and in which it ought to be read: a horizon of renewal to the service of the mission of the Church.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Dean, Theology Faculty: Pontifical Atheneum of the Holy Cross, Rome.


Speaking realistically of the life and pastoral ministry of priests, what does it mean to say: to be a priest "radically and integrally immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of realizing a new style of pastoral life"? The apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis had certainly outlined the beautiful figure of the priest of our time, who immersed in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, dedicates himself effectively to his work in the service of all men, and especially of his brothers of the faith. But it is likewise true that the Directory — concentrating its attention on three fundamental points (identity, spirituality and formation), and developing them with a marked pastoral sensibility — takes up again that figure to present it to the same priests as a model fully able to be realized. What are its essential traits?

The chapter reserved for priestly identity constitutes a complete synthesis of the different levels on which the light of the mystery of Christ the priest is projected on the ministry and the life of priests. The document calls these dimensions (trinitarian dimension, christological dimension, pneumatological dimension, ecclesiological dimension), and develops them, with extraordinary depth, above all, beginning with the notion of consecration and of mission, along the line of the tradition inherited from Presbyterorum Ordinis.

Always in the context in the chapter reserved for the identity of the priest, of which an essential part is his being in the Church, like the other faithful, and at the same time being in front of the Church, as minister of the word and of the sacraments for the service of others (cf. Directory n. 12), the Directory dwells at great length on the point of particular relevance for the figure of the priest: his being "a man of communion," who fosters a climate of unity and of charity in the Church, itself the mystery of the communion of men with the Father and with one another, in Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

The text of the second chapter, entirely reserved to priestly spirituality, allows certain strong ideas to shine forth clearly. The principal of these on which the others are based, consists in highlighting, as a specific path of priests toward holiness, the unity and inseparability between the spiritual life and the exercise of ministry. The document also warns against the dangers which derive from activism, from functionalism, or in general from the lack of unity in the life of the priest, which renders his works sterile. There are offered two precious ways to avoid the cited dangers, the first centered on pastoral charity (which for the minister of Christ is "the form of one’s life"), and the second on the Eucharist ("the heart and vital center of ministry").

We thus come to the last chapter of the Directory, reserved for the ongoing formation of priests: such a text constitutes — in continuity with the pertinent teachings given by the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, here taken up and developed in a practical perspective — a notable magisterial contribution to a subject in which there is a constant need for help and for encouragement.

The document treats ongoing formation beginning from its theological base, which is as a "need which begins and develops from the moment of receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders" (PDV, n. 69) and presents it — speaking, as in the preceding chapters, in the perspective of the new evangelization — as a necessary means for the priest of today in order to achieve the aim of his vocation: the service of God and of his People" (PDV, 71). The importance of ongoing formation is also clearly expressed: it 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 and defending, and developing their specific identity and vocation; and in sanctifying themselves and others through the exercise of their ministry" (PDV, n. 71). That is to say, in harmony with what has been affirmed previously, what is sought with ongoing formation is to help the priest to "avoid any dualism between spirituality and ministry" (PDV, n. 71).

The different aspects of ongoing formation — which should continue throughout the life of the priest, and apply to the specific circumstances of his life and of his pastoral ministry — are studied attentively in the Directory, which offer important suggestions on its implementation. Experience shows that the application of those proposals and guidelines constitutes a great help for the particular Churches, for their pastors and for their priests, in the endeavor to prepare those new heralds of the gospel who, with the words of the Holy Father taken from the Directory, "are the priests who strive to live their priesthood as a specific way to holiness" (PDV, n. 82).



Most Reverend Viadas Michelevicius 2


Who is the priest? What is his identity? "Every priest, taken from among men, is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God" (Hebrews 5:1).

As the Holy Father said to newly ordained priests, the first response is "we are called." The story of our priesthood begins with a divine call. It is Jesus who takes the initiative. He points this out: "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (John


The Pope proceeds with the rite of holy orders: "Dearest sons, you are inserted into a new kind of life, and in this way our identity is enriched by another note: ‘we are consecrated.’ By consecration we are set apart for the Gospel of God (cf Romans 1:1). With the sacrament of orders the priest becomes qualified to lend to Jesus his voice, his hands all his being. In this way Jesus himself, through the ministry of priests, celebrates the Holy Mass, forgives sins, announces the word of God. This gift of the priesthood is a marvel which is realized in us but not for us. It was given for the Church. The priest is therefore one who is sent. Here is a new essential connotation of the priestly identity." 3

Therefore: we are called, we are consecrated, we are sent. This triple identity clearly illustrates the true image of the priest as dispenser of the divine mysteries (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1).

John Paul II, on the occasion of Holy Thursday 1986, while writing of the specific ministry of Saint Jean Marie Vianney, said:

"The priest always, and in an unchangeable way, finds the source of his identity in Christ the Priest. It is not the world which determines his status, as though it depended on changing needs or ideas about social roles. The priest is marked with the seal of the Priesthood of Christ, in order to share in his function as the one Mediator and Redeemer. So, because of this fundamental bond, there opens before the priest the immense field of the service of souls, for their salvation in Christ and in the Church."

"Attempts to make the priest more like the laity are damaging to the Church. This does not mean in any way that the priest can remain remote from the human concerns of the laity: he must be very near to them, as Jean Marie Vianney was, but as a priest, always in a perspective which is that of their salvation and of the progress of the Kingdom of God. It is essential to the Church that the identity of the priest be safeguarded, with its vertical dimension!"

On September 3,1988, in Turin, the Holy Father, speaking about priests as living models of ministerial holiness, among other things said:

"Consider now the great figure of Saint John Bosco the priest:

a priest of Christ and of the Church. The dominant mark of his life and of his mission is found in his very strong sense of identity as a catholic priest according to the heart of Christ, Don Bosco was priest at the altar, priest in the confessional, priest in the midst of his young people, and as he was priest in Turin, so he was priest in Florence, priest in the home of the poor, priest in the palace of the King and of the Ministers." 4

Today it is necessary to underline this reality: the priest is the one who transmits divine life to men. Just as Don Bosco has said:

"Finis yen sacerdotis, tum imbui deitate, tum imbuere alios," (the end of the priest is to be imbued with God, to imbue others) that is, to be full of God and to give God to people!

Vatican Council II presents the life of the Church as a pilgrimage of faith. Each one of us has a special part in this pilgrimage. As stewards of the mysteries of God, we ought to possess a maturity of faith appropriate to our vocation and to our tasks. According to Saint Paul in his letter to the Christians of Corinth: "You should consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the secrets of God. Now it is of course required of a steward that he be trustworthy" (1 Corinthians 4:1).


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of Kaunas, Lithuania

3 Cf. Rio de Janeiro, To New Priests, 2 July, 1980.

4 Cf. Memorie biografiche 6, 381.




Monsignor Luigi Negri 2


The teaching of Holy Thursday is a "profoundly moving" teaching, because it is established in the setting of an intense contemplation of the mystery of Christ in the paschal event; it is an annual meeting again with Christ to rediscover, at an always greater depth, one’s own vocation and one’s own identity. "Holy Thursday we, the ministers of the New Covenant, gather together with the Bishops in the cathedrals of our local churches; we gather together before Christ, the one and eternal source of our priesthood. In this union of Holy Thursday we find Him once more and at the same time through Him, with Him and in Him, we find ourselves..." (Letter, 1983).

We attempt now to gather in a necessarily synthetic manner the fundamental lines of the identity, spirituality, and mission of the priest: from the mystery of the redemption of Christ is born a new people called to partake, through the effusion of the Spirit, the same divine life and to live in history the mission of Jesus Christ. Here is the royal priesthood of the People of God: but so that this royal priesthood may be able to generate itself, to be regenerated and realized in the heart of the Christian, the hierarchical and ministerial priesthood is necessary.

The priesthood in which we share through the Sacrament of Orders, which has been forever imprinted on our souls through a special sign from God, that is to say the character, remains in explicit relationship with the common priesthood of the faithful, and, at the same time, it differs from it essentially and not only in degree... (Letter, 1979).


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Professor of Philosophy: Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan.


Holy Thursday is every year the day of the birth of the Eucharist, and at the same time the birthday of our priesthood, which is above all ministerial and at the same time hierarchical. It is ministerial, because by virtue of Holy Orders we perform in the Church that service which it is given only to priests to perform, first of all the service of the Eucharist. It is also hierarchical, because this service enables us, by serving, to guide pastorally the individual communities of the People of God... (Letter, 1985).

The priesthood is completely at the service of this life, it bears witness to it through the service of the Word, it generates it, regenerates it and spreads it abroad through the service of the sacraments. Before all else the priest himself lives this life, which is the deepest source of his maturity and also the guarantee of the spiritual fruitfulness of his whole service! (Letter, 1991).

Called in the Church by the Spirit to stand in the forefront of the Church as Pastores Dabo vobis records for us, the priest is called above all to live this new ontology of his life, belonging unconditionally to Christ, assimilating in the imitation of Christ the fundamental criteria of judgment and the fundamental movement of the heart which is charity. The prayer of the priest, in its various forms, totally involves the heart of priestly existence with the presence of the Lord and daily raises the existence of the priest to the greatness and inconceivable dignity contained in the yes of Simon Peter: "Lord, you know that I love you." Through his faithfulness to prayer, the priest rediscovers and deepens daily the more profound level of belonging to the life of the Lord, crucified and risen, which is the commitment of fidelity to celibacy, whose purpose is to serve Christ, the reign of God and the mission of the Church (cf. Letter, 1979).

From this new ontology, lived personally with integral dedication to the mystery of Christ present, is born pastoral charity, the intense love for Christians because the people of God exist objectively!

It is by means of the celebration of the sacraments, first of all, that of the Eucharist, that the Christian people continually come to be generated, regenerated and educated to their mission.

With an opportune series of catechetical initiatives this Christian people should be helped to assume a more profound consciousness of the definitiveness of the gift of faith and helped

to live in fullness that new human identity which ought to be witnessed before all men, and in which consists the mission of the Church.

Therefore it is necessary that the priest form in the Christian people a new mentality, "...that certainty of faith, from which they derive the profound understanding of the meaning of human existence and the capacity to introduce the moral order into the life of individuals and of the human milieu..." (Letter, 1979).

This capacity of a new mentality expresses itself in history as charity in the tension towards an inexorable proclamation of Christ which gives every detail and every action of human existence dignity and merit.

The priest, who lives the new life of Christ in himself, is the instrument of communication of this life inseparable from the Spirit, and is actively involved in the maturation of this life in the people.

This drama of the love for Christ together with the love for the brothers is developed by way of reference to the mother of the Lord. The lack of time does not allow us to quote in detail the many beautiful passages of the Holy Thursday letter of 1988; let this suffice: "...speaking from the height of the cross on Calvary, Christ said to the disciple: "Behold your mother"; and the disciple took her to his home as mother. Let us take Mary as Mother into the interior home of our priesthood..."

Permit me to conclude this talk for you by reading a short extract of one of the most lofty pages of the entire teaching of John Paul II, drawn from number 10 of Redemptor Hominis: "...In reality, the name for that deep amazement at man’s worth and dignity is the Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity. This amazement determines the Church’s mission in the world and, perhaps even more so, in the modern world..."

"The Church’s fundamental task in every age and particularly in ours is to direct man’s gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity towards the mystery of God, to help all men to be familiar with the profundity of the Redemption taking place in Christ Jesus...

So that this wonder becomes a human and therefore historic mission, Holy Orders is necessary: here lies the entire dignity, the greatness, the sacrifice, the joy of our priestly service.



Monsignor Brunero Gherardini 2


We have to deal responsibly with the fact of the ongoing crisis which, in the seventies, unsettled the priestly world and, with surprising persistence still continues to unsettle it. The rushed pace of change from one cultural model to another, from modernity to the crisis of its myths (reason, science, progress, democracy) which gives life to the so-called postmodern era, from a religiosity that is partially remote to its basic reasons, to its secularization and, its leap into the arms of the postchristian era with the loss even of the extrinsic relationship mentioned before, could only upset and obscure the vision of the priesthood.

There was an effort to reshape a new priestly identity that took place in a piecemeal fashion. The meetings at Chur, Switzerland (1969), Geneva (1971), Rome (1969 and 1974) were useful stages. At the time everyone thought that there was no need to shape a new identity but the need was to learn how to live in a new social context. Paul VI, of venerable memory, convened the third assembly of the synod of bishops (1969), with adequate preparation of all the issues in the hope of giving a focus to the issues and moving them towards a solution.

The synodal document which conveyed the message affirmed the traditional priestly identity, dealt with the many reasons of uncertainty and of possible contestation, and launched a more serious reflection on the relationship between the priesthood and today’s expectations.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Professor of Theology: Pontifical Lateran University, Rome.


At the same time many works of considerable theological import were published examining the genesis of the priesthood and its sacramental foundations. Many realized that, to neutralize the identity crisis and to escape its often mortal poison, it was not necessary, in the first instance, to designate the figure of tomorrow’s priest, nor was it a solution to insist on the problems of the present. It was necessary to reestablish a vital contact for the priest, caught in the grip of his crisis, with the origins of the Christian priesthood. Through that contact, which is really contact with Christ and with his sacramental continuity in and for the life of the Church, one would recover:

1. The sacramental nature of Holy Orders in its three grades (episcopacy, priesthood, diaconate) in order to reverse the reduction of the priesthood to its ministerial dimension and to view the ministry as a simple community delegation to specialized functionaries (R. J. Bunnik, S. Schoonenberg, J. Moingt, I. Flamand);

2. The indelibility of character, sometimes was not presented in accord with the rich scholastic-tridentine theology of an "interior sign," and "impression and inherence in the soul." It was presented in its permanent effects, against a psychologizing and deontologizing (H. Muhlen), demystifying (E. Schillebeeckx) and desacralizing view advanced by a large group of theologians who are liberal in their attitude toward the ecclesiastical Magisterium;

3. ecclesiastical celibacy as the perfection of the priest’s being-for-others, a man of God and witness of the kingdom, and not as a mortifying repression of human nature.

These are recoveries of great importance. Meanwhile the transformation of the modern era and its movement into the postmodern era on every front of the predominant culture is clear to everyone. Here we face the problem of how to accelerate the translation of the recovered teaching on the priesthood into applicable forms. Theology did its part, justifying the new presentation of the teaching in the light of revelation and of its statute as the science of faith. I refer to valuable and persuasive interventions, converging on the same goal. I wish to mention among others, J. Coppens, G. Rambaldi, A. M. Pompei, G. Gozzolino, J. Galot, H. Denis, J. M. Le Guillou, J. Lecuyer, Y. M. Congar, A. G. Martimort, in addition to K. Rahner and others, many of whom remain anonymous.

Among the various problems examined, that of the priest-in-relationship attracted the most interest. It was a question of establishing, in the new cultural climate, how the priest relates to the bishop and to the lay world, as well as to history in the making.

More than theological-dogmatic, the problem was theological-pastoral. The image of priest-in-relationship, in fact, did not capture "directe et immediate" the nature of being priest, but focused on the network of his vertical and horizontal relationships. Bishops and priests, indeed, are not owners of different priesthoods, but they exercise in different ways the one and only priesthood of Christ. And priests do not function "in persona Christi" through the effects of baptism and confirmation, but through a specific consecration that constitutes them Christ-in-sacrament and channels of grace for the priestly people.

As a result we find a triple relationship: to the bishop, to other priests, to the people of God. In the broadest sense one could also speak of a relationship to the world.

Regarding the priest-in-relationship serious and prepared theologians published the fruit of their research, demonstrating that, to be "the man of God ready for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17), that same loyalty to Christ and to the brothers which characterized the priest of yesterday and characterizes the priest forever, is indispensable to the priest today, so that he may be equipped with all the courage and prudence that the difficult moment demands. A priest functions as a priest in the prophetic work of evangelization, in the sacramental life, in his responsibility as spiritual guide, in his giving himself to prayer each day, and in the face of new social demands and even political commitment.

In view of such considerations, the tension between the present and the future assumes a symptomatic importance. We have read the persistent headlines: The priest (of) today, the priest for today, the priest of tomorrow, is there a tomorrow for the priest?

Behind each of these headlines, whether hidden or in the open, there is a great deal of ambiguity, as if the priest were subject to constant change. But together we can deal with changing reality and the urgency of the future which these headlines express; we can still claim that the ambiguity is groundless. These headlines, in fact, do not point to an ever changing identity of the priest, but only to a change of his image.

The complex cultural situation of today and the warning signs which loom large today have to affect the image of the priest. The situation entails: today’s modern large cities, desecrated and desecrating; the loss of an influence on the parameters of modernity and of everyday life; the steamroller effect of revolution in living; the weakening of morals, the "canonization" of ads, of advertising, of consumerism; the absolute empire of the mass media, seeming to rate the priest as a foreigner or a "has-been." At least, let the priest find the right way to avoid his being replaced. What is he?

The question of the image of the priest requires the marshaling of the proper means so that the question of his identity not be submerged nor clouded over. The priest is only priest, he remains priest, holder of tremendous and exalted powers which have come from Christ to make him His sacramental prolongation. Not a man like others, notwithstanding the fact that he is a man like others. Not one who is approved. Not one who is hidden. But one distinct from the others, although he is a "brother in the midst of his brothers" (P0, 3).

Distinct because consecrated. Vowed to a most special mission, for which he, the priest, unlike the others, is sacramentally equipped.

Consequently, the outline of a change in image, which is proportionate to the situation which is developing, is becoming clearer. The new image does not cancel the constitutive features of the priest, but channels them into attitudes and behaviors always less inadequate to the expectations, if not also to the challenges of the predominant culture. Not because this submerges the identity of the priest, but because it is open to incorporating the evangelical values which the priest proposes. Therefore, the image of the priest is not new because he dresses as a port stevedore or a municipal street cleaner, but because it is fashioned on the "consecration and mission" of Christ (P0, 2/b), placing him in a radical missionary dimension and facilitating in him the living of an evangelical life. The priest has a new image only because it gives a new sense and vigor:

1. to the priest as a man of the sacred, at the service either of a community already constituted as Christ wishes it, that is, a sacrament of salvation, in a society alienated from God and from the sources of grace;

2. to the priest ordained for the sacred ministry, but also promoter of the propedeutic initiatives and services to the ministry itself;

3. to a priest more a "specialist" and less a generalist and so less monotonous and less boring, who, in his specialized mission

(pastor, chaplain of lay movements, professor, curial official) has a lively passion, indeed charity, which is the source of originality and of courage;

4. to a priest in vertical and horizontal communion, for being and feeling at home in the attitude a "contemplata aliis tradere";

5. to a priest "declericalized," if by declericalized one means not secularized, but freed from the "clerical" formalism and paternalism which contribute too much to the decline of the image:

a priest, therefore, perfectly inserted into those levels of participation and social sharing which allow him to represent the poor, whatever kind of poverty they experience, in order to be their voice, point of reference, comfort and light;

6. to a priest, finally, who, nourished by the Eucharist and reflected in Our Lady, makes all of this the center of his day and the flame of his ministry.

To those theologians, who have contributed, in the whole Catholic world, to better defining this image of the priest, we all have to convey the gratitude of the Church and of her priests.



Monsignor Alfonso Crespo Hidalgo 2


To speak of the priest and the mass media should not be something extra-ordinary. 3 The mass media should be the new "Areopagus" so that we can preach the "unknown God" or the "forgotten God" to the great mass of people, but starting with our Spanish style, I will present a "family portrait" and the keys for interpreting it in the context of the clergy in the mass media.

The Family Portrait. In the mass media the clergy appears only occasionally, in restricted circumstances: when the "public person of the priest" makes the news. This "public person" can appear from a favorable light (the Pope with children, an apostolic nuncio operating as mediator, a priest-religious engaged in the social field: it is calculated to reduce charity to simple philanthropy and overlook the basic religious dimension placing the activity of the Church on the level of any other organization) or in an unfavorable light that presents the priest in an impersonal way as the functionary of an institution.

There is also the frivolous and ridiculous photograph like that which appears in the commercials or in television or radio interviews. Moreover there is the still undeveloped frames:

pictures of the priest in his genuine authenticity.

The keys for the interpretation of these photographs. The interpretive frame is that of modernity and of the secularization of society.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Chancellor, Diocese of Malaga.

3 Cf. christifideles Laici, n. 14.


Modernity finds its roots in the technical-scientific rationalism which eliminates the preaching of transcendence. This transcendent preaching exists neither in "ideological and religious pluralism," nor in the "new political Machiavellianism" nor in the view that faith is something completely private. All this results in secularism and in the famous priestly identity crisis which pushes the genuine figure of the priest out of focus.

What can be done for the development of a "new photograph"? One important premise is this: the mass media are a concrete reality and have a very great power to steer the world. Granted this indisputable premise, the priest ought among other things:

· to pass from timidity in his faith to an explicit and complex-free confession;

· to critically assess modernity, detecting its deceits and emphasizing its values;

· to joyfully manifest his belonging to the Church;

· to adequately prepare himself— already in the seminary

— to get into the world of the mass media;

· to empower the action of the lay faithful in society.


Part Two

The Priesthood In The Mission of the Church



Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi 2




Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, nn. 42 and 44) affirms that the nature of the Church is bound to a double mystery (holiness and the salvific mission). All the people of God are called to holiness just as their heavenly Father is holy. It is also the whole Church which is missionary. It continues and actualizes the mission of Christ the Redeemer. "The Lord Jesus has sent his Apostles to every person, to all peoples and to every place on the earth. In the person of the apostles, the Church has received a universal mission, which knows no limits and which concerns itself with salvation in all its richness, in accordance with the fullness of life that Christ has come to bring us (cf. John 10:10): it (the Church) has been sent to reveal and communicate the love of God to all men and to all peoples on earth" (Ad Gentes, n. 10). This mission is unique, because it has one sole origin and one sole goal, but it entails diverse tasks and activities (Redemptoris Missio, n. 31).

The common fundamental mission of the Church does not eliminate the particular mission of every baptized person according to his state of life. There are various and distinctive features of vocation and consecration, just as there are of mission. The mission of the Church presupposes diversity in its realization. Unity in diversity manifests itself also at this level. From this prospective, the priest, insofar as he works with his bishop and in virtue of his consecration, has a specific role to play in the common mission of the Church. It is this specific, missionary ministry that we are going to try to highlight in this exposition composed of three parts. We shall examine, gradually, the particular function of the diocesan priest in the mission, that of the priest-religious (contemplative and active), and education in the missionary spirit of candidates to the priesthood.


1 Translated from the original French by Elizabeth M. Nagel.

2 Archbishop of Douala, Cameroon.




Every priest is before all else a man chosen, consecrated and sent by God through the agency of the Church of Jesus Christ, to teach, sanctify and guide the people of God toward its true happiness (the God of Jesus Christ). Ordained to be a co-worker with his bishop, the priest is associated with him in the priestly function of serving the people of God. Configured to Christ, the eternal, Sovereign Priest, the diocesan priest is consecrated to announce the Gospel, to be the pastor of the people of God and to celebrate the liturgy (in offering, above all, the eucharistic sacrifice of the Lord). He can be defined as the disinterested servant of God and of the Gospel, by his words and witness to priestly holiness for the salvation of souls (beginning with his own).

In virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, every priest is called to share the concern of the bishop, with whom he collaborates, for the mission: "the spiritual gift which priests have received at ordination prepares them, not for a limited and restricted mission, but for a salvific mission of universal scope, "unto the ends of the earth..."; "any priestly ministry participates, in effect, in the universal dimensions of the mission confided by Christ to the apostles" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 10; Ad Gentes, n. 39; Redemptoris Missio, n. 67).

The priest joins with the Holy Spirit (Protagonist of the mission) to become the person responsible for and the principal agent of the pastoral mission. This necessitates a "missionary heart and mentality." These require that the priests be "open to the needs of the Church and of the world, attentive to those farthest away [from the Church] and above all to non-Christian groups in their own area" (cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 67). The missionary apostolate embraces a double salvific activity of the Church: the announcement of the Gospel and the "foundation of new Churches among peoples and groups where they do not yet exist" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 34).

The internal missionary dynamism, maintained by pastoral charity and in depth evangelization of the faithful, leads to the mission Ad Gent es. There is a fundamental interdependence between the mission ad intra and the mission ad extra. Also missionary activity ad intra is a credible sign and stimulus for the missionary activity ad extra, and vice-versa" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 34). There are means which help pastors of souls to realize the mission ad intra, to arouse in Christian communities the internal dynamism which leads to the mission ad gentes.

In his message for the World Day of Missions (June 11, 1995), Pope John Paul II redefined the essential mission of the Christian in general and that of the priest in particular. It is a matter of announcing Jesus Christ by one’s words and with one’s whole life. Priestly ordination configures the priest to Christ, Head and Spouse of the Church. This interior source makes him act in the name of Christ and as the sacrament of Christ. Thus, through his ministry, he must try to illustrate consistently the prophetic mission of the Church. This manifests itself by pastoral charity which drives him to abandon himself for his sheep (the Christian community which is confided to him). He is, therefore, called to serve his brothers and sisters without exception, loving them with the very love of Christ. This is only possible if the priest accomplishes his pastoral task in the spirit of Christ, sent by the heavenly Father. To do this, he is asked to pay attention to the action of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the Word, of sacraments, of prayer, of welcoming people, of listening, of visiting, etc. Particular importance should be accorded to the eucharistic celebration, source, foundation and summit of missionary priestly spirituality. The priest brings there the concerns of the whole Church for the whole of humanity.

The source of the mission is Trinitarian. But this reality need not call into question the gift of the Holy Spirit that is called the ministry of authority in the Church (bishop, priest, deacon). It is a matter of a specific service which leads certain men (set apart) to live the mission as an act of their faith. Thus, they agree to make their life an intimate communion with the being and the activity of Christ. In joys and pains or failures they strive to have confidence in the mission itself (work of the Holy Spirit), and to be adamant about conducting missionary activity in the manner that Jesus Christ himself lived it. This implies today that the absolute priority, or the central preoccupation, of every priest in a parish apostolate should be the concern for missionary animation and cooperation. As Cardinal Josef Tomko said (on the occasion of the presentation of Redemptoris Missio to the press), priests (secular and religious) must be the principal agents of "the missionary revolution of the Church." These essential tasks are not limited to the administration of the sacraments, Christian instruction, and the good testimony of the consecrated life. They include also missionary information and missionary formation of the People of God. Priests are asked to help all the baptized to acquire the missionary spirit and to open their spiritual, cultural and social life to universal dimensions. This missionary animation is facilitated by Catholic action associations or movements and by groups (especially the youth). These give rise to and promote, not only missionary vocations ad gentes, but also good cooperation for evangelization (Redemptoris Missio, n. 83).

The priest hereby communicates above all a life, or better an experience of life. This is his vital experience of God and his passionate love for Jesus Christ (true God and true man, the only Mediator, Redeemer, Lord and Master). But if he himself does not live in Christ, how is he able to communicate this experience to others? Hence, the call to sanctity is for the good fulfillment of the mission. "Every missionary is only authentically missionary if he commits himself to the way of holiness.... The renewed impulse to the mission ad gentes demands holy missionaries. It is not enough to update pastoral techniques, organize and coordinate ecclesial resources, or to delve more deeply into the biblical and theological foundations of the faith: What is needed is the encouragement of a new ‘enthusiasm for the faith’ among missionaries and throughout the Christian community, especially among those who work most closely with missionaries" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 90). The priest, to be truly missionary, must try diligently to be holy. He must become a "contemplative in action" who draws the power for his actions from the divine Word, and from individual and communal prayer. In effect, he evangelizes much more by his life, and his deeds, in short, more by witness than by theories. As Pope John Paul II says, "the contemporary person believes the witnesses more than the teachers." In fact, theory can only convince intellectually, while the witness to Christ touches the heart of the person, arouses his emotions and spurs him on to conversion. Consequently, to accomplish his mission well, every priest must show that he is the witness only of the one Master: Jesus Christ who the whole of humanity is called to recognize as its Lord.

We are able to affirm that the quality of the priest’s life and ministry, for the completion of a fruitful mission, also depends upon his witness to the radicalism of evangelical demands and counsels. It is a matter of a consistent style of life in the setting where he exercises his priestly ministry. This is born out in a life marked by apostolic obedience, evangelical poverty, chastity in consecrated celibacy, and priestly unity with the diocesan bishop -"with Peter and under Peter." Priestly unity, in this case, determines in part the quality of the ministry of the presbyterate and the success of the mission (Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 17). underscores in effect that "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." The Directory for Ministry and the Life of Priests affirms also that every priest of a diocese is linked to a distinct priestly fraternity and is a member of a presbyterate. Ordination and incarnation connect with the diocese, the priests, who cannot have an isolated existence. All priests participate to the same degree of ministry and can only realize the mission effectively within the presbyterate constituted by their brother priests. This corresponds to the will of the Lord who never sent his apostles on mission alone, but instead two by two (Mark 6:7). We comprehend why the presbyteral body is necessary for all priests who work for the common mission (Lumen Gentium, n. 28) in a diocese, the place of sanctification and evangelization. In the Ordo Presbyterorum of a diocese there is a healthy pluralism that can enrich priestly spirituality’s and charisms. All this inspires the priest to work in a unity of views, of hearts and of action, animated by the very love of Christ, in fidelity to the same evangelical doctrine of which the Church is the guardian.

Pastoral charity for brother priests and for the faithful should not make the priest forget the missionary requirements of dialogue with and evangelization of the "de-christianized," non-Catholics and non-Christians present in the area where he lives (ecumenical dialogue, dialogue with the Muslims and believers of the traditional religions).

It is true, moreover, that incardination obliges, morally and juridically, a priest’s belonging and dedication to a particular Church; it develops the consciousness of being a member of a particular Church (Pastores Dabo Vobis, nn. 31 and 74); but the insistence on the spiritual value of incardination and belonging to a particular Church should not make one forget that the priest, as pastor, is not only consecrated for a diocese. He is consecrated for the salvation of the whole world (Ad Gentes, n. 38). For this, he must be available for the mission ad gentes beyond the borders and limits of diocese and even of country. The mission ad gentes manifests in a fitting way the gift and gratuity of the Church. It aids those who are in spiritual and material need. It expresses growth toward maturity of faith. One goes beyond the temptation to rely on oneself in order to open his spirit and his heart, not only to the infinite horizons of the mission, but also to the essential ecclesial dimensions which follow:

1. The communion which must exist among the diverse particular Churches demands the exchange of gifts, and especially of the living and personal gifts who are the priests. The example that confirms this is the experience of priests today (cf. Fidei Donum). "...They provide a precious contribution to the growth of ecclesial communities in need, and for their part, they receive from these communities new energy and vitality for their faith" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 68). This experience demands, among other things:

· maturity in the vocation;

· the courageous capacity to detach himself from country, from ethnic group, from tribe, from clan and from family;

· the remarkable ability to integrate himself into the new ecclesial milieu which welcomes him, and into that of other cultures with intelligence and respect, the mark of a missionary spirit which is open and fraternal.

2. the rational use of the classic instruments of missionary animation (national direction of pontifical missionary works, missionary institutes, missionary groups of youth, missionary journals and expositions, publications, missionary documentaries and films, vocational camps, etc...), and those of the classic forms of cooperation with the missions - prayers, sacrifices for the missions and vocations; offerings; adoption from a distance, etc...).

3. "... Interdiocesan priestly associations, clerical societies of apostolic life, secular institutes of priests and even congregations of religious priests" whose specific charisms and qualified ministries ensure an undeniable benefit to the mission of the Church (Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 31). This leads us to examine the specific place of the religious priest in the mission of the Church.




The religious state is a way of living which is organized in view of holiness (J. J. Hamer, "La dimension missionnaire de la vie religieuse," in "Les dossiers de la documentation catholique," Les religieux, Paris, Centurion, 173). Religious life does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the Church, but to its life and its holiness. An essential element of the holiness of the Church, it is characterized by the profession of evangelical counsels. In virtue of their detachment, total consecration in a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, the religious carry out a fruitful, generous and creative apostolate.

"The apostolate of all religious consists first in their witness of a consecrated life, which they are bound to foster by prayer and penance" (Can. 673). The religious life, as a school of holiness, has in itself an undeniable missionary importance, if one accepts that the saints are the most effective actors in evangelization, as Pope John Paul II just recalled in Ecclesia in Africa (chapter VII). Thus, the missionary dimension of the religious life cannot do without apostolic holiness (the personal and intimate experience of Christ through the life of prayer and evangelical charity). The principal mission of the religious priest must consist in the witness of his consecrated life. The Synod of Bishops on the Consecrated Life (October 1994) affirms that there is a fundamental interdependence between consecration and mission.

"The consecrated person receives this grace of unity, because of which consecration and mission are not two juxtaposed moments of his life, but are reciprocally implied in its depths. The member of the consecrated life receives consecration for the mission of the Church in keeping with the charism of each Institute" (Message, n. 4). Beyond the diversity of charisms, it is also a question of the difference of juridical or canonical status. As the same Synod emphasized, the members of contemplative institutes must organize their life and mission by granting absolute priority to the mystery of Christ praying. Their specific mission is to make known in the Church the dimension of Christ praying (P. 6). It is a matter of a life of adoration and intercession for the world. One accompanies, by means of "prayer and sacrifice, the apostolic works of the brothers" and sisters (M. 6). Here the effective service of prayer for the Church and for souls is underlined.

The members of institutes of apostolic life cannot carry out their apostolate outside of the hierarchy. "Religious are subject to the authority of bishops, whom they are obliged to follow with devoted humility and respect, in those matters which involve the care of souls, the public exercise of divine worship and other works of the apostolate" (Can. 678, par. 1). But the juridical status of religious (autonomy of life) protects their distinctiveness and helps them to respond not only to the needs of the local Church, but also to those of the universal Church. This advantage frequently places them "on the frontiers of the mission" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 69). This is more manifestly true the more their vocation "is the model of the Church’s missionary commitment, which always stands in need of radical and total self-giving, of new and bold endeavors" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 66). This missionary impulse, inherent in the religious vocation, must find its place in the task of evangelization in the depths of the diocesan Church. Hence comes the necessity to create healthy relations between religious priests and diocesan priests on the one hand, and on the other, between the diocesan projects and institutional charisms.

Finally, the religious priest like the diocesan priest, in short, the pastor of souls, must flee the danger of a consuming activism in the mission of evangelization. The missionary incentive or zeal finds its source and its strength in prayer and intimate union with God. It is necessary to find a vital synthesis between consecration and mission. This dynamic nourishes itself and reinforces itself by listening to the Word of God, personal prayer (the Divine Office, etc...) and above all by the Eucharistic Sacrifice (source and foundation of priestly spirituality). Thus, every pastor is called to imitate Jesus Christ, the supreme model of pastoral life. Our Lord and Master, even in the most intense periods of his ministry, always reserved privileged moments for exclusive dialogue with the Father in solitary prayer (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 6:12). The regularity of prayer allows the priest to carry on his apostolate in profound communion with Christ the Savior. And as the Synod of bishops on the consecrated life emphasized, "prayer is one of the most beautiful expressions of spiritual, fraternal communion with all the members of the People of God" (P. 28).

There remains for us only to see how one can develop the priestly missionary spirituality in our seminaries and other priestly houses of formation.




For every priest, missionary spirituality can only be developed by the seminary or another institution of priestly formation. In Cameroon, we have emphasized in the Ratio Nationalis that the seminary must form men who have a pastoral sensibility which is apostolic and missionary (men of their people, disciples of Jesus Christ and true pastors to all in the image of Christ). It is a matter of initiating future priests to the apostolic and missionary spirit. Certain means can help to reach this fundamental objective of priestly formation:

1. prayer which conveys the needs of the world;

2. spiritual conferences centered on the hermeneutics of worldly events and missionary places;

3. teaching of missionary spirituality and missiology;

4. missionary pastoral initiation (connection between theology and pastoral work; training periods; missionary animation);

5. teaching of the social doctrine of the Church;

6. meetings with priests, true apostles and missionaries;

7. frequent meetings with their bishop or the vocation director who speaks to them about pastoral orientations of the diocese, etc....




Even if certain priests are prepared for the mission ad gentes, all of them "need to have the mind and heart of missionaries —open to the needs of the Church and the world, with concern for those farthest away, and especially for the non-Christian groups in their own area"(Redemptoris Missio, n. 67). In his message for the World Day of Missions (June 11, 1995), Pope John Paul II affirms that: "gift of the Father to humanity and prolongation of the Mission of the Son, the Church knows that it exists in order to carry the joyful news of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, as long as this world lasts (cf. Matthew 28:19-20)." The Church is essentially missionary; and no one is proprietor of the mission. Therefore, the mission cannot be the private enterprise of a priest; but the latter is the principal agent and animator of it. For the priest, the mission is a movement which brings him toward the other, as his servant, through and in the steps of Christ. Consequently, he must allow his personality to be modeled progressively by the Spirit of Christ and the Gospel which he announces. He becomes with Christ the Suffering Servant who has "come not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45), in order that all men might have life and that they might have it in abundance (John 10:10). It is for this reason that the warning of the Apostle must always resound within each priest: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16) ad gentes and ad vitam.



Reverend Daniel Ols, OP. 2


The documents of the council constantly place the priest in relationship to Christ. One aspect of such a relationship, which will be also strongly underlined in Pastores Dabo Vobis and in the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, is his "conformity" to Christ.

The constitution Lumen Gentium 28 speaks of "consecration to the image of Christ"; the decrees Optatam Totius 8 and Presbyterorum Ordinis 2,12, 17, speak explicitly of "conformity" or "configuration." Many conciliar passages propose an analogous notion: above all in the texts in which it says that the priest is the image of Christ, then in those which develop the traditional doctrine of the priest who "represents Christ," who "bears the person of Christ," who acts in "the person of Christ": according to Presbyterorum Ordinis 2, such a doctrine is the direct consequence of the configuration produced by the sacrament.

What does the conciliar decree mean by such a configuration?

In certain cases, the decree speaks about a configuration conferred by the sacrament (cf P0, 2); in other cases, it speaks of a configuration to which priests ought to commit themselves. In the first case it is dealing with a fact, in the second with a goal. In the first case, in dealing with a conformity according to which the priest receives, through the sacrament, a certain number of powers that are proper to Christ the Priest; in the second case, it deals with a conformity by which, through priestly ordination, the priest receives, as a rule, a specific help which renders him more fruitful in the use of these powers for the good of the Church. In traditional terms, on one hand, it is dealing with the character (as it says explicitly in Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2), on the other hand, with the sacramental grace; sacramentum et res, on one hand, and res tantum on the other.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Official for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.


By means of the character, the priest is configured forever, in an indelible way (and independent of personal holiness), to Christ the priest, and is rendered a participant in the priestly powers of Christ, that is, in the three-fold gifts. It is necessary to underline that such a conformity has a limited sphere: it is actuated when the priest performs those proper acts of the spiritual powers which he has received (when he celebrates the Mass, administers the Sacraments, teaches ex officio, and governs his own flock).

The second type of conformity, "priestly grace," is justified and described by St. Thomas in these terms:

It touches on divine liberality to give to the one who has received a determined power, that without which, such power would not be able to be exercised in a suitable way. Now, the administration of the sacraments, to which the spiritual power is ordered, is not able to be done suitably unless one is helped to this end by divine grace. Accordingly, in this sacrament of Orders, as in the others, a grace is conferred (4 CG 74).

We are dealing with an increase of sanctifying grace, specified by its end, that is, the "suitable" exercise of the priestly ministry. It is necessary therefore, to specify that this "priestly grace" is not different from sanctifying grace, it is only its specification. As sanctifying grace, it configures to Christ, because it is a participation in the same grace of Christ, and as such, it is radically common to all the faithful, to all those who are all called to become images of Christ. In the priest, however, it assumes a very particular coloration. It is that which P0, 12 teaches, when it affirms that every priest, having received in baptism, just like every other Christian, the grace which allows him to tend toward perfection, in so far as he represents Christ himself, he receives a particular grace which more renders him more capable, through serving the people entrusted to him and the people of God in its entirety, to tend toward the perfection of him whom he represents, a grace with which his weakness as a sinful man is healed through the holiness of the one who made himself for us the High Priest..."

Since sanctifying grace, in general, requires the cooperation of man who ought to seek to configure himself to Christ, this priestly grace invites priests to seek to imitate Christ, in particular in the priestly tasks, as for example P0,14 exhorts.

Finally it is necessary to add that while the character is not

able to be taken away, the priestly grace, on the other hand, is able to be lost by mortal sin, or, instead of growing and coming to fruition can, progressively, become insipid and weakened. For this reason, St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is always up to date: "I exhort you to rekindle the grace of God that is in you through the imposition of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6).




Most Reverend Pawal Socha 2


The priesthood of Christ can in this way be reconstructed in its essential elements: Christ Jesus, "whom the Father has sanctified — or consecrated — is sent into the world" (John 10:36), "has been anointed by the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:38, cf. Acts 4:27) who descended upon Him (cf. Matthew 3:16) "to bring the good news to the poor..." (Luke 4:18).

Four concepts are essential here: consecration or sanctification, mission or apostolate, functions or ministries, anointing or gift of the Holy Spirit, which describe the existential situation and mission of Christ and, moreover, the many other ways through which He is present in His Church.

The essential nature of the ordained priesthood means that to be a priest it is necessary to have received the priestly order. Those to be ordained, through the sacramental ordination are anointed with the Holy Spirit, signed with a special character and are configured to Christ the Head in such a way that they can act in His name and in His person in the mystical body which is the Church.

In virtue of this sacrament, a man is consecrated, that is, he is "taken from among men" and is constituted a dispenser of the mysteries which refer to God. Through this consecration, the man becomes "a minister of God" and "totally given" to God: God assumes him, God absorbs him.. As such, the priest receives a special charge: to administer the divine gifts for the life of men. It can be said that, through the sacrament of orders, the priest is transformed into "Christ himself," for carrying out the works of Christ. In such a way the ontological assimilation to Christ the head takes place in the priest.

The priestly consecration has as its inseparable mark the indelible character: a gift of God that is given forever! The priest anointed in the Holy Spirit ought to bind himself to absolute and unconditional fidelity to the Lord and to his Church, because the commitment of the priesthood has in itself the sign of eternity.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Auxiliary Bishop of Zielona Gora-Grozow


The priest, like Christ and in Christ, is sent. The salvific "mission," which is entrusted to the priest for the good of men is required by his own "priestly consecration" and is implicit already in the "call" with which God addresses man. Therefore, "vocation, consecration, and mission" are three elements of one same reality, constitutive elements of the priestly being or of the essential nature of the priesthood.

We ask ourselves: what role has the essential nature of the priesthood in the life of the Church?

Christ "calls" the disciples because once "consecrated" they are then "sent" to reestablish a richer divine life in every man. Today the priests are called, consecrated and sent as "property of God" to act "in persona Christi," as Christ the head over the mystical body. Thus the priest becomes in this way an instrument to be used by Christ to effect the salvific mysteries of redemption.

Only in the light of faith of the mystery of the incarnate Word are we able to comprehend the nature and the end of the Christian hierarchical priesthood. In his discourse to the Argentinian bishops on September 24, 1979, John Paul II said: "The Christian priesthood has no sense apart from Christ. The traditional teaching constantly repeats to us "sacerdos alter Christus," and it does so not to express to us an analogous meaning, but to point out to us how truly Christ is made present in every priest and how the priest acts "in persona Christi." These words ought to be a strong reminder for the priest. Clothed with such dignity, a tremendous responsibility burdens his shoulders before God, the Church and the people whom he must serve.

What the priest is ontologically in power of the sacrament —"Christ himself’ — likewise demands his own moral assimilation to the Redeemer.

The priesthood requires integrity of life and service. Such integrity implies being "one with Christ." It has its foundation in the sacramental reality itself and will be consistently developed in the entire priestly life.

Concluding, we can say: the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests defines the hierarchical priesthood, essentially in the function of the mystical body: "However, the Lord himself in order that the faithful might be united in one body, of which however "all the members do not have the same function" (Romans 12: 4), appointed some of them as ministers, in a way that in the bosom of the society of the faithful it would have the sacred power of orders for offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, and that in the name of Christ it would develop for men the priestly function in an official form" (n. 2).



Most Reverend Franghiskos Papamonolis 2


As is known, the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis is depends upon two principles:

1. It places the priesthood within its natural context, which is ecclesiological.

2. It emphasizes the christological aspect. The priesthood is a sign of the presence of Christ in the Church and in the world. It constitutes a manifestation and is a living transparency of Christ the priest, head, teacher and shepherd for the building up of the Church and leading her to the Father.

These two principles, inseparably linked to each other, have had enormous consequences for theology and above all for priestly spirituality.

a. The priesthood is not an absolute value and conceived in itself; it is relative. It must be conceived and lived in relation to priesthood of Christ and the common priesthood of all the baptized in the community of the Church. In this context authority is service and communion. In this way authority regains its primitive meaning: I help someone to grow (P0, 2 and 9).

b. The participation of the priest in the authority of Christ is not something from outside, it is an ontological relationship assured by the sacrament of the imposition of hands (cf. LG 21 and 28). The ordained with the gift of a stable grace participates in all the salvific works of Christ.

c. The grace of ordination is not only limited to the Eucharist; it is a charism where sanctification, pastoral and educative guidance, and mission are closely linked together: one is ordained not only to be something (ontological aspect) but also to activate the priestly charism (dynamic aspect) (P0, 2-3). Ordination makes the human person capable of the entire work of the mission and evangelization.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Bishop of Syros, Santoprino and Crete


d. From all this we deduce that the priest is not simply an administrator of the sacraments or a bureaucrat. He is able to participate in the work of Christ head and shepherd in a way totally efficacious if he truly becomes a living transparency of Christ, the victim and servant (cf. P0, 9). The holiness and the sense of obedience, the rediscovery of the ecclesial and christological dimension of priestly authority can help priests on one hand to exercise their service in the footsteps of Christ whom they represent and never to serve themselves in the priesthood by exercising an unhealthy dominion over others ("not lording it over others," 1 Peter 5:3) These virtues of holiness by example can help the laity to see in the priest Christ the shepherd and head. Today, with the emphasis which is rightly given to the laity, there exists the danger of leveling the charisms in the Church. All want to have the charisms, even that of being a sign of Christ the head and shepherd! This above all happens with certain ecclesial movements which verbally recognize the charism of the priest, but, in practice, limit it only to his presiding over the Eucharist, recognizing as "head and shepherd" their own superiors in the movement.

These and other elements have been underlined by the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, and have positively influenced the life of thousands of priests. Now, thirty years after this important document, should it not be the case to underscore in a solemn way some aspects which the council has left in the shadow?

1. Is the priesthood simply a participation in the episcopal priesthood as Presbyterorum Ordinis may appear to say (cf. P0, 5), or does it have its own meaning which is not only vicarious? Does the priest represent the bishop or is he in the community a sign of Christ head and shepherd?

2. Does not the priest, as participant of the authority of Christ head and shepherd, sometimes run the risk of underscoring too much the christological aspect of the priesthood to the detriment of the pneumatic? The priest acts in persona Christi but also for, in and with the support of the whole Church in the moment in which he addresses the epiclesis to the Father to send the Holy Spirit and thus continue the work of Christ and give us a pre-taste of the eschaton. On this point the experience of the oriental

tradition could be precious.

3. Sometimes, in practice, overlooking the pneumatic aspect, results in forgetting the prophetic aspect of the priesthood.




Reverend Antonio Miralles2


The object of the present communication is treated by the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo vobis, "In as much as he represents Christ the Head, Shepherd and Spouse of the Church, the priest is placed not only in the Church but also in the forefront of the Church" (PDV 16, 2). The same document gives us the key of understanding where it says: "the relation to the Church is inscribed in the very relation which the priest has to Christ, such that the ‘sacramental representation’ to Christ serves as the basis and inspiration for the relation of the priest to the Church" (PD V 16, 1). The relation to Christ is that of "making a sacramental representation," since Christ is the head, shepherd, spouse and servant. And all this appears as the characteristic way of constituting the ordained ministers participation in the one priesthood of Christ.

As for the way Christ is both joined to the Church and at the same time in front of the Church is seen above all in Ephesians 5: 23, 25-27:" Christ is head of the Church, he who is the savior of his body... And you, husbands, love your wives, as Christ has loved the Church and has given himself up for her, to make her holy, purifying her by means of the bath of water accompanied by the word, to present to himself a glorious Church, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort, rather holy and immaculate."

The Letter to the Ephesians closely joins the two concepts of head and bridegroom referring to Christ, with the concepts of body land bride referring to the Church. In the double name head and body, one sees being in, while in the other double name bridegroom and bride one sees being in the forefront.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Professor, Pontifical Atheneum of the Holy Cross.


The spousal nature of the mystery of the union of Christ and Church helps us to see that we deal with a bond that springs from a covenant, spoken with love and freedom, and at the same time, rooted in the act of forming a single body, the Body of Christ. The union shows a spousal structure, in which Christ shines forth as head and spouse, both titles having a sacrificial value.

The sacrament of orders configures priests to Christ the head and shepherd, servant and spouse, constituting them therefore participants of the priesthood of Christ according to the modality manifested in these titles. What is the proper character of this participation? The question is pertinent because by means of Baptism the faithful themselves are also to be configured to Christ the servant and spouse, and in some way to Christ the shepherd. What then is the specific way of participating in the spousal condition of Christ by means of the sacrament of orders? This specificity derives from the special way in which priests participate in the priesthood of Christ. John Paul II identifies in being "a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, head and shepherd (...) the ordinary and proper way in which ordained ministers share in the one priesthood of Christ" (PDV 15, 4-5). With this neologism — "representation" we are saying that the priest is something more than a "representative" of Christ, because he acts so that Christ may be present again, or better yet that he continues to be present and not only under a partial aspect - this is characteristic of "deputation" — but in an integral way as head and shepherd. Most Reverend Flyer del Partial, who was secretary of the conciliar commission in charge of redacting the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, while he stated the inadequacy of the concept of "deputation," proposed, keeping the proper nuances, another effective expression: the alter ego of Christ the head of the Church.

With a well chosen phrase the blessed Josemaria Escriva explains it: "This is the identity of the priest: to be an immediate and daily instrument of the salvific grace which Christ has merited for us.

And the configuration to Christ the spouse? When John Paul II in Pastores Dabo vobis, asserts that the sacrament of orders configures to Christ the spouse, he adds also to Christ the head, shepherd and servant. These three titles, as seen above, have a strongly soteriological coloring, and more precisely sacrificial, the gift of one’s life for the salvation of men. Above all in the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians given above, Christ appears as founding the Church beginning from his own body given upon the cross, forming it as his spouse, distinct from himself, but always united to himself. The priest, in his participation in the mystery of the spousal union between Christ and the Church, is found always on the side of Christ: he makes visible Christ the spouse who gives himself for the Church, he nourishes her and cares for her, and he serves as an instrument in this forming and providing for the Church.

The priest is called to reproduce in his conduct, the love and the care of Christ the spouse with regards to the Church, because he has received ontologically such an image in the priestly ordination. There is a need to act conformably to that which one is, just as every man is asked to conduct himself humanly, precisely because he is a man.

The priest obviously maintains the spiritual traits received by means of baptism which he has in common with the other faithful, and in so far as being baptized, he participates doubly in the spousal relationship of Christ and the Church: of Christ, making himself the servant for the Church his spouse, and of the Church who submits herself to Christ, her spouse, from whom she receives everything, and to whom she returns the ineffable gift of the redeeming love with the sincere gift of herself. In the life of a priest all this is part of his being "in the Church," but does not exhaust it. In fact for the priest, being "in the Church" is countersigned by the sacramental consecration of orders. His priesthood can never be considered as standing by itself, independent from the Church, but, on the other hand, it must similarly be said that it determines the very essence of the Church, which would not exist without the ministerial priesthood.

From the other side, it can well be said that being "in the forefront of the Church," characteristic of the participation of the priest in the spousal nature of Christ, derives from his configuration to Christ the head. As head, Christ is the savior of the body, he forms it, he nourishes it, he cares for it. In the priest if he has the sacramental "representation" of this headship, and if this is specific to him, he does not share it with the faithful who are not ordained.

Like the other faithful, the priest, on the one hand, is a receiver of the salvific action of Jesus Christ, but, on the other hand, in the properly priestly actions, he stands on the side of the Lord before the other faithful: he does not celebrate the Eucharist, neither does he remit sins, nor anoint the sick, nor preach the word of God as their delegate, placed there so that he might gather in himself the multiplicity of the faithful and from them express unity. Priests, being "a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd, authoritatively proclaim his Word, repeat his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation, particularly in Baptism, Penance and the Eucharist, show his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit" (PDV 15/4).

The priest in his priestly acting visibly expresses the presence and the action of Christ the head as he sanctifies and forms the Church distinct from himself, but united to her spouse and drawing life from him. He constitutes such a visible expression because he is the intermediary by whom Jesus Christ is served; and being that permanently through a mysterious consecration to Christ in the strength of the character of orders, he becomes a sign of the presence and of the action of Christ the head not only with his ministerial actions, but also with his very person: he is a permanent reminder to the Church of the promise of her Lord:

"Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).



Most Reverend Luke H.T. Liu2




On the occasion of the international Symposium for "Commemorating the thirtieth Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Conciliar Document: Presbyterorum Ordinis, I have the great honor to be chosen to speak on Priest Pastor and Leader of The Community.




"I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me, and I am willing to die for them. There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them, too; they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:14-16).

"Jesus told another parable: Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them what does he do? He leaves the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and goes looking for that one that was lost until he finds it. When he finds it, he is so happy that he puts it on his shoulders and carries it back home: (Luke 15:3-6).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Word, "whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world" (John 10:36) and who was marked with seal of the fullness of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 4:18, Acts 4:27, 10:38), proclaimed to the world the Good News of reconciliation between God and men. His preaching as prophet, confirmed by signs, reaches its summit in the paschal mystery, the supreme Word of the divine love with which the Father addressed us. On the cross Jesus showed himself to the greatest extent to be the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep in order to gather them into that unity which depends on himself (cf. John 10:1-ff, 11:52).


1 This is the original English text presented by Bishop Liu.

2 Bishop of Hsinchu, Taiwan, ROC.


The Church, which he had declared would be built on Peter, Christ founded on the Apostles (Matthew 16:18). In them are already manifested two aspects of the Church: in the group of the Twelve Apostles there are already both fellowship in the Spirit and the origin of the hierarchical ministry. For that reason, the New Testament writings speak of the Church as founded on the Apostles (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14). This was concisely expressed by the ancient tradition: "The Church from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, Christ from God the Father."

By the laying on of hands there is communicated a gift of the Holy Spirit which cannot be lost (cf. 2 Timothy 1:6). This reality figures the ordained minister to Christ the Priest, consecrates him (cf. P0, 2) and makes him sharer in Christ’s mission under its two aspects of authority and service.

The proper mission entrusted by Christ to the priest, as to the Church, is not of the purely economic or social order, but of the religious order (GS, 32); yet, in the pursuit of his ministry the priest can contribute greatly to the establishment of a more just secular order, especially where the human problems of injustice and oppression are more serious. He must always be careful to preserve ecclesial communion and reject violence in words or deeds as not being in accordance with the Gospel.

By their vocation and ordination, the priests of the New Testament are indeed set apart in a certain sense within the midst of God’s people. But this is so not that they may be made distant from this people or from any man, but that they may be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has raised them up (P0, 3). Priests thus find their identity to the extent that they fully live the mission of the Church and exercise it in different ways in communion with the entire people of God, as pastors and Ministers of the Lord in the Spirit, in order to fulfill by their work the plan of Salvation God unfolds in history. By means of their own ministry, which deals principally with the Eucharist as a source of perfecting the Church, priests are in communion with Christ the Head and are leading others to the same communion.

Priests are sent to all men and their mission must begin with the preaching of God’s Word, "Priests have as their duty the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to all.. .For through the Saving Word the spark of faith is struck in the hearts of unbelievers and fed in the hearts of the faithful" (P0, 4). The ministry of the Word, if rightly understood, leads to the sacraments and to the Christian life as practiced in the visible community of the Church in the world. The sacraments are celebrated in conjunction with the proclamation of the Word of God and thus develop faith by strengthening with grace. They cannot be considered of slight importance since through them the Word is brought to fuller effect, namely communion in the mystery of Christ. Let priests then perform their ministry in such a way that the faithful will "have recourse with great eagerness to the sacraments which were instituted to nourish the Christian life" (SC, 59).

An enduring evangelization and a well-ordered sacramental life of the community demand a service of unity and a presiding over charity. Thus the mutual relationship between evangelization and the celebration of the sacraments is clearly seen in the mission of the Church. A separation between the two would divide the heart of the Church to the point of imperiling the truth, and the priest who is not dedicated to the service of unity in the community, would be gravely distorting his ministry.

Unity between evangelization and sacramental life is always proper to the ministerial priesthood and must carefully be kept in mind by every priest. And yet the application of this principle to the life and ministry of the individual priest must be made with discretion, for the exercise of the priestly ministry often in practice needs to take different forms in order to better meet special or new situations in which the Gospel is to be proclaimed.

Although the pedagogy of the faith demands that man be gradually initiated into the Christian life, the Church must nevertheless always proclaim to the world the Gospel in its entirety. Each priest shares in the special responsibility of preaching the whole Word of God and interpreting it according to the faith of the Church.

The proclamation of the Word of God is the calling of men to share the paschal mystery and to introduce it as leaven into a concrete human history. The Ministry of the Word in evangelization prepares the ways of the Lord with great patience and faith, conforming himself to the various conditions of the individuals and people’s lives, which are evolving more or less rapidly.

Impelled by the need to keep in view both the personal and social aspects of the announcement of the Gospel, so that in it an answer may be given to all the more fundamental questions of men (cf. Ad Gentes, 13), the Church not only preaches conversion to God to individual men, but also, to the best of her ability, as the conscience of humanity, she addresses society itself and performs a prophetic function in society’s regard, always taking pains to effect her own renewal.

With regards to the experience of life, whether of men in general or of priests, which must be kept in mind and always interpreted in the light of the Gospel, these experiences cannot be either the norm or the principal norm of preaching.




Let priests remember "confidently to entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church allowing them freedom and room for action. In fact, on suitable occasions, they should invite them to undertake work, on their own initiative (P0, 9)." The laity, "likewise sharing their cares with and helping their priests by prayer and work to the extent possible, so that their priests can more readily overcome difficulties and be able to fulfill their duties more fruitfully" (ibid).

Our vocation demands that we be close to people in their problems, whether personal, family or social. But it also demands that we be close to them in a priestly way. Only thus do we really conduct ourselves in the midst of these problems. If we are to be of assistance to people in their problems and they can be very difficult, we must keep our identity and remain really faithful to our vocation.

Through the sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops, priests are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King; they are given a share in his ministry through which the Church here on earth is being ceaselessly built up into the people of God, Christ’s Body and the Temple of the Spirit.

The Lord Jesus "whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (John 10:38) makes his whole Mystical Body share in the anointing of the Spirit wherewith he has been anointed, for in that Body all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood, they offer spiritual sacrifice of God through Jesus Christ, and they proclaim the virtues of him who has called them out of darkness into his own admirable light. Therefore, there is no such thing as a member that has not a share in the mission of the whole Body. Rather, every single member ought to reverence Jesus in his heart and by the work of prophecy give testimony of Jesus.

However, the Lord also appointed certain men as ministers in order that they might be united in a body in which "all the members have not the same function" (Romans 12:4). These men have in the community of the faithful the sacred power of Orders, that of offering sacrifice and pardon, and were to exercise the priestly Office publicly on behalf of men in the name of Christ. The Shepherd who sent the apostles as he himself had been sent by the Father, and then through the apostles made their successors, the bishops, sharers in his consecration and Mission.

The function of the bishops’ ministry was handed over in a subordinate degree to priests so that they might be appointed in the order of priesthood and be co-workers of the episcopal order in the proper fulfillment of the apostles’ Catholic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ.

Because it is joined with episcopal order the office of priests shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up and sanctifies and rules his Body. Hence the priestly office, 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.

Since they share in the function of the apostles in their own degree, priests are given grace to be the ministers of Jesus Christ. Through the Ministry of priests the spiritual sacrifices of the laity are completed in union with the sacrifice of Christ the only mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands in the name of the whole Church in an unbloody and sacramental way until the Lord himself come. The ministry of priests is directed to this and finds its consummation in it.

Priests, while being taken from amongst men and appointed for men in the things that pertain to God that they may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, live with the rest of men as their brothers and servants. So also the Lord Jesus the Son of God, a man sent by the Father to men, dwelt amongst us and willed to be made like to his brothers in all things save only sin.

It is true that priests of the New Testament, by virtue of their vocation to ordination, are set apart somewhat in the midst of the People of God, but this is not in order that they should be separated from the people or from any man, but that they should be completely consecrated to the task for which God chose them. They could not be the servants of Christ Jesus unless they were witnesses and dispensers of a life other than that of this earth. On the other hand they would be powerless to serve men if they remained aloof from their life and circumstance. Their very ministry makes a special claim on them not to conform themselves to this world, still it requires at the same time that they should live among men in this world and that as good shepherds they should know their sheep and should also seek to lead back those who do not belong to this fold, so that they too may hear the voice of Christ so that there may be one fold and one Shepherd.

The people of God is formed into one in the first place by the Word of the living God, which is quite rightly sought from the mouth of priests. For since nobody can be saved who has not first believed, it is the first task of priests to preach the Gospel of God to all men. In this way, they carry out the Lord’s command "go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) and thus set up and increase the people of God. For by the saving Word of God, faith is aroused in the heart of unbelievers and is nourished in the heart of believers. By this faith then the congregation of the faithful begins and grows according to the saying of the apostle: "Faith come from what is heard and what is heard comes from the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Priests then owe it to everybody to share with them the truth of the Gospel in which they rejoice in the Lord. Therefore, whether by having their conversation heard among the Gentiles they lead people to glorify God; or by openly preaching proclaim the mystery of Christ to unbelievers; or teach the Christian message or explain the Church’s doctrine, or endeavor to treat of contemporary problems in the light of Christ’s teaching — in every case their role is to teach not their own wisdom, but the

Word of God. They issue an urgent invitation to all men to conversion and to holiness. Moreover the priests’ preaching, often very difficult in present-day conditions, if it is to become more effective in moving the minds of his hearers, must expound the Word of God not merely in a general and abstract way but by an application of the eternal truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of life. Thus the ministry of the Word is exercised in many different ways according to the needs of the hearers and the spiritual gift of the preachers.

God, who alone is the holy one and sanctifier, has willed to take men as allies and helpers as his humble servants in his work of sanctification. The purpose then for which priests are ordained by God through the ministry of the bishop is that they should be made sharers in a special way in Christ’s priesthood and, by carrying out sacred functions, act as his ministers who through them continually exercises his priestly function for our benefit in the liturgy. By baptism priests introduce men into the People of God; by the sacrament of Penance they reconcile sinners with God and the Church; by the Anointing of the Sick they relieve those who are ill; and especially by the celebration of Mass they offer Christ’s sacrifice sacramentally.

The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it. For in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself our Passover and the living bread who gives life to men through his flesh that flesh which is given life to men through the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Eucharistic celebration is the center of the assembly of the faithful over which the priest presides. Hence priests teach the faithful to offer the divine victim to God the Father in the sacrifice of the Mass and with the victim to make an offering of their whole life. In the Spirit of Christ, the Pastor, they instruct them to submit their sins to the Church with a contrite heart in the sacrament of Penance, so that they may be daily more and more converted to the Lord. They teach them to take part in the celebration of the sacred liturgy in such a way to achieve sincere prayer in them also. They guide them to the exercise of an ever more perfect spirit of prayer throughout their lives in proportion to each one’s graces and needs.

They lead all the faithful on to the observance of the duties of their particular state in life, and those who are more advanced to the carrying out of evangelical counsels in the way suited to their individual cases. Finally, they train the faithful so that they will be able to sing in their hearts to the Lord with psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father, (cf. P0, 5).




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 Spirit of God the Father. For the exercise of this ministry and for the rest of the priests’ functions, a spiritual power is given them, a power whose purpose is to build up. And in building up the Church, priests ought to treat everybody with greatest kindness after the model of our Lord. They should act towards people not according to what may please men but according to the demands of Christian doctrine and life. They should teach them and exhort them as their dearest children, according to the words of the apostle; "Be urgent in season and out of season; convince, rebuke, and exhort, unfailing in patience and in teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).

For this reason it is the priests’ part as instructors of the people in the faith to see to it either personally or through others that each member of the faithful shall be led by the Holy Spirit to the development of his own vocation in accordance with the Gospel teaching and to sincere and active charity and the liberty with which Christ has set us free. Very little good will be achieved by ceremonies however beautiful, or societies however flourishing, if they are not directed towards educating people to reach Christian maturity. To encourage this maturity priests will make their help available to people to enable them to determine the solution to the problems and the will of God in the crises of life, great or small.

Although priests owe service to everybody, the poor and the weaker ones have been committed to their care is a special way. It was with these that the Lord himself associated and the preaching of the Gospel is given to them as a sign of his messianic Mission. Priests will look after young people with special diligence. This applies also to married couples and parents. It is desirable that these should meet in friendly groups to help each other in the task of more easily and more fully living in a Christian way of life that is often difficult. Finally, the priests ought to be especially devoted to the sick and the dying, visiting them and comforting them in the Lord.

The pastor’s task is not limited to individual care of the faithful. It extends by right also to the formation of a genuine Christian community. However, no Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist. From this, all education for community spirit must begin.

In building up a community of Christians, priests can never be the servants of any human ideology or party. Rather their task as heralds of the Gospel and pastors of the Church is the attainment of the spiritual growth of the Body of Christ.




Even though the priests of the new law by reason of the sacrament of Orders fulfill the pre-eminent and essential function of father and teacher among the People of God and on their behalf, still they are disciples of the Lord along with all the faithful and have been made partakers of his kingdom by God, who has called them by his grace. Priests, in common with all who have been reborn in the font of baptism, are brothers among brothers as members of the same Body of Christ which all are commanded to build up.

Priests should, therefore, occupy their position of leadership as men who do not seek the things that are their own but things that are Jesus Christ’s. They should unite their efforts with those of the lay faithful and conduct themselves among men after the example of the Master who came "not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Priests are to be sincere in their appreciation and promotion of the people’s dignity and of the special role the laity have to play in the Church’s mission.

They should also be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes and recognize their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able to recognize along with them the signs of the times.

Priests should also be confident in giving lay people charge of duties in the service of the Church giving them freedom and opportunity for activity and even inviting them, when opportunity arises to take the initiative in undertaking projects of their own.

Finally, priests have been placed in the midst of the laity so that they may lead them all to the unity of charity, "loving one another with brotherly affection; outdoing one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10). Theirs is the task, then of bringing about agreement among divergent outlooks in such a way that nobody may feel a stranger in the Christian community.

Those who have abandoned the practice of the sacraments, or even perhaps the faith, are entrusted to the priests as special objects of their care. They will not neglect to approach these persons as shepherds.

Priests should keep in mind what has been laid down with regards to ecumenism and not forget those fellow Christians who do not enjoy complete ecclesiastical union with us. They will regard as committed to their charge all those who fail to recognize Christ as their Savior.

The Faithful for their part ought to realize that they have obligations to their priests. They should treat them with filial love as their fathers and pastors. They also should share their priests’ anxieties and help them as far as possible by prayer and active work so that they may be better able to overcome difficulties and carry out their duties with greater success.




In 1988 the Chinese Bishops’ Conference held the Symposium on Evangelization, which we had prepared for four years. The Declaration and the Twelve Resolutions of the "Symposium on Evangelization" were formulated into twelve groups:

· The Formation of Laity and Evangelization

· Vocation, Seminary Education, Pastoral Ministry and Evangelization

· Communion between Pastors and Faithful and Evangelization
· Part one: The Members of Religious Congregation and Evangelization
Part two: Religious Sisters and Evangelization
· The Sanctification of the Family and Evangelization
· The Parish and Evangelization
· The Organization of Lay Associations and Evangelization
· The Local Church and Evangelization
· Liturgy and Evangelization
· Part One: Education and Evangelization
Part Two: Culture and Evangelization
· Social Services, Works of Charity and Evangelization
· Mass Communication Media and Evangelization

Following up the "Symposium on Evangelization," we have begun a Grand Novena of Nine Years 199 1-2000, at the approach of the Third Millennium. We will choose one of the twelve resolutions for each year of the Grand Novena. For example:



Year of the Family: The Sanctification of the Family and Evangelization


Year of Women and Evangelization


Year of Catechism and Evangelization


Year of Jesus Christ the Savior and Evangelization


Year of the Holy Spirit and Evangelization


Year of God the Father and Evangelization


The Holy Year: the Holy Trinity and Evangelization


Through the Grand Novena of Nine Years, we sincerely hope that the Chinese Church in Taiwan will be strengthened and renewed. We believe strongly that with God’s grace and the powerful intercession of Mary, Queen of China, a sincere effort on the part of the faithful and each of our Catholic communities and institutions will result in a new springtime for the Ecclesial life of the Chinese Church.



Reverend Francesco Moraglia 2


The Church is "mystery" and "gift." In so far as "gift" it is a reality which man does not build by himself but which, simply, he receives from God. Now, it is not possible to speak of the agere of the Church without referring to esse.

Thus the Church in her deepest structure is a theological-sacramental reality, and any affirmation which does not take this fact into account and moves into the pure sphere of political philosophy, sociological science and the secularized culture, is of itself insufficient, because it is not open to the very mystery of the Church.

From there it follows, on the level of agere, that no community can, by itself, "self-declare themselves" the Church of Christ, just as no man can likewise "self-constitute himself’ a priest.

The dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, after having clarified the relationship which unites "the People of God" and "the Body of Christ," shows how the Lord has given to his Church a hierarchical constitution. It is the episcopal college cum Petro and sub Petro which receives the mission of teaching, sanctifying and governing the entire people of God. Now it is not possible to hold that Lumen Gentium, by placing the chapter on the People of God (II) before that on the hierarchical constitution of the Church (III) means to teach that, only by baptism, one enters already in possession of all the sacra potestas annulling every real difference between the common and ministerial priesthood. In this way the primacy, the episcopacy, the ministerial priesthood and the complex theological reality of the "People of God" would be thwarted, as far as Vatican II intended them. The Church would be transformed into an "undifferentiated" aggregate, a sort of "vast democracy," one of the many societies, which in its acting, would not be able to do anything other than to reflect such a situation.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Professor of Philosophy, Faculty of Theology, Northern Italian University, Genoa.


The structure of the Church totally transcends the "democratic" and the "autocratic" model, because it is founded on the "sending" of the Son by the Father and on the conferring of the "mission" through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Twelve and their successors (cf. John 20: 21). This teaching is already found in Presbyterorum Ordinis when this conciliar decree treats of the "authority with which Christ builds up, sanctifies and rules his people" (cf. P0, 2). It is an "Authority" that does not have its origin from below and which cannot be defined, in its extension and exercise, in an autonomous manner by any consensus.

The Directory for the Ministry and Life of the Priests, then, speaks this way: "democratism" constitutes a "very grave temptation," in so far as it does not recognize the authority and the capital grace of Christ and leads to distorting the nature of the Church as if it was only a human society, undermining the hierarchical constitution willed by its divine founder, as the Magisterium has taught and the Church herself has always lived (cf. 17). Instead, in the Church, all must participate, according to the characteristic of their own vocation, in the "ministry" of ‘‘communion’’ which is realized through the charism of the hierarchy.

The Directory — recalling Presbyterorum Ordinis 7 — thus concludes the paragraph on democratism: "The participation in the Church is based upon the mystery of communion which, by its nature, contemplates, in itself, the presence and action of the ecclesiastical hierarchy."

Consequently, in the Church, that mentality is not acceptable which manifests itself above all in some ecclesial organizations of participation, which tends either to confuse the tasks of the priests and those of the laity, or not to distinguish the proper authority of the bishop from that of the priests as collaborators of the bishops, or to deny the specificity of the Petrine primacy in the episcopal college.

It must be remembered in this matter that the presbyterate and the presbyteral council are not expressions of the right of association of the clergy, nor can they be understood according to the terms of a union organization which protects the interests of parties in a way that is foreign to the ecclesial communion (Directory, 17).

To conclude, a strong wish: the Directory, if it will be

accepted not only as a simple exhortation but as an instrument of real ecclesial orientation, will be able, through the wealth of its theological-pastoral contents, to help to achieve an objective discernment promoting the true co-responsibility of all the components of the people of God. It will help to avoid those attitudes which, for some, unconsciously, betray at the level of spirituality, of catechetics, of liturgical praxis, and even of sacred art, the presence and the intrusion of the democratic mentality in the Church.



Monsignor Juan Esquerda Bifet2




The priestly doctrine is presented in the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis in the light of the mission of Jesus, prolonged in the life of the priest-minister. He participates in the being of Jesus (P0, 1-3), prolongs His mission (P0, 4-6,10) and therefore lives in tune with His same style of life (P0,12-14) and in imitation of His virtues (P0,15-17).

The missionary spirit of the priestly life is not presented with its starting point in sociological action, but rather from the starting point of priestly consecration and personal relationship with Christ. Therefore the "mission" originates from the participation in the ontological reality of Christ.

The mission encompasses the whole life of the priest since it springs from his consecration. The priestly mission is not a temporal or circumstantial function, but a definitive election.




Human action has its true worth if it flows from being and gives rise to true interpersonal relations with the brothers. "Man counts more for who he is than for what he has" (GS 35). In priestly life, when the action is not truly pastoral charity, it lacks the point of support and source, giving rise to a sense of emptiness which wants to be continually filled with more activity, leaving one’s heart without a relationship with God and with the brothers, emptying life of its sense of self-gift. Then a rupture or dichotomy is created between the profound reality of the heart and external action. The tension between the interior life and apostolic action is resolved in Presbyterorum Ordinis with the expression "unity of life" (cf. P0, 14).


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Professor, Pontifical University "Urbaniana" of the Propagation of the Faith.




Functionalism empties pastoral charity of its evangelical content. "Pastoral charity runs, today especially, the danger of being emptied of its meaning through so-called functionalism" (Directory, 44).

Action, if it is truly a self-gift, is not functionalism. Precisely, the capacity for action springs from the capacity of the eucharistic self-gift: to be "bread that is eaten" like Christ. However, this capacity of self-gift in action is equivalent to the capacity of contemplation and personal relationship to Christ. From the encounter with Christ in the word, in the Eucharist and in the ecclesial community, one passes to the encounter with the same Christ in the brothers and in life. Then there exists no dichotomy nor functionalism, but the true "unity of life" (P0,14).




The attitude of the beloved disciple (listening to the heart of Christ and receiving Mary as mother) becomes the missionary attitude. The priest, like every missionary, must be "a contemplative in action." He finds the answer to problems in the light of the word of God and in personal and communal prayer... The missionary, if he is not contemplative, cannot announce Christ in a credible way.

The great priestly figures of history are always powerfully active because they are solidly contemplative. Their apostolic action does not manifest a divided heart, but the unity of life which opens a right set of values, where the first value is always Christ present in the Eucharist, in the word, in the brothers, in one’s own solitude and in work. When one has time for Him, one has time for everything, because everyone has time for what he loves.


Part Three

The Ministry of Priests



Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger 2




When the fathers of the Second Vatican Council prepared the decree on the ministry and life of priests — after the intense debates on the ministry of bishops and the important declarations on the place of the laity and of religious in the Church — they intended primarily to direct a word of encouragement to priests who bear the daily burden of the work in the Lord’s vineyard. Certainly to do this they could not be satisfied with merely a pious exhortation. Since the bishops explained the meaning and theological foundation of their own ministry, the message they directed to priests should have been noteworthy for its deep theology. Only then would they have offered a convincing recognition of their work and an encouragement for their fatigue.

This message was necessary not just on account of a certain proportion between the "estates" in the Church. When the fathers defined the specific meaning of the ministry of bishops in its relationship with the ministry of the successor of Peter, they could count on a broad consensus of public opinion in the Church and in the world, especially in ecumenical circles. By contrast, the Catholic concept of the priesthood had lost its obvious validity, even within the conscience of the Church. Certainly, the crisis of the priesthood, which became obvious shortly after the Council, would then become the crisis of priestly existence and of vocations to the priesthood, was barely developed; it was just beginning. It resulted from a change in the meaning of life: the sacred was less understood while the functional was elevated to become the exclusively dominant category. However the crisis ad theological roots which at the time as a consequence of the changing social context, developed an unanticipated vitality. The interpretation of the Old Testament seemed definitely to confirm a non-sacral vision of the ministries of the Church. One could find no continuity between the sacred offices of the Old Testament and the new ministries of the nascent Church; still less could one find a connection with the pagan ideas of the priesthood.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. Richard Malone.

2 Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith.


The desacralization of the ministries of the Church seemed to represent the newness of Christianity. The ministers of the Christian communities were not called priests (sacerdotes or hiereis), but presbyters, i.e. ancients. Evidently, a modern exegesis of Protestant origin was at work in this way of considering the old Testament which did not change anything in the evidence that seemed to merit such an interpretation. It became a burning question if Luther was not right after all, instead of Trent.

Two conceptions of the priesthood were in confrontation: a social functional vision which defined the nature of the priesthood as a service to the community in the fulfillment of a function at the service of the social body of the Church. The ontological-sacramental vision which, while not denying the service character of the priesthood, saw it anchored in the existence of the ministry, an existence that was determined by a gift, called a sacrament and granted to him by the Lord through the Church. A shift of terminology accompanied the functional vision. One avoided using the words "priest" or "priestly" on account of the sacral meaning; in its place one used the neutral-functional term "minister" which at the moment had almost no importance in Catholic theology.

To this change in understanding the nature of priestly ministry there corresponds, to some extent, even a different emphasis on the definition of the tasks of the priest. One opposed the primacy of the word, until then, a typically Protestant concept to the fundamental orientation of the priest to the Eucharist. Certainly, in no way can one sustain that a concept of the priesthood, that starts with the primacy of the word, is absolutely anti-sacrament. The decree of Vatican II on the ministry of priests proves the contrary. Here we face the question: in what way do the alternatives just described exclude each other or in what way can they mutually cross-pollinate each other and so be mutually enriching. The basic question that Vatican II faced was, how far can you broaden the classical tridentine image of the priest and develop it by taking into account the demands of the Reform, of critical exegesis and of the different context of modern life without losing the essential. Vice versa, how much can the Protestant idea of "ministry" absorb the living tradition of the Catholic Church, of the East and West. There is no major difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy over the priesthood.




The Second Vatican Council did not confront the problems that were then emerging; after the long discussions on the collegiality of bishops on ecumenism, on religious freedom, on questions of the contemporary world, the time and the energy were no longer available. For that reason the Synods of 1971 and 1990 took up the theme of the priesthood and developed the declarations of the Council; the same theme was taken up more concretely in the Letters of our Holy Father to priests for Holy Thursday and in the Directory of the Congregation of the Clergy. But even if the decree of the Council did not refer explicitly to current controversies, it, nevertheless, gave fundamental direction for later development.

What are the solutions for the problems just outlined? To put it briefly: one cannot reduce a Council to one or other alternative. In the introductory definition of the decree on the priesthood, it is stated that priests by their ordination are promoted to the service of Christ the prophet, priest and king and share in his ministry by which the Church on earth is unceasingly built up as the People of God, Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit (1). In n.2, the Council teaches the power of offering sacrifice and of forgiving sins. But this particular task of the priest is then inserted in an explicit way in an historical and dynamic vision of the Church, in which "all share in the mission" of the whole body, but "not all have the same function" (cf. Romans 12:4). Summing up what has been said, we can determine that in chapter one of the decree the ontological aspect of priestly existence is strongly emphasized, and, at the same time, the power to offer sacrifice is also emphasized. We find this described again, at the beginning of chapter 3: "Priests, while being taken from among men and appointed for men in the things that appertain to God that they may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, live with the rest of men as with brothers." We can find the newness in comparison with Trent in so far as the vital unity is emphasized and the common life of the whole Church, at the heart of which the classical vision is located.

How much more can we be surprised to read at the beginning of chapter 2, which speaks of the concrete problems of priests:

"Priests as collaborators with the bishops have as their first duty that of announcing to all the Gospel of God (4)." Here with great emphasis the primacy of the word or the ministry of preaching is taught. The question arises: what is the relation between the two affirmations, i.e. "they are established to offer sacrifices and gifts" and "the first duty (primum officium) is that of announcing the Gospel (evangelium evangelizandi)"?




To find a response we must first ask: What does evangelization really mean? What happens? What is the Gospel? Above all: to establish the primacy of preaching, the Council certainly could have appealed to the Gospels. For example, I think of the brief but meaningful episode recounted in the Gospel of Mark: the Lord, sought out by all on account of his miraculous power, retires to the desert to pray (Mark 1: 35-39). Sought out by Peter and those who were with him, the Lord says to them: "let us go to the other towns and preach to them for I came for this" (Mark 1:38). It is the announcement of the kingdom of God which Jesus indicates as the true goal of his coming. This should be the determining priority for all his ministers: they come to announce the kingdom of God, that is, to make the living, powerful and present God the priority of their lives. Already from this brief passage two complementary perspectives emerge for a correct understanding of this priority: such an announcement proceeds on an equal footing with Jesus’ personal recollection in personal prayer. Such prayer is the source of the preaching. It is also joined with the "expelling the demons" (Mark 1: 39); it means: preaching is not just speaking, but that it is at the same time efficacious action. It does not take place in a beautiful and healthy world, but in a world dominated by demons; for this reason Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom means he implants freedom in the midst of this world.

We should however move forward and keep in mind not just the brief passage, but the whole Gospel in order to understand well the priority of Jesus. He announces the kingdom of God; he does this above all with parables and under the form of signs in which the kingdom, as a present power, draws near to men. Words and signs are inseparable. Wherever the signs are interpreted only as wonders, without grasping their content as revelation, Jesus interrupts his activity. Nor does he consider his preaching merely an intellectual activity, or even material for discussion. His word demands a decision, creates a reality. In this way it is an incarnate word; the reciprocity of word and signs manifests a "sacramental" structure.

We have to take another step forward. Jesus does not communicate content that is independent of his person as does a master or a storyteller. He is more than a rabbi. With the process of his preaching one realized that, in the parables He is speaking of himself, that the "kingdom" and his person are to be taken together, that the kingdom comes in his person. The decision demanded by Him is a decision on our relation with him, a decision Peter had to make saying "You are the Christ" (Mark 8: 29). Finally, Jesus’ Paschal Mystery, his destiny of death and resurrection appeared as the content of his preaching of the kingdom of God; it comes to the fore particularly in the parable of the murderous vine tenders (Mark 12:1-11). The parable and the reality are interwoven in a new way: the parable arouses the ire of the adversaries, who do what was told about them. They kill the son. This means: the parables would be empty without the living person of the Incarnate Son who came (Mark 1:38), who was sent by the Father (Mark 12:6). We would be empty without the confirmation of the word of the cross and of the resurrection. Now we understand that the preaching of Jesus should be called ‘‘sacramental’’ in a deeper meaning than what we saw before: his word bears in itself the reality of the Incarnation and theme of the Cross and the resurrection. And in this deep way, word and action are combined. It indicates the reciprocity of preaching and Eucharist for the Church, but also of preaching and witness that is lived and suffered.

Starting with the Paschal vision, as we find it in the Gospel of John, we should move forward. "Jesus is the Christ," is what Peter said. Jesus Christ is the Logos, John now adds. He is the eternal Word of the Father, who is with God and who is God (John 1:1). In him the Word became flesh and came to dwell among us (John 1:14). In Christian preaching we do not just deal with words, but with the word, with the Word. "For this reason, if we speak of the ministry of the Word, the intra-Trinitarian relationship is also understood." Rightly then we notice the fundamental difference between the preaching of Jesus and the lessons of the rabbis consisted in this: that the "I" of Jesus, that is Himself, is at the center of his message. At the same time we should not forget that Jesus considered characteristic of his preaching the fact that he did not speak "in his own name" (John 5:43; cf John 7:16): his "I," open to the "Thou" of his Father, is not closed in on itself, but bears the whole dynamic of Trinitarian relations. This means for the Christian preacher, that he does not speak of himself, but he becomes the voice of Christ, to make way for the Logos and lead to communion with the living God by means of communion with the man Jesus.

We can return to the decree of Vatican II on priestly ministry. Speaking of the various kinds of preaching, the document makes a constant point: the priest should never teach his own wisdom, but what is important is always the Word of God which urges to truth and holiness (4). Being formed in accord with the word of St. Paul, the ministry of the word demands of the priest that he die spiritually to self: "It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Here I am reminded of an episode connected with the beginnings of Opus Dei. A young woman had the chance to be present at the conferences of Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. She was very curious to hear the famous speaker. After participating in Mass with him — she said this later — she did not want to listen to an earthly speaker, but only to recognize the word and the will of God. The ministry of the word demands of the priest a participation in the kenosis of Christ, his living and dying in Christ. The fact that he does not speak of himself, but bears the message of another, does not mean in any way a personal indifference, but the opposite: to lose oneself in Christ entails truly finding oneself and being in communion with the Word of God in person. The Paschal structure of "no longer I" and yet of my true "I" shows how in the end the ministry of the Word, above and beyond all the functional, penetrates one’s being and supposes the priesthood as a sacrament.




Because we have reached the central issue, I want to develop it with two sets of images taken from the works of St. Augustine; we are dealing with images taken from the meditation of the Biblical word, which has also influenced the dogmatic tradition of the Catholic Church. Above all, we find the designation of the priest as the servant of God or of Christ (servus Dei or servus Christi). Behind this expression of the servant of Christ, taken from the ecclesiastical language of the time, is the Christological hymn of the letter to the Philippians (2:5-I 1): Christ, the Son equal to God, took the condition of a servant, became a servant for us. Here we shall pass over the profound theology of freedom and of service, that Augustine advances under this heading. What is important for our discussion is the fact that the concept of "servant" is a relational concept. One is a servant in relation to another. If the priest is defined as the servant of Jesus Christ, this means that his existence is essentially defined as relational: being ordered to the service of the Lord constitutes the essence of his ministry, which then reaches into his own existence. He is the servant of Christ in order to be the servant of men, beginning with him, through him and with him. His being in relation with Christ is not opposed to his being ordered to the service of the community (of the Church), but it is the basis which alone gives it its depth. To be in relation with Christ means to be inserted into his existence as servant and to be with him at the service of his "body" that is the Church. The priest because he belongs to Christ, belongs in a radical way to men. He would not be able to be dedicated to them with a deep and absolute dedication if it weren’t in this way. This means that the ontological conception of the priesthood, reaching into the being of the interested person, is not opposed to the seriousness of the functional activity of the social aspect of the priesthood, but rather creates a radicalness in serving which would be unthinkable in a purely profane activity.

The concept of "servant" is connected with the image of the "indelible character" that belongs to the heritage of faith of the Church. In the language of late antiquity, the word character designed the brand that was impressed on a person’s property, an object, an animal or even a person, in a way that could never be canceled. The property is identified in an irrevocable way and the legal principle clamat ad Dominum (calls for its owner) comes into play. One could say: "character" means ownership impressed upon the essence. In this way the image of the character expresses again the relative being which refers to another, of which we have just spoken. We deal with a kind of belonging that cannot be tampered with; the initiative comes from the owner: from Christ. The nature of the sacrament is manifested: I cannot declare myself to belong to the Lord. He should above all take me as his own; only then can I enter into the state of being assumed, in order to accept on my part and try to live it. In this way then the word "character" describes the ontological character of the service of Christ which we find in the priesthood, and at the same time, clarifies what we mean by its sacramentality. Only then can we understand why St. Augustine described the character functionally (and at the same time ontologically) as the jus dandi, i.e. the necessary condition for the valid administration of the sacraments. Belonging to the Lord who became a servant is to belong to those who are his own. This means that now the servant can, under the sacred sign, give what he can never give by his own power: in fact, he can give the Holy Spirit, absolve from sins, make present both the sacrifice of Christ in his body and blood; all rights reserved to God, that no man can procure of himself, nor can they be delegated to him by any community. If the character is the expression of the communion in service, it also manifests that always ultimately it is the Lord himself who acts and that He acts in the visible Church through men. The character guarantees the "validity" of the sacrament even in the case of an unworthy minister, being at the same time a judgment on him and a stimulus to live the sacrament.

A further word about a second set of images, with which St. Augustine tried to explain to himself and to the faithful, the nature of priestly service. It came to him from his meditation on the person of John the Baptist in whom he found prefigured the ministry of the priest. He observed that in the New Testament, John is designated with an expression taken from Isaiah as the voice, while, in the Gospel of John, Christ is called the Word. The relation between the voice (Vox) and the Word ( Verbum) helps to clarify the relation between Christ and the priest. The word exists in the heart before it can be expressed outwardly by means of the voice. Then by means of the voice it can be perceived by the other and is made present to his heart, without depriving the one who speaks of his word. The external sound, i.e. the voice, which bears the word from one to the other (or others) passes. The word remains. It is the priest’s task to be the voice for the Word: "He must increase and I must decrease." The only meaning of the voice is to transmit the Word, and then disappear. This example explains the greatness as well as the humility of the priestly ministry: like John the Baptist the priest is only the precursor, servant of the Word and minister of the word. The listener is not taken up with him but with the Other. But the priest is the voice, "vox," in his entire existence; it is his mission to become the voice for the word and it is in this radical reference to the other that he participates in the greatness of the mission of John the Baptist, even in the mission of the Logos himself. It is in this line that Augustine designates the priest as the friend of the Spouse (John 3:29), who does not appropriate to himself the spouse, but like the friend shares in the joy of the wedding: The Lord has made a friend of his servant (John 15:15), and he now belongs to the home and remains at home — from servant he has become a free man (Galatians 4:7; 4:21-5:1).





We have spoken of the Christological character of the priesthood, which is always a Trinitarian character, because the Son, of his nature, proceeds from the Father and returns to Him. He communicates himself in the Holy Spirit who is love and therefore the gift in person. But then the Conciliar decree emphasizes in a subsequent passage the ecclesial character of the ministry which can never be separated from its Trinitarian-Christological foundation. The Incarnation of the Word means that God did not simply wish to come, by means of the Spirit, directly into the human spirit but sought him out by means of the material world wishing to touch him as social and historical being. God wishes to come to men through other men. God has come to men in this way so that they could find one another by means of him and beginning with him. For this reason the Incarnation implies the communion and historicity of the faith. To take the path of the body means that the reality of time and of human society become factors in the relations of men with God, which in turn are based on the antecedent relation of God with men. Christology and ecclesiology are inseparable: the action of God creates the "People of God," and the "People of God" become through Christ the "Body of Christ," according to the profound interpretation that Paul in the letter to the Galatians, gives of the promise made to Abraham. This promise — so Paul reads in the Old Testament —applies to the seed of Abraham, i.e. not to many, but to only one. The action of God brings together the many to make them not just "one thing" but "One," in physical communion with Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16:28).

The Council from the close connections between Christology and ecclesiology, can derive the impact on secular history of the Christ-event which priests are called to serve. Our final goal to which we tend is to achieve happiness. But happiness does not just consist of being together, but only the infinity of love makes possible our being together. Happiness only exists in being open to the divine, that is to divinization. In this way the Council says with Augustine, the end of history is that mankind should become love: mankind will become adoration, living worship, the city of God, civitas Dei. In this way we realize the deep desire of all creation "that God be all in all." 3 Only in this perspective can we understand what worship and the sacraments are.

The vision which directs to the last things, the end of history, leads us to the very concrete: because things are just as they are, Christian faith is never purely interior and spiritual, nor a subjective, personal and private relationship with Christ and His word, but is completely concrete and ecclesial. For this reason the Council, maybe in a way that was somewhat forced, emphasizes the bond priests have with their bishop: they represent him and act in his name and with his mission. Christian obedience which reverses Adam’s disobedience, is made concrete in ecclesial obedience, which for the priest is the obedience he owes his bishop. Certainly, the Council could have insisted more on the fact that first comes the obedience of all to the Word of God and to the presentation of the living tradition of the Church. This common bond is also the common freedom; it protects from arbitrariness and guarantees the authentically Christological character of ecclesial obedience. Ecclesial obedience is not positivist; it is not directed simply to a formal authority, but to him, who obedient himself, personifies the obedient Christ.


3 I Corinthians 15:28; Presbyterorum Ordinis (Decree on Priestly Life and Mission) 2,42-55; Augustine, The City of God X, 6.


Obedience is clearly independent of the virtue and holiness of him who is charged with an office, because it refers to the objectivity of the faith given by the Lord, which overcomes every subjectivity. In this way, in the obedience to the bishop there is always a going beyond the local church, it is a Catholic obedience: one obeys the bishop because he represents in this place the entire universal Church. It is an obedience, extending beyond the historical moment to the totality of the history of the faith. It is founded on all that has taken place in the communio sanctorum, and is open to the future, in which God will be all in all and we will become one people. From this point of view the pressing need of obedience is serious and urgent for him who represents authority. This does not mean that obedience is only conditional: it is very concrete. I do not obey Jesus whom others and I have invented from the Scriptures: in such a case I would obey my favorite ideas and in the image of Jesus I have created, I would adore myself. No. To obey Christ means to obey His Body, to obey Him in His body. From the letter to the Philippians, the obedience of Jesus as the overcoming of Adam’s disobedience is at the heart of the history of salvation. In priestly life, the obedience should be incarnate as obedience to the authority of the Church, concretely, to the bishop. This is the only way to avoid realistically the idolatry of oneself. Only in this way will Adam be overcome in us and give way to a new humanity. In a time in which emancipation is considered the essence of redemption and freedom seems to be the right to do anything I want, the concept of obedience has been practically put under an anathema. It has been eliminated not only from our vocabulary but also from our thought. It is the concept of freedom that provokes the inability to belong together, the inability to love. It makes man a slave. For this reason obedience well understood has to be reestablished and once again has to be emphasized at the core of Christian and priestly spirituality.




Where Christology is well understood in a Trinitarian and pneumatological way which is also ecclesial, the passage to spirituality, to a faith that is lived, takes place automatically. The Conciliar decree — we have seen that the dogmatic foundation was already established in the Constitution on the Church — is dedicated in a special way to this aspect with many concrete indications. I would like to set out only one thought. In n. 14 the decree speaks of the difficult problem of the interior unity of his life that the priest has to deal with when he is faced with a great number of different tasks; it is a problem which, with the continuing decline in the number of priests, threatens to become ever more the real crisis of priestly existence. A pastor today, who is in charge of three or four parishes, and always on the move from one place to the other, a situation that the missionaries know well, is becoming more the norm for the countries of ancient Christianity. The priest, who must try to guarantee the celebration of the sacraments in the communities, is tormented by administrative duties, is challenged by the complexity of every kind of question, and is aware of the difficulties of persons that he does not even have the time to contact. Torn between the variety of activities, the priest becomes drained and finds fewer opportunities for the recollection, which would give him the new energy and inspiration. Externally stretched and interiorly drained, he loses the joy of his vocation, which in the end he feels to be an unbearable burden. There is nothing left but flight. The Council offered three suggestions to master the situation. The foundation is an intimate communion with Christ whose food was to do the will of the Father (John 4:34). It is important that the ontological union with Christ abide in the conscience and in action: all that I do, I am doing in communion with Him. By doing it, I am with Him. All my activities, no matter how varied and often externally divergent constitute only one vocation: to be together with Christ acting as an instrument in communion with Him.

From this comes the second suggestion: priestly asceticism should not be placed alongside pastoral activity, as if it were an added burden, a further task that goes to encumber my day. It is in the action that I learn to overcome myself, to give and receive my life: in the delusion and failure I learn to forsake myself, to accept sorrow and to be detached from myself. In the joy of the success I learn gratitude. In the celebration of the sacraments, I am interiorly benefited. In fact, I do not perform an external work but I speak with Christ, and through Christ with the Trinity, and I pray with other and for others. The asceticism of the ministry, the ministry itself as an asceticism in my life, is doubtless an important element which requires a continuous, conscious exercise and an interior conformity of being and action.

A third element is indispensable. Even if we try to live service as the asceticism and sacramental activity as a personal meeting with Christ, we need moments of rest, so that the interior direction can be truly realized. The Conciliar decree states that priests will not attain it unless they penetrate more deeply with their lives into the mystery of Christ. Saint Charles Borromeo drawing on his experience offers sound advice. The priest, if he wishes to live a priestly life, should use the proper means: pray, fast and avoid both bad company and dangerous liberties. "If the tiniest spark of divine love has been lit in you, then do not throw it away nor expose it to the icy wind... Keep your mind fixed on God is your task the care of souls? Do not neglect your own care and do not spend yourself on others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself You have to look after the souls you have been put in charge of, but not to the extent that you forget your own... When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. If you celebrate Mass, meditate on what it is you are offering. If you recite the psalms in choir, meditate on whom you are speaking to and what you are saying to him. If you guide souls, meditate on whose blood has washed them...." The expression "meditate," occurring four times already, shows how essential it is for this great pastor of souls that there be a spiritual foundation for our action. We also know how generously St. Charles gave himself to his people. Worn out by his dedication to the pastoral ministry, St. Charles died at forty six. Such a person, who was truly consumed for Christ and drawing on Christ, for the people, teaches us that such a dedication is not possible without the discipline and the support of a true spirituality of faith. Here we have to learn something again. In the last ten years or so, the interior life, spirituality has been suspected as an escape into the intimate and the private. But a ministry without a spirituality becomes empty activism. Not a few priests who began their mission with the greatest idealism, ended in failure because of the hesitation about spirituality. To take time for God, to be personally and interiorly before Him is a pastoral priority that is of equal or even greater importance than other priorities. This is not an added burden, but the breath of the soul without which we necessarily remain out of breath; we are deprived of our spiritual breath, of the breath of the Holy Spirit within us. Other activities are appropriate and necessary for our spiritual recovery, but the fundamental way of recovery from our activity and the way to love it again is the interior search for the face of God which always restores to us the joy of God. One of the humble and in his humility great pastors of our century, Fr. Didimo Mantiero (1912-1992) of Bassano del Grappa noted in his spiritual diary: "Converts are always the result of the prayer and sacrifice of unknown faithful. Christ gained souls not with the power of his marvelous word but with the power of his constant prayer. By day he preached and by night he prayed." Souls, that is living human beings, cannot be attracted to God only with persuasion or discussion. They want to be conquered by means of prayer, by God for God. Christian spirituality is the most important pastoral activity. In our pastoral planning this aspect should be taken into greater consideration. Finally, we should learn again that we have less need of discussion and greater need of prayer.





To conclude I want to return again to the problems I mentioned in the introduction: Starting with the New Testament, what does the priesthood in the Church mean? First, does it exist? Or is the Reformers’ complaint correct that the Church betrayed the newness of the Christian event, and making nothing of Christ’s turning point, made a priest out of the presbyter? Shouldn’t she have remained strictly faithful to the function of the elder, without any sacralizing or sacramentalizing? For a correct answer to this question, it is not enough to do the terminological research on the concepts of presbyter and hiereus (sacerdos) that were at first separate and later on are united. One has to move to a greater depth, and here we have the whole issue of the relation between the Old and the New Testaments. Does the New Testament substantially represent a clean break with the past or a fulfillment in which all, even if transformed, is represented and, in being renewed, preserved? Is grace opposed to the law or does there exist an internal relationship between the two?

Historically, we have begun by noting that in the year 70 AD, the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and with it the entire sector of sacrifice and of priesthood, which in a certain way was the heart of the "law," disappeared. Judaism sought to preserve what was lost applying now the prescriptions of the holiness of the Temple to Jewish life in general. It anchored the lost legacy of the Temple in its spirituality in the form of prayerful hope for the reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem. The synagogue, which was no more than a meeting place for prayer, for preaching and listening to the word, is a fragment that awaits something greater. But a strictly Protestant interpretation of Christian ministry and worship reduces Christianity to the image of the synagogue, a meeting, preaching and prayer. The historicist interpretation of the of the uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice locks up the sacrifice and the worship in the past and excludes from the present both the sacrifice and the priesthood. In the meantime, in the Churches that came from the Reformation, one realizes that they lose an appreciation of the greatness and depth of the event of the New Testament. In fact, the Old Testament would not be fulfilled. In Christ’s resurrection the temple is rebuilt by the power of God (John 2:19). The living Temple, Christ, is himself the new sacrifice which continues in the Body of Christ, the Church. Starting with the sacrifice, in reference to it, we have the authentic priestly ministry of the new worship, in which all the figures find their fulfillment.

So we have to reject a conception, that in reference to worship and priesthood, supposes a clear break with the pre-Christian history of salvation, by denying any relationship between the priesthood of the Old and that of the New Testament. In such a case the New Testament would not be a fulfillment, but a contrast with the Old Testament. The inner unity of the history of salvation would be destroyed. By means of the sacrifice of Christ and of its acceptance in the resurrection, the whole cultic and priestly patrimony of the Old Testament was entrusted to the Church. It is the fullness of the Christian "yes" which must be brought forward to avoid a reduction of the Church to the synagogue. It is only in this way that we will understand the fullness and depth of the ministry of apostolic succession. In this way, we should say, without shame or excuse, but with great joy and decisiveness: yes, the priesthood of the Church is the continuation and revival of the priesthood of the Old Testament, which finds its true accomplishment in the radical and transforming newness. Such a vision is important for the relationship of Christianity with the other world religions. To the extent that Christianity is a new beginning, the greater and totally other reality which comes from God, nonetheless it cannot be leveled to a pure negation of human searching. The movement of a temporary nature that is expressed in these religions, no matter how distorted and deformed it may be, is not without value. Such a conception of the priesthood does not downplay the priesthood of the baptized. This is what Augustine pointed out in an elegant way when he called all the faithful the "servants of God" while calling the priests the "servants of the servants" and, from the point of view of their mission, called the faithful their masters. The priesthood of the New Testament is located in the following of Christ who washed the disciples’ feet: its greatness exists only in its humility. Greatness and humble service are closely related from when Christ, the greatest, became the least, from when He who is the first took the last place. To be a priest means to enter into the community of those who make themselves small in order to share in the common glory of the redemption.




His Eminence Damaskinos Papandreou2


The conciliar presentation of the present mission of priests in the worship and the entire spiritual work of the Church showed the perennial quality of the apostolic tradition in the organization and life of the Church.

Both the structure and the text of the decree illustrate clearly how Vatican Council II did not limit itself to impose systematically the traditional teaching on the mission of the priesthood in the spiritual work of the Church, but tried to clarify this mission in the light of the apostolic tradition, as it was manifested through time in the consciousness of the Church and how it is described in present theological investigations.

In apostolic times and in the first post-apostolic period, bishops and priests are presented in the exercise of the apostolic function of the episkope, which is presented in the letter of Clement of Rome. The unity of the apostolic function of the episkope, and the distinction of the ministers of the priesthood were lived as a eucharistic experience, both in the constitution of the ecclesial body and in the apostolic witness of the faith. Apostolic succession guaranteed the legitimacy and the perennial character of this experience. It would not be conceivable to separate these two fundamental elements of the apostolic tradition because, as Irenaeus of Lyons says, "our common faith is manifested in the Eucharist and the Eucharist certifies our faith," that is the apostolic faith.

In the light of this tradition, B. Botte concluded that "episcopacy, priesthood and diaconate are not so much ritual functions as much as they are orders which, in their hierarchy, constitute the very structure of the Church and must procure the growth and sanctification of her members." These conclusions have renewed ecclesial consciousness regarding the content of the apostolic tradition as well as the functions of priests. The canonical tradition of the first millennium, while not limiting the functions of priests, insisted on the limits of the bishop-centered tradition for interpreting apostolic succession exclusively as the succession of orders. However the Council of Trent, which places the reinforcement of the sacramental experience of the Church as the foundation of the work of reform, does not concern itself in reevaluating the relationship between the priests and bishops according to the criteria of this apostolic tradition. Vatican II, on the contrary, steering away from any sort of dichotomy, developed in its teaching on the presbyteral order, the relationship between bishops and priests in the constitution and in the life of the local ecclesial body. The ecclesiology of the Body of Christ reveals the unity of the sacraments in their reference to the unity of the ecclesial body. It follows that the theology of the presbyteral order, which grounds the decree of Vatican II, assumes its content from a structured ecclesiology, in which the salient distinctions of the past are more nuanced, both between the bishops and priests, and between sacramental experience and preaching.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Orthodox Metropolitan of Switzerland.


The orthodox perspective on the evaluation of the decree of Vatican II on the ministry and characteristic function of the priests in the constitution and in the acting of the ecclesial body should underline the following verifications:

1. The Second Vatican Council reestablishes with great sensitivity the authentic elements of the apostolic tradition, both as regards the organic insertion of the function of the priests in the apostolic function of the episkope, and also as regards the indissoluble unity of the communion of the body of the bishops and priests in the constitution and in the functioning of the ecclesial body;

2. the participation of the priests in the apostolic function of the episkope embraces both the economy of the sacraments and also the apostolic witness of the faith, because the Eucharist unites the mystery of Christ to his uninterrupted incarnation in the history of salvation until the end of time;

3. the characteristic sensitivity of the decree toward the function of preaching of priests shows the awareness of the Church, in the flux of the times, regarding the great range of the presbyteral function, because on the one hand it proceeds from the incontestable theology of the Body of Christ, and on the other hand from the bishop-centered unity of the priesthood, particularly underlined by the decree of Vatican II on the Church De Ecclesia;

4. the indissoluble bond between the sacramental experience and the witness of the faith, as it is presented by the decree, frees the ministry of the priests from the limits of the past and reveals the celebrant of the sacraments as collaborator of the bishops, involving in the witness of the faith those who are near and those far away;

5. the order of priest, when it has available the necessary moral and spiritual qualities, constitutes not only an ecclesial tribune directed to the goal of evangelizing people, but also a liturgical prolongation of the table of the Lord in the world.




Most Reverend Georges E. R. Gilson 2


The conciliar decree has served the Church in marking out the desired path to achieve and effect a synthesis of the two concepts of the priesthood expressed in the conciliar session. Is it possible to present the priest as man of evangelization without necessarily placing in full light the Eucharist which is the center of his ministry? This is the citation from Romans 15:15-16, utilized in Lumen Gentium 21, Gaudium et Spes 38, Ad Gentes 23 and then in Presbyterorum Ordinis 2, which has served to clarify this synthesis: "Minister of Jesus Christ among the pagans, exercising the sacred office of the Gospel of God, so that the pagans might become a pleasing offering." In the Second Vatican Council the homily finds its place in this eucharistic and apostolic context. This becomes then the sacramental locus in which the priest is the "celebrant of the word." It is the sacred moment in which a ministerial word, rooted in the gospel, becomes the authoritative commentary of the Church of Christ. It is here that the priest celebrates the announcing of the good news made to the Church. The homily becomes a Pentecostal time. It bears the kerygma, a word for the present moment of the Church. It presents an understanding of the faith to the Christian community so that this might be a "sign and sacrament of the intimate union with God and of the unity of the entire human race" (cf. Lumen Gentium 1).

What is the homily? The term itself invites us to understand the homily is neither a discourse on religion nor a catechism lesson. It is not a theology lesson, nor an exegetical exposition. Much less is it a social or political chronicle. Its statute is sui generis: it is inscribed in the liturgy. It is a ritual time, an essential part of the celebration of the sacraments.

One cannot give the homily outside of a community renewed the word and in view of the Eucharist. It is a familiar colloquy.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Bishop of Le Mans.


Its purpose is to stop to talk to the members of the community on the truth of the scriptures which, through the experience and the testimony of the pastor, becomes the word of life. The clearest biblical example for defining the homily is the encounter of the Risen Lord with the two disciples of Emmaus. Origen says that the homily is a colloquy with regard to the Scripture. Athanasius defines it as the needed comment of the New Testament. Yet Origen writes: "It is not the place for commenting, but for edifying the Church of God." The homily builds the Church.

I hold that to deliver the homily would be second among the priority tasks of the priests of year 2000. They have this mission of proclaiming the Gospel and of establishing the ecclesial community on it. In a certain sense, they participate in the magisterial mission of the bishops. They are doctors of the faith. The priest exercises an authority and he is a point of reference. All the other moments of teaching, of public encounter, of catechesis, of spiritual accompaniment, of religious education, etc. find their energy and their quality in this particular time which is the homily. For this I consider the homily as a ministry from which no one can exonerate himself.

We must recognize that such a task is not easy. The conciliar text emphasizes: "Priestly preaching, in the present state of the world, is often very difficult: if it is to become more effective in moving the minds of its hearers, it must expound the Word of God not merely in a general and abstract way but must apply the eternal truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of life" (P0, 4).

What is happening in France thirty years after the council? Many speak the word every day in weekday masses. All preach the homily on the occasions of the liturgy of the sacraments or of funerals. Of course, there are no Sunday masses without a homily! (cf. SC 52).

At times it is legitimate to question oneself about the quality of this liturgical service. However I can give testimony to the seriousness and commitment of priests.

Many nourish the work of preparation with the Liturgy of the Hours or prayer: they pray not only with the Scripture, but also they strive to understand the texts and they search for the ecclesial meaning. To this end, the constitution Dei Verbum is a treasure, it offers a valid and secure teaching for all preachers of the gospel. It allows for exegetical work which is the necessary preamble to every homily: respect for the truth of God and the service of the people require it.

Personal prayer and biblical studies are obligatory steps but are not sufficient. Only the holy pastor is able to write a good homily, that is, this "familiar colloquy" with the portion of humanity entrusted to him by God. The priest prepares his sermon not only thanks to personal reflection and to his own theological knowledge, but also in light of his everyday ministerial activity. The shepherd knows the sheep and the sheep know him. I dare say that he prepares the homily with his appointment book. One must take up in the light of the Spirit the conversations, the meetings, the confidences, the dialogues experienced by the priest throughout the course of the day. There is no homily that should not be above all the fruit of pastoral experience, of fraternal life, of walking together.

The difficulty of the homily comes also from the crisis of the present civilization. The destruction of culture and of language evidently damage the exposition of the Christian mystery. Priests must find the right wavelength, they must make themselves understood, to be good teachers.

In conclusion, let us remember that the homily leads to the Creed, it does not introduce a spontaneous dialogue with the gathered Christians, as some would like. The homily is a liturgical action. It is not a grasp of power, it is not a platform. It is an act of prayer that moves toward the table of the Eucharist, a step towards the action of grace. And, finally, the homily has a festive dimension. It is a word that is nourished by the Magnficat of Mary. It should be a song dedicated to the mystery of God: because it is in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit that the ministers ought to assume what the fathers call mystagogical catechesis.



Reverend Marcial Maciel Degollado2


The priest, as all Christians, has been sent to travel over the whole world to announce the gospel to all creatures (Mark 16:15). He has been sent, though, as a priest; that is, as an ordained minister. For this reason, he has received the gospel so that he may bring it to men, in the role of representative of Christ, as head and shepherd. Therefore, if every Christian has the obligation to announce the gospel with fervor, so much more has the priest.

In his striving to imitate Christ, the priest does not need excessive theological theories, nor many pastoral methods. That which he needs above all is to love profoundly and sincerely the gospel which he must preach and to love as well the men to whom he must proclaim it. Therefore, more than to doctrinal elaborations, it can be useful for us to look at with simplicity the example of a priest of our days, who lives this reality in an exceptionally exemplary way: the Holy Father John Paul II.

The Pope reminds us, with his living example, that the priest must proclaim the gospel actively, dynamically; that frequently he must go out into the streets and the squares and look for men where they live, work, relax, suffer, or rejoice; that we cannot wait passively for the men of today to come to us searching for Christ and his gospel; that we must be ready to go to the point of exhaustion, in setting out on journeys, be they short or long.

The Pope teaches us that the priest must know how to announce the gospel with the spoken or written word, and that he must use effectively the means of social communication for broadcasting as extensively as possible the good news received from Christ.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Superior General of the Legionaries of Christ.


He also helps us to understand that the priest must know how to enlighten with the light of the gospel both the individual consciences and public opinion, that the gospel is destined to be the light and the salt of the entire human reality: the culture, politics, the economy, social problems, etc. And therefore, the priest must strive to know the reality in which he must announce the gospel and find a thought that serves as a mediation between the revealed message and the dominant cultural categories in the place in which he carries out his mission.

Looking at the example of the Holy Father, we are reminded that the priest, in love with the gospel which he announces, must find the most effective ways to accomplish his mission.

Seeing the tireless work of the Holy Father, we are reminded that the priest must know how to summon, to motivate, to spur and to guide the laity in the duty of announcing the gospel.

Finally, Pope John Paul II teaches us, with his daily example, that the priest must be a man of God, of a profound interior life, even amidst travels, encounters with the multitudes, activity and responsibility of every sort. He reminds us that the announcement of the gospel must spring up from within, from the understanding and the interior experience of the message and the person of Christ, which only personal prayer makes possible. He spurs us on to proclaim the gospel, offering also every physical and moral sacrifice for love of the cross of the Redeemer: the messenger of the gospel is called to pay in person the price of the redemption, uniting the sacrifice of his self-gift, his sufferings, persecution, and fatigue to the infinite merits of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If there were more priests modeled after the Holy Father, even if there were less theories on the priesthood and on its mission, the Church would be more fruitful and the world more Christian.

Mary, the Queen of the apostles, closely accompanies every priest, in his duty of announcing the gospel. Like the Holy Father, every priest ought to say to her in his heart and in his life: "Totus tuus!"



Most Reverend Javier Echevarria Rodriguez2


The mission of the priest, as a ministry of sanctification, develops in the fullness of its own virtualities for the edification of the Church only if the priest, touched in the depth of his own being by this specific call that identifies him sacramentally with Christ the priest, knows how to express in all the aspects of his life the totality of the "yes" he pronounced one day to the gift of God. The mission received, and consciously assumed, calls him to make of his own existence a continual holocaust of love. The Holy Father John Paul II has defined the priest’s intimate and continuous relationship with Christ as "a personal encounter, alive, eyes wide open, with the heart palpitating." 3 To seek holiness in order to sanctify: our ministry binds us to this, hence the necessity that the first care of the priest should be to apply himself above all to his own spiritual life.

As noted, n.2 of the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, in the intentions of the conciliar fathers, responds to the question on the nature of the priesthood.

"Given that priests have their participation in the functioning (munus) of the Apostles in their own degree, to them is given the grace by God to be the ministers of Christ Jesus among the nations, through the sacred ministry of the Gospel, so that the oblation of the nations may be accepted, sanctified in the Holy Spirit" (P0, 2 d). The beginning of the paragraph exhorts in this way, offering a synthesis of the ministerial priesthood founded on a participation in the apostolic mission. The text takes up again the words in which St. Paul presents himself as a "minister of Christ Jesus to the nations consecrating the Gospel of God so that the sacrifice of the nations may be accepted and sanctified in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:6). The council, in short, extends to priests that which the Apostle to the nations says of himself.

The ministry of priests, as that of St. Paul, aims at this: that the nations, welcoming the gospel, become a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God, after having been sanctified in the Spirit and by the Spirit. Here is the nucleus of the priestly mission: the glory of God through the sanctification of men.

The ministry of sanctification of priests, at the service of the faithful, is not limited to the minimal essential: it goes far beyond and pushes itself to the limits of holiness. One conclusion which appears appropriately necessary in consideration of its goal: to go forward so that the entire Church might be offered to God as a universal sacrifice by means of Christ, her head and spouse.

On this path of holiness, which we are all called to go, the motherly aid of Mary helps us. "Our Lady — Blessed Josemaria Escriva has written teaches us to come to Jesus, to recognize him and to find him in all the different situations of the day and, in a particular way, in that supreme moment - in which time blends with eternity - of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Jesus with the gesture of a high priest, attracts all things to himself and places them, divino afflante Spiritu, with the breath of the Holy Spirit, in the presence of God the Father." 4



1 Translated from the original Italian by Rev. Peter Welsh.

2 Prelate of Opus Dei.

3 Homily in the cathedral of Santo Domingo, 26 January 1979.

4J. Escriva, Christ Is Passing By, Scepter, Dublin, 1982, n. 94.



Monsignor Luigi Giussani2




There is today a pattern of thought and perspective imposed by the present culture called nihilism. It is above all the inevitable consequence of an anthropocentric presumption that man is capable of saving himself by his own effort, and that auto-salvation is the purpose of his history. It is the utmost effort of the modern age to continue the flight of Adam from subjection to that infinite mystery which every reasonable man, in fact, sees on the horizon and is at the root of every human experience. If reality seems to shy away from this lordly claim of man, the last resource of pride is to deny it any consistency, arbitrarily to consider everything by the standard of illusion or of a game.

The most direct aspect, then, of this challenge is in this: the loathing to recognize the Lord turns into a single choice, negative even when confronted with the evident, albeit fragile, appearance.




A stubborn agnostic position is the second challenge. Its expression can be found in Kafka: "There is a destination, but there is no way." 3

The terra incognita of the destination clashes with the announcement of an historical fact. One man has said: "I am the way, the truth and the life." It is in the way of Christ that man recognizes his own destiny as son and therefore his true nature.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Founder of the Communione e Liberazione movement.

3 F. Kafka, Il silenzio delle sirene. Scritti e frammenti postumi (1917-1924), Feltrinelli, Milano 1994, 91.


But "as the Father has sent me, so I also send you" (John 20:2 1).

The priesthood upholds and expresses in the world the vision of life as purpose. For the priest, belonging to Christ as sent by the Father is the all consuming definition of one’s own personality (Galatians 2:20). Life and ministry are thus the response to a real, historic and existential event.

In the loving assertion of the presence of Christ, life for the priest, as for every baptized person, becomes the offering of every moment, action, word, sorrow for the glory of Christ, so that Christ may be made known. 4

As Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 2 reminds us, "such glory consists in the fact that men accept the perfect work of God in Christ consciously, freely and gratefully, and manifest it in their whole life."




The mission, denied by the world as anti-libertarian violence, arises from the yearning of charity.

Man no longer lives for himself, as an assertion of self, but for "Him who died and rose for him."

This new concept of oneself and of one’s action each day finds new life as the overcoming of the limited values of the world (cf. Romans 12:1 and Presbyterorum Ordinis) and the comprehensive and inclusive re-evaluation of all that is good, true and just in reality. Such an original concept is better defined by the term "ecumenism" than it is by the word "culture." This expresses a continuous embrace of the "diverse" in the active interest of envisioning in the truth which is in all things.




The new "reason for living" indicates, within the image of time and space, the beginning of a new morality. One can, then, define the moral attitude as a judgement moved by a presence experienced as fully corresponding to one’s own destiny. It is a new sense of morality in as much as it flows from the amazed recognition of that unforeseeable, although real, presence, such as happened for Simon when he responded to Christ who questioned him: "Yes, you know that I love you!" (cf. John 21).

There is in experience affected by the presence of Christ, the possibility of overcoming the cynicism that is proposed as ultimate wisdom by the modern world faced with interpretative confusion and endless weakness, in the area of instinctive affectivity.


4 Cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12ff.



Most Reverend Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga2




Even if there no special section in the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis on the theme of the inculturation of the faith, there is certainly no lack of scattered items which can shed light on this increasingly important notion. This can be explained in three points, with an appendix, taking its starting point from the perspective of the pilgrim Church in Latin America.




The need for the priest to inculturate himself in the place where he is called to exercise his ministry and, in his turn, to inculturate the faith in that environment, is based on the twofold dimension which the Letter to the Hebrews (5:1), actually quoted inn. 3 of the decree, shows the priest. Such a person, if he must be "taken" from among men, is within a concrete culture. Therefore the vocation and mission of the priest are necessarily mediated by two cultural realities: That of the community from which he is chosen and that of the community to which he is sent.

On the other hand, the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis presents, among other things, five fundamental principles which involve the dimension of inculturation. These are the following:

1. Pastoral effectiveness, since n. 1 says that the purpose of the decree is that "the ministry of priests in real pastoral and human circumstances, often radically new, may be able to find more effective support," and certainly one of the circumstances which have changed most is that related to the cultural dimension.

2. Pastoral service, because the decree, in n. 3, recalls that priests "cannot be of any service to men if they make themselves strangers to their life and environment." Certainly, to be strangers to their life and environment means to be strangers to the culture of the very people whom priests ought to serve.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and President of CELAM.


3. Insertion into the "world, "according to the fundamental Joannine distinction of not being "of’ the world, though still being "in" the world. Therefore, the decree, in that same n. 3, says: "At the same time, priests are required to live in this world among men." Such a life cannot be other than a necessary immersion into the real culture in which priests exercise their specific ministry.

4. Pastoral knowledge, along the lines of that same Joannine concept, by reason of which n. 3 asserts that priests "are required... to understand well — as good pastors — their own sheep." That will be impossible if they do not also have an understanding of the culture in which those sheep live.

5. Fraternity, since n. 3 of the decree affirms that priests "live in the midst of other men as their brothers." All of which requires that they have a knowledge of the culture of their own sheep, that they live it and that they share it.




The decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis, provides for inculturation, recommends it, or even establishes some priestly attitudes which involve implicit dimensions of inculturation of the faith. Let us review some examples:

1. The priest, according to n. 4 of the decree, ought to apply the word of God "to the concrete circumstances of life," which, logically, are also of the cultural order. The "perennial" truth of the Gospel, therefore, ought to "accommodate itself’ to the situation of the human community which accepts it, and the priest ought to fulfill such a hermeneutical function.

2. The same n. 4 maintains that the priest, in his ministry, ought to proceed according to "the various needs of his hearers," and this ought to be understood as a function of the inculturation of the faith in service of those who are to be the subjects of the preaching.

3. In n. 6 of the decree, when it speaks of priests as rectors of God’s people, determines that they should educate people "to Christian maturity." Such maturity always comes about by means of experience lived in a particular culture.

4. Again in n. 6, there is insistence on what will later come to be called the preferential option for the poor and the weak, who are going to be loved and respected, and are going to be respected within their own culture.

5. In the same n. 6, it asks priests to form an authentic Christian community. This will be possible only to the extent that it takes into account the cultural dimension, the basis of life together in community.

6. Once more in n. 6, when the decree speaks of the vocational work of the priest, it insists that he must identify and attract possible candidates, who will be neither recognized nor appreciated, if there is no respect for their culture; and it is from there that they must be drawn for the service of their brothers.

7. N. 12 treats of the theme of priestly holiness but it does not see it as carried out in the abstract. A holy priest is such within a determined culture, in which he bears witness to the Lord.




The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis presents some norms in respect to inculturation. Among them are three which can be emphasized. We see the following:

1. In the second subsection of n. 19, devoted to the pastoral knowledge in which the priest is formed, it speaks of the necessity of being expert in human "culture," a term which, interpreted in the sense of the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, is rich in meaning.

2. N. 10, the third subsection, determines that "priests ought not be sent alone into a new region, especially when they do not yet have a knowledge of its language and customs: It is better that they go in groups of two or three, as did the disciples of the Lord" (cf. Luke 10:1). Going in groups favors mutual assistance in the necessary task of inculturation.

3. In the same number and subsection, the decree provides that priests who enter into a specific region ought to know not only the language, "but also the particular psychological and social characteristics of the people to whose service they humbly wish to submit themselves." This is nothing other than the clear statement of the pastor’s obligation of inculturation, as the condition sine qua non for authentic evangelization.

These three important norms are sufficient to be able to maintain that the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis requires that the priest be brought up in the bosom of his own culture, and thus that he inculturate his own faith and so immerse himself in the culture of the place to which he has been called.




Reverend José Manuel Pereda Crespo2


It is sad to note that priests often think that the problem of sects and new religious movements is something of lesser importance. In any case, sooner or later, granted the incursion of the different movements and the doubts that they create in the faithful, the same priests will be seeking advice to respond to those who have questions about these religious movements in our culture.

Both at the level of ordained ministers and at the level of pastoral representatives, I think that this constitutes a theme of capital importance and should be recognized as such so that it may be treated in a proper manner. It is better to anticipate than to be forced to seek remedy, and one cannot expect to anticipate something that is not even recognized. As in other arenas, so in this one also the solution is difficult, painful, costly and leaves indelible traces. To avoid the occurrence of such situations, it is necessary to accept and put into practice three principles:

The principle of awareness: To recognize the existence and seriousness of the problem;

The principle of information-formation: To be concerned with knowing the different groups and what is involved in the membership and militancy in each of them, taking into account their typology;

The principle of operation: To deal uniformly, with an ecumenical mind and with charity.

It is undeniable that sects exercise a power of attraction with which priests must find themselves confronted. They normally take a place in the presence of the "macrocommunity" and this, willy nilly, implies their "maxification."

The creation of community puts enormous importance on receptivity, dialogue, good ways of acting, communitarian love.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Founder of Los Cruzados de Cristo.


The dedication, the commitment, the encounters of the priest with the community have as their final end the building up of community. It can be said that communities are too populous to be able to establish a personal rapport, to allow for personalized companionship, and perhaps that is true, given the scarcity of priests. In any case, one cannot think that this is the exclusive work of the ordained minister; for this purpose groups of pastoral representatives are formed. Priests and pastoral representatives together must form and give life to communities which are open, vital, welcoming, disposed to dialogue, and which give life to the study of the Scriptures, communities of prayer, missionary communities animated by an ecumenical spirit, without forgetting that today there is far more willing acceptance of personal testimony than of the prophet who does not offer clear witness with his own life. One listens to the person who lives in an evangelical way and who is not limited to only speaking about the gospel. It would be an irreplaceable help for any person to find himself in such a community both at the personal and familial level. An ecclesial community that is open, involved in dialogue and ecumenical will avoid ending up in exclusivism, isolationism or sects.

The priest ought to sow the seed with enthusiasm, joy, hope, but, above all, he ought to be convinced of what he believes and preaches. The Christian faith has as its foundation a God who is personal and is a family, a communion. This personal and communitarian faith must live as a radical choice for Christ, for his message, for his work, and for its subsequent handing on to others.

Priests can bemoan the fact that they are not listened to, that they speak of a subject of little or no interest, that they do not convince. But are they not sometimes asked the reason for this? Is it perhaps that the message of salvation holds no more interest for the individual believer or, better, that the man, tired and filled with materialism, has lost the meaning of life? The members of the sects listen to them and welcome them; why do they not welcome me, the priest? Perhaps one should remember, as minister or pastoral representative, that "the prophets of the new religious movements teach falsehood as if it were the truth and the ministers and pastoral representatives, on the other hand, teach the truth as if it were falsehood."

This whole picture requires and demands, on the one hand, formation and a continuing formation, as is usually done in other areas. Above all, it requires a deep formation, a formation that is biblical, theological, liturgical and ecumenical, which succeeds in presenting the gospel message as a message of life, with joy and with all that is implied in the awareness of salvation and its celebration. On the other hand, it demands formation joined to an interest in and understanding of different groups, so as to be able to present with seriousness, objectivity and respect, that which they offer and which can be accepted, as well as that which must be rejected because it is in opposition to the gospel. I think that this must be the urgent commitment of priests if they truly want to supply an adequate answer to the challenge thrown down by sects today. The truth of the gospel is not imposed, it is proposed.

Every new thing possible has been offered in Christ. To present and to live that newness is the aim of the ordained minister, the pastoral representatives and the Christian community. After him, all "newness" that prescinds from him is false. For this reason the sects and new religious movements, which present new revelations, sometimes as strange as they are attractive, represent a challenge rather than a threat. They constitute a stimulus for self-reflection and ecclesial reflection in view of a broader pastoral efficacy. The gospel truth, like love, is not imposed, but is proposed.




Most Reverend Ivan Prendja2


The apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, in n. 18 of the second chapter, teaches us that "...the Priest, in his relations with all people, must be a man of mission and dialogue. Deeply rooted in the truth and charity of Christ, and impelled by the desire and imperative to proclaim Christ’s salvation to all, the priest is called to witness in all his relationships to fraternity, service and a common quest for the truth, as well as a concern for the promotion of justice and peace. This is the case above all with the brethren of other churches and Christian denominations, but it also extends to the faithful of other religions, to people of good will and in particular to the poor and the defenseless..." (PDV II, 18).

The situation of the Church in states under the Communist regime is well known. Stripped of their most basic rights, marginalized and isolated from society, persecuted and suffocated by iniquitous laws, constrained to silence, the Church has been confined to the boundaries of its own church buildings and sacristies. Priests, above all, were exposed to constant harassments, humiliations and legal sentences. The regime wanted only priests who were docile, inactive and frightened.

With the downfall of the Communist regime, the Church escapes from the catacombs and finds herself in the midst of a civil society in great turmoil, recovers her freedom of pastoral action, her role in this society. All these profound changes have found our Church unprepared to confront the new pastoral tasks in the politico-social situations in which she has discovered herself. We can illustrate such a situation with some representative examples.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Coadjutor Archbishop of Zadar.


1. The Church has had to confront unexpected openings and new problems, as, for example, the introduction of the teaching of religion in public schools, the possibility of access to the mass media of the state and the freedom to organize the laity in Catholic associations to act in the various arenas of public life. To respond to all these emerging realities, the Church has mobilized all her priests, diocesan and religious, requiring them generously to assume an overload of work in order to carry the proclamation of the gospel into all these sectors, up until now hermetically sealed against the presence of priests and of the Church.

2. The process of democratization has provoked, as might have been expected, profound undercurrents and tensions in civil society and in all sectors. In our case then such a process has led to the creation of new states upon the ruins of an artificial state, such as Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, this transition did not happen peacefully.

3. In the situation of a war beyond all the designs of humanity and respect for the Geneva Conventions, our priests found themselves having to live in the fullness of their role as defenders of the fundamental rights of the human person, the role of alleviating the sufferings caused by the war toward all its victims, without distinction, and the role of apostles of peace and reconciliation. In this tragic situation the Catholic priests in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina bore witness to their apostolic courage by confronting serious dangers at the cost of their lives and sharing heavy trials and wartime sufferings with their own faithful and continuing their work as promoters of peace and reconciliation.

4. When wounds are still bloody and emotions are deep and irrational, the work of priests as proclaimers of peace and reconciliation is not easy. Therefore priests have need of strong and continuous support and encouragement on the part of the bishops, but also on the part of the faithful with whom they often share the conditions of a dehumanizing life. We ought then once again thank the Holy Father John Paul II who wanted, with his visit to Croatia in September of 1994, to infuse new hope, new spiritual energy and to bring his personal support and that of the whole Catholic Church to our faithful but, I might dare to say, in the first place to us bishops and our priests.

The external transition touches our Church internally as well, because it must pass from an essentially defensive pastoral strategy to a new strategy of conquest and of new pastoral creativity. During all these years of war we have not been able to visit our parishes in the territories occupied by the invader; priests have been imprisoned or expelled with their faithful and have been deprived of their fundamental human rights, let alone the means of subsistence. Parishes have been materially destroyed.

We therefore live this phase of the history of the Church in our fatherland fully conscious of the challenges which we must confront in the coming years and which lead us above all to favor certain aspects of the vocation and priestly spirituality which we summarize briefly:

I. The exercise of pastoral charity even, if necessary, to the point of bloody martyrdom and in any case to the martyrdom inherent in the exercise of the priestly ministry in abnormal conditions.

2. The service of material and spiritual charity toward refugees, exiles and the expelled as the condition and premise for an effective and strictly pastoral action. Such a task calls our priests to live in a credible way the virtue of poverty and detachment from worldly goods.

3. A new evangelization of all post-communist and post-war social reality, in the first place reconciliation, moralization of public life and political power at all levels, the assumption of the Church’s task of also being the critical conscience of society.

4. A new creativity in the pastoral methods for a society deeply wounded by fifty years of an atheistic, communistic regime, by five years of struggle in defense of one’s own independence and national sovereignty, by the impact with western models of a form of democracy hostile to or agnostic in its confrontation with Christian models.




Most Reverend Viktor J. Dammertz2


Every cleric who does not form part of an institute of clerical society endowed with relative faculties must be incardinated into a particular Church. 3 He is consecrated for service of this particular Church. 4 In his consecration as deacon he promises to his diocesan bishop and his successors reverence and obedience; he repeats this promise in priestly ordination. In this way the priest, in unity with the whole presbyterate of the diocese, becomes a dedicated collaborator of his diocesan bishop. 5 In his mission he guides the people of God entrusted to him on the way of salvation. Pastores Dabo Vobis (n. 31) and the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests (n.26) highlight the fact that the incardination of the priest into a determined particular Church is not only a juridical act, but must also place an incisive mark of spirituality on the diocesan priest.

The diocesan bishop is above all called to be occupied with the people of his diocese. But in this he must not forget that his diocese is a part of the communio of the whole Church under the Holy Father, because "the Church is by its very nature missionary." 6


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Bishop of Augsburg.

3 Cf. can. 265 CIC.

4 Cf. Christus Dominus, 28.

5 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 28; Optatam totius, 9.

6 Ad Gentes, art. 2.


Therefore, every bishop shares the care for the universal Church and for the other particular Churches. The Second Vatican Council has clearly called this to mind: "The concern of proclaiming the Gospel in every part of the earth belongs to the body of pastors, to all of whom in common Christ gave the command, imposing a common obligation." 7

As faithful collaborators of the bishop, diocesan priests are included in this responsibility. The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis highlights the fact that "every priestly ministry participates in the universal fullness of the mission entrusted by Christ to the apostles." Thus all priests ought to hold dear to their hearts the care of all the Churches (art. 10). They are the animating forces for the reawakening of missionary consciousness among the faithful. 8 The Council thus makes an appeal for the assignment of’ priests (with the prior consent or invitation of their own ordinaries) to exercise their ministry in those particular Churches which suffer a scarcity of clergy? The decree Ad Gentes on the missionary activity of the Church repeats this declaration and reminds bishops and priests of their responsibility for the universal Church. It expresses the desire that the bishops make available for a fixed period of time "some of their best priests" for service in other particular Churches, to alleviate the serious shortage of priests. 10

That question is fully treated in articles 31 and 32 of Pastores Dabo Vobis. Article 31 highlights the spiritual dimension of incardination into a particular Church, while article 32 immediately establishes that the nature of the particular Church as well as the essence of priestly service require an openness to the universal mission of the Church.

A further call comes from the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests which, in articles 13-15, underlines and specifies the declarations of the preceding Church documents.

Concretely this is certainly above all a matter of a disposition of soul, which finds its reflection in the interest and prayer of all Christians. But it is also a matter of availability on the part of particular priests to offer themselves to the service of another local Church, and of the generosity of the bishops.


7 Lumen Gentium, 23.

8John Paul II, Messaggio per la domenica delle missioni mondiali 1990.

9Presbyterorum Ordinis, 10.

10 Art. 38; Cf. also Christus Dominus, 6. The Codex juris canonicis has regulated this matter in detail in canon 271.


Even Pope Pius XII expressed this urgent prayer in his encyclical Fidei Donum (1957). After the Second Vatican Council, the Congregation for the Clergy, on 25 March 1980, published detailed directives (Post quam Apostoli) as to how and under what conditions it is possible to reach a more equitable distribution of clergy." As a result of these initiatives, in 1991 the Holy Father instituted an inter-dicasterial permanent commission which must implement this need. 12

In summary, I would like to quote from the already cited Directory of the Congregation for the Clergy: "Membership in a particular Church by means of incardination ought not to lock the priest into a narrow and particularist mentality. Further,., all priests ought to have a missionary heart and mind and be open to the needs of the Church and of the world."’ 3


11 AAS 72, 1980, 343-364.

12 Cf. Annuario Pontificio 1995, 1201.

13 Directory, art. 14; Cf. Redemptoris Missio, 67.




Reverend Constant Bouchaud2


The shortage of priests has serious consequences. The Synod of 1971 already asserted this: "When the presence and actions of priests are lacking, the Church cannot have full assurance of its fidelity and its visible continuity."

To remedy such a situation, diocesan priests are necessary. An "exchange of gifts," which are the priests themselves, ought to encourage a better distribution, but it must also signify and intensify the communion among the Churches.

Pope John Paul II underscored "the great novelty" of the prophetic call of Pius XII in Fidei Donum (1957), who issued the invitation to such an exchange with reference to the young Churches of Africa. "He surpasses the territorial dimension of priestly service by opening it to the whole Church" (RM 68).

The conciliar decree lays the foundation for this sharing and roots this availability in the very meaning of priestly ordination; it thus addresses an invitation to the whole Church (P0, 10). The fundamental motive is in the fact that "the priesthood of Christ, in which priests participate, cannot do other than reach out to all people and to all times."

Teaching and directives of this sort take on their full meaning in the light of the Constitution Lumen Gentium: In the bosom of the Church, "each of its parts brings to the others and to the whole Church the benefits of its own gifts, in such a way that each and every one of its parts increases by this universal, mutual exchange" (LG 13). And "since the task of proclaiming the Gospel to the whole world is in the jurisdiction of the body of pastors," they must, with all their strength, contribute to furnishing laborers for the harvest, above all to those Churches most deprived" (LG 23).


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Procurator General, Sulpicians.

These claims are spelled out and taken up again in other conciliar documents, 3 and in many post-conciliar documents. 4


After the Council, Paul VI established, under the Congregation for the Clergy, a special commission charged with the formulation of principles to guide efforts aimed at a better distribution of the clergy. 5 After a vast consultation which took into consideration the experience of priests of Fidei Donum, the Congregation for the Clergy, in 1980, published some directives for the collaboration of individual Churches among themselves, in particular for a better distribution of the clergy. This letter, Post quam Apostoli, pointed to new situations which demanded greater mobility of the clergy, the increased needs of so many Churches; it clarified the conditions favorable to the mandate of Fidei Donum, to their apostolic fruitfulness, and to their return to their native lands to enrich the Church with a new pastoral and missionary experience. After the synod on the formation of priests, the Congregation for the Clergy had occasion to make a very positive report on the thirty years of experience of the results of Fidei Donum, from 1960 until 1990.

In 1991 John Paul II created an inter-congregational commission for the more equitable distribution of the clergy, under the Congregation for Catholic Education. Its charge is "to pursue an activity of creating awareness in order to facilitate the exchange of priests among dioceses and especially of priests prepared for the work of formation in seminaries, for vocational pastoral activity and for the work of centers of formation for deacons; that commission also had the special duty of promoting and coordinating the activity of formational centers for these specialized priests." 6


3 CD 16; AAG 39; OT 24.

4 Especially Redemptoris Missio, Pastores Dabo Vobis and The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests.

5 Motu proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae, 6 August 1966.

6 Letter of 2 July 1991 of the Secretary of State.


The afore-mentioned commission initiated a very widespread inquiry among the episcopal conferences and the dioceses with the aim of finding out precisely the needs, the resources and availability of priests, in particular for seminaries. The results will be drawn up shortly. It could be called a type of "data bank."

Numerous dioceses are available to furnish priests, but few among them are prepared for the service of priestly formation or pastoral vocations. It was important to get them some special formation, according to the directives published by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 1993.

In conclusion, a long road has been followed from the first call of Pius XII in Fidei Donum: Things have progressed from help for the Churches of Africa to an exchange in a spirit of communion among all the Churches; from the experience of "people sent forth" to one of reciprocity; from simple invitations to efforts at investigation, stimulus, and coordination in the more important environment of priestly formation and vocations. This movement is still far from its goal. It will not be able to move forward without a wide consensus of the bishops in the bodies of the episcopal conferences and among themselves, and without a vital consciousness, among priests, of their common mission.




Professor Guzman Carriquiry2


In the process of putting into action the teachings of the Second Vatican Council in the life of the Church, we can today treat as past history those historical and cultural forms of a kind of "clericalism," in which the laity seemed to constitute an amorphous mass of the faithful in a minority condition and with a passive acceptance of the faith.

There is also a tendency to overcome a connection between priest and laity as though it were between representatives of corporate sectors in conflict for a strict and jealous delimiting of spheres of action, for the redistribution of rights, powers and duties, for the conquest of territories, in an atmosphere contaminated by suspicions, intrigues and tensions.

A third type of situation lived out and endured in post-conciliar times is to be seen in the slide toward forms of "secularizing of priests and clericalizing of the laity." That sort of clericalizing is seen when the laity come to be considered merely as parochial and pastoral collaborators, all the more necessary as priests become more scarce. The more extreme manifestations of this are those of an inflation of "non-ordained ministers" which ends up making them banal, those of an institutionalizing of "professional" lay of management of institutions and of ecclesiastical services worse yet, the temptations and claims of substituting themselves in functions and works which are proper to priests and derived essentially from ordained ministry. This is what enters into conflict with the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Under secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

3 Cf. LG 32.

4 Cf. P0, 2; PDV 11ff.


Thanks be to God, the more widespread and fruitful experience collaboration between lay faithful and priests is to be found in the self-consciousness and self-actualization of the Church as mystery of missionary communion. Of course the extraordinary assembly of the synod of bishops, called on the twentieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, again took up and underscored this "ecclesiology of communion." In its light is the full affirmation that in the priestly, prophetic and royal people of the Christian faithful (christifideles), "the dignity of the members is in common..., the graces of filiation are in common, the call to perfection is in common, there is only one salvation, only one hope and one undivided charity." 3 Above all they are christifideles, for whom the Pauline "in Christ [~v Xptot4]" expresses the essential and distinctive sign of the ecclesial existence of the Christian, more foundational, radical and decisive than are any distinctions between states of life. All are brethren, "as members of the one and only Body of Christ, whose building up is the task of all" (P0, 9), yet, at the same time, some of them having become fathers, teachers and pastors because of being chosen by God, anointed by the Spirit with the sacrament of orders, conformed to Jesus Christ as head and shepherd who gives his life for the Church, participate in his power (potestas) and are animated by his pastoral charity. 4 The relationships between laity and priests are illuminated in the framework of this living community of the Christian faithful (christifideles) which, in turn, the priest is called to form and to lead in the spirit of the total giving of service.

It is necessary that these relationships be essentially characterized by gratuity and gratitude, that they come from grace — much more than from functional criteria — in the bosom of ecclesial communion, based upon and enriched by gifts hierarchical, sacramental and charismatic which are co-essential to them. This mystery of communion cannot be reduced to a simple division of roles in a functionally mechanical point of view. It is the sacramentality of the Church, the gifts and charisms which build it up and always renew it, the grace which is sought in common and personal prayer, that which ought intimately to give life to any collaboration of the lay faithful with priests and distinguishes that which pertains to the one or to the other in their single communion and mission.

In the concrete field of the collaboration of the lay faithful in the pastoral ministry of priests, one must take account of and appreciate the generous commitment of many lay people who have been called to assume special responsibilities of service in the Christian community. This has been entrusted to them on the part of pastors, with a certain length of time required by a particular formation, to respond to the needs of such communities. The exercise of "instituted" ministries of lector or acolyte, the work as catechists at a number of different levels, various commitments in community and liturgical exercise, collaboration in the fields of administration, or the press and Catholic education, service of charity toward the poorest and those who suffer, missionary devotion to the nations (ad gentes) — in all of these areas there is the expression of an ecclesial co-responsibility derived from the one baptismal priesthood, which enriches the service of the whole Church. In this regard, especially in times of persecution of Christian communities, there is definite witness of the presence in missionary frontiers, both in territories and environments where the Church is not yet fully planted, of response to pastoral needs where the presence of the priest is only occasional. In this latter regard, the Code of Canon Law offered new possibilities, even for cases of lay persons supplying for properly clerical functions:

exercising the ministry of the word, presiding at liturgical prayers, administering baptism and distributing Holy Communion 5 —entrusted by pastors in case of "need"; possibilities which are applied correctly and in a strict manner, so as not to fall into the ambiguity of treating as usual and ordinary those norms which are intended for extraordinary situations which involve the absence of priests. The carrying out of these duties clearly does not turn the laity into "pastors" and even less can they demand "in any manner or measure.., a theoretical or practical running together of the irreducible differences willed by Christ himself and by the Spirit for the welfare of the Church," between the baptismal priesthood and the ordained priesthood. 6


5 CIC, can. 230.

6 John Paul II, 2 April 1994; LG n. 10.

7 John Paul II, 12 October 1984.

8 Cf. P0,9.


The collaboration of the laity, whether individually or in associations, is today fundamental to the missionary dimension of the pastoral ministry of the priest. Priests "have above all the duty of proclaiming to all the gospel of God" (P0, 4), as co-workers with the bishops. This responsibility, which is proper to the missionary nature of the Church, today acquires a special exigency and urgency, given the call of the present pontificate to a "new evangelization," "new in its ardor, in its modes, in its expression." 7

Frequently, however, the style of pastoral, priestly action seems to be characterized by and for "Christian societies," which no longer exist. More geared to a pastoral attitude of "preservationism" and not one of "evangelization," limited to being producers of cultic worship, overseers of bureaucratic, ecclesiastical tasks of old brands or new.

Therefore, collaboration of the laity is indispensable, for they are the witnesses of Christ, the bearers of his Good News, who open up ways of charity, in rich and varied environments of social life, generally more secularized and at a distance from any presence of institutions or "ecclesiastical" persons.

This witness of new life in the concrete and ordinary texture of secularity — is this not the basic and particular method of lay collaboration in the mission of the whole Church? It is to this that the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis refers when it asks priests to respect the "just freedom" of the laity in the earthly city. 8 Indeed, it is not the function of the priest to substitute himself for the lay person in public offices or in political or trade-union struggles, nor to try to usurp them from their own political passions. This does not mean allowing the laity to be abandoned to themselves alone.

The collaboration of the laity with the pastoral ministry of priests is also expressed in the responsibility of following and supporting the priest in his response to a vocational call and to the grace thereby received, in the giving of himself to Christ and to the community, in the appreciation and renewal of his ministry. They are not "supermen," but rather needy men such as ourselves, sinners as are we, who take up the burden of solitude, of heavy responsibilities, of being overburdened with tasks, deprived in this day and age from the supports of "status" and social prestige, tempted by worldly powers to settle for being simple social and moral assistants of a society which rejects any structure that places Christ as its "cornerstone," often marginalized and persecuted when they try to live out all the exigencies of witness and Christian service in their priestly mission. Their strength is given them by deep rootedness in Christ in the Eucharist, in the liturgical life and personal prayer, in the face to face encounter with God, in the fatherhood of the bishop and priestly fraternity. But it depends to a large extent on their incorporation into a living community, that they be not only objects of their services, but rather a company in which all the faithful are mutually built up and sustained in truth and charity.

Finally, in this day and age, the lay faithful clearly affirm something that can seem, at first glance, banal and which is instead fundamental: the ever increasing need that they have of priests —of priests who are holy. The more one grows in the consciousness of his own baptismal priesthood as a participation in the one and only priesthood of Christ through the offering of one’s whole life, the more does he become conscious of this need. The precious collaboration of the laity, therefore, is, beginning with this sort of consciousness and gratitude, to be ever more open and inclined to favor the priestly vocation. Christian families, movements and associations, various Christian communities, ought to be seen as fertile ground, welcoming and fruitful for such vocations, for these graces which, in their turn, will be the motive of their own enrichment and their collaboration in the expansion of the Body of Christ among men.


Part Four

The Communal Relationships of the Priesthood




Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez 2




The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis which we are studying in this symposium underwent a long and eventful process of development since its first schema was rejected in the conciliar hall to its definitive approval (2,390 favorable votes and four opposed) and promulgation by Pope Paul VI on December 7,1965.

I will address the subject of the Communal Nature of the Priesthood and Communal Relationships of the Priesthood, which is discussed in the second part of chapter two of the Presbyterorum Ordinis.

The topic may be divided into three points: relationship with bishops, relationships with other priests and relationships with the laity.


1. On this point the decree is based on article 28 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, which states: "Christ, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world (John 10:36) has, through His apostles, made their successors, the bishops, partakers of His consecration and His mission. These in their turn have legitimately handed on to different individuals in the Church various degrees of participation in this ministry. Thus the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised on different levels by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons" (LG, 28).


1 Translated from the original Spanish by Ms. Beth Ann Siro.

2 Archbishop Metropolitan of Santo Domingo, Primate of the Americas.


We are brought face to face with a fundamental theological affirmation: Christ sanctified and sent by the Father, through his apostles, has made bishops sharers in his consecration and mission. Bishops, in turn, entrust their ministry, in distinct orders to others in the Church. Through the apostles there is, therefore, a linking of the episcopal ministry and Christ. In other words, the bishops share, as successors of the apostles, in the consecration and mission of Christ.

2. The Constitution adds the following: "Although priests do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood, and although they are dependent on the bishops in the exercise of their power, they are nevertheless united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity. By the power of the sacrament of orders, and in the image of Christ the eternal High Priest (Hebrews 5:1-10; 7:24; 9:11-28), they are consecrated to preach the gospel, shepherd the faithful, and celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament" (LG, 28).

This statement is a consequence and a clarification of the prior affirmation. Priests are joined with the bishops by virtue of their priestly ordination and share in the ministry in the order of priest. They have been consecrated true priests, in the image of Christ, to preach, shepherd the faithful and celebrate worship.

3. The decree uses this idea in order to affirm that: "All priests, together 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. At times they express this communion in a most excellent manner by liturgical concelebration..."

"Therefore, by reason of the gift of the Holy Spirit which is given to priests in sacred ordination, bishops should regard them as necessary helpers and counselors in the ministry and in the task of teaching, sanctifying, and nourishing the People of God" (P0, 7).

This is exactly the prayer of the Church in the liturgy of ordination; namely, that God will pour out upon the new priest "the spirit of grace and counsel so that with a pure heart he may assist and govern the People of God, just as in the desert God extended the spirit of Moses to the souls of seventy wise men" (P0, 7).

From this communion in the same priesthood and ministry, derive obligations, responsibilities and concerns on the part of both the bishops toward the priests and the priests toward the bishops.

a. Referring to bishops, the decree states:

· "...the bishop should regard priests as his brothers and friends....

· he should have at heart the material and especially spiritual welfare of his priests;

· for above all, upon the bishop rests the heavy responsibility for the sanctity of his priests;

· hence, he should exercise the greatest care on behalf of the continual formation of his priests;

· he should willingly listen to them, indeed, consult them, and have discussions with them about those matters which concern the necessities of the pastoral work and the welfare of the diocese.

· in order to put these ideals into effect, a council or senate of priests representing the presbyterate should be established which is to assist the bishop with their counsel in the government of the diocese. It is to operate in a manner adapted to modern circumstances and needs to have a form and norms to be determined by law" (P0, 7).

b. Referring to (the) priests, the Decree continues:

· "Keeping in mind the fullness of the sacrament of orders which the bishop enjoys, priests must respect in him the authority of Christ, the chief Shepherd;

· they must therefore stand by their own bishop in sincere charity and obedience;

· this priestly obedience animated with a spirit of cooperation is based on the very sharing in the episcopal ministry which is conferred on priests both through the sacraments of orders and the canonical mission;

· this union of priests with their bishops is all the more necessary today since in our present age for various reasons apostolic activities are required not only to take on many forms, but to extend beyond the boundaries of one parish or diocese

· no priest can live in isolation or single-handedly accomplish his mission in a satisfactory way. He can do so only by joining forces with other priests under the direction of Church authorities" (P0, 7).




1. With regard to the priest’s relation to other priests, the Decree affirms the following truths:

· "Established in the priestly order by ordination, all priests are united among themselves in an intimate sacramental brotherhood;

· in a special way they form one priestly body in a diocese to whose service they are committed under their own bishop;

· for even though priests are assigned to different duties they still carry on one priestly ministry on behalf of men;

· all priests are sent forth as co-workers in the same undertaking.. .of building up Christ’s Body, a work requiring manifold roles and new adjustments, especially nowadays;

· hence it is very important that all priests, whether diocesan or religious, always help one another to be fellow workers on behalf of the truth;

· each one therefore is united by special bonds of apostolic charity, ministry and brotherhood with the other members of this presbytery;

· this fact has been manifested from ancient times in the liturgy, when the priests present at an ordination are invited to join with the ordaining bishop in imposing hands on the new candidate, and when priests concelebrate the sacred Eucharist in unity of heart."

From this it can be deduced that "each and every priest.. .is joined to his brother priests by a bond of charity, prayer, and every kind of cooperation";

· in this manner, they manifest that unity with which Christ willed His own to be perfectly one, so that the world might know that the Son has been sent by the Father" (P0, 8).

2. From the above principles the Decree arrives at/derives the following consequences:

· "...older priests should receive younger priests as true brothers and give them a hand with their first undertakings and assignments in the ministry. They should likewise try to understand the mentality of younger priests , even though it be different from their own, and should follow their projects with good will;

· for his part, a young priest should respect the age and experience of his seniors. He should discuss plans with them, and willingly cooperate with them in matters which pertain to the care of souls;

· inspired by a fraternal spirit, priests will not neglect hospitality, but cultivate kindliness and share their goods in common. They will be particularly solicitous for priests who are sick, afflicted, overburdened with work, lonely, exiled from their homeland, or suffering persecution;

· they will readily and joyfully gather together for recreation, remembering the Lord’ own invitation to the weary apostles: ‘Come apart into a desert place and rest a while’ (Mark 6:31);

· furthermore, in order that priests may find mutual assistance in the development of their spiritual and intellectual lives, that they may be able to cooperate more effectively in their ministry and be saved from the dangers which may arise from loneliness, let there be fostered among them some kind or other of community life,...or a common table, or at least frequent and regular gatherings;

· worthy too of high regard and zealous promotion are those associations whose rules have been examined by competent Church authority, and which foster priestly holiness in the exercise of the ministry through an apt and properly approved rule of life and through brotherly assistance. Thus these associations aim to be of service to the whole priestly order;

· finally, by reason of the same communion in the priesthood, priests should realize that they have special obligations toward priests who labor under certain difficulties. They should given them timely help and also, if necessary, admonish them prudently. Moreover, they should always treat with fraternal charity and magnanimity those who have failed in some way, offering urgent prayers to God for them and continually showing themselves to be true brothers and friends" (P0, 8).




1. Regarding the relationship of priests with the laity, the decree begins by stating:

· "In virtue of the sacrament of orders, priests of the New Testament exercise the most excellent and necessary office of father and teacher among the People of God and for them. They are nevertheless, together will all of Christ’s faithful, disciples of the Lord, made sharers in His kingdom by the grace of God who calls them;

· for priests are brothers among brothers with all those who have been reborn at the baptismal font. They are all members of one and the same Body of Christ, whose up-building is entrusted to all;

· priests therefore should preside in such a way that they seek the things of Jesus Christ, not the things which are their own. They must work together with the lay faithful and conduct themselves in their midst after the example of their Master, who among men ‘has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:28);

· priests must sincerely acknowledge and promote the dignity of the laity and the role which is proper to them in the mission of the Church;

· they should scrupulously honor that just freedom which is due to everyone in this earthly city;

· they should listen to the laity willingly, consider their wishes in a fraternal spirit, and recognize their experience and competence in the different areas of human activity..;

· testing spirits to see if they be of God, priests should discover with the instinct 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 faithful, those are worthy of special attention which are drawing many to a deeper spiritual life;

· priests should also confidently entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. In fact, on suitable occasions, they should invite them to undertake works on their own initiative..;

· priests have been placed in the midst of the laity to lead them to the unity of charity... It is their task, therefore, to reconcile differences of mentality in such a way that no one will feel himself a stranger in the community of the faithful;

· priests are defenders of the common good, with which they are charged in the name of the bishop. At the same time, they are strenuous defenders of the truth, lest the faithful be tossed about by every wind of opinion;

· to their special concern are committed those who have fallen away from the use of the sacraments, or perhaps, even from the faith..;

· mindful of this council’s directives on ecumenism, let them not forget their brothers who do not enjoy full ecclesiastical communion with us;

· to them are commended all those who do not recognize Christ as their Savior" (P0, 9).

2. Regarding the laity’s relationship with the priest, the decree states:

· "The Christian faithful, for their part, should realize their obligations toward their priests..;

· with filial love they should follow them as their shepherd and fathers;

· likewise sharing their cares, they should help their priests by prayer and work to the extent possible, so that their priests can more readily overcome difficulties and be able to fulfill their duties more fruitfully" (P0, 9).




The apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, having discussed the Church as mystery, communion and mission, grounds the Christian identity and consequently the priestly identity in the mystery of the Trinity: "It is within the church’s mystery, as a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension, that every Christian identity is revealed, and likewise the specific identity of the priest and his ministry" (PDV, 12). The text then immediately affirms that "the priest, by virtue of the consecration which he receives in the sacrament of orders, is sent forth by the Father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom he is configured in a special way as head and shepherd of his people, in order to live and work by the power of the Holy Spirit in service of the Church and for the salvation of the world" (PDV, 12).

Consequently, "the nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood cannot be defined except through this multiple and rich interconnection of relationships which arise from the Blessed Trinity and are prolonged in the communion of the Church, as a sign and instrument of Christ, of communion with God and of the unity of all humanity" (PDV, 12).

In this understanding the ecclesiology of communion becomes decisive for the discovery of the identity of the priest because the Church as mystery is essentially related to Jesus Christ, Eternal and High Priest of the new and eternal covenant. The priest is a "derivation, a special participation in and a continuation of," Christ: he is "a living and transparent image of Christ the priest" (PDV, 12).

With a specific authority and mandate, Jesus called and appointed the Twelve "to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons" (Mark 3:14-15). (cf. PDV, 14).

As such, the Apostles "through a gratuitous participation in the grace of Christ, prolong throughout history to the end of time the same mission of Jesus on behalf of humanity" (PDV, 14).

The Apostles, however, "appointed by the Lord, progressively carried out their mission by calling, in various but complementary ways, other men as bishops, as priests and as deacons in order to fulfill the command of the risen Jesus who sent them forth to all people in every age" (PDV, 15).

The priest has, therefore, a fundamental relationship which unites him with Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd. In this sense, it must also be affirmed that the priest, inasmuch as he represents Christ,. .is placed not only in the Church, but also in the forefront of the Church," that is to say, he has a relation to the Church (PDV, 16). The ministry of the priest is entirely at the service of the Church, not only the particular but the universal Church, in communion with the bishop, with Peter and under Peter (cf. PD V, 16).

"Therefore," the Exhortation adds, "the ordained ministry arises with the Church and has in bishops, and in priests who are related to and are in communion with them, a particular relation to the original ministry of the apostles to which it truly ‘succeeds’ even though with regard to the latter it assumes different forms" (PDV, 16).

It follows, therefore, that "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" (PDV, 17).

"The ministry of priests is above all communion and a responsible and necessary cooperation with the bishop’s ministry, in concern for the universal Church and for the individual particular churches, for whose service they form with the bishop a single presbyterate" (PDV, 17).

Consequently, "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" (PDV, 17).

Finally, "because their role and task within the Church do not replace but promote the baptismal priesthood of the entire people of God, leading it to its full ecclesial realization, priests have a positive and helping relationship to the laity" (PDV, 17).

The ministerial priesthood, conferred by the sacrament of orders, and the common or "royal" priesthood of the faithful, in which we participate through baptism, although different in essence and not just degree, are reciprocally ordered, both deriving, though in different ways, from the one priesthood of Christ (cf. PDV, 17).

Before concluding this subject, in order to address the universal mission of the priest, Pastores Dabo Vobis cites article ten of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis: "The spiritual gift which priests received in ordination does not prepare them merely for a limited and circumscribed mission but for the fullest, in fact, the universal mission of salvation even to the end of the earth. The reason is that every priestly ministry shares in the fullness of the mission entrusted by Christ to the apostles" (PDV, 18).

The priest should be animated by the profound missionary spirit which extends beyond the confines of his diocese, nation or rite; he should be disposed to preach the Gospel everywhere (cf. PDV, 18).

Furthermore, by being a man of communion, the priest must be, in his relations with everyone, a man of mission and dialogue. Deeply rooted in the truth and charity of Christ, he is called to establish with others relationships of fraternity, service, search for truth and the promotion of justice (cf. PDV, 18).

He should look first to his brothers of the other Churches and Christian confessions, but also to other religions, to men of good will, especially to the poor and the weakest, and all those who search for the truth and the salvation of Christ, without knowing that is for what they search (cf. PDV, 18).




The first priority of the new evangelization, which pertains to the entire People of God and which calls out for a new ardor, new methods and a new expression, demands that the priest be radically and integrally immersed in the mystery of Christ, with a new pastoral style characterized by a profound communion with the pope, the bishops, other priests, and a fruitful collaboration with the laity.

The Exhortation quotes Luke 4:18: "The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me and has sent me to preach good news to the poor" and it states that the consecration and mission of Christ are the "living branches from which bud the consecration and the mission of the Church" (PDV, 18).

Article 18 concludes with a quote from the Message of the Synodal Fathers to the People of God, which synthesizes all that we have been saying: "We derive our identity ultimately from the love of the Father, we turn our gaze to the Son, sent by the Father as high priest and good shepherd. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are united sacramentally to him in the ministerial priesthood. Our priestly life and activity continue the life and activity of Christ himself. Here lies our identity, our true dignity, the source of our joy, the very basis of our life" (PDV, 18).






1. Communion with the Trinity and with Christ. The Directory explains priestly communion, just as the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, starting from the communion with the Trinity and with Christ. In its presentation the document quotes article twelve of Pastores Dabo Vobis which we discussed earlier.

2. Communion with the Church. From the "union-communion" with the Trinity and Christ, derives the priest’s ‘‘communion—relation’’ with the Church in its aspects of mystery and ecclesial community." (cf. n. 21) Concretely, the priest realizes ecclesial communion in several ways. "Through sacramental ordination, he develops special bonds with the Pope, the Episcopal Body, his own Bishop, the priests and the lay faithful" (n. 21).

3. Hierarchical Communion. Regarding hierarchical communion, the Directory quotes article 28 of Pastores Dabo Vobis. It repeats, that "in virtue of participation subordinated to the Bishops in the one ministerial priesthood and mission, [this communion] also involves the spiritual and organic-structural bond of priests with the entire Episcopal order, their own Bishop, the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the universal Church and each particular Church" (n.22).

This affirmation is reinforced by the fact that the entire order of Bishops together and each individual Bishop should be in hierarchical communion with the Head of the College. "This College, in fact, is composed only of those consecrated Bishops who are in hierarchical communion with its Head and members" (n. 22).

4. Communion in the Eucharistic Celebration. "Hierarchical communion is vividly expressed in the Eucharistic prayers; when the priests prays for the Pope, the College of Bishops and his own Bishop, he not only expresses a sentiment of devotion, but attests to the authenticity of his celebration as well" (n. 23).

5. Communion in the Ministerial Activity. "Each priest should have a deep, humble and filial bond of charity with the person of the Holy Father and adhere to his Petrine ministry of Magisterium, of sanctification and of government, with exemplary docility" (n. 24).

In his relationship with his own Bishop, the priest should maintain full respect for hierarchical subordination, expressed by a cordial friendship and a sincere confidence, striving so that there may be between them a convergence of ideals and programs and that nothing should take away from the intelligent capacity for personal initiative and pastoral enterprise (cf. n. 24).

6. Communion in the Priesthood. The communion which unites priests exists by virtue of the Sacrament of Orders.

Membership in a specific presbyterate takes place within the context of a particular Church, an Ordinariate or of a personal Prelature (cf. n. 25).

In contrast to the Episcopal College, "it seems that there are no theological foundations to affirm the existence of a universal Presbyterate" (n. 25).

Priestly fraternity and membership in a particular presbyterate are elements which characterize the priest (cf. n. 25).

Particularly significant in this regard is the act during an ordination of the imposition of the hands of all the participating priests, along with the Bishop; this act indicates both the equality of participation in the ministry as well as the fact that the priest cannot act by himself but only within the presbyterate, becoming a brother of all those who constitute it (cf. n. 25).

7. Incardination in a Particular Church. Incardination in a particular Church is an authoritative juridical and spiritual bond (cf. n. 26).

"It should not be forgotten that the secular priests not incardinated in the Diocese and the.. .members of a religious institute or of a society of apostolic life who live in the Diocese and exercise some office therein, although still placed under their legitimate Ordinaries, belong by full or a diverse title to the clergy of such Dioceses where ‘they have the right to both an active and a passive voice in an election to the council of priests"’ (n. 26).

"The priests.. .incardinated in a Diocese, who are serving an ecclesial movement approved by the competent ecclesiastical Authority, are aware of being members of the presbyterate of their Diocese and must sincerely collaborate with it" (n. 26).

"The Bishop of incardination, on his part, must respect the way of life required by the membership to a Movement, and it may be fitting, by norm of the law, to permit the priest to lend his services to other churches, if this forms part of the charism of the movement itself’ (n. 26).

8. The Presbyterate: A Place of Sanctification. "The presbyterate is a privileged place in which the priest should be able to find the means of sanctification and evangelization and of being helped to overcome the limits and the weaknesses which are proper to human nature and which are particularly felt today" (n. 27).

"He will therefore make every effort to avoid living his priesthood in an isolated and subjectivistic way, and must try to enhance fraternal communion in the giving and receiving — from priest to priest of the warmth of friendship, of affectionate help, of acceptance [and] of fraternal correction. "(n. 27).

9. Priestly Friendship. "The capacity to develop and profoundly live priestly friendship is a source of serenity and joy in the exercise of the ministry, a decisive support in difficulties and a valuable help in the growth of pastoral charity" (n. 28).

10. Common Life. "A manifestation of this communion is also the common life always supported by the Church, recently emphasized by the documents of Vatican Council II and of the successive Magisterium, and applied in many Dioceses with positive results" (n. 29).

‘‘Among the diverse forms of this (communal house, community of table, etc.) one must look highly upon the communal participation in liturgical prayer" (n. 29).

"It is necessary that parish priests be available to encourage common life in the parochial house with their vicars..." (n. 29).

11. Communion with the Lay Faithful. "As a man of communion, the priest cannot express his love for the Lord and for the Church without transmitting it in a real and unconditional love for all Christians, the object of his pastoral care" (n. 30).

Aware "of the profound communion which binds him to the lay faithful and to the religious, the priests will make every effort ‘to awaken and deepen co-responsibility in the one common mission of salvation, with a prompt and heartfelt esteem for all the charisms and tasks which the Spirit gives believers for the building up of the Church"’ (n. 30).

"Insofar as he unites the family of God and brings about the Church as communion, the priest becomes the bridge between man and God, making himself a brother of men who wants to be their pastor, father and master" (n. 30).

"The priest will guide the man of today, in his search for the meaning of his existence..." "In such a way the priest presents himself as an expert in humanity, a man of truth and of communion, a witness of the solicitude of the Only Shepherd for each and every member of his flock" (n. 30).

"He will exercise his spiritual mission with kindness and firmness, with humility and service, opening himself to compassion, participating in the sufferings which arise from the various forms of poverty, spiritual and material, old and new" (n. 30).

12. Communion with Members of Institutes of Consecrated Life. The priest will reserve particular attention "to relations with the brothers and sisters engaged in a life of special consecration to God in all their forms, showing them a sincere appreciation and a real spirit of apostolic collaboration, respecting and promoting their specific charisms" (n. 31).

"He will cooperate, moreover, so that the consecrated life always appears more luminous for the benefit of the entire Church and more persuasive and attractive to the new generations" (n. 31).

"In such spirit of esteem for the consecrated life, the priest will give particular care to those communities which, for various reasons, are greatly in need of good doctrine, of assistance and of encouragement in the faith" (n. 31).

13. Pastoral Vocations. "In his pastoral work, each priest will take particular care concerning vocations, encouraging prayer for vocations, doing his best in the work of catechetics, and taking care of the formation of ministers. He will promote appropriate initiatives through a personal rapport with those under his care, allowing them to discover their talents and to single out the will of God for them, permitting a courageous choice in the following Christ" (n. 32).

Indispensable elements of vocational work are "a clear knowledge of one’s specific identity, a unity of life, a transparent cheerfulness, and a missionary zeal..." (n. 32).

"The priest will always maintain relations of cordial collaboration and of sincere affection with the seminary, for it is the cradle of his vocation and the first place in which he experienced communal life" (n. 32).

It is a pressing demand of pastoral charity "that every priest be concerned with inspiring at least one priestly vocation which could thus continue the ministry" (n. 32).

14. Political and Social Obligation. In the conclusion of chapter two, the Directory refers to the political and social obligations of the priest.

"The priest, as servant of the universal Church, cannot tie himself to a particular party or conflict and therefore must be above any political party" (n. 33).

"He cannot take an active role in political parties or labor unions, unless, according to the judgment of the ecclesiastical authority, the rights of the Church and the defense of the common good require it" (n. 33).

Quoting John Paul II’s Catechesis of July 28, 1993, the Directory affirms that "like Jesus, the priest ought to refrain from actively engaging in politics, as it often happens, in order to be a central point of spiritual fraternity" (n. 33).

The priest should remember, as the Directory reaffirms the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "It does not fall on the shoulders if the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in political activities and in social organizations. This task, in fact, forms part of the lay faithful’s vocation, in which they work by their initiative together with their fellow citizens" (n. 33).

"The reduction of his mission to temporal tasks, of a purely social or political nature, is foreign to his ministry, and does not constitute a triumph but rather a grave loss to the Church’s evangelical fruitfulness" (n. 33).




Reverend Marcello Semeraro


The celebration of the Second Vatican Council was, among other things, the favorable occasion for a much needed recovery of the theological understanding of the priesthood, after a long period of concealment.

This conciliar teaching has found in the teaching of John Paul II, not only an echo and a restoration, but also a true and proper deepening. One could say in this regard that the Holy Father has, as it were, "espoused" in its fullness the cause of the priesthood, never neglecting opportunities to emphasize its meaning and underline its value. The teaching of John Paul II, explained again in the course of his "catecheses" in the summer of 1993, is presented in synthesized fashion in the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, published in 1994 by the Congregation for the Clergy. Here the presbyterate is referred to as the locus of the communion of priests among themselves and with their own bishop, the place of sanctification, of evangelization and of the expression of priestly friendship (cf. n. 20-29). In light of this teaching it is today possible to better specify the theological foundations of the presbyterate.

Supposing the distinction and supposing the strict bond which exists among those elements which Presbyterorum Ordinis calls ‘‘sacramental fraternity,’’ the theological foundation of the presbyterate could be developed in three directions: TrinitarianChristological, ecclesiological and sacramental.

The Trinitarian and christological foundation can be identified in the very choosing of the apostles by Jesus, who "appointed Twelve of them, so that they could be with him..." (Mark 3:14-16). This characteristic formula points out that Jesus formed them as his own creation and willed that they be established in a lasting communion of, as John Paul II has expressed it, the "unity of mutual love." If one then looks at the priestly prayer of Jesus, he there discovers the Trinitarian origin of priestly ministry: "That all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so that they also considered insufficient if it is not referred back to the questions may be one in us..." (John 17:21-23). arising from the theological meaning of the priesthood.

‘Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

In one of his homilies, John Paul II addressed new priests in this way: "You are born from the depths of this unspeakable divine mystery: from the love of the Father, from the grace of Jesus Christ, from the gift of the Holy Spirit. Your priestly origin is Trinitarian."

The ecclesiological foundation of the presbyterate is eminently illustrated by the ecclesiology of communion, which is the fruitful flowering of the conciliar ecclesiology. If the Church is truly a great mystery of communion, this must be decisively believed of all that pertains to its life, its sacraments and its institutions. As when the bishop, in n. 1 of the directory, is called the ecclesiae imago, this indicates that the nature and mission of the Church determine his image and his mission, in this case it also indicates that communion, which bespeaks the depths of the mystery of the Church, determines and defines the nature and mystery of the priestly ministry.

The need of a radical communitarian form of ordained ministry, starting from and in view of ecclesial koinonia, is made more evident through consideration of its sacramental foundation. All of those who are united in the order of priesthood are bonded to each other by "sacramental fraternity," whose root must be located in that "common and identical Spirit of the presbyterate" which, since the time of the Traditio Apostolica of Hippolytus, has been called down upon the person being ordained.

There are more than a few consequences to be derived from this. One might well look at what belongs to the relationships both of the presbyterate with ministry of the bishop, and of individual priests in the presbyterate with their own bishops. Concisely, in Pastores Dabo Vobis n. 17, John Paul II recalls that by reason of the theological reality of the priesthood, the priestly ministry "can be only be taken on as a collective work." The theological content of the priesthood also helps to offer a proper understanding of the relationships which ought to coexist among priests. It should be clear that it is still always a question of drawing out the practical consequences of the "sacramental fraternity," the foundation of the priesthood. Every other approach of an essential, psychological or pastoral character to the theme of priesthood will have to be.






Most Reverend Aleksander Kaszkiewicz2


We learn what the priesthood means for us from the letter to the Hebrews, in the verses which speak of Christ as hiereus (icpEi5~), archiereus (&pxiEpEi5~).

In this epistle Jesus Christ is presented as the High Priest, whose priesthood is different from and superior to that of the Old Testament. Christ as priest is placed in the great historico-theological background, in which the fulfillment of the covenant takes place. This fulfillment is realized in the new, perfect (Hebrews 8:6; 8:13) covenant, where there is the passage from types and figures into the fulfillment of the promises. Even more:

The person of Jesus as High Priest is united with the theology of the Son of God. Take note of the exceptional and singular quality of the High Priest: "Holy, innocent, without defilement, set apart from sinners.., who has offered ‘once for all’ the sacrifice ‘delivering himself up"’ (Hebrews 9:12; 7:27). The way that leads to the sanctuary of God is the blood of Jesus.

Three questions thus arise:

First: One discovers the nature of the priesthood of Jesus in analogy with the concept of the Jewish priesthood and with its other forms;

Second: The essential element of every priesthood is mediation between God and man through worship, prayer and offering;

Third: The unique quality of the mediation of Jesus, which consists of the "sacrifice of his body" in the offering up of his own life (Hebrews 10:10).

Speaking of the priesthood of Jesus in the course of Christian history, one realizes that it cannot consist of new sacrifices. Christ has accomplished the unsurpassable sacrifice and through that continues as the one who has definitively realized the truth of the priesthood.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Bishop of Grodno.


After him, the priestly function can consist only in:

1. participation in the offering of Jesus in the gift of his own life;

2. the re-presentation and continued realization of his sacrifice.

Both these characteristics we find in the New Testament.

The priesthood of Christ appears as the culminating point of every priesthood. In spite of that, in referring to his offering, the Apocalypse speaks of "kings and priests" (hiereus) who follow their Lord (1:5; 5:10; 20:6).

In the post-apostolic period, the basic themes of priesthood remain present. The reason for its continued presence is not a matter of polemics, but the idea of the Christian perfecting of the salvific reality of the Old Testament. The second reason for the continued attention to these themes continues to be tied to the pagan environment of the preaching of the gospel, in which the title of High Priest had considerable importance.

With the constantly deepening understanding of the Coena Domini [the Lord’s Supper], as a sacrificial action and of the death of Jesus as sacrificial death, the act of presiding over the Eucharistic assembly becomes the task, the priestly function and the priest takes on the qualities of priest.

When one speaks of the priesthood of the people of God and when this is taken to refer to a priest who fulfills a function and exercises an office, it is always necessary to start from the self-offering of the life of Jesus Christ.

The "priest" embraces a number of tasks among which are the functions of pastor and teacher. We know that the responsibility of the priest and the teacher always remains at the service of the communication of life. The multiplicity of daily responsibilities, in any case, cannot obscure that which remains as "the only necessary thing" (Luke 10:42). For this reason, the priesthood must always be considered in terms of the specific nature imposed upon it by Christ.



Most Reverend Henry E. Karlen2




Through Ordination, the priest in a special way participates in the priestly, prophetic and royal Office of Christ. By sharing in the work of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, and united with the Bishop and under him, the priest brings the faithful together in a united family, a community. The priest is ordained by the Church and for the service in the Church. He is not his own. His assent to the official teaching and discipline of the Church, and all his liturgical functions, are all at the service of communion and unity in the Church. Obedience and authority are closely linked as means of obtaining one and the same end: communion with the saving will of God. In this context, I wish to say, the priest is at the service of "communion." The Holy Father in Pastores Dabo vobis says that the priest is a servant of the Church as communion, because he builds up the unity of the Church community in harmony of diverse vocations, charisms and services (no.16). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church the sacrament of Orders is considered, along with matrimony, under the title of "Sacraments at the service of Communion" (1534). The model of the Shepherd is very meaningful in respect to communion in the local Church. As good Shepherd, the priest has no other concern or care than the flock, as one who lays down his life for the good of the flock which he gathers, pastures, heals, and leads. The spirit of communion with the Bishop and with the faithful is most effectively shown in the priest’s availability for service.


‘This is the original English text presented by Archbishop Karlen.

2 Archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe




There is an inner, spiritual bond that creates communion of the priest with the Church, especially with the particular Church. An important aspect in the service of communion is the fact that the priest is the official "Man of Prayer" in the community. "I pray for them" (John 17:9) said Jesus at the Last Supper. The priest’s identification with Christ calls him to do the same constantly, never more than in the Eucharistic sacrifice where, in persona Christi, he prays and should offer himself for the salvation of all. The Eucharist is the center and bond of the Christian community. At the same time the communion of the priest with the Church finds its daily expression in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office. This is not a private prayer, it is the prayer of the Church to give praise and thanksgiving to God, to ask for forgiveness of sins , to ask for new blessings on behalf of the people of God, especially on behalf of the people entrusted to the priest’s pastoral care. With the Divine Office in his hands the priest is "Moses" on the mountain, while the people struggle in the valley. Surely this is the communion of the priest with the Church. Of course, in his personal prayers the priest can pay a visit to the Christian community many times a day. Prayer creates communion. The Priest’s prayers for the intentions and needs of the universal Church strengthen the bond of unity and communion of the priest with the Church.




Communion of the priest with the Church implies much more than to be a minister of the Word and the Sacraments, and to be a man of prayer.

One of the elements of creating communion is pastoral charity: an attitude of kindness and friendship with the ecclesial community. The human element is a very important factor, i.e. love and availability for the people, having a heart for those in sorrow and distress, an open hand for the poor and needy, having time for the sick and lonely and great love for children.

Furthermore, to foster communion between the priest and the Church a set of positive attitudes towards all sections of the Church is necessary. In short, there is always a need for "Sentire cum Ecclesia." The priest must have a benevolent attitude towards the Holy Father, the Bishop and his fellow priests. St. Ignatius of Loyola explaining the "Sentire cum Ecclesia" wrote that "one cannot think of criticizing the Church, because she is our Mother. One cannot judge the Church, because she is the Spouse of Christ. The Spouse of Christ is our Holy Mother Church." Between Christ and the Church, His Bride, there is an inseparable and abiding communion of love. The communion of the priest with the Church demands ecclesial charity: "Amare Ecclesiam" (cf. Cardinal Sodano, 1994). He who loves does not criticize (negative), he who loves prays for and collaborates with his fellow priests, with the Bishop, with the Pope and with all sections of the people of God. Love is the bond of unity and communion. The African Synod spoke of the Church as a Family. The family is a communion of life and love. If a priest does not love the Church, how can he be committed to his work?

Finally, the statements of "Amare Ecclesiam" equally apply to the priests amongst themselves in fraternal love, in mutual concern, in trust and support, and in fraternal correction. This affective aspect of communion is important also for the priestly celibacy. There must be a balanced and mature attitude and relationship towards women. Immaturity can cause anxiety and tension in dealing with women (more than half of the Church). An affective association with priests, Brothers and Sisters and a loving relationship with the parish community protects the priest from the pitfalls of loneliness and particular friendship.

In conclusion, I wish to say, by his love for the Church, the priest becomes a "sacrament," a sign of Christ the Bridegroom who loved the Church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:23). This love of the priest for the Church community becomes fruitful and finds its fulfillment in spiritual fatherhood.




Most Reverend Kevin Edward Felix2




In 1958 after the death of Pope Pius XII, L‘Osservatore Romano published a speech prepared but never delivered by His Holiness. This last of the hundreds of speeches written by the Holy Father dealt with the priesthood. His final will and testament stated that "this (priestly) dignity conferred by God must be matched by an acquired dignity. Humbly and truthfully, the cleric must conceive of his person very differently and far higher than the ordinary conception of even illustrious Christians. His life would no longer be his, but Christ’s. He did not belong to himself, or to relatives, friends or even to a given land. Universal charity would be his breath. His very thoughts, will, and feelings would not be his, but Christ’s, life."

Almost twenty years later another Pope, John Paul I, died unexpectedly. It was claimed that he was reading a report on the priesthood when the Lord took him to Himself.

Both these events tell of the importance of the priesthood in the minds and hearts of Popes. Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and the present Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, have left inestimable treasures to the Church in the many documents they have prepared on the priesthood.

The Antilles Episcopal Conference wishes to record its gratitude for this wealth of inspiring literature, the many encyclicals, Apostolic Exhortations, the Holy Father’s 1993 catechesis on Priests, the annual Letter to Priests on Holy Thursday, the 1971 Synod of Bishops, the documents from the Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for Catholic Education, at least fourteen, which have been given to the Church in general and to priests in particular since Vatican Council II.


1 This is the original English text presented by Bishop Felix.

2 Bishop of Castries, Saint Lucia.


The world of the 1950s has gone and a new culture has replaced it. In many regions the priest has found himself abandoned by the traditional community, many of whose members no longer practice their faith as before. Several of those who have remained faithful no longer listen to the priest. This is particularly true of young people. Not a few priests, in an attempt to be relevant and helpful to those who would appear to no longer need them, have made overtures to the world of the day in an attempt to be "the one for others." Their experiments and good will often proved to be of short duration and of dubious outcome. A result of this has been a certain depression and anxiety in the hearts of some priests.

A second effect has been the abandoning or devaluation of the sacramental ministry, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation by many priests as penitents and as confessors.

Quite a few priests have abandoned the priestly state during the past thirty years. In the most recent decade the Church has been rocked by scandals of priests involved in various nefarious acts. Certain elements of the media of social communications have sensationalized these cases. This has been painful for the lay faithful in the Church and for the hundreds of thousands of priests who are striving for perfection in their priesthood as they live in a world that is hostile to what the priesthood represents and upholds. We fear that the effect on vocations could be deleterious.

Jesus chose twelve to be apostles. Several were known sinners. One, Simon the Zealot, was a revolutionary. Another, Simon Peter, publicly rejected Christ three times. Judas betrayed him. The others abandoned him in his hour of need. Yet the Good Shepherd sought them out and eleven repented. It is not for us to judge Judas.

At the present time in the Church this is a most consoling and strengthening thought. All is not lost. The Good Shepherd continues to seek those who are straying. Divine forgiveness is open to all.

The world around us, with its openness to sexual encounters and "contraceptive mentality" urges an end to celibacy for Catholic priests. However, as celibacy is not the problem, abolishing it is not the solution. Marriage does not mean an end to sexual license.

The "solution" that can be provided now for many of the problems mentioned is a more thorough screening of candidates to

the priesthood during Seminary training. Human nature being weak, this, of course, will not be 100% effective. However, it will help diagnose some of those who have emotional problems and are immature and who should not be promoted to Holy Orders.

Bishops should not accept those who are not called by God, simply because of the shortage of priests. Bishops should also encourage the Permanent Diaconate and the rightful ministry of the lay faithful in those spheres where this is permissible.

The Church is being purified; the priesthood is being purified. In a short while, the priesthood will glow with the radiance of the risen Christ. It is my hope that all priests who have been involved in scandal have already been purified. I hope to learn from the mistakes and actions of these others who are not wicked persons but weak. A campaign of prayer for holy and dedicated priests is most important. Perhaps we can begin by extending an invitation to all present: Oremus pro invicem!



Most Reverend Matthias NGarteri Mayadi2


The will to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood is a commitment of the following of Christ; priests and bishops must, above all, promote the birth and development of a fraternal way of life among themselves, in the image of that which was characteristic of the first Christians.

For thirty years the episcopal conference of Chad and its diocesan priests have set themselves the task of seeking the means that can aid in bringing to concrete reality the way that leads to a life of fraternity in the priesthood.

Among those means, we can point to the directory of pastoral life for diocesan priests of the Churches which depend on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, an indispensable instrument in the hands of our clergy. In this one may find a wise recommendation, useful in every effort to find fraternal and sacerdotal communion: it is in union in the company of their bishop that priests can live the "priestly fraternity," the foundation and guarantee of mutual spiritual assistance and the carrying out of ministry in the full unity of intention. This document establishes and confirms those of the episcopal conference: Priests live in community and work in pastoral "teams."

Another means has been the creation of an association, the Priestly and Religious Gathering of the Africans (Resrat), a framework upon which we are seeking to develop our priestly fraternity. In fact, evangelization is never an isolated and individual act, but an action profoundly ecclesial, which finds fulfillment in a spirit of communion.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Bishop of Moundou, Chad.


Created in 1968, it has become quite quickly a locus of mutual spiritual, intellectual and material assistance; it has contributed above all to reinforcing the spirit of fraternity, to promoting the union of its members with Christ, let alone to the combined struggle against whatever stands in the way of fidelity to the duty of the following of Christ.

The actual number of diocesan priests in Chad is fifty. The seminarians can no longer be accepted as members of the association, but in every diocese the action of Resrat is furthered by a week-long meeting of the diocesan priests and the major seminarians together with the bishop. The purpose of this is to live the priestly fraternity with a view to progressive insertion into the presbyterate. The association has led to some successes which point to its importance for priestly fraternity.

While in Africa the bonds of blood relationship, of clans, of tribes, prevail in human relationships, Resrat issues a call to live out unity and fraternity in diversity. That sort of fraternity is shared with the men and women religious of Chad.

There are other concrete achievements which cause this young Church to grow in serenity: above all there is inculturation. In matters of the liturgy, reflection in the heart of the association on rites of the different cultures from which the priests have originated has brought an understanding of a ritual which harmonizes our celebrations at a national level and facilitates better participation. The study of cultural realities which create an obstacle to evangelization has allowed the tracing of a common pastoral direction, to free our faithful from the fear and obscurantism connected to witchcraft, divination, communication with the dead and superstition, which constitute so many serious obstacles to a solid life of faith. A third study on an essential dimension of the African man, that of the obligations to the dead, has analyzed in depth both funeral rites and widowhood so as to work out a body of rituals in conformity with the Christian faith.

The episcopal conference has acknowledged for the association an important role in the study of an evangelization which takes account of all the dimensions of the man of Chad. The secretary general of the association thus enjoys a consultative voice in the meetings of the Conference.

Let us also mention, in service to priestly fraternity, the annual seven-day meeting of diocesan priests to exchange experiences, to pray together, to get to know each other better, and the continuing formation which is supplied to young priests, have all come from these seven days.




Professor Maria Hendrickx2


What is the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of the laity? The following is a summary taken from the teaching of the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis and from the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo vobis:

The priest par excellence is Jesus Christ, and every priesthood in the New Covenant is derived from His priesthood (PDV 13). The Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that He is priest because He offers the perfect sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 7:27), the total and absolute gift of Himself to the Father, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Priestly identity, which is defined entirely in relation to Christ, draws its origin from the Trinity (PDV 12). Christ is also priest because He intercedes for sinners (cf. Hebrews 4:15). He intercedes precisely by offering Himself in sacrifice on the Cross (Hebrews 5:1). In so doing He re-establishes the bond between man and God. In His very being He is the perfect mediator between the Father and mankind and gives immediate access to God thanks to the gift of His Spirit (PDV 13). He thereby gathers together the people of the New Covenant (Hebrews 10:14-17) and creates the Church whom He leads to the Father as His Bride.

"In the single, definitive Sacrifice of the Cross, Jesus communicates to all his disciples the dignity and mission of priests of the New and Eternal Covenant" (PDV 13). According to the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, which quotes the letter of St. Peter, the Christian people is priestly because it offers spiritual sacrifices and proclaims the wonders of God (P02; cf 1 Peter 2:5-9).


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Professor, John Paul II Pontifical Institute for the Family, Pontifical Lateran

University, Rome.


Therefore, the members of the Christian people are priests because they present the Father with sacrifices inspired by the Spirit, above all the sacrifice of themselves, and because they try to live in accordance with the spirit of Christ, through the gift of self and the welcome they extend to others.

By offering themselves, they intercede for the world; they strive to involve the world in this Christian way of life, and so they are under the influence of the Spirit.

The Christian people is also priestly when it proclaims the wonders of God, that is, when it proclaims Christ and the Gospel (PDV 19).

In its way of life and by its own witness, the priestly people represents Christ and makes Him present in the world which it is called to lead to the Father. The Christian people is a mediator between God and the world. It invites the world to enter into the plan of love that Christ proclaims. The Christian people stands before the world like a young man face to face with the woman he wishes to marry.

The apostles and their successors, the bishops, and the priests with whom they work, are chosen, set aside and placed by the Lord face to face with the Christian people in order to represent Him, Christ the Head and Shepherd.

They offer the Sacrifice, celebrate the Sacraments which function by virtue of the Sacrifice (cf. P0 2), intercede for sinners, proclaim the Good News and teach that which nourishes Christian life and intellect. In this world, they are like signs of the Bridegroom who invites His bride, the Church, to proceed unceasingly according to his plan of love. For this reason they are placed by the Lord face to face with the community of believers (PD V 22), representing Christ before them, and so they walk at the head of the flock which they are leading to the Father (PDV 13). Because of all this, the priest receives the power to consecrate the bread and wine and to administer the Sacraments in persona Christi; and the bishop, in communion with all the apostles and personally with the successor of Peter, receives the power to preach the Word in an authentic way.

The uncompromisable point is that the Christian people could not completely fulfill their own "common priesthood’s if Christ had not given them the grace of the gift of priests and bishops for the fulfillment of the ministerial priesthood (PDV 16).

It is particularly through their participation in the Eucharist that Christians make a sacrifice of their lives and are united with the Sacrifice of Christ (cf. P0 2).

On the basis of the authentic teaching of the Magisterium, Christians can proclaim the Gospel. In receiving Grace through the Sacraments, they can live according to the Spirit, a life marked by the gift of self and the welcoming of others. They can invite the world to live this same life together with them (cf. P0 2).

Because the sign of the Bridegroom’s presence and tenderness is in their midst, they, in turn, can be signs of the Bridegroom, who comes face to face with non-believers, bearing testimony to the gratuitousness of His love and inviting them to enter into its dynamic.

In order to fulfill the "common priesthood," the laity need priests who carry out their ministry to the full and are transparent to Christ, priests who are truly a kind of presence of Christ in their midst, priests who live out "pastoral charity." This is the proper priestly form of the gift of self, the way to belong to Christ, the Good Shepherd.

The Council teaches that priests achieve unity in their lives, while assailed by many contradictory demands, by "uniting themselves to Christ in the discovery of the will of the Father and in the gift of themselves for the flock with which they have been entrusted" (P0 14).




Reverend Giuseppe Magrin2




Associations of both the laity and the clergy are an age-old reality in the Church. Indeed, they would seem to be necessary today in order to make the structure of the Church more incarnate and more dynamic.

The Second Vatican Council speaks of this repeatedly, and, as far as priests are concerned, insists upon it in n. 8 of the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, to whose inspiration and drafting the Apostolic Union of the Clergy made a contribution.

Fraternity between confreres is understood as far more than a psychological or sociological need or a form of Gospel radicalism. It is understood as a sacramental requirement, that is, a visible and efficacious sign of pastoral charity and evangelization. It is a contradiction to be and to act as priest without taking into consideration one’s presbyterium and one’s confreres in all the grades of Holy Orders. The document encourages priests to be aware of being a single presbyterate around their bishop, with a single task to fulfill, albeit in a diversity of charisms."

The post-synodal Exhortation Pastores Dabo vobis of March 25, 1992, insists upon a proper education in true friendship, in the image of the bonds of fraternal affection that Christ Himself forged during His life on Earth (n. 44).

Friendship among ordained ministers presupposes a "clear formation in the truth of their own existence, in the significance of their existence" (n. 44).


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Director, Apostolic Union of the Clergy.


I feel that it is for this reason that Pastores Dabo vobis has revived the theme of priestly associations with such force, highlighting in particular their positive human and spiritual dimensions. This applies not only after ordination to the priesthood, but also during the birth and growth of a vocation.

Apart from the family and parish the document says that "associations and youth movements today can and must contribute to the formation of candidates" for the priesthood.

In addition to the various forms of common life with one’s fellow priests, which have always existed "with different modalities and degrees of intensity" (n. 81) in the Church, the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo vobis recommends priestly associations, in particular secular institutes for priests which have as their specific note, the fact of being diocesan.

The Directory for the Ministry and life of Priests of January 31, 1994, while correctly emphasizing the radical communion-based form of ordained ministry, adds that "belonging to a concrete presbyterium always occurs in the sphere of a particular Church..." because, "in contrast with the episcopal college, it seems that the theological grounds for affirming the existence of a universal presbyterate do not exist... The priest cannot therefore act alone but always from within his own presbyterium" (no. 25).

In n. 88, priestly associations are set in the context, not of specific charisms or of pastoral charity, but of permanent formation. Special consideration is given to those associations which "tend to form a truly diocesan spirituality."

"The work that these associations, as well as the approved movements, do for priests is greatly appreciated by the Church...They are a sign of the vitality with which the Holy Spirit renews her’ (no. 88)."

A clarification is desirable on the articulation of the relationships and bonds of priests who are incardinated in a diocese but belong, first of all, at least in heart, to a movement, and on the difference between these priests and those who are incardinated sic et simpliciter. The same question comes up in connection with the secular institutes for priests, which have specific ends and charisms, even though they are diocesan.

It is helpful to have an historical and Biblical study of the New Testament and Patristic terms for the priesthood and of the oneness of the threefold ordained ministry.

A fusion or federation of similar associations and of those in decline is suggested as is the extinction of those that no longer have grounds for existence.

To conclude, a curious statistic: the number of associations recognized at an international level is fifteen, but at other levels, it is impossible to procure the current data.

National and international conferences are sought and promised on all sides, in order to learn and express acceptance of others and the gift of self outside of diocesan boundaries, while retaining the centrality of diocesan commitments.

Some might object and say that I am speaking thus because the Apostolic Union itself is suited to these purposes, of the hierarchy and of the clergy in general. This is true, but it is not the only association.

The important thing is that all ordained ministers, diocesan priests in particular, help one another to grow in identity, quality, and quantity by rediscovering sacramental communion.



Professor Wanda Poltawska2




Having created Adam, God said: "it is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18) — and created the woman, Eve; the presence of Eve filled the gap in the hitherto single life of Adam. In this original solitude, Adam felt himself to be alone and this feeling was difficult to bear up. Thus, although Adam was objectively not alone, because God himself was with him, nevertheless the presence of God did not cancel his solitude. Man’s feeling of loneliness exists in spite of his faith in the omnipresence of God.

Man is a "social" creature, he needs the presence of other people; everyone lives among other people. But the feeling of loneliness may lie deeper and may exist independently of the presence of the others. We may feel deeply alone if a really personal contact with others does not exist; we may even feel alone among people who are close to us, e.g. in the family.




The feeling of loneliness may cause the feeling of grief, bitterness and abandonment if one had expected something from the other person or even from the whole society and did not receive it.

Lack of acceptance by others leads to depression. There arises in the person a feeling of desolation and, being devoid of love and friendship, he or she becomes autistic.


1 This is the original English text presented by Dr. Poltawska.

2 Director of the Institute of Theology of the Family at the Pontifical

Academy of Theology in Krakow.




The most effective way to conquer loneliness is the realization of God’s bidding to "be fertile and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). For each human person this basic bond of love is secured in the family.

The deepest intimacy between persons is realized in the family; and, because procreation is preceded by the marital act, this act is regarded as being in itself the cure of loneliness; thus, the person who is not married is called "alone" and his status is described by the lack of this particular sort of contact.




The idea that man best conquers his loneliness while uniting with another person in a bodily activity thus brings pleasure, leads to a negative attitude towards celibacy and towards the Church which demands it. Such an attitude may make the realization of celibacy difficult, in particular for a person who is not fully mature. Moreover, according to Christian anthropology, full maturity is tantamount to sanctity for which we are supposed to strive all our life long. Priesthood gives a man the fullest possibility of maturation. Fatherhood, the measure of human development, achieves its apogee in priesthood. It is the task of the priest to "bear new people"; his is the fullness of paternity giving him the human joy of creation.

A full acceptance of celibacy as the way which enables a man to fully give himself to others does not lead to the feeling of deficiency but, on the contrary, to the feeling of fulfillment.




A priest’s life is involved with women. A woman seeks God through human persons and realizes her faith with the aid of the priest who leads her to God. He should lead the sensitive and complicated feminine soul to God and not let her concentrate on the priest himself. There exists a danger to the priest’s celibacy

a woman may, of course, appear to him as a fascinating and beautiful creature; she clings, so to speak, to the priest, led by the inner need to be accepted. The priest, on his part, may not maintain the proper attitude of a father or a brother.

Priests sometimes adopt an elusiveness towards women; this may backfire — the rejected becomes appealing.

The priest is supposed to be simply the spiritual father. We know many examples of saintly women whose sanctity deepened under the leadership of confessors.




But a greater and more frequent danger to the celibacy of the priest is the inner feeling of solitude which is always a sign of the lack of deep personal bonds with the living God.

If a priest regards celibacy as a necessity, the meaning of which he does not fully understand and; if, moreover, he does not understand the proper meaning of human sexuality, he may try to remove this feeling of loneliness by seeking "sexual" experiences. Moreover, virginity may be easily regarded as the status from which everyone starts, but which is valueless in itself. The proper idea of manhood as implying self-governance and self-possession makes the realization of celibacy without inner conflicts possible; but on condition that one understands that:

1. We cannot expect chastity to be realized as based on prohibition only even one’s own prohibition. The priest is supposed to renounce sexual experiences because he chooses a greater value.

2. Resigning marriage is a certain proof of loving God. Bestowed by God with many goods, man has a chance to give something back, in gratitude for God’s love.

The voluntary gift of oneself to God realized in celibacy leads to genuine merit because matrimony is a genuine good; but resigning adultery and other sins is not a particular merit or sacrifice; people often forget that every believer is obliged to observe the sixth commandment.

3. Struggling for one’s own sanctity is the supreme task of each Christian. The situation of the priest is advantageous because he has at his disposal not only the grace of the Sacrament, but also a program of life which promotes sanctification.

4. The full dimension of priesthood may be found only in a person who lives in constant contact with God. Only prayer maintains an authentic priestly life. John Paul II, when speaking about the priest’s celibacy always adds the word holy — celibacy is supposed to be holy, to become the fullness of life. The crisis of the celibacy of priests grows always from a deficiency in prayer.

5. Each man desires to love and to be loved. Created from the superabundance of God’s love, man receives life in order to spread love. Christ says very clearly that love is the main task of man. If we call sexual activity love, celibacy appears to be contrary to love. But if we understand that love is not tantamount to sexual intercourse, if we make it free from concupiscence, we realize pure love "beautiful love," as John Paul II calls it. In this love a man or a woman discovers the other as somebody who understands him, who knows and accepts him. True love is a task to be realized; it demands labor, but it may be achieved. Thus we bring about what John Paul II calls communio personarum, an example of which is St. Francis and St. Clara.




Priesthood is a gift of God; as such, it must be realized in the awareness of being chosen by God. Thus, a cure for solitude lies already in the awareness of this great privilege. God’s choice presupposes an intimacy with God which excludes loneliness. God gives Himself to man. A priest is, so to speak, immersed in God’s presence and he realizes himself in this immersion.

Priesthood is a full realization of human possibilities. The enormous scope of pastoral activities allows man to fully develop all his abilities. All this has been gratuitously given and the proper answer to this gift is to sing with one’s life a hymn of gratitude. Joy and gratitude leave no place for solitude. The possibility of bringing God into this world is the summit of what a man can achieve on earth.


Part Five

The Call of Priests To Perfection


Cardinal Miloslav VIk2


My dear brothers in the episcopate: eminent cardinals, excellent bishops, dear brothers all!

Celebrating important past events in the Church entails not only remembering the past, but above all making these events present, living them once again, making them continue on and grow.

Thus as we mark the thirtieth anniversary of the conciliar decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, I would like to call our attention to that teaching about which one can say: "Let him who has ears, hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches" (Revelation 2: 7,11,17) and "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." (Acts 15:28). Indeed, this is what the Spirit is saying to the Church today.

The prophetic mission of the Church must always recognize the "signs of the times." 3 In commenting upon the third chapter of Presbyterorum Ordinis, I would like to highlight the conciliar teaching about the life, perfection and spirituality of priests in light of what the Spirit is saying to the Church in this moment of its history.

The priest’s journey to perfection, the spirituality of the diocesan priest, is not something freely added on to his life; rather it springs from and grows out of the very substance of the priesthood and is in fact the full realization of that priesthood; 4 so the entire life of the priest must be rooted in his spirituality. The priest must make his own the attitude of Christ, the attitude of "being-for," of service directed toward the salvation of all, the attitude of the cross; and this is the primary and essential presupposition of his spirituality.


1 Translated from Italian by Rev. Thomas M. Mullin.

2Archbishop of Prague.

3 Matthew 16:3; cf. GS4.

4 Cf. P0, 12, 13.


Priestly spirituality and the means to respond to Christ’s explicit call of priests to perfection are amply developed in the conciliar decree Presbyterorum Ordinis and in subsequent papal documents such as the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, which followed upon the 1990 synod of bishops, and the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, issued by the Congregation for Clergy, and no less in the timely and impassioned Catecheses of our Holy Father about the priesthood, delivered between March 31 and October 20, 1993.

One notes with satisfaction that the call to holiness, as an obligation inherent in the fact that priests are "elevated to the state of living instruments of Christ ... and act in the name and in the person of Christ himself," and the invitation to make good use of the means which promote this holiness occupy the largest part of all these documents.

It would be too lengthy a task even to develop a synthesis, which must begin with the theological motivation and continue with a living witness of the radical gospel stance which configures priests to Christ, the one eternal high priest, and to Mary who served as his teacher and to whom the Word made flesh humbly subjected himself (PD V, 82).

Rather I propose to highlight from the documents mentioned above several points which take on a particular importance in our time, driven as it is by secularism and by the consequent collapse of true values due to a secular interpretation of the motives upon which they depend.

The personal life and ministerial service of priests are often characterized, for example, by a rupture between being and doing, between what is preached and what is lived. The cited documents have not failed to stress this point, and the warning of Pope Paul VI, repeated later in other documents, should suffice to make clear the importance for priests of a unity between their being and their service: the world today, he said, has more need for witnesses than teachers.

Presbyterorum Ordinis stresses that priests attain this unity of life "by following in the development of their ministry the example of Christ the Lord whose food was the fulfillment of the will of the One who sent him to realize his work," through whom "in the very exercise of pastoral charity they will find the bond of priestly perfection which unifies their life and their activity" (P0, 14). But how does one discern the will of God concretely? In following the outline of a diocesan pastoral plan, the priest discovers that he must take the initiative in deciding his priorities, in making choices, without ever knowing whether or not his decisions come from the Holy Spirit or rather from his own personal plans or preferences. With whom does he agree on a daily basis if he does not have relations of effective unity not only with the bishop but also with other priests to whom he submits his decisions with detachment, ready to let them go or to change them, entrusting himself to the promise made by Jesus, that "if two of you are in agreement about what you should do ... the Father will grant it to you because I, Jesus, am in your midst"?

Presbyterorum Ordinis, in fact, strongly insists upon not only the necessary unity between priests and bishops "in genuine charity and obedience" (7) "lest they run in vain" (14), but also in "a communion with other brothers in the priesthood" (ibid.), declaring: "each priest is joined to his brother priests by the bond of charity, of prayer and every type of collaboration, manifesting in this way that unity with which Christ wished his own to be made perfect in one" (8), and placing this unity- as Jesus himself did- as a condition for the apostolate: "so that the world will know that the Son has been sent from the Father" (John 17:23).

What kind of unity are we dealing with here? Pastores Dabo Vobis makes explicit the principle already expressed in Lumen Gentium and later in Christifideles Laici: "Priestly identity, like the identity of every Christian, has its foundation in the Holy Trinity" upon which the Church itself is modeled as a mystery of communion and of mission: "She [the Church] is a mystery because the love and life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are offered as an absolutely free gift to all those are born in water and in Spirit, those who are called to live anew the very communion of God and to manifest that communion and to communicate it in history (mission)."6

Now, this "re-living the very communion of God" has a particular importance for priests, both because it was for the Twelve and for them first of all, that Jesus prayed to the Father that "they might be one so that the world would believe," and because they are called by virtue of their mission to "lead everyone to the unity of charity, loving one another with a brotherly love" (P0, 9).


Cf. Matthew 18:19-20.

6 christifideles Laici, 8.

7 Homily on the Gospels, 17,1.


Here too it seems clear that before teaching others to be one in charity, priests must themselves have an experience, and so be witnesses to this unity according to the Trinitarian model. Gregory the Great, asking himself why Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to announce the kingdom, responded: "Because... it is not possible to have charity among less than two." 7

In fact, evangelization is the witness of every individual Christian: to be one as the Father and the Son are one in the Holy Spirit, so that the world will believe. In the catechesis of Pope John Paul II (August 4, 1993), this obligation is articulated with clarity and emphasis: "It is significant he says that in his priestly prayer at the Last Supper, Jesus prays ... that their unity mirror the very communion of the Divine Persons... Jesus asks that the priestly community be a reflection and participation in the Trinitarian communion. What a profound ideal!" And he adds:

"When the seventy-two disciples are sent out on mission, just as the Twelve Apostles, he sent them out two by two, both to help one another in life and in work, and also so as to create a habit of communal activity, so that no one would act as if he were alone."

If I emphasize this perspective as the way by which priests are able to respond more easily to the call to perfection, it is because Presbyterorum Ordinis itself gives primary place to this point, in order that priests avoid the possibility of falling into an isolated individualism, with the danger of being deluded about their own union with God or about the good of their pastoral activity. On the contrary, Presbyterorum Ordinis goes so far as to recommend "such a communion of life" among priests so that "they might be able to assist one another in fostering a spiritual and intellectual life, collaborate more effectively in ministry, and avoid the potential dangers arising from loneliness" (8). For this reason Presbyterorum Ordinis does not hesitate to say that it is necessary to regard highly and to promote "associations (among priests) which foster, thanks to fraternal support, the holiness of priests in the exercise of their ministry and which in this way aim at serving the whole order of priests." 8

Allow me here to make a short aside to share my own experience of "such a communion of life" lived during the dark years of my priesthood — at least from a human point of view. After ten happy years of priesthood, the totalitarian government deprived me of the authorization now required to exercise publicly my mission in the Church. I was not able to carry out any priestly functions. Everything was forbidden to me. I was forced to find a civil job, always under the watchful eye of the state police. The aim of the police was to isolate me from everyone else. But I had already had an experience of communion with priests, and I saw that this itself could protect me from the danger of isolation. We used to meet once a week, despite the grave dangers of being discovered and punished, and this applied above all to those priests who were able to exercise their ministry with official approval. But we accepted this risk knowing that the value of our communion was greater than any danger.

During our gatherings we often meditated upon the seventeenth chapter to John’s gospel, and guided and strengthened by the eighth section of Presbyterorum Ordinis we used to recount to one another the experiences of our priestly life. I must say that it was due precisely to the powerful presence of Jesus among us, whether it be the priests already authorized for ministry or I, a refugee exiled from the priesthood, that we were able to survive. I cannot stress forcefully enough this life giving experience which we had.

So it seems to me that one must recognize in this insistence of the Holy Spirit in the conciliar and postconciliar documents a "sign of the times," given the no less insidious difficulties which the real world places upon the daily life of priests. If Saint Peter was already recommending to Christians, in confronting persecution by the world, to place above everything else (ante omnia) "a mutual and continuing love" (1 Peter 4:8), in today’s socio-cultural context persecution is found not only outside but within the household, and the tendency to perfection by oneself has become even more difficult. We know about the other difficulties with which priests actually struggle, above all those which concern the care of souls, and it would be wise not to take them lightly. If official documents would be enough to overcome them, one could also say that the gospel would be enough. But the difficulties remain, and all pastors are well aware of them. For the most part we are dealing not with the surrenders due to bad will, but rather due to a disorientation which creeps in, so much so as to create in priests a crisis of identity often only a few years after ordination.

Ibid.; PDV 74,81; Directory n. 8; Catechesis of John Paul II, September 1, 1993; CIC canon 550: 2.

In sum, it seems to me that the image of the priesthood which comes to us from the past and perhaps also from a certain formation (I speak of the ideal image of the priest) clashes with reality. I will try to give a few brief examples:

· Despite the awareness of being ordained for service, the priest expects himself to be a leader, and then realizes that he is not a leader if he is not listened to and followed;

· the principle of the Church as communion, affirmed by Vatican II and well suited to new demands, can excite especially young priests, but at the same time it creates many difficulties, because it requires working not only in union with the bishop and with one’s brothers in ministry, but also with the laity, and a dialogue with them requires that the priest also knows how to listen, something not easy for lack of training in dialogue and lack of experience; in this regard also, I might offer a rich experience, since during my exile period I met with secret groups of laity guided by themselves, and my stepping in as president would have been even more dangerous from a political point of view. In this way I was "forced" to learn how to dialogue and from this I discovered the importance of building communion.

I now address the difficulties of today’s priests:

· The weakening of leadership, also on the religious and cultural level, easily calls into question the awareness of the mandate received from Jesus by means of the ordained priesthood. From this also follows an attempt to compensate by doing a volume of activities in order to feel useful; but when we realize that it takes one hundred efforts to produce only a small result, discouragement and stress arise and doubts begin: Have I been mistaken about my vocation? Is celibacy really worthwhile? Is it possible that having a family is denied to the priest?

I will make another aside to speak about my experience on this point. These thoughts have passed through my mind and heart so many times, in those times when I lost all my public activities in the Church and became a layman in the eyes of many. My situation forced me to seek out my priestly identity all over again:

without ministry, without visible usefulness, without being a leader. With the help of the communion of my fellow priests, after a period of painful searching, I rediscovered it. It was an immense joy to discover that Jesus arrived at the climax of his priesthood when, nailed to the cross, he could not walk, perform miracles, nor preach, but- abandoned- suffered in silence. Nevertheless it is in this way that he has saved us. I understood and found in him my deepest priestly identity, which filled me with joy and peace. With this new priestly identity I spent ten years washing store windows on the streets of Prague.

· We were speaking about the sense of loneliness which the priest experiences at a profound level, aggravated by the uncertainties of daily life through the lack of schedules, of caution and above all of the possibility of intimate communion with someone who understands.

We could go on. It is not the case that the call to holiness always fails; as affirmed by PDV, we know that there exists "a multitude... of priests in all parts of the world, in conditions even more difficult and sometimes more dramatic, and always with joy-filled labor in fidelity to the Lord and untiring service to his flock, daily offer their lives for the growth of faith, hope and love in the hearts and in the lives of the men and women of our time." But if we want to be attentive to the signs of the times which demand communion and unity, we cannot neglect to follow the conciliar directives about an effective and affective intimate unity among priests, above all because this not only complies with the conditions which Jesus himself has asked for, right at the moment of the institution of the priesthood ("you too must wash each other’s feet" and "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you") but also because the realization of "that they may be one" (John 17:21) is in fact revealed as "the perfection" to attain in this life and an incomparable witness to the Risen Christ in the midst of the world.

Allow me to cite a passage from one of our episcopal brothers, Bishop Klaus Hemmerle, a noted theologian who had a significant influence in drafting the propositions of the 1990 synod of bishops on priestly formation: "Today, as perhaps never before- he writes-the credibility of priestly service depends upon how each individual priest lives rooted in a real unity, in a type of life in which priestly service becomes a common witness, with the Lord himself, the one Priest, in its midst. The priest, even if he must be a specialist, must be so in communio, in unity. The spirituality and the type of life of the priest are that of unity... Living together, with one’s eye constantly directed to the Lord in our midst, in steady commitment to have Him in our midst and so to carry Him at those near and far: this is the meaning of priesthood today... Priests today: one among them and, in their midst, Jesus." 9 The Lord in our midst is the holy one.

The Holy Spirit, by means of the conciliar and papal teaching of the last three decades, appears to want to effect a turning point in the life of the Church, but first of all in the life of priests: a movement from an individual spirituality to a communal or collective spirituality; not so much to seek one’s own perfection for itself as much as "being perfected in unity," which means by definition, to "live in the Trinity," having "the same sentiments and a similar love." Here we can sum up the whole Christian life and the whole message of Christ. Pope John Paul II has expressed this idea in an audience with a group of bishops, saying: "A renewed proclamation of the Gospel cannot be consistent and efficacious unless it is accompanied by a strong spirituality of communion, cultivated by prayer, by an ascetical commitment and woven into everyday relations.. .especially by deepening the spirituality of unity you will prepare yourselves to cooperate more fully with the Holy Spirit, the divine leaven of the unity of the People of God and of all humanity." 10 Only in this light, in fact, only by creating the concrete experience of this life of communion can all the disorders which seem to characterize the life and ministry of priests be resolved.

At the International Congress of Priests and Religious, April 30, 1982.


10 L’Osservatore Romano, February 17, 1995


Even if an individual spirituality, for example, is conceivable without a practice of the evangelical counsels, this is not the case with a collective spirituality. The evangelical counsels, in fact, do not in themselves create sanctity: if they are seen in individualistic terms, they might degenerate into vices. Rather, one cannot live the unity demanded by Jesus ("that they may be one") without living the counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience which are the death of every attachment to persons, to goods and to oneself. Saint Paul was able to say that he did not know any others but Christ, and Christ crucified, because he is the model of every denial of self: he is the poor one (he surrendered everything), he is the chaste one (he also gave up his Mother on earth and experienced abandonment by his Father in heaven), he is the obedient one (even to death on the cross). In this way Jesus attains the pure love of self-giving, beyond every security and every gratification; but precisely in this he also attains the climax of his human existence and of freedom, becoming the father of a "new creation," the community of the redeemed. This means that the kenosis of Christ has become the path to unity of being (kenosis), to uniting men with God and with one another. The Eucharist is nothing other than the sacrament and the memorial of this divine and human mystery. Then one grasps how the measure of the love which must exist above all among priests is his commandment:

"love one another as I have loved you." It cannot be "one thing only" unless it is free, not conditioned by anything else. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, turning again to the priests and deacons, makes this exhortation: "Have among you the same sentiments which were in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5), he who became one with us up to the point of giving his life for us.

This means that the priestly self, or the identity of the priest, cannot be other than that of Christ in his kenosis when, with abandonment and death on the cross, he generated the Church as a unity (kenosis), as a Trinitarian communion.

Now celibacy can likewise understood in this way. Celibacy is not a renunciation of family. If God, who is love, has created marriage as an expression and image of his Trinitarian life, why would he deprive his priest of such a "good" thing? The truth is that God, far from depriving his priests of this good, invites them to live in a more beautiful family, more akin to conditions in paradise, the family which was formed among the apostles, who could say: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life."

The priest, too, needs a family. And [the priest] feels the deprivation of a natural family, clearly so, unless he comes to realize [family] concretely among priests, with Jesus, the priest in their midst. In this type of family, he does not experience personal loneliness, nor does he feel the need for other affective ties. Were Peter, James and John thinking about wives or parents on Mount Tabor? Rather, "let us build three tents here..." Behold our family, evidenced in the world by the blessed perichoresis which is lived in heaven. Thus it can be said that the "identity of the priest... has its source in the Holy Trinity" and the priest "is called to live out the very communion of God, to make it manifest and communicate it in history." 11

And now one can also better understand Mary and her role in the life of the priest, not only as a model of humility, obedience and chastity, but also of charity through her total giving to the Lord and to the Church. 12 But her presence in the life of the priest need not be simply spiritual. Mary is an icon of the whole Church, but we find her living especially in the laity and in the consecrated laity for whom "the Holy Spirit also grants special gifts... so that each one putting the grace received at the service of the others, they too contribute.. .to the building up of the whole body in charity" (AA 3).

As a model of life, her attitude as a "maidservant of the Lord" in her dealings with God, and in the life of the home, in her dealings with Jesus and Joseph, is the condition sine qua non without which she could not give birth to Jesus in our midst nor give birth to the community. She is the type for priesthood, a priesthood that is alive, called in fact a Marian priesthood, a genuine priesthood, although without a mandate. Now if the mandate for priesthood is not grafted upon the life lived in the priesthood of the baptized, this priesthood, although effecting the sanctification of others, does not deepen the holiness of the one who exercises it.

Our Holy Father, commenting upon a passage of John: "From that moment the disciple took her into his household" (John 19: 27), recalls that "the first disciples, after the Ascension of Jesus, were re-united with Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14). She was also present then in their community; moreover, it might have been Mary who brought them together... .In the family of God —" Christifideles Laici, 8.


12 Cf. P0,18.


He continued and all the more in the priestly family, Mary preserves the diversity of each one within the community among them all." 13 Origin wrote that it is not possible to live a genuine Christian life without a familiarity with the man who was the Christ and with Mary his Mother. 4

I believe that the Holy Spirit wanted to propose to all Christians, through the documents of Vatican II, and in a special way to priests in the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, the priority of the witness of being one, not only ontologically and sacramentally, but effectively "with the bonds of charity, of prayer and every form of collaboration" (P0, 8), and to do this because- I repeat- [the Spirit] considers this as the kairos of our time, as he has proposed in all times, by means of the teachings of various councils and various saints, the remedy for each respective age, a remedy which was also a life choice more faithful to the message of Jesus and a means of sanctification better suited to the times. The one who is called to perfection cannot fail to consider this.

Today the world demands unity, and experiences that such unity cannot simply be "organized," but must be rooted more deeply and must have a soul. We see this in Europe: if one looks for a "European spirituality," it is clear that a merely political and economic unity is not enough, just as the supporters of a United Europe assert. Well, today the Holy Spirit directs the spirit of priests to that loftier word proclaimed by Jesus for them in the New Testament: "that they may be perfect in unity." If "priestly identity... has its foundation in the Holy Trinity," for mutual love to exist among priests in the manner of the Father and the Son demands a return to the home of which we are members, the Trinity, unassailable by any worldly power or conflict.

There may be no more appropriate way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Presbyterorum Ordinis than to respond to this invitation of the Holy Spirit. May we then see the many difficulties and problems of our "collaborators in ministry" disappear!

"‘ To the International Congress of Priests in the Paul VI audience hail on April 30, 1982; L’Osservatore Romano, May 1, 1982.

‘~ Cf Commentary on John, 1: 4.



Most Reverend Sergio Gajek 2


Re-reading the conciliar decree Presbyterorum Ordinis makes us aware of the dimension of communion in priestly spirituality. Thirty years after Vatican II this communitarian dimension seems more relevant than ever.

The mission of priests receives its inspiration from a "spirituality of communion." As the Holy Father Pope John Paul II said to a group of bishops, "a renewed proclamation of the Gospel cannot be coherent and efficacious unless it is accompanied by a robust spirituality of communion, cultivated in prayer, in ascetical effort, and in the fabric of daily relationships." 3

The spirituality of communion means ecumenical spirituality. The communitarian aspect of the priest’s mission demands an ecumenical attitude on the part of the priest, who ought to be a protagonist of the ecumenical engagement of the whole Catholic Church. A spirituality of communion means re-discovering the profound sacramental brotherhood that exists among priests.

The ecclesiological category of "Sister Churches," of which Pope John Paul II writes in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (UU 56), demands that we also rediscover the profound sacramental brotherhood that exists between Catholic priests and Orthodox priests.

Such a re-discovery can sometimes be difficult to accept. We only have to think of the tensions between Catholics and Orthodox in the Balkans and in the Ukraine. But however much this brotherhood may seem impossible, it is all the more necessary. In fact, this sacramental brotherhood is an objective fact, a gift, and a task.


‘Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Apostolic Visitator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis to the Greek Catholics in Bielorussia.

3 L’Osservatore Romano, February 17, 1995.


It would seem that the profound spiritual brotherhood among priests must not be limited strictly to relations between Catholic and Orthodox priests. The spirit of ecumenism requires us to rediscover the spiritual bond that exists between Catholic priests and the ministers of other Christian Churches. (In his homily in the Orthodox cathedral in Bialystok in Poland, John Paul II extended the category of "Sister Churches" to the other Christian Churches.)

If the priest is to be at work, first and foremost, in the field of the New Evangelization, he would do well to remember that the ministers of the other Christian Churches are not his competitors but real brothers in Christ. Spiritual brotherhood leads, in fact, to pastoral solidarity.

Speaking of the need of a new dimension of relationships among ministers of the different Christian Churches, let us not forget the relationships between Catholic priests of the various Churches sui iuris, i.e., between priests of the Latin rite and the various Eastern Catholic Churches.

Sacramental brotherhood among them is evident enough, but pastoral solidarity is not always so evident. In those areas where the Eastern Catholic Church has just emerged from the catacombs (for example, in the Ukraine or in Romania), or where she is in a state of recovery (for example, in Belarus), any gesture or action that encourages priests to grow in awareness of the importance of spiritual brotherhood and pastoral solidarity is of enormous importance. Omissions in both areas are not lacking.



Monsignor Vincenzo Ledda2




The history of spirituality examines the lives of priest-saints, documents on the priesthood, and theological reflections. With the help of this data it seeks to penetrate the inexhaustible content of the revealed Word, as preached by the Church, who presents Christ to us as priest and describes the features of a style of apostolic life appropriate to each generation.

Priestly spirituality is Christian spirituality. Precisely because it is harmonious with the attitudes of the Good Shepherd, it is also open to a dynamism which corresponds to the action of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Church.

It is very important to establish the lines of force and the dynamic of this action of the Spirit, who leads the people of God to deepen and to live out their priestly way of life or spirituality.

It is a spirituality that is always open to the future, a kind of preparation for new steps and new phases, drawing ever closer to the salvific event of Christ the Priest and to His call to follow Him as an apostle.

Each moment of the Church’s history emphasizes some aspect of the figure of Christ, the Priest and Good Shepherd, who makes Himself present in the signs of the Church.

One might say that every era has had special graces and charisms - a permanent Pentecost. Every era succeeds in marking out a form of priesthood which achieves a permanent value in confronting new problems for the Church and in responding to new priestly graces.


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Inspector for the Military Ordinariate of Italy.


The history of priestly spirituality presents an element that is common throughout the entire history of the Church: it only bears fruit when it is truly a continuation of the priestly manner of Christ, the Good Shepherd. This history of priestly spirituality, which steadily brings forward the person and message of the Good Shepherd, is the journey of a pilgrim Church, who displays ever more clearly, each day, in every age, the qualities of service, of evangelization without frontiers in the fraternal communion of the presbyterate, of transparency and witness to the Good Shepherd.

To create a style of priesthood for this particular historical epoch requires us to welcome the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Church and in the present moment: starting from the Word of God, which illuminates events and situations, we have to build up an ecclesial community that is sensitive to the presence of God and to the problems of our brothers. It must be made into an evangelizing community committed to universal evangelization.

It will therefore be a priestly spirituality of prophecy and involvement, of authentic diversity in the communion of the Church, of immanence and transcendence, of a mission without frontiers or exclusivity, of witness and martyrdom. It will be a spirituality like the cry of the Magnificat that resounds in every sanctuary of Our Lady, in every Church community, in every home and in every heart.

It follows from this that the most intimate and profound priestly spirituality is to be identified with pastoral charity or, to be more precise, with the perfect charity of a total gift of self to God, the Church and others.




With the sweeping developments of contemporary culture, which proposes new models for life and questions, even scorns, the values supporting the very meaning of life, priests, especially those engaged in pastoral activities , do not escape strain, insecurity, and a real sense of loneliness.

We can see the sometimes unbridgeable gap between the limitations of the individual, of his time and capacity, and urgent pastoral necessities. Likewise we experience the presence of too many people convinced of being inspired and wise to the point of claiming that they want to carry out the plans they have hatched at

the kitchen table.

In addition, there is the lack of space for personal, cordial, human, friendly and pastoral relationships; the impossibility of making ourselves heard in today’s amazing communications media; the limitations of the Catholic media, which at times humiliate the Gospel instead of showing its splendor; turning, as an alibi, to the heresy of activism; the disappointment felt over battles that seem lost (divorce, abortion etc.); the subjectivism of faith and morality which even affects groups of apparently practicing Christians.

It would seem clear that the pastoral worker should become more and more a "specialist" in a particular field: the family, youth, the health services, the world of work and sport, recovery centers for people in difficulties, etc.

However, one has the impression that there is a fragmentation where there should be unity proclamation and testimony.

And yet the boundaries of the Lord’s vineyard often coincide with the shadow of our own parish church.




Most Reverend Ricardo Valenzuela Rios2


The essence of the priest, the life of the priest, is marked by his adherence to Christ. The sequela Christi is fundamental. He expresses and lives out his following Christ in the spiritual life, which is made visible in the exercise of his ministry for the good of the Church. "It is the privilege of the ministers of Christ to follow their Lord, not only inwardly but also outwardly." 3

For every believer, the following of Christ becomes a concrete reality through his own vocation and mission. The mission involves a personal and real spirituality, which in turn defines the living out of this mission. There is no spirituality without a specific mission, nor is there a mission without spirituality. The spirituality of the priest flows from his adherence to the whole Christ and to the continuation of the mission of Christ, as Head of the Church, in the Church and in the world.


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Auxiliary bishop of Asuncion

3 St. John of Avila, Memorial primer at Concilio de Trento


We live in a world "marked" by a preoccupation with efficiency. It seems that life justifies itself only to the extent to which we "do" things. "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). The efficiency of our ministerial action does not simply reside within us, in our abilities or in our personal preparation. Our lives and the efficacy of our priesthood express our union with Christ. He acts in and through us to the same extent that we are united with him. "My son, do not take on a great amount of business; if you multiply your interests, you are bound to suffer for it; hurry as fast as you can, yet you will never arrive, nor will you escape by running away" (Sirach 11:10). This is an important piece of advice for priests. For the profitable exercise of the ministry one must choose the better part: to stay at the feet of the Master and to know how to "lose" time listening to Him. 4

The spirituality of the priesthood springs from this deep relationship with Christ in the Church under the action of the Spirit. It is a spirituality that has to be a testimony of life, seen and understood by the men of our day, so that the priest can be a model for the community. 5 St Paul’s advice on leaving the presbyters of Ephesus, "Take care of yourselves," is directed toward the fulfillment of their second task: "Take care of your flock," whose guide you have been chosen by the Holy Spirit." 6 The priesthood is not a mere function. 7 The presbyter is a priest. He has an ontological identity that is marked by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and it is on the basis of this reality that he exercises his ministry. In looking after himself and his own spiritual life, he makes himself an instrument, worthy of Christ, for the exercise of pastoral ministry.

To transmit the presence of Christ it is necessary to live in Him, with Him, for Him, to be with Christ and to want to be more and more like Him every day, making progress in one’s spiritual life. Let us remember that "for the man who has the priesthood it is an evil not to be excellent and not to make progress in virtue..."8

The priest is the man of God, a man profoundly marked by the experience of God, through a deep experience of dialogue and prayer. In the popular religion of my country we regard the pai, the priest, as the man of prayer, a prayer of intercession, as if there were no other. Thus, if one wants to say that something is impossible to acquire, one says that it is impossible to get it, even with the prayers of the priest.

The primacy of the "spiritual" in the life of the priest equips him for the effective exercise of his ministry. "The shepherd of souls must stay close to everyone in understanding; he must elevate himself above everyone in contemplation." 9

Just as Our Lady, while carrying Jesus in her womb, placed herself at the service of Elizabeth, so too must the priest, the alter Christus, place himself at the service of the Church and of men. In order to do so he must make Christ shine through. The greatest identity is to be achieved in the Eucharist, for Communion is identification with Christ. For this reason the center of the spiritual life of a priest is the Eucharist.


4 cf. Luke 10: 42.

5 cf. 1 Peter 5:3.

6 cf. Acts 20:28.

7 cf. Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and life of Priests.

8 St. Gregory Nazianzen, The Priesthood, 2:15.

9 St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Rule, 2: 5.




Reverend Azzolino Chiappini2


Caritas, a key word in the language of Christianity, is central to, for example, all the reflections of Saint Augustine. This reflection is intended to link caritas in a special way with the presbyteral ministry. And it is possible to do this in a number of different ways.

It seems to me that one of the best ways is to start with the meaning of the priesthood. If we look at the history of ministry, it appears that right from the start, from the time of Saint Ignatius of Antioch and the division of the ordained ministry according to the structure of the Church, that there has been a clear awareness of the ordained ministry.

The history of the past two thousand years shows, however, that at different times there have been different emphases to explain the presbyterate, just as there have been different ways of expressing the relationship between priests and bishops. There is, however, one factor which becomes more and more clear throughout history (up until the documents of Vatican II, for example, Sacrosanctum Concilium) and which makes it possible to speak of the particular relationship between the presbyteral ministry and service to the Body of Christ. Without doubt, the service of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, the memorial of the Lord, crucified and risen, is the strongest moment of the "sacerdotal" ministry (episcopal and presbyteral), for this celebration is also the culmen et fons in the existence of the Church.

To say that the priest is at the service of the Body of Christ is the same as saying that he is at the service of the Church. The expression "Body of Christ" in the tradition refers (we might even say indistinguishably) both to the Church and to the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. The priest, in the presbyterate and with the bishop, is at the service of the Christus totus: at the service of Christ in the Church because (by virtue of the Sacrament of Bishop of Rome, was the first to call himself "servant of the Orders) he is at the service of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. servants of God."


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Sawara.

2 Professor of Theology, Lugano.


This is the dimension which explains and gives full significance to "pastoral charity": it is without reserve a continuous and complete service, of Christ, the risen Lord, and of the Church whose identity is to be found in him.

This does not mean that, in the face of today’s difficulties, there must be a class of specialists above and outside the community. It is important, however, to discover or to re-discover that which is essential to priestly existence, and as a result, to the pastoral charity of priests. Without the rediscovery of the essential, we shall always be faced with crises. These will not be crises useful for growth, but sterile crises.

Moreover, the idea of serving Christ in his totality the Christus lotus — makes clear how inadequate, and thus often negative, certain images and practices related to the priesthood are today. I am thinking, in particular, of the image of the priest as a functionary or employee and therefore restricted to hours, sectors, and offices. The priest can indeed be called to assume tasks that are not immediately or strictly ministerial or priestly. But he must always act in accordance with the grace of the Sacrament, which qualifies him and makes him capable of the pastoral service of charity to Christ in the Eucharist and Christ in the Church.

In summary, the presbyteral ordo places the priest at the service of the body of the eucharistic Christ, which is also the Body of Christ in the Church. This pastoral service can be fulfilled only through complete "being for." This is a caritas which, in some ways, reflects that of Christ.

The theme of pastoral charity is to be found in two texts. The first, the foundational one, is in the Scriptures. The other comes from the great Tradition of the Church. The Biblical text is from Maundy Thursday, prior to the culminating moment in the life of Jesus, when, as if in an acted parable, He manifests His "beingfor," His pro-existence. This is the Washing of Feet, a gesture which bishops, but also priests, can perform according to the rite. "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (John 13:14-15). This is the word of the One who came not to be served but to serve. Saint Gregory the Great, perhaps even before he became Bishop of Rome, was the first to call himself " servant of the servants of God ".



Most Reverend James O’Brien2


The First paragraph of Presbyterorum Ordinis clearly places the ordained priesthood within the ministry of Christ himself: "By sacred ordination and by the mission they receive from their bishops, priests are promoted to the service of Christ, the Teacher, the Priest, and the King. They share in his ministry of unceasingly building up the Church on earth into the People of God, the Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit." A later paragraph (13) speaks of the priest and the Eucharist and shows the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the priest and the world. It gives three examples of the way the priest is likened to Christ through the Eucharist and by which he continues the work of Christ in the world today. I would speak briefly of these three aspects of the eucharistic life of the priest.

The first aspect is the representational nature of the priest’s life: "As ministers of the sacred realities, especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass, priests represent the person of Christ in a special way. He gave himself as a victim to make men holy. Hence priests are invited to imitate the realities they deal with. Since they celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s death they should see to it that every part of their being is dead to evil habits and desires." These words were later to be reflected in the words of the ordination ceremony where the newly ordained priest is urged to ‘‘imitate the mystery you celebrate and model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross."

Christ’s death and resurrection should be reflected in the priest’s own life, dying to sin and selfishness and living with the new life of Christ. Each time he celebrates Mass he is reminded of this ideal. As the developed world becomes more and more affluent, so the need increases for this representation of Christ to be brought before our people — and the more difficult it becomes. As society becomes less conscious of sin and the need of self- denial, the more there is need of witness to it. The priest, in his celibate life, is uniquely freed to give this witness.


1 This is the original English text presented by Bishop O’Brien.

2 Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster.


The second aspect of the priest’s representational role is his continuing participation in the redeeming work of Christ through the Eucharist. "Priests fulfill their chief duty in the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In it, the work of our redemption continues to be carried out. For this reason, priests are strongly urged to celebrate Mass every day, for even if the faithful are unable to be present, it is an act of Christ and the Church."

The preeminent importance of the Eucharist was stressed in the Council and is reflected in the words of Sacrosanctum Concilium (n. 10). "The liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the bounty from which all the Church’s power flows.

It is gratifying that, since the Council, much study and attention has been given to the renewal of our liturgy. The importance of the Eucharist was again stressed by our Holy Father in Pastores Dabo Vobis (n. 48). "For priests, as sacred ministers of sacred things, are first and foremost ministers of the Sacrifice of the Mass; the role is utterly irreplaceable, because without the priest there can be no eucharistic offering."

I would like to make two observations here. The first is that our renewed liturgy makes much greater demands on the priest president. Particular care should be taken that he should be adequately prepared for his presidential role and that he should not be exhausted by the sheer number of Masses he has to offer. I should like to adapt the dictum about miracles: "Missae non Sunt Multiplicandae." The other observation is that our concentration on the Eucharist has resulted in a great diminishment of our non-eucharistic liturgy and devotional practices. We need a revival of some of our traditional devotions and the creation of new ones. Our people are being offered a "one course menu" instead of the rich multiplicity of traditional Catholic choices. A start could be made by making much more use of the Divine Office for worship with our people in our parish churches.

The third aspect of the priest’s representational role is in the social dimension of the Eucharist: "So it is that while priests are uniting themselves with the act of Christ the Priest, they are offering their whole selves everyday to God. While being nourished by the Body of Christ, their hearts are sharing in the love of Him who gives himself as food for his faithful ones."

Every Eucharist reminds the priest that the whole Church is the Body of Christ. "As there is one loaf so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for all of us share in the one loaf’ (1 Corinthians 10:17). We are reminded of the interdependence of the human family. It is the antidote to selfish individualism. The Eucharist should preserve harmony and unity within the Church itself, healing any breach between the so called conservative and progressive. The Eucharist is an enduring reproach to the unjust divisions between the world’s rich and poor. As eucharistic minister, the priest is reminded of the urgency of those problems and of the need to respond by his way of life. In our Eucharist, and therefore in our priesthood, we have the inspiration, and the means to address and heal the wounds of our fractured humanity.




Reverend Roman MT. Cholij2



· This short paper examines first the concept of priestly perfection, comparing it to the perfection required of all the Christian faithful. Priestly continence is then investigated. The Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, in its allusion to the apostolic origin of celibacy, is examined and compared to previous magisterial teaching. The importance of paragraph fifty-nine is highlighted.

· The bond between celibacy and priesthood is then analyzed, with special reference to the Eucharist. Finally, the nature of spousal love is investigated, with the priestly nuptial theology of Pastores Dabo vobis and the Directory providing the most satisfactory theological rationale for priestly celibacy both in its present and in its historical forms.




The priest’s call to perfection is rooted in a double sacramental reality: that of

Baptism and that of Holy Orders. But it is first and foremost by his baptismal consecration that the priest is called to live the Gospel in an integral way.


1 This is the original English text presented by Roman M. T. Cholij.

2 Vice-Chancellor of the Apostolic Exarchate of Ukrainian Catholics in Great



The "perfection" of the priesthood (to use a term from PseudoDionysius) obliges the ordained priest to live out his baptismal promises in a way that corresponds to the reality of his ministry of the word and sacraments. In the writings of the Fathers the call to perfection addressed to priests was not differentiated from that addressed to all Christians. St. Basil the Great, for example, in his Moralia 3 and his tract De Baptismo, 4 understood that poverty of spirit, expressed in detachment from worldly goods, obedience to the will of the Father in imitation of Jesus Christ, and purity of heart, were essential virtues for every true disciple of the Lord. Living according to all the demands of the Gospel constituted the "state of perfection which is pleasing to God." 5 The duties and way of life of the minister of the Gospel were discussed within this more general context of the universal call, indeed obligation as true Christians, to sanctity. But specific to the priest was the fact that within the Christian community he was a shepherd, a physician, a co-worker of God, and a builder of the Temple of the Spirit. 6

At the time of the Fathers, however, as our historical sources do seem to indicate, an aspect of priestly perfection, but one not integral to the Christian vocation as such, was perfect and perpetual chastity. This was not so much an individual and voluntary charism, potentially open to any Christian, as a specific requirement intrinsically related to the sacrament of Orders. Furthermore, the priestly rule of chastity was equally incumbent on the married man as on the unmarried. Historical researches of these last two decades or so have brought this fact into a clearer light. 7


3 J. P. Migne, PG 31, 700-869.

4 Sources Chrétiennes, n. 357 (Paris, 1989).

5 Cf. Regula 80: "The qualitie, which Scripture would have Christians possess as disciples of Christ, conformed only to the pattern of what they behold in Him or hear from Him." PG 31, 860 ff.

6 Cf Regula 70; Regula 80, cc. 12-21.

7 E.g. Christian Cochini, Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotal (Lethielleux: Paris, 1981) (English translation: N. Marans, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990); Alfons Kardinal Stickler, Der Kleriker zolibat. Seine Entwickhungsgeschichte und seine theologischen Grundlagen (Abensberg, 1993); Filippo Liotta, La continenza dei chierici nel pensiero canonistico classico (da Graziano a Gregorio IX), Quaderni di Studi Senesi 24 (Milan, 1971); Roman Cholij, Clerical Celibacy in East and West (Gracewing/Fowler Wright: Leorninster, 1989).

An uninterrupted conviction of the Roman Magisterium, from the fourth century Pope Siricius, to Pius XI, in the twentieth century, is that the discipline of priestly chastity, found equally in the East and West in the fourth century, is a tradition of the apostles. 8 And Rome alone among the Churches has remained consistently faithful to this early church and patristic heritage, resisting temptations to mitigate the discipline even when confronted with acute shortages of priests. 9

The latest Roman pronouncement on the historical origin of celibacy-continence, one which is of the greatest significance in the context of today’s media debates, is found in paragraph 59 of the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests issued by the Congregation for the Clergy on January 31, 1994:

For this reason, the Church, from apostolic times, has wished to conserve the gift of perpetual chastity of the clergy and choose the candidates for Holy Orders from among the celibate faithful (cf 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:2-12; 5:9; Titus l:6-8).’~

8 Cf. Siricius, Decretale Directa; Decretale Cum in Unum: Ph. JAFFE, Regesta pontificum Romanorum..(Leipzig, 1851), nn. 255, 258; J.P. Migne, PL 13, 1131ff. For Pope Pius XI, see the encyclical letter Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (December 20, 1935), nn. 43-44: AAS 28 (1936), 25-26. Cf. Cochini, "La Legge Del Celibato Sacerdotale Nella Chiesa Latina, Cornpendio Storico" in Celibato e Magistero, Interventi dei Padri nel Concilio Vaticano II e nei Sinodi dei Vescovi del 1971 e 1990 (San Paolo:

Milan, 1994), 33-103; Cholij, Ibid., 179ff In an Instruction of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (1858), Collectanea Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fide, seu Decreta, Instruction es, Rescripta, 2 Vols: (Rome, 1907), vol. 1, n. 1158, p. 628, it is stated:

"Whoever ponders diligently the true tradition of celibacy and clerical continence will indeed find that, from the first centuries of the Catholic Church, if not by a general and explicit law, at least by behaviour and custom, it was firmly established that not only bishops and priests, but [all] clergy in Holy Orders were to preserve inviolate virginity or perpetual continence."

9 Cf. Synod of Aries IV (524), Corpus Christianorum 148A, 43-44.

10 Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on Ministry and Life of Priests, n. 59: Eam ob causam Ecclesia, inde a temporibus apostolicis donum continentiae perpetuae clericorum voluit servare et inclinavit ad eligendos ex caelibatu candidatos ad Ordinem... To help understand the biblical references of this text, see Ignace de la Potterie, "The biblical foundation of priestly celibacy" in For Love Alone: Reflections on Priestly Celibacy, (St. Pauls, 1993), 13-30.

The sources given in the footnote indicate very clearly that it is the tradition of perpetual chastity in its technical sense — total abstention from sexual relations for married and unmarried alike — that is being commented upon. In this, the Congregation is but reflecting the considerations made by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical letter Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (December 20, 1935) which reiterates the words spoken at the Synod of Carthage (390):

"What the Apostles taught, and the early Church preserved, let us too, observe" (ut quod Apostoli docuerunt, et ipsa servavit antiquitas, nos quoque custodiamus)."

Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 16, on the other hand, because of its sensitivity to ecumenical concerns, did not concern itself with this early discipline. 12 It restricted its brief historical allusions to celibacy taken in the narrow or strict sense of the unmarried or single state, affirming that "it is not of course required by the very nature of the priesthood, as is clear from the practice of the early church and the tradition of the eastern churches." 13 A footnote gives references to the "man of one wife" of the pastoral epistles:

1 Timothy 3:2-5 and Titus 1:6, to prove that celibacy was not a discipline of the early church. The Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, we should note, used these same scriptural passages for the thesis that the Apostle Paul was speaking "propter continentiam futuram," the chastity expected thenceforth of the married man. Is there a contradiction between these texts? Not if the intention of the Council is kept strictly in mind. 14 However, I do believe that the identification of "perfecta et perpetua propter regnum coelorum continentia" with "coelibatus" has led those who read the text with an historical eye to draw the (incorrect) conclusion that the Council is saying authoritatively that the present practice of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches reflects more accurately the ancient tradition. 15 Canon 373 of the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium, furthermore, which draws from this text of Presbyterorum Ordinis, presents even more difficulties of interpretation. 16

Confusion as to the historical evolution of priestly celibacy, as with other aspects of celibacy, is very widespread today. For this reason the activity of the Congregation for the Clergy is much to be praised, not only for its production of the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, but also for its promotion of new studies on celibacy and the priesthood: Solo per amore. Riflessioni sul celibato sacerdotale (Edizioni Paoline, l993),’~ Identità e Missione del sacerdote, ed. G. Pittau - C. Sepe (Città nuova, 1994), Celibato e Magistero (San Paolo, 1994), and, of course, this present Symposium.

11 AS 28 (1936), 26. Cf. Corpus Christianorum 149, 13.

12 Cf. C. Cochini, in Celibato e Magistero. Interventi dei Padri nel Concilio Vaticano II e nei Sinodi dei Vescovi del 1971 e 1990 (San Paolo, 1994), 86-89.

13 AA5 58 (1966), 1015: Perfecta et perpetua propter regnum coelorum continentia a Christo domino commendata... Non exigitur quidem a sacerdotio suapte natura, uti apparet et praxi ecclesiae primaevae et ex traditione ecclesiarum orientalium, ubi praeter illos qui cum omnibus episcopis ex dono gratiae coelibatum eligunt servandum, sunt etiam optime meriti presbyteri coniugati...

14 In a letter to the Tablet (an International catholic weekly produced in England), October 14, 1995, I stated that "The interpretation of "man of one wife" in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 [in the Directory] directly contradicts that of Vatican II (P0 16)." By this I meant there is a contradiction if P0 16 is read, as is invariably the case, without making the necessary mental nuances.

15 The text would have been less misleading if it was stated coelibatus non exigitur quidem a sacerdotio suapte natura, uti apparet et praxi ecclesiae primaevae...

16 Cf. Cholij, Clerical Celibacy, 193-94, to be read in conjunction with "Celibacy, Married Clergy and the Oriental Code" (in the Acta of the International Congress on the Oriental Code, University of Kaslik, Lebanon, April 1995, to be published).

17 English edition: For Love Alone. Reflections on Priestly Celibacy (St. Pauls, 1993).


If in the early church and thereafter clerical chastity was so highly regarded as to be considered an indispensable condition for the priestly ministry, then there was evidently an ecclesial consciousness of the very intimate bond between the sacrament and celibacy, in its wider or narrower sense. The explanation of this bond has been variously expressed in Church teaching. At an early period, the continuity with and fulfillment of the Old Testament priesthood was a dominant motive, leading to considerations of cultic purity to explain the need for priestly consecrated chastity. Yet it was also clear that the nature of the Eucharistic Sacrifice was very different from the sacrifices of the Old Dispensation. Thus, to speak of the "cultic purity" of the priest of the "eucharistic cult" was only to speak in terms of analogy. For the priest’s chastity was now in function of his representing and taking the place of Christ, who gave himself body and soul in the one unique sacrifice of the Cross. The motives for chastity are therefore christological and ecclesiological.

It is important also to underline that although the Eastern Orthodox Churches have a long tradition of a married clergy, there is a strong ecclesial awareness of the intimate bond that exists between the priesthood, in its eucharistic actuality, and celibacy. At the moment of the eucharistic sacrifice the priest becomes, in the words of Saint Theodore Studite, the "living icon of Christ." 18 At that liturgical moment he lends his chaste flesh to Christ, his continence now becoming an integral constituent of his iconic relationship with Christ who offers the sacrifice of a total self-oblation to the Father on our behalf. The Eastern Orthodox Churches, especially since the time of the Council in Trullo (69 1/2), have been consistently faithful to the discipline of temporary eucharistic chastity — to such an extent, in fact, that the daily offering of the Holy Mass or Liturgy would require total and perfect chastity. 19 It has to be said that the Eastern Catholic Churches in their current disciplines do not reflect fidelity to the traditional oriental norms for married clergy. 20

18 Cf. Theodore Studite, Adversus Iconomachos, PG 99, 493d.

19 Cf. canon 13 of Trullo.

20 For details, See Cholij, Clerical Celibacy, 156ff.


In his actions, especially his liturgical actions, the priest is sacramentally inserted into the mystery of the exclusive love of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church. This priestly spousal love is to be distinguished from the spousal love that the history of spirituality assigns to consecrated virgins or Brides of Christ, and, in a more general way, to pure Christian souls whose term or relationship is Christ himself. Any grave sin, which breaks the union with Christ, could be likened by way of analogy to adultery. Conversely, union with Christ, at its most intimate in the act of reception of the Eucharist, dictates the need to create the most favorable conditions to live the truth of the bridal relationship. A long and ancient tradition of spirituality has invited, or even required, married lay people to live the moment of communion in an atmosphere of marital chastity, thereby allowing the enjoyment, in the interior marriage chamber of the heart, and the exclusivity of Christ’s spousal love. The married priest, on the other hand, by his renunciation — in mutual agreement with his wife — of sexual intimacies, expresses the sacramental truth of his new exclusive relationship with the Church by virtue of his configuration to Christ the Bridegroom. His conjugal debt is now not towards his wife, but towards the Church through frequent celebration of the Eucharist. His paternal responsibilities are first and foremost towards his spiritual progeny. There is thus, according to this theological perspective, an inherent theological tension in the celebration of the Eucharist and the unregulated exercise of marital rights. 21’ In other words, priestly continence has sacramental value.

21 Cf. J. F. Stafford, "II fondamento eucaristico del celibato sacerdotale," in G. Pittau - C. Sepe, Identità e Missione del Sacerdote, pp. 190-205 also: "Eucharistic Foundation of Sacerdotal Celibacy," Origins (CNS Documentary Service), Sept 2, 1993, vol. 23, n. 12).

22 n. 29.

23 n. 58. Cf. n. 59.

The first papal document to have developed this particular theological perspective on the nature of priestly celibacy is the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (March 25, 1992). "It is especially important," the Holy Father writes, that the priest understand the theological motivation of the Church’s law on celibacy. Inasmuch as it is a law, it expresses the Church ‘s will, even before the will of the subject expressed by his readiness. But the will of the Church finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and sacred Ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the Head and the Spouse of the Church. The Church, as the Spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her Head and Spouse loved her. Priestly celibacy, then, is the gift of self, in and with Christ, to the Church, in and with the Lord. 22

As the Holy Father says, it is surely in the nuptial theology of priesthood that the significance of priestly continence is to be most compellingly found. The Directory takes up this theme, and it is on this that I wish to end my short presentation:

The letter to the Ephesians (cf Ephesians 5:25-27) shows a strict rapport between the priestly oblation of Christ (cf 5:25) and the sanctification of the Church (cf. 5:26), loved with a spousal love. Sacramentally inserted into this priesthood of exclusive love of Christ for the Church, his faithful Spouse, the priest expresses this love with his obligation of celibacy. 23




Most Reverend Francis X. Nguyen van Thuan2


I would like to consider priestly obedience under the heading of communion: apostolic communion, pastoral communion and Trinitarian communion. I have chosen the word "communion" because it best expresses the attitude of

continual availability to carry out the will of the Father.




Passing along a country road in his car, a gentleman notices a priest among a group of children. He cannot believe his eyes: the priest appears to be none other than Father Lagrange, the Dominican, famous Biblical scholar and founder of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. He gets out of his car and asks Father


"Is it really you? It’s impossible! What on earth are you doing here?"

"I’m teaching religion to the children."

"Are you mad? A professor like you teaching the catechism to children?"

"I’m happy to talk to these children about God: Jesus did it long before me!"

As a precautionary measure, the Holy Office and his superiors had asked Father Lagrange to suspend his teaching and publications temporarily on the grounds that they contained certain assertions which could be misunderstood.

In a spirit of faith and humility, Father Lagrange obeyed the Magisterium. He was subsequently able to resume his work with increased respect from all sides. The cause of his beatification is now being brought before the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Vice President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace


Without doubt, the theme of obedience is not in fashion these days and is a difficult issue. Contemporary culture loves to underline the value of the subjectivity and autonomy of the individual person as intrinsic to his very dignity.

In the face of the challenges from today’s liberalism and laicism, the priests of today, and above all those of tomorrow, must be apostles who love and serve the Church in communion with the Supreme Pontiff and with the bishops. Priestly obedience is "intrinsically required by the Sacrament and the hierarchical structure of the Church" and is promised by the cleric in the rite of Ordination. The new priest enters "into the dynamic of Christ’s obedience, who became a servant, obedient unto death, even death on the Cross" (Philippians 2:7-8).




Obeying the Holy Father is easier than obeying the bishop because a bishop is closer and touches upon the day-to-day life of the priest. There is a Vietnamese proverb which says: "It is difficult to be a superior, but it is not easy to be an inferior." Jesus Himself put this to the test, which is why He said, "I send you like sheep among wolves."

During the Vietnam War (1967-1975) I lived among mines, bombs, and guerrillas. There were nights when I could not sleep. I would walk in the corridors of the bishop’s residence tormented with anxiety for my priests. "What will happen tonight to one or another of my priests?" In January 1968 the famous Tet Offensive took place. A group of soldiers came seeking refuge in the presbytery of Duy Can, where Father Van and two choirboys were hiding. The Communists were hoping to be spared because of the presence of the priest. But, after a day of waiting, the airplanes dropped napalm bombs, which burnt the priest and the two boys to death. Five days later a priest voluntarily set off in order to replace Father Van in that village, where all the houses had been burnt. What deep emotions, what admiration, what joy a bishop feels when he sees his priests animated by the very apostolic spirit of Christ! In Bosnia, Rwanda, Burundi, Latin America, and in many other areas of the world, in small villages and in the anonymity of large cities, these good shepherds are ready to lay down their lives for their sheep.

In his address to the priests and seminarians of Erugu, Nigeria, the Holy Father said: "No priest can work by himself. He works with his brother priests and under the guidance of the bishop, who is their father, brother, co-worker, and friend. The true priest maintains the love and unity of the presbyterium ... which should function like a family, an apostolic team, marked by joy and mutual fraternal love."




Obedience is above all else a mystery. "The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross acquired its value and significance from His obedience and fidelity to the will of the Father." He was "obedient unto death, even death on the Cross" (Philippians 2:7-8), even as far as the consummatum est.

The reasons for the obedience of Christ are very profound. The rationality of God’s conduct is always a rationality of life; it is rooted in the mystery of the communion of the Trinity. "The Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing ... For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing" (John 5:19-20). In the Trinity, love and self-giving are so complete that the Divine Persons are bonded in perfect unity and communion.

Both in His teaching: "My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me" (John 7:17), and in His pastoral activity: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18), Jesus did everything, accepting even death, for love of the will of the Father: "I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go hence" (John 14:3 1).

A priest, Fr. Francois Varillon SJ, has written: "The only criterion for spiritual authenticity is the Cross... The essential mark of Christian spirituality is living this Cross, the sole source of true joy, on a daily basis, in the duties of the present moment." Obedience in love with the goal of unity: ut unum sint (John 17: 21).

During the thirteen years I spent in prison, nine of which were in isolation and without ever coming to trial, the thought of Jesus abandoned and crucified helped me so much to live with inner peace in obedience to the will of God. In human eyes, Jesus is in absolute immobility; His life seems a failure. But, in the eyes of God, on the Cross, Jesus has carried out the most important action of His life. He has saved the whole of mankind, He "who, though He was in the form of God,.. took the form of a servant. ..and became obedient unto death, even death on the Cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

The cross and chain I wear were made, with the help of the policemen who had become my friends, from wood and the electrical wire of the prison. They remind me always of the mystery of the communion of love with the will of God. So Mary is my model, she, who welcomed the will of God with her fiat and consummated it on Calvary with her stabat.



Reverend Jean Galot, S.J.2



The place of Mary in the life of the priest is first and foremost the result of the bond established in the divine plan between the Virgin of Nazareth and the priesthood of Christ. In giving her consent to the angel’s message, who told her she was to become the Mother of the Messiah, Mary co-operated in the fulfillment of the mystery of the Incarnation. Now, through the Incarnation, the Son of God became priest, fully consecrated from the first moment of His human life, in order to be fully dedicated to His redemptive mission. Jesus is called "the One whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (John 10:36).

Our Lady does not personally walk the path of priesthood, which is the prerogative of her Son, but she was given the task of co-operating in the advent of the priesthood into the world and then in the preparation of Jesus for His priestly mission.




The role of Mary is not restricted to her union with the priesthood of the Savior; it extends throughout the entire development of the priesthood in the life of the Church. This is the truth that Jesus Himself wanted us to understand when He consummated the sacrifice of His priestly ministry on the Cross. He turned to Mary and entrusted her with His Beloved Disciple:

"Woman, behold your son" (John 19:26). In doing so, He assigned to His Mother a new motherhood over all those who were to become His disciples. This new motherhood was to be exercised in a very special way towards priests, since Jesus had intentionally chosen a priest to be the son of Mary, a disciple who had received his mission to celebrate the Eucharist on the previous day.


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Pontifical Gregorian University.


Moreover, Jesus asked this priest to regard and treat Mary as if she were his own mother: "Behold your Mother" (John 19:27). Jesus invited John to love Mary just as he had loved her. And the disciple wasted no time in doing so: "And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:27).

As we reflect on the significance of the words of Jesus, we can perceive the Master’s intention to entrust to the priest specifically the mission of loving Mary and making her loved. By virtue of the priestly mission that he carries out in the name of Christ, the priest takes on a responsibility for the development of Marian devotion. It is up to him to promote devotion to Our Lady in the environment in which he lives, the Christian community that is entrusted to his pastoral care.




The maternal mission of Mary is meant to influence the entire development of the priesthood, every moment of the spiritual life of the priest, and the whole of the fulfillment of his priestly ministry.




We must not overlook the role of Mary in the birth and maturation of vocations to the priesthood.

In dioceses where the lack of vocations is being felt most deeply, a more intense recourse to the maternal mediation of Our Lady should be encouraged, so that she will foster the birth of vocations.

Moreover, for the maturation of vocations, the young men who wish to respond to the call of Christ need to make sure they entrust to Mary the spiritual treasure which they have received. In seminaries, devotion to Our Lady must be held in great esteem so as to obtain her protection of those vocations which might be threatened. Seminarians must be convinced that the priesthood for which they are intended cannot be fully assumed and lived out without the co-operation of Mary, since this co-operation was required for the priesthood of Christ Himself.

The life of every priest must be animated by this same conviction. The priest has a particular need for the help of Our Lady in living out his total consecration of himself. Mary is the first model for those who dedicate their whole heart and all their strength to Christ.

The priest expresses this gift of the heart through his celibacy. We must not forget that the virginity of Mary preceded the celibacy of Christ. The Holy Spirit inspired the young girl from Nazareth with the will to remain a virgin and thus to prepare the first priestly celibacy, the celibacy of Christ. The priest is therefore invited to turn to the Blessed Virgin and to ask for her help

on the path towards the total gift of his heart to Christ and His Kingdom.




The priest should also ask Mary to animate his prayer life. The fact recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:13), that the Mother of Jesus was present in the first Christian assembly with the Apostles and persevered with them in prayer, sheds light on all that was to come in the future. Mary sustains in priests this perseverance in prayer, which is so necessary for their lives and priestly mission.




The relationship of the priest with Mary is particularly important for his apostolic ministry. The Gospel account of the Visitation shows how Mary communicated to her cousin Elizabeth the spiritual richness with which she had been endowed from above. More specifically, the episode makes evident the action of the Holy Spirit, who filled Elizabeth with joy from the moment Mary entered her house. The Holy Spirit is pleased to act wherever Mary is present.

The priest must also be sure to turn to Mary in his priestly work, so that the Holy Spirit can operate more abundantly. The Spirit, who brought about the mystery of the Incarnation with the co-operation of Mary, continues to ask for this same co-operation in the diffusion of the life of Christ throughout the world.

Among the qualities for which the priest should ask Mary in his priestly work, we must especially underscore vitality, merciful charity, and perseverance. She who is involved so fundamentally in the work of Jesus helps the priest to launch himself into his pastoral duties with vitality. She who has the merciful heart of a mother wants to communicate to the priest her own kindness, which is full of compassion for human weakness. She who fulfilled her mission completely supports the perseverance of the priest who at times encounters grave obstacles. Mary helps him overcome temptations to discouragement and to maintain hope through every trial and tribulation.




The priest can receive so much from his contact with Our Lady. He must not

neglect his response to the words of Jesus, which are an ever present reality for him: "Behold your Mother." He must follow the example of the Beloved Disciple and take Mary with him, making a place for her in his heart, in his very existence. By praying to her and offering her his filial affection, he will be able to realize the ideal of priesthood to the greatest extent and will be a priest who resembles more and more the unique Priest, the Supreme Priest, who was born of the Virgin Mary.




Most Reverend Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzaran2




In accordance with the conciliar decree Presbyterorum Ordinis the promotion of vocations in Latin America has found its foundation in the fidelity of the priest. 3

A faithful priest encourages others to the priestly life. In today’s world, a priest who is faithful to his vocation, in the midst of pluralism and so many ambiguous situations, is an instrument of God motivating young men to consider the priesthood as a genuine path towards the achievement of sanctity.

The presence of the priest is a constant invitation to follow Christ and to proclaim His Gospel.

A joyous and faithful priest encourages others to discover in the priestly vocation a way of confronting and progressively resolving the problems and needs of the Church and the world today.

In 1968 the second conference of the Latin American episcopate took place at Medellin (Colombia) and pointed out the numerical scarcity of priests in relation to demographic growth 4 as well as the low level of perseverance among seminarians and the progressive decrease in candidates. 5

Since then notable signs of hope have been confirmed: a reevaluation of lay ministries has increased awareness of the irreplaceable animating role of the priest.


1 Translated from the original Italian text by Miss Helena M. Saward.

2 Archbishop of Yucatan.

3 Cf. P0 2E.

4 Cf. CELAM II, Medellin, Colombia, 1968, n. 10, art. 3.

5 Cf. CELAM II, Medellin, Colombia, n. 13, art. 5.


The principal sign of hope is the respect for family values and religious traditions, which, despite being attacked by foreign ideologies and customs, maintain their dominant position.

We feel motivated by these signs of hope to work out a plan for promoting vocations that is more complete and appropriate to the requirements and guidelines of the Second Vatican Council.

The starting-point of this new direction was summed up at the third CELAM meeting at Puebla, Mexico: "All Christians are called to fulfill their human vocation, as the irreplaceable foundation for living out their baptismal task of responding to the universal call to holiness. From this existential decision for holiness comes the discovery of a specific call, by which the person responds with promptness and generosity to God in the service of the community." 6

These progressive steps of discovery and vocational response have involved the creation of methods of accompaniment and personal discernment, at both the personal and community level, methods intended to encourage a more personal and free decision.

Faced with the reality of the large number of young people that characterizes our Latin American Church, we need to make provision for the organization of youth ministry "in order to direct the vocational decisions of our young people, to offer them the tools to transform themselves into agents of change, and to offer effective channels for active participation in the Church and in the transformation of society."

While commemorating the fifth centenary of evangelization in Latin America, the fourth meeting of CELAM, held in Santo Domingo, observed with joy that currently there is an increase in vocations to the priesthood, and that there is a growth of interest in a pastoral ministry that will clearly present to young men the possibility of a call from the Lord. 7


6 Cf. CELAM III, Puebla, Mexico, January 28, 1979, n. 854.

7 Cf. CELAM IV, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, October

1992, n. 79.


I should like to underscore the importance of structuring a pastoral ministry for vocations within the organic pastoral ministry of the diocese, with strong links with both family and youth ministries. The vocational ministry must be founded on prayer, on frequent use of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance, on devotion to Our Lady, on spiritual direction, on the concrete missionary task. We should encourage vocations to come from all the cultures to be found in our particular Churches. 8

So let us offer some reflections and observations about things which, without a doubt, we can consider real fruits of the Spirit, who has constantly touched our communities and blessed our efforts and prayers for the pastoral ministry of vocations.

The general feeling among the people of Latin America is that priests live out their priesthood as an authentic vocation and not as a mere profession. In fact, on our continent, priests show a great readiness to serve at all times, regardless of the hour, generously sacrificing their recreation and leisure time. Pastoral charity is "not only what we do, but the gift of ourselves, which shows the love of Christ for His flock. Pastoral charity determines the way in which we think and act, the way in which we relate to the people.

The presence of a parish priest alongside his people, sharing the daily moments of family life, taking part in parish groups, especially youth groups, decisively and fundamentally influences the promotion of vocations. At the same time the social esteem of the priest has grown together with a noticeable improvement in their training. (After Vatican II centers for specialized study by priests were established — for example, the Pontifical Mexican College in Rome and the Pontifical University of Mexico.)

Our priests know their people, and their people know them. We must emphasize that this familiarity takes place in a context of faith. For our people, the priest, wherever he goes, expresses the presence and blessing of God.

It is also noteworthy that considerable efforts have been made to guarantee priests health insurance, life insurance, and pensions (in CCYAS there are more than 7000 priest enrolled). At the diocesan level, mechanisms of assistance, support, and Christian solidarity among priests have been set up. Little by little, the dioceses have provided houses for the retirement, common life, and hospitality of priests, and, in response to the need for study by priests, there is a multiplicity of seminars, retreats, and courses intended to strengthen the priest in his permanent integral formation.


8 Cf. CELAM IV, Santo Domingo, n. 80.

9 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, Rome, March 19, 1992, n. 23.


Thirty years after the publication of the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis we can see the providential wisdom of indicating that the key to priestly identity is to be found in fidelity and enthusiasm for the gift received from the Lord, who is of course the principal source of the promotion of vocations on our continent.


Part Six

The Continuing Formation




Cardinal Anthony Joseph Bevilacqua2




I am honored to participate in this symposium marking the thirtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the conciliar decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis. 3 I have been invited to address the topic:

The Permanent or Continuing Formation of Priests. This is an area of increasingly more critical importance to each diocese and to the Church universal in the years since the Second Vatican Council.

Although the specific topic of continuing formation finds a place in Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Council Fathers dealt with such formation only in the broadest of outlines, speaking in sections 18 and 19 of Helps for the Priest’s Life, principally in terms of the spiritual and intellectual dimensions of life. In the intervening thirty years, much greater attention has been directed to the question of ongoing formation for priests, most particularly in our Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis 4 and in the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, 5 as well as in various statements by national episcopal conferences. 6


1 This is the original English text presented by Cardinal Bevilacqua.

2 Archbishop of Philadelphia, U.S.A.

3 Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 7 December 1965).

4 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (25 March 1992): AAS 84 (1992), 657-804. Note especially Chapter IV on the "Ongoing Formation of Priests," nn. 70-81.

5 Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, (Holy Thursday 1994), Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

6 See, for example, the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Continuing Formation of Priests: Growing in Wisdom, Age and Grace (USCC, Washington, DC, 1984).


It is my purpose here this afternoon to explore the various dimensions of an effective program of continuing formation, one which will adequately prepare our priests for pastoral ministry in the Third Millennium. I will share with you as a concrete illustration how in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia we have attempted to initiate such a program of continuing formation as part of our nine-year program of spiritual renewal for all the people of the Archdiocese in anticipation of the arrival of the year 2000.

This presentation has three principal sections: first, the reaffirmation of the need for continuing formation in light of a three-fold contemporary context of significant factors in the varied personal backgrounds of priests ordained since the Council, significant factors in the modern world in which priests live and minister, and significant factors within the Church in which priests serve today; second, a consideration of the fundamental vision of continuing formation as delineated in Pastores Dabo Vobis and the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, with specific attention to the theological foundation for continuing formation and several key elements in the teaching of the two documents; and third, the development of an integrated program of continuing formation for today’s priests, using as an illustrative reference the recent experience in priestly renewal within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I will conclude with a brief summary and finally, a reflection both on the pains associated with such continuing formation and on the reason to have hope for the effective renewal of our priests and through them, for the renewal of all our people as we approach the Third Millennium.






In our own times, there is a more urgent need for the ongoing formation of our priests because of a number of significant factors in the personal backgrounds of priests ordained since the Council and in the modern world in which priest live and minister, as well as in the Church in which priests serve today. Each of these three contexts: person, world and Church, merits our attention here.

1. Significant Factors in the Personal Backgrounds of Priests Ordained Since the Council

Most of us are already familiar with the various psychological and developmental studies of seminarians and newly-ordained priests that have been done in recent years. 7 The composite picture which emerges from such studies confirms that over the past two to three decades an ever-growing number of both candidates for the priesthood and those ordained to the priesthood enter priestly formation programs with seriously problematic, one could rightly say "dysfunctional," family backgrounds. The rampant spread of divorce, the high frequency of single parent households, painful experiences of addiction to drugs and alcohol, domestic violence and even sexual abuse at home, and related conflicted family situations have compounded the need for seminary formation programs which engage candidates on a deeply emotional and relational level as well as attending to their spiritual maturity and theological education. Many of those same candidates and recently ordained priests enjoy little family and community support for their vocational journey, and often enough stand against family and relatives in their pursuit of faithful Christian living, let alone a life of priestly service.

See, for example, Eugene F. Hemrick and Dean R. Hoge, A Survey of Priests Ordained Five to Nine Years, Seminary Department of the National Catholic Educational Association, 1991; Rev. Vincent Dwyer, O.C.S.O., The Challenge of the 1990s: Formation of Priests, The Center for Human Development, Washington, D.C., 1990.

Even those who begin their priesthood at a later age, after some years of living on their own with everyday experience in the secular workplace, do not necessarily bring a commensurate emotional maturity to their lives as priests. Similarly, those who have already completed a good amount of post-secondary school education come with admittedly varied educational backgrounds. Yet their intellectual foundations in the liberal arts and the Judeo-Christian philosophical heritage are typically quite limited. Moreover, as more of our candidates and then priests come from families with little active practice of the faith, they bring with them seriously underdeveloped catechetical and spiritual backgrounds and they have much less familiarity with ordinary parish and Church life than could frequently be assumed in past years. It should be no surprise, then, that five to nine years of seminary formation, however well-designed and implemented, constitute now more than ever an inadequate preparation for a lifetime of priestly ministry. However well-intentioned their motivations and however genuine their personal dedication to the Church and their concern for society, the priests of our time need a comprehensive and well-designed program of continuing formation to build upon and sustain the formation begun in their seminary years.

2. Significant Factors in the World in Which Priests Live and Minister Today

In Presbyterorum Ordinis the Council Fathers had already noted the "unprecedented rate" at which secular culture, particularly the scientific, medical and communication fields, and even the sacred sciences were advancing. Such changes necessitate that priests continue their study of "things divine and human" in order to "enter with greater advantage into dialogue with their contemporaries. In the early sections of Pastores Dabo Vobis, Pope John Paul II highlights for us both the hopes and the obstacles to the gospel which are found in our modern world, inviting us:

Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 19.

to be as open as possible to light from on high from the Holy Spirit, in order to discover the tendencies of contemporary society, recognize the deepest spiritual needs, determine the most important concrete tasks and the pastoral methods to adopt and thus to respond adequately to human expectations. 9

The Holy Father affirms the good news of a deeper awareness of the dignity of the human person, a powerful thirst for peace and justice, a more open search for truth, and the opening to unexpected possibilities for evangelization and rebirth of religious values in many parts of our world. At the same time he also warns us of problematic or negative elements in modern society, including an overly personal subjectivity and the sustained allure of materialism and hedonism. He gives special mention to the breakdown of the human family and the distortion of the true meaning of human sexuality. 0 Such problematic factors contribute to an environment in which the priest no longer finds strong support in the community around him; instead, he may find himself lacking much of the human and cultural support that he looks for to sustain him in ministry.

Not only do many in modern society tend to disregard any form of religious and moral values; society itself seems to have changed in its attitude toward the priesthood. In more recent years the priest faces a powerfully challenging climate of distrust and questioning of his priestly integrity. This is evident in much that comes to us through the media. Problems and scandals involving priests are not reported with a sense of sadness at human failure so much as with a kind of glee at having finally learned "the terrible truth." There was once significant support for the priesthood, even among those who did not fully understand it. Respect for what was seen as a kind of "mystique" to the priesthood, even when it was not fully understood, is now rarely reflected in the secular world. The tenor in many quarters has shifted from an uncertain respect to a sad skepticism and finally, to a far sadder cynicism about the priesthood.

The priesthood finds itself not only confronted with its failures, but often simply ignored as having nothing to offer in any case.


Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 5.

‘~ Pastores Dabo Vobis, nn. 6-7.


The world has little use for or openness to the priest’s faith convictions and theological knowledge. His theological knowledge is treated as though it were less valuable than the knowledge of the physical sciences. His vision of a fullness of life with God in heaven is considered less engaging than a vain struggle for happiness here and now. But in truth, the priest is rejected, not because he offers the world too little, but because he offers too much. For the priest holds out the awesome promises of life eternal to a world willing to settle for the false comfort of the quick solution. The world is all too willing to find satisfaction in immediate gratification, no matter how small, instead of accepting the offer of eternal glory. Modern society prefers to settle for what it can get now and shrinks back from the hope of something more to come. In this world there is often little room for the priest.

3. Significant Factors Within the Church in Which Priests Serve Today

There are likewise significant factors in the Church today which generate a more pressing need for continuing formation. This theme is developed in Pastores Dabo Vobis, where the Holy Father notes that "there are also worrying and negative factors within the Church herself which have a direct influence on the lives and ministry of priests." 11’ All are familiar with the impact of the decreasing number of priests in many parts of the world: much more is being demanded of far fewer healthy and active priests. This demand places great strain upon our priests, who need tremendous spiritual and intellectual depth to meet the challenges of pastoral ministry today. Pope John Paul II addresses not only the scarcity of priests, but other critical factors as well. Among these he includes the lack of knowledge of the faith among many believers; an incorrectly understood pluralism in theology, culture and pastoral teaching; an attitude of indifference toward the magisterium; and the phenomenon of subjectivism in matters of faith.

"Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 7.

He concludes that we now face a situation which gives rise to the phenomenon of belonging to the Church in ways which are ever more partial and conditional, with a resulting negative influence on the birth of new vocations to the priesthood, on the priest’s own self-awareness and on his ministry within the community. 12

All too common in our day is the proclivity of the laity to criticize priests irresponsibly and to consider themselves "good Catholics" despite their rejection of certain magisterial teachings. Others no longer respect any priest because of the notoriety of the cases of sexual abuse of minors by but a few clergymen. Moreover, as fewer and fewer of our parishioners are committed to the regular practice of the faith, priests find themselves saddened, dispirited, and at times filled with a sense of malaise: all their efforts to enliven the faith of their people appear to be in vain. There is at the same time a greater expectation placed upon priests, both to respond to a call for more effective collaboration with the laity in carrying out the mission of the Church and also to provide a courageous spiritual and moral leadership of the faith community in engaging the modern world. Indeed, much more is being demanded of our priests today, both within the Church and in society as a whole.




In sum, then, this three-fold contemporary context of problematic personal and family backgrounds, an unreceptive and at times hostile society, and significantly more complex priestly leadership in the post-conciliar Church, demands of every priest, regardless of his years of priestly experience, a greatly-deepened personal spirituality, regular and ongoing catechetical and theological updating, and the development of more extensive pastoral skills. Without a well-developed, comprehensive and integrated program of continuing formation, today’s and tomorrow’s priests will inevitably lack the personal, spiritual, theological and pastoral capabilities to engage in the New Evangelization called for by our Holy Father and to lead the Church into the Third Millennium.

12 Ibid.







Although there are, as we have seen, a number of contemporary factors which contribute an urgency to the need for continuing formation in the life of the priest today, this need has much deeper theological roots. It is hardly accidental that both Pastores Dabo Vobis and the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests open their treatments of ongoing formation with reference to Paul’s words to Timothy: "I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you."’ 3 Both documents clearly affirm that continuing formation, like all priestly formation, is first of all a work of God’s Spirit within the life of each individual priest, calling him to ever more complete rebirth in Christ. Thus the Directory introduces its chapter on continuing formation with this affirmation:

Permanent formation springs from a Grace which produces a supernatural force destined to assimilate continually, in ever broader and deeper terms, the entire life and activity of the priest in fidelity to the gift received. 14

Ongoing formation is founded upon the profound truth that every Christian believer, and most especially the priest-believer, is called to continual rebirth into the fullness of life in Christ. Each one experiences that process of rebirth not only in a general way, but also within the very specific mode of Christian life which is expressed in the particular vocation to which each has responded. Indeed, continuing formation is in reality the very living out of the priestly vocation which, for the priest, is the way in which he will live the fullness of his union with Christ. In the words of Pastores Dabo Vobis, the "yes" to Christ’s call which each priest articulates at his ordination:


‘~2 Timothy 1:6; cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 70; Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 69.

Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 69.


must be expressed anew and reaffirmed through the years of his priesthood in countless other responses, all of them rooted in and enlivened by that "yes" of holy orders. In this sense one can speak of a vocation "within" the priesthood. The fact is that God continues to call and send forth, revealing his saving plan in the historical development of the priest’s life and the life of the Church and of society. It is in this perspective that the meaning of ongoing formation emerges. Permanent formation is necessary in order to discern and follow this constant call or will of God. 15

Thus it is that each priest fulfills this "vocation within his vocation" through his personal commitment to continuing formation throughout the years of his priestly ministry.

Continuing formation for the priest is necessarily a lifelong process of ever-deepening personal incorporation into Christ. For it is our shared belief that Jesus, the Son of God, by his crucifixion and resurrection, has transformed our lives in a way most wonderful, yet not easy to understand. We have been reborn, made anew, redeemed from our sins and brought into union with the life of the Triune God. And yet here we are, still living in a world that seems anything but glorious; still we remain incomplete: we are redeemed, yet sinners still. What seems most amazing is perhaps this: like the first disciples of Jesus, 16 we too are truly reborn and yet at the very same time, are still in process of being reborn. From this mysterious truth comes both the absolute wonder of our salvation and the constant struggle to live that salvation each day. Genuine ongoing formation disposes the priest toward receptivity to God’s Spirit realizing in his daily life this fundamental reality of salvation in Christ.

Just as Presbyterorum Ordinis understood genuine priestly formation as the work of a lifetime, so too in an even more amplified manner do both Pastores Dabo Vobis and the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests reflect the same growing realization that was presented in seminal form at the Second Vatican Council: the priest, from ordination until death, is involved in a life-giving and creative formation process that is essential both to him and to the Church. So the Congregation for the Clergy, reiterating the Apostolic Exhortation, affirms:


15 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 70.

16 Consider, for example, Paul’s words on this mystery to the early Christians of Rome in Romans, 6-S.


The activity of formation is based on a dynamic demand intrinsic to the ministerial charism, which is permanent and irreversible in itself. Therefore this can never be considered finished, neither on the part of the Church which imparts it, nor on the part of the minister who received it. 17

There are, of course, purely human reasons for such formation. Every profession requires a constant updating on the part of its participants, and we must demand no less of those who are ordained to the priesthood. There is constant need for intellectual renewal, and this is a reality that must not be underestimated. Even the long years of academic preparation in the seminary are but the beginning of a lifetime of learning. But there is another, more basic dimension of which we must not lose sight. While new knowledge is constantly needed, and already acquired knowledge must be deepened, beneath both is this further demand: continued formation in the priesthood fundamentally entails a spiritual deepening and revivification as well, for this formation is rooted in the very identity of the priest himself

The priest, in the Sacrament of Orders, does not merely enter into a new occupation, a new profession. He does not merely assume a new role. Rather, ordination confers a much deeper reality, which we have traditionally described as the "indelible character" of the sacrament. This character is a new reality, a new quality, a new identity which is conferred upon the man being ordained. In the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest is configured to the likeness of Jesus as head and shepherd of the Church and is given a pastoral mission.


‘~ Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 73; cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 76.


In this way each priest is marked permanently and indelibly in his inner being as a minister of Jesus and of the Church. He comes to share in a permanent and irreversible way of life and is entrusted with a pastoral ministry which, because it is rooted in his being and involves his entire life, is itself permanent. 18

It is in this new and permanent reality of the priest that we find the ultimate foundation for permanent and ongoing formation. The basis of this is not simply the assumption of a job to be done or a role to be played by the priest. It is, rather, the truth of a newly acquired and lasting identity. The fact of who the priest is, and not merely the fact of what the priest does, demands constant growth if the priest is to be faithful both to what he has become and to the grace of God which has so transformed him.

This ongoing formation is part of the very life and reality of the priest, as "the natural and absolutely necessary continuation of the process of building priestly personality which began and developed in the seminary or the religious house with the training program which aimed at ordination." 19 It is equally critical that seminary formation programs instill in each seminarian the realization of his own need for ongoing formation and a personal commitment to continue his priestly formation after ordination. Thus we read in the 1992 Program of Priestly Formation of the United States National Conference of Bishops, reflecting the vision of Pastores Dabo Vobis:

The seminary should teach seminarians that their formation and development is a lifelong process of conversion and does not end with ordination. It is equally important that seminarians know that, as priests, they have a right to expect assistance in their continuing formation and also have a duty to the Church and to themselves to pursue the various available avenues of lifelong formation. 20


18 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 70.

‘~ Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 71.

20 States National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation, Fourth Edition: November, 1992 (USCC, Washington, DC, 1992), n. 552.


The priest’s continuing formation is not simply a matter of developing professional techniques. Rather, "its aim must be that of promoting a general and integral process of constant growth, deepening each of the aspects of formation human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral as well as ensuring their active and harmonious integration, based on pastoral charity and in reference to it." 21’ Here the Church defines a very specific and well-focused goal; that is, "ongoing formation presents itself as a necessary means to the priest of today in order to achieve the aim of his vocation: the service of God and of His people." 22 Programs of ongoing formation, whatever their particular focus and format, are intended to assist the priest in developing his identity and vocation within the Church and in sanctifying himself and others through the exercise of his pastoral ministry. 23

In sum, if we are to be faithful to the vision of Pastores Dabo Vobis and the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, the program of continuing formation designed in each diocese needs to include and harmonize these four essential dimensions of formation — the human, the spiritual, the intellectual and the pastoral. The integration of these four aspects of formation must be carried out in such a way as to assist each priest in the development of a full human personality matured in the spirit of service to others, intellectually prepared in the theological and human sciences, spiritually nourished by his communion with Jesus Christ and his love for the Church, and engaged with zeal and dedication in the pastoral ministry to which he is assigned. 24


21 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 71.

22 Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 71.

23 Ibid.

24 Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 74.





From the earliest days of his pontificate, our Holy Father has called for a complete spiritual and pastoral renewal of all aspects of Catholic life in preparation for the year 2000 and the arrival of the Third Millennium of Christianity. Prior to Pope John Paul II’s November, 1994 apostolic letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, we in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia initiated in 1991 a nine-year period of renewal in anticipation of the new millennium; our renewal program is entitled Catholic Faith and Life 2000. One significant component of this spiritual and pastoral renewal of the Archdiocese has been the particular Program for Priestly Renewal in which our priests have been engaged since the Spring of 1991. This program has been founded upon the conviction that the renewal of the priests is a vital and, in fact, necessary catalyst for the spiritual renewal of the people of the Archdiocese.

Between 1992 and the present, the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, of which there are more than eight hundred, have participated in a sequential program for renewal, initially designed in response to the needs and concerns expressed by the priests who attended regional meetings on spiritual renewal during the Fall and Winter of 1990-1991 and Clergy Conferences in the Fall of 1991. A five-phase program was developed as a means to engage all the priests of the Archdiocese in their own personal renewal and to enhance their role as leaders of the spiritual renewal of the people of the Archdiocese in preparation for the Third Millennium.

In Phase I of the program, all our priests gathered as a presbyterate at Saint Charles Borromeo Archdiocesan Seminary, Overbrook, so that I might personally encourage the priests’ participation in their own renewal and in the spiritual renewal of the Archdiocese and explain to them the broad outline of the priests’ renewal program prepared for and by the priests themselves.

The second and third phases of the program each consisted in a series of two-day overnight reflection experiences at which our priests gathered in vicariate groups. The priests prayed together, discussed their personal visions of the priesthood, and reflected upon the essential elements of the priesthood, both as concretely lived out by the priests themselves and as presented to us in the Church’s teachings on the priesthood, particularly as expressed in Pastores Dabo Vobis.

Next, through the diocesan-wide program of week-long retreats which constituted Phase IV, our priests continued to pray over and to reflect more attentively upon their personal experiences of priestly living and the Church’s teachings on the priesthood which were shared in the earlier gatherings. The retreat program was founded upon the conviction that only in response to the grace of the Holy Spirit would each priest commit himself more fully to the renewal of his own priesthood and to his particular role in the spiritual renewal of the people of the Archdiocese.

Finally, Phase V of our Program for Priestly Renewal was conducted in the Spring of 1995, during which the priests of each of six vicariates gathered once again, this time for two and one-half days of reflection and discussion. They came to pray together, to deepen their personal commitment to ongoing formation in priestly ministry and to reflect upon their role as leaders in the spiritual renewal of the Archdiocese. The specific goal of Phase V was the development of concrete proposals which the priests might recommend to one another and to the Archdiocese for the renewal of their personal lives and their priestly ministry.

In order to reflect the four-fold and integral vision of continuing formation presented in Pastores Dabo Vobis, each phase of the Program of Priestly Renewal incorporated significant time for prayer and reflection, for theological input, for comfortable socializing and formal discussion among the priests as a presbyterate, and for developing on the basis of their reflection and discussion, some concrete, practical means to actualize a spiritual renewal among the people of the Archdiocese through their pastoral ministry. The priests were challenged throughout the whole program to accept responsibility for their own personal renewal and to offer priestly leadership to the spiritual renewal of the people of the Archdiocese, in preparation for the celebration of the Third Millennium.

This five-phase Program of Priestly Renewal has resulted in a heightened awareness of priestly identity among our priests and a keener recognition of its impact upon their own spiritual lives and their pastoral service to the Church. This past summer of 1995, the priests received a formal report of the program, structured around the four areas of continuing formation delineated in Pastores Dabo Vobis. Each area of the report identified those needs given priority by the priests themselves and a series of concrete proposals which might be developed in response to those needs. Overall, more than fifty specific proposals were drawn up by the priests, touching all areas of priestly life and ministry, from everyday rectory living to improved skills for working with and leading others; from greater availability of and commitment to personal spiritual direction to local level prayer gatherings for small groups of priests; from a variety of educational programs of theological updating and sabbaticals to preaching workshops and more extensive preparatory programs for newly-assigned pastors. I have assigned responsibility to follow up on the variety of proposals developed by our presbyterate to a full-time Director for Continuing Formation for Diocesan Priests, assisted by a team of experienced priests whom I have appointed to serve as a standing committee within the Archdiocese entitled the Diocesan Priests Continuing Formation Committee. As we now consider in more detail each of the four essential dimensions of continuing formation, I will add brief reflections from our priestly renewal experience in Philadelphia in support of the mandates presented to us in Pastores Dabo Vobis and in the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests.




1. Efforts in the Area of Human Formation


Many of us are more accustomed to thinking of ongoing formation in terms of continuing education programs for the updating of the priest’s theological knowledge and pastoral methods in confronting a rapidly changing world. Given today’s circumstances and the backgrounds of today’s seminarians and priests, 25 greater attention must be given to the human dimension of continuing formation, since, as our Holy Father clearly teaches in Pastores Dabo Vobis: "The whole work of priestly formation would be deprived of its necessary foundation if it lacked a suitable human formation." 26 This human aspect provides the basis and ground for all the other dimensions of formation. It is an essential dimension, for it is precisely the human which is transformed by grace and brought into the fullness of life in the Trinity. It is our human nature which is sanctified by the very fact that the Son of God himself chose to share it with us. Far from understanding a priestly vocation as a suspension or denial of our humanness, or as some form of aloofness from or superiority over the rest of men, the Council Fathers had already noted in Presbyterorum Ordinis:


25 See pages 3-8, above.

26 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 43.

27 Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 3.


Priests, while being taken from among men and appointed for men in the things that appertain to God that they may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, live with the rest of men as with brothers... .They are set apart in the midst of the People of God, but this is not in order that they be separated from that people or from any man, but that they should be completely consecrated to the task for which God chooses them... .they would be powerless to serve men if they remained aloof from their life and circumstances. Their very ministry makes a special claim on them not to conform themselves to this world; still it requires at the same time that they should live among men in this world. 27 Maturity in human formation entails a two-fold demand. First, the priest must come to know and continue to deepen his knowledge of himself in all his humanness as a creature of this world with particular strengths and weaknesses, so as to understand in the depth of his interior self the God who has created him and there speaks to him most intimately. This means that he must look honestly at the reality of his own experience and reflect on that experience in order to discern within it God’s ongoing call to daily priestly living. Second, genuine human formation is not simply internal to the individual, but must be understood within the framework of the relationships which form the context of the priest’s life. The life of every human being is a life of relation-· ships. As the priest grows both in his knowledge of himself and in his relationships with others, he will be more deeply formed into his priesthood. This is why Pope John Paul II can say:

Through his daily contact with people, his sharing in their daily lives, the priest needs to develop and sharpen his human sensitivity so as to understand their needs, respond to their demands, perceive their unvoiced questions and share the hopes and expectations, the joys and burdens which are part of life: Thus he will be able to meet and enter into dialogue with all people. 28

In a similar vein, the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests reaffirms the teaching of Presbyterorum Ordinis in speaking of human formation in terms of the abundance of those human virtues which are held in esteem in human relations. The priest is called upon to "practice goodness of heart, patience, kindness, strength of soul, love for justice, even-mindedness, truthfulness to his word, coherence in the duties freely assumed, etc. ~ These are the virtues which must be reflected in the priest’s conduct, relationships and friendships.

For the priest, the process of coming to know himself is in many ways one with the process of knowing others. It is in and through his loving service to his people that he will come even more deeply to know himself If the priest is to be truly involved in his own human formation, then he must grow in truly holy friendships and he must both love and allow himself to be loved by his people something that sounds both evident and easy, and yet is for many of us not so easy at all. It may seem paradoxical, but it is absolutely true that the more isolated the priest allows himself to become, the less will he really know himself. Similarly, without the bonds of loving relationships with other people, he will be all the more drawn away from the real love of God. In an effective program of human formation, each priest is challenged to exercise his priestly vocation with keen awareness of the reality of his human strengths and weaknesses, his loves and his relationships, all of which reveal to him the hand of God in his daily life.

This understanding of human formation was clearly attested in the concrete proposals developed by the priests of Philadelphia in our recent renewal program. Special attention was given to the need to develop more effective ways of living and working together with other priests and with the people of the parish community. Moreover, a growing number of our priests are becoming more aware of the critical need for priests to tend to their physical and emotional health, to their relational abilities and to their friendships with other priests and with laity, all with the conviction that the more effectively priests live a mature human life, the more fully enriched will be their pastoral ministry to God’s people.


29 Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 75; cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 3.

28 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 72.


2. Efforts in the Area of Spiritual Formation


In Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Council Fathers quite naturally accented the demand for personal holiness and other special spiritual requirements in the life of the priest. In discussing helps toward fostering the interior life and the continuing sanctification of the priest, the council document highlights the nourishment which a priest draws "through the Word of God from the double table of holy scripture and the Eucharist," and recommends fruitful reception of Penance, faithful devotion to the Blessed Virgin, daily conversational prayer with Christ the Lord, and regular time for spiritual reading, a personal retreat and regular participation in individual spiritual direction. 30

This call to priestly holiness implies the need constantly to look into ourselves so as to be able to discover there the abiding presence of God. We might be easily tempted to think of ongoing formation as a potpourri of isolated tasks. We might think of it as projects, workshops, lectures and information. In reality, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is really a continuing process of integrated growth into a relationship with God himself. It is not simply a matter of learning to do more things and perform more services for the Church. It is rather a question of opening ourselves ever more completely to the transformation that in the end will give meaning to everything else. Both Pastores Dabo Vobis and the Directory for the Life and Ministry emphasize an integral relationship between the priest’s personal spirituality and his pastoral ministry. As expressed in the Directory: "This means that priests must avoid any dualism between spirituality and ministry, for it is the origin of some profound crises." 31’ The priest must never become so immersed in what he does for others, that he ends up losing his vision of what he himself should be in his life with God. Indeed, it is this necessary attention to his union with God that makes it possible for the priest to be able to devote himself to others.


30 Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18.

31 Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 71.


So it is with the prayer life of the priest as well. He does not pray so as to become adept at techniques of prayer. Rather, he prays so that he can, without reserve, put his life totally into the hands of God and trust in the strength of those hands even when he feels most helpless. If the priest is to share in the mission of the Son in his priesthood, then he must himself become with Jesus both servant and sacrifice. He must pray so as to yield totally to the will of the Father. He must learn that only in this manner can he find the real meaning of prayer as it joins him totally to the will of his Father.

The forms of prayer, methods of prayer, the insights of prayer and even the consolations of prayer are never an end in themselves. They are all but part of the means leading to that final loving union of the oneness of will with that of the Father. And that oneness of will can never come to be if the priest is not faithful daily to the prayer of the Mass, the Hours, adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to Mary, meditation and the simplest prayers of heartfelt adoration, thanksgiving, contrition and petition.

The essential significance of spiritual formation is also reflected in the renewal proposals of our priests in Philadelphia. They stressed their own need to commit themselves to more regular spiritual direction and sacramental reconciliation; they proposed regular opportunities for groups of priests to gather specifically for prayer and spiritual reflection; they called for workshops on prayer and priestly spirituality; and they requested both a diocesan Spirituality Center or House of Prayer for Priests (as noted, too, in the Directory for the life and Ministry of Priests 32) and more communal prayer within individual rectories.

Pope John Paul II includes among hopes for the gospel today a growing "thirst for God and for an active meaningful relationship with him." 33 This same spiritual hunger fills the hearts of many priests today, as they search for a continuing formation program which addresses their spiritual maturity in Christ.


32 Cf. Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, nn. 84-85.

33 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 6.


The Council Fathers were equally insistent on affirming the intellectual dimensions of a well-integrated continuing formation program. They rightly insist that the true sources of a priest’s "maturity in knowledge" are drawn "primarily from the reading and meditation of sacred scripture" and "fruitfully nourished by the study of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and other ancient records of Tradition." 34 This study cannot be neglected if the priest is to come to a positive love of the magisterium and sacred tradition. The teaching of theology is no mere academic enterprise, for it "must lead to an authentic formation: towards prayer, communion and pastoral action. "‘n The Council called priests to renew themselves through academic courses and pastoral studies, so as to continue to develop in the methods of evangelization and the apostolate. For this each priest must make a commitment to a personal discipline of reading and study.

34 Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 19. The Council Fathers continue: "Moreover, if priests are to give adequate answers to the problems discussed by people at the present time, they should be well-versed in the statements of the Church’s Magisterium, especially of the Councils and Popes. They should also consult the best approved writers on the science of theology Priests are therefore urged to adequate and continuous perfection of their knowledge of things divine and human. In this way they will prepare themselves to enter with greater advantage into dialogue with their contemporaries."


‘~ Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 77.


The Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests builds upon the vision of Presbyterorum Ordinis in insisting that the intellectual component of continuing formation must include not only the study of the revealed truths of the faith, but also a greater knowledge of scientific advances, cultural and ethical debates in light of the Church’s social doctrine, and the use of the means of social communication. The Directory cites canon 279, §3 of the Code of Canon Law in asserting that programs of intellectual formation should "deal with the more relevant humanistic and philosophical themes or those that are linked to the sacred sciences, particularly insofar as they benefit the exercise of the pastoral ministry." 36

Moreover, as with other dimensions of continuing formation, so too this study and intellectual renewal are understood not merely as something preparatory to the priesthood, nor as something to be accomplished within the first few years of the ministry. Rather, such intellectual development must continue throughout the priest’s lifetime, if he is "to faithfully carry out the ministry of the word, proclaiming it clearly and without ambiguity, distinguishing it from mere human opinion, no matter how renowned and widespread these might be." 37

Those areas of continuing education highlighted by our priests during the Philadelphia renewal program include, naturally enough, topics such as Sacred Scripture and Theology, the Sacred Liturgy and sacramental preparation for adults. At the same time special attention was given to social justice and other moral teachings of the Church, and to a variety of pastoral concerns such as leadership skills, time management, listening and confrontation skills. Our priests proposed that these programs be made available on both diocesan-wide and more local levels. Even more significantly, they emphasized the critical need for the integration of spiritual renewal and intellectual development in such educational programs. In this they reflect a healthy realization that, like the human aspects of continuing formation, so their intellectual development is essential to continued growth in the life of the priest. Both dimensions are assumed into the life of grace, which transforms them and gives them a new depth of reality in that mystery of Christ which must ground the life of every priest.


36 Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 77.

37 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 72.


4. Efforts in the Area of Pastoral Formation


All of the aspects of continuing formation of which we have spoken thus far human, spiritual and intellectual — are given their fundamental direction by the inherently pastoral focus of priestly ministry. Every priest is a priest not for his own sake but for the sake of God’s people. Thus continuing formation must be pastoral: the formation of the priest must lead him to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. This means that whatever maturity and development a priest attains humanly, spiritually and intellectually, this must not simply bear fruit in the perfection of the priest himself, but equally bear fruit in the service of God’s Church. It is to this end that Pope John Paul II speaks of "pastoral charity.’, 38

Pastoral charity is the summation of "the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church." 39 This means that "the authority of Jesus Christ as head coincides then with his service, with his gift, with his total humble and loving dedication on behalf of the Church." 40 This is the authority in which the priest shares; it is an authority that is fully directed to the giving of his life to others. Pastoral charity is the internal principle of the living of the life of the priest. "The essential content of this pastoral charity is the gift of self, the total gift of self to the Church, following the example of Christ." 41

The priest is called to accept and exercise within himself the pastoral charity of Jesus Christ. This implies a great gift, but it just as surely implies a tremendous responsibility. It must be this way with the priest. What he has been given is for others, and never simply for himself. Ongoing formation is a necessity if the priest is not to find the press of everyday activities causing him to become so wrapped up in the details of all that he is required to know and to do that he begins to forget why he is doing it. As our Holy Father reminds us: Ongoing formation helps the priest to overcome the temptations to reduce his ministry to an activism which becomes an end in itself, to the provision of impersonal services, even if these are spiritual or sacred, or to a businesslike function which he carries out for the Church 42.


38 Cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 72. This concept of pastoral charity is more fully explored in numbers 21-23 of the Apostolic Exhortation.

39 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 21.

40 Ibid.

41 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 23.

42 Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 73.


If the priest can retain the vision of true pastoral charity, then he will also find himself growing in a deepening appreciation of the various ministries which can and do exist in addition to the priesthood. He will find himself growing in his appreciation and love for the particular Church into which he is incardinated, because he will love the people who form it. He will find himself growing in the longing to be a full and active participant in the life of the whole Church. He will more consciously exercise his ministry as a member of a presbyterate for which he has a deep and abiding affection, in spite of his own faults and those of his brother priests.

The Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests extends this call to pastoral charity with a call for special attention to the priest’s mature appreciation for the life and spirituality of permanent deacons, religious and laity. 43 The Directory also proposes a number of topics for inclusion in an effective pastoral formation, topics such as: catechesis; ministry to the family; the promotion of vocations; care for youth, the elderly and the infirm; engagement in ecumenical activities; and attention to the unchurched and the "fallen away," all addressed with a particular eye to the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 44

In a similar fashion, our Philadelphia priests’ renewal proposals in the area of pastoral formation addressed such practical pastoral issues as preaching institutes; more extensive preparatory training for pastors, especially in organizational and leadership skills; pastoral counseling; parish development and new methods of evangelization; and opportunities for shared reflection on the roles and responsibilities of pastors in guiding the parish community into the Third Millennium.


Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, n. 78.





This four-fold model of ongoing priestly formation — the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral so familiar to us from the texts of Pastores Dabo Vobis and the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, finds its true ground in the vision of Presbyterorum Ordinis, where the Council Fathers assert that an integrated program should be designed to give [priests] an opportunity of increasing their knowledge of pastoral methods and theological science, and at the same time strengthening their spiritual life and sharing their pastoral experiences with their brother priests. 45

It likewise marks subsequent episcopal documents on the formation of seminarians such as the 1992 Program of Priestly Formation of the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops. 46 Such continuing formation, however, entails both growing pains and reason to have hope.


~ Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 19; see also the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops (Christus Dominus), n. 16,d.

46 Cf. "The Continuing Formation of Priests," chapter six of the Program of Priestly Formation. nn. 549-572.


Over and over again we speak of formation, transformation, growth, change; yet the ease with which such words can be spoken must not lull us into forgetting that for any human being such a constant need for growth and development will be fulfilled only with some measure of pain. The deeper the growth envisioned, the deeper the pain. While growth can be a wonderful thing to look back upon once it reaches some level of completion, it is not equally wonderful in our eyes as we look forward to it without having yet experienced it. So Saint Paul reminds us:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory that is to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 47

The continuing formation of our priests and the full realization of their priestly calling will only be complete with this final redemption of the whole Body of Christ which is the Church. Needless to say, we will necessarily encounter much pain in the work of continuing formation.

Although an enormous responsibility, the priesthood is no less an enormous gift. And this responsibility need not overwhelm us, nor need it inspire us with fear. Instead, it must fill us with hope, even though we are yet without the consolation of seeing the final completion a completion which is no less real for all our inability to grasp it fully here and now. For both hope and longing are ours in the priesthood at the same time. We are well aware of the longing for hopes not yet fulfilled, even though we are blessed even now with glimpses of light in the midst of darkness, for "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. ,,48

This is the whole point of continuing formation. It is a lifelong process by which we discover the emptiness that is ours when we think that we are self-sufficient, and the fullness that comes to be when we open that emptiness to the Lord and allow him to fill it. So together with Paul, let us "give thanks to God at every remembrance" of our priests and let us be confident of this: that "the One who has begun this good work" in our priests will "continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." 49


47 Romans 8:18-23.

48 John 1:5.

49 Cf. Philippians. 1:3-6.



Most Reverend Robert Ashta2


Albania is a small nation in the South of Europe, with an area of 28,000 square kilometers and a population of 3,000,000 inhabitants, of which 70% are Islamic, 18% Orthodox and 12% Catholic.

In 1944, there was established in this tiny Balkan nation one of the fiercest dictatorships of the modern era. On 11 January 1946, Albania was declared a People’s Republic. Thus began the first period of direct terror against religion, which stretched on until the end of 1948.

During this period, the Catholic Church was organized into two archdioceses, three dioceses, three abbacies nullius and an apostolic administracy for the South of the nation.

There were 131 parishes, the clergy numbered S bishops, 93 diocesan priests, 94 religious and there were 161 female religious.

Among the institutes of consecrated life then present, we can mention:

· the Franciscan Friars Minor, with 80 brothers, all Albanian;

· the Jesuit Fathers, with 25 religious, among them 16 Italians and 9 Albanians;

· The congregation of Don Orione, with 5 Italian religious. Among the female institutes with a solidly established presence were the Stigmatines, who numbered 95 sisters almost all Albanians. Then came the Servites, with 27 religious and the Handmaidens of Charity of Brescia, with 71 Italians and 5 Albanians. Beyond those, there were also the Daughters of Mary Auxiliatrix, almost all of them Italian missionaries.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Bishop of Pult, Albania


About the middle of that same year, in the South of the nation, there was the appearance of the first signs of a program of destruction of ecclesiastical institutes. In two months the churches, orphanages, schools and asylums were closed.

The protest of the apostolic administrator, Monsignor Nigris, was answered with his expulsion from the nation, on 24 May 1945, to be exact.

In 1946 two Jesuits, a Franciscan, two seminarians and ten of the faithful of Shkodrr, highly esteemed by all, were condemned and executed by firing squad.

In January of that same year 80 Italian religious men were expelled from Albania.

As soon as the foreign clergy were neutralized, the government concentrated its ferocity on Albanian priests. Within a year 32 priests were thrown into jail and 15 were put before firing squads. In that same year Most Reverend Gaspar Thaci, Archbishop of Shkodër, died under house arrest and a process was started against some of the members of that church as Vatican spies.

After these events, any general accusation was used as a pretext to suppress, with ordinary legal procedures, Catholic priests.

During the period of January to March of 1948, the Communists succeeded in dissolving the Albanian Catholic episcopate.

We are merely trying to point to some of the statistics to show the horrors of martyrdom of the Catholics of Albania, reminiscent of those borne by the first Christians.

Two bishops were killed after farcical proceedings set up by the Communists; two more prelates died in prison from torture; 29 priests were sent to the firing squad; 8 others died of torture and 4 were killed without trial.

There were 20 of them who died in extermination camps and 40 expired immediately after release, having undergone atrocious tortures.

There was a total of 106 priests. They were the promises of a new springtime for our Church, but they sealed their consecration with blood.

The dictatorship did not spare the faithful, many of whom died, giving their lives in following the example set by their pastors.

The women religious were no less under attack by the regime:

In fact, one young novice worthily merited the palm of martyrdom.

All of those who were martyred died crying: "Long live Christ the King!"

Let us present here only one example of the persecution of the Catholic faithful. In one family were found a rosary and a cross:

then the head of that family was handcuffed and in prison was told to trample the cross underfoot or else none of them would be set free. They did not accept this, as a result of which they were given a sentence of 12 years each.

Another of the faithful was required by the men of the regime to give false testimony against a priest, but he would not do so and was condemned to life imprisonment; old and ill, he was able to find freedom only after the fall of Communism.

While in Rome the Holy See was reviving the life of the Church with the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in Albania preparation was going on for the final attack against the Church and its members.

In 1967 all places of worship were closed and the government, by legal decree, prohibited any religious celebration as a criminal act against the state. Houses of worship were turned into gymnasiums, restaurants, theaters and party centers.

The shrine of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Shkodër was destroyed, the Communists violated the Catholic cemeteries of Shkodër and forbade the use of Christian names; they also Imprisoned a few priests who had escaped the persecution. Among those arrested was also Monsignor Coha, the last bishop of Shkodër who died a little later in prison.

In 1969-1972 there were 6 priests killed by firing squad simply because they had administered the sacraments.

The new Albanian Constitution of 1976 proclaimed Albania an atheistic nation" and any practice of religion was condemned as a crime against the state. Transgressors were threatened with a punishment which ranged from 10 years detention all the way to capital punishment.

The faithful were thus left without pastors and without churches. Destruction was wrought on the fruits of a long tradition and exhausting missionary work such as schools, seminaries, convents, libraries, presses, journals and magazines. The Catholic tradition was left a mere recollection of the memory of the faithful.

Freedom found us rich in martyrs, but poor in priests, churches, and bereft of financial means even to the point of starvation. Yet Communism had not been able to eradicate the priesthood from the land of Albania.

Let us recall just the high points of the rebirth of the Catholic Church in Albania:

· 1989: Mother Theresa visits Albania;

· 1990, 4 November: In the old Catholic cemetery of Shkodër, the first Mass is celebrated;

· 1991, 20-23 March: The first delegation of the Holy See, presided over by Monsignor Celli, visits Albania. It is a visit which will be followed by a second, during which will come the foundation of the Catholic Action of Shkodër and Tirana.

The churches which still stood were reopened as also was a seminary in Shkodër for the formation of future priests.

On 28 October 1991 diplomatic relations were re-established with the Holy See, which named His Excellency Monsignor Ivan Diaz as Apostolic Nuncio.

However, the most memorable date for every Albanian is 25 April of 1993, when John Paul II, the first Pope to visit Albania, consecrated four new bishops.

In November of 1994 Albania had its first cardinal, in the person of Monsignor Michael Koliqi.

Immediately from the first days of rebirth of the life of the Church, the first priestly vocations also began to flourish. We now have a seminary where there are 80 candidates studying, who ought to receive the sacrament of Orders in the year 2000. Some have finished their studies in the minor seminary and are now pursuing those of the major seminary.

Throughout the nation various congregations of women religious are working, and they offer a most valuable contribution to the formation of the individual in the Christian ideal.

Can we now say that all these things are past and there are no more problems?

No, this we cannot say, because to the extent that the nation has been destroyed, so also has been the grasp of Christianity in the minds of men. The Church, in fact, finds considerable problems in the building up of the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

However, the priest is always present in the mountains of Albania, and with him is the Gospel of Christ. In five years we will have new priests, formed according to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, teachings which certainly will be taken up by those who were languishing in death cells, or rotting in the swamps of forced labor, when in Rome the conciliar document Presbyterorum Ordinis was being promulgated.

The Church of Albania needs many things, and among them the most important are: to be constantly present among the people, to fight the devastating results of Communism, and to confront, with courage, the challenge of the modern world. In fact, consumerism is looking to replace the emptiness of Communism with another empty promise, but to consumerism we will answer with the spirit of charity which also nourishes us in the always open dialogue with the faithful of other religions.




Most Reverend Joachim Ruhuna2


It has been observed that priests who have a relationship to Mary maintain their enthusiasm even in times of difficulty; they struggle against sin with courage and hope, they remain faithful to their priesthood and to the Church. The priests who receive Mary to themselves, as John did, receive protection and wisdom to the point of a holy death.

This is quite easy to understand. God chose Mary to be the Mother of his Son, and Jesus the High Priest in turn entrusted her to the apostles, so that she could be their educator and protectress.

She was a precious gift of the Master to his disciples: cause of their joy, model of faith and prayer, bearer of the hope of the kingdom, pillar of unity, symbol of peace and holiness, admirable Mother, incomparable Queen!

In fact, Mary willed to share everything with the disciples of her Son. Above all, she placed her gifts at the disposal of the community. All were fervent in prayer, they were of one heart in praising God, in the breaking of the Bread, in the sharing of food with joy and in simplicity of heart. Mary was for the apostles an educator in the Christian virtues and a consoler in the harsh tests of life and mission.

All priests could well place themselves in the school of Mary! She will teach us to live the beatitudes so as to be worthy of the kingdom of heaven. She will teach us faith and obedience: "Let it be done unto me according to thy word." She will teach us the prayer of praise and of the action of grace (the Magnificat), the prayer of contemplation (cf. Luke 2:19 and 51) and the prayer of intercession at Cana.

Mary will teach us the practice of the word of God (cf Luke 8:21), humility, patience and total abandonment in times of trial. She will teach us to love chastity and to live our sacred celibacy with happiness. She will go with us in our ministry and will console us in times of pain. She will teach us to hate sin and will help us in the hour of death.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Archbishop of Gitega, Burundi


In preparation for the Jubilee of the Redeemer and of the third millennium, I hope that, for the evangelization of the world, specialists in Mariology will sketch out the fundamental lines of true devotion to Mary for our time, and that pastors will reveal once again the beauty and richness of the meditated rosary, for the fruitfulness of their ministry and the good of their faithful.



Most Reverend Jakob Maye


The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests points out strongly the need for a fraternal communio among priests, but also between priests and their bishop and between priests and the faithful (P0, 7). This unity has value not only for the particular Church but also, and in a special way, for the Church universal.

The need for unity is based on the one and only priesthood and ministry of Christ, in which priests and bishops participate. By means of ordination, priests are bonded among themselves in an "intimate, sacramental brotherhood" (P0, 8).

The Directory bases this priestly unity and community on the "fundamental communion" with the Trinity and with Christ himself The conciliar decree also points to external and very practical reasons for the development of such unity and community: such are, in particular, the works of the apostolate, which in the world of today are various and which in modern society, marked by such great mobility, surpass the bounds of parishes and dioceses.

Jesus himself reveals the dignity and the necessity of this unity in his priestly prayer: "As you are in me, Father, and I am in you, they must also be united with each other, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21). Thus the unity of Jesus with his disciples is bound to the unity of Jesus with his Father. What sort of unity could be more intimate, more beautiful, stronger than that of the Son with the Father? Jesus spoke constantly of this unity with his Father, a unity in which he lives and acts. It is often difficult for us to live out our unity with each other, and often it is not done with enough success to bring it to full reality, but there remains the consolation and the help of knowing that the unity of Jesus with his Father is everlasting. It is our function to allow ourselves to be enclosed, marked and guided by it. This unity simultaneously constitutes the condition for a fruitful pastoral activity: "So the world may believe that you have sent me!" We are well aware of the great scandal of every division and separation. We suffer from it and know that we are also blameworthy for the lack of faith in the world. If divisions have occurred in our past, it is too easy to judge them to have been accidents. But often, even in our own time, with dreadful ease, unity has been put in jeopardy. Attentiveness to unity requires from the bishop, as from the priests, considerable sensitivity.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Auxiliary Bishop of Salzburg.


From numerous conversations and a wide range of meetings with priests, I have come to the certainty that there is in them a strong desire for greater fraternity and spiritual solidarity. But there are also numerous risks and impediments. The reasons vary:

the contemporary mentality which pits one person against the other; infidelity and suspicion; subjectivism and individualism; the mistrust in relation to large institutions and, consequently, the rejection of the Church in modern society; the fragmentation of human society. All of this implies negative consequences for the communio of priests among themselves and with their bishops. In any case, even from within, it is so easy to put this unity at risk, simply through insufficient reflection on the consequences that the directions and decisions of the bishop can sometimes have. Priests feel hurt and misunderstood.

"We carry this treasure of our faith in fragile vessels," says Saint Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7). To promote unity there is always the need to look to mutual attention, comprehension and availability for reconciliation.

This glance at the past should teach us, on the one hand, how we can avoid injuries to unity, because they are not only the cause of pain but also of a lack of credibility; on the other hand, there is the awareness of our communio with the Trinity and with Christ the High Priest. This is both support and encouragement to cultivate to the highest degree an "intimate sacramental fraternity."



Reverend Vittorio Gambino2


The path which opened up the authentic and essential meaning of continuing formation, as it has been accepted by the postsynodal exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, has been the rereading of the well known n. 14 of Presbyterorum Ordinis.

The decree proposed an essential question: "How to go about harmonizing the internal life with external actions without letting them be divided?"

Presbyterorum Ordinis overcomes that dualism by presenting in a concrete way the existential witness of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

"The unity of life," says the document, "can be achieved by priests only in following the example of Christ the Lord in the carrying out of their ministry, for his food was to do the will of the Father who had called him to complete his work. In fact, Christ, in order to continue endlessly doing this same will of the Father in the world through the Church, works through his ministers, and therefore always remains the principle and source of the unity of the life of the priests. To achieve this, they must then unite themselves to Christ in the discovery of the will of the Father and in the gift of self for the flock entrusted to them. Thus, representing the Good Shepherd, in the very exercise of pastoral activity they will find the bond of priestly perfection which will realize that unity in their life and activity." 3 It is a marvelous text.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Professor, Pontifical Salesian University, Rome.

3 Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 14.


Consider, then, this first point. Presbyterorum Ordinis tells us that the directing idea of this vital synthesis is "pastoral charity," the center and root of the whole life of the priest. 4 The priest feels its powerful attraction when he succeeds in perceiving, in a contemplative spirit, the heartbeat of Jesus, the Good Shepherd: a heart, that is to say, directed totally to the Father and fully available to be directed to the brethren through the total giving of self to his plan of salvation.

As the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests observes, to assimilate the pastoral charity of Christ in a way which makes it become the shape of one’s own life, is the task of a lifetime and requires commitment and sacrifice, knows no pause and cannot be achieved once and for all. 5

A second point. Pastoral charity explains the relationship between the spiritual life and the exercise of the ministry. 6 Continuing formation ought to ensure ministerial existence lived with a priestly heart, directed at the same time toward God and toward neighbor, indeed turned to neighbor because it is fundamentally turned toward God.

A third point. The Pope, following the thought of Presbyterorum Ordinis, emphasized in Pastores Dabo Vobis that pastoral charity is, therefore, a vision which integrates and encompasses in a single interior unity the diverse dimensions of the life and ministry of the priest, which are the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. 7


4 Ibid.

5 Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994, n. 43.

6 The document of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Contemplative Dimensions of the Religious Life, 1980. In it, speaking of the mutual compenetration between "action and contemplation," says: "The specific characteristic of apostolic activity is the passion of charity, cultivated in the heart of the religious (of active life); a heart considered as the most intimate sanctuary of one’s very person, in which resounds the ‘grace of unity’ between interiority and activity..."

7 Cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 72.

This is a most important paragraph. The Pope asks of us, with the help of grace, a formation capable of concentrating the multi-faceted reality of the life of the priest into a living synthesis: This is the secret of apostolic interiority. "Only continuing formation," the Pope notes, "helps the priest to guard with vigilant love the ‘mystery’ which it bears within itself for the good of the Church and humanity." 8

Continuing formation ought, then, to help the priest respond to the dynamism of pastoral charity and of the Holy Spirit, who is its first source and continual nourishment in unifying the varied and multiple activities of the ministry producing a unity of life and action. 9 The meaning of the total formation program is precisely that of imprinting pastoral charity into the consciousness and mentality of the priest.

Continuing formation is concerned with allowing oneself to be led by the Spirit in the exercise, even humble and not apparent, of pastoral charity, all through the daily course of one’s experience of life. As the exhortation says: "Every ministerial gesture, while it leads to loving and serving the Church, presses toward an always greater maturing in love and service to Jesus Christ, head, shepherd, spouse of the Church." 10

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., 70.

10 Ibid., 25.



Most Reverend Enrico Masseroni2


Before looking at the experiences and situations which involve concrete engagement in the continuing formation of priests in Europe, an introductory statement seems to be in order.

Two impressions can be isolated and brought to the fore: on the one hand, the richness of the ideas and undertakings characteristic of the postconciliar period, which highlighted a certain movement of our particular churches, even within national tendencies; on the other, the explicit emergence of the centrality of the diocese as the sphere and subject of continuing formation. In this brief exposition, I distinguish three points.




At the cultural and theological level: the experiences imply a considerable variety. In not a few dioceses the program of continuing formation looks toward the pastorally applied reconsideration of great theological themes, with particular attention to the biblical aspects. The forms are varied. In a number of dioceses, days of study are organized throughout a whole pastoral year, from October to June. In others there is a "theological month" with four or five days set up within the four or five weeks of a month. In still others there are programs of "residential courses," which obviously lend themselves to the experience of fraternal sharing. In not a few dioceses there are plans also for "cultural trips" with priests (such as, for example, "biblical sessions" in the Holy Land).


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Archbishop of Vercelli


For the purpose of theological renewal various "theological institutes" or "pastoral centers" have opened with an interdiocesan or national scope, guaranteeing a notable, if selective, degree of quality to what they offer.

At the spiritual level: the practice of spiritual exercises among priests spreads rapidly; they have moved from a period of disaffection to a truly growing fidelity, with a twofold need: to share moments of silence as an antidote to the stress of the active ministry and to experience vital contact with the word of God through the method of lectio divina. This same intention has led to periodic or monthly days of retreat.

Of interest, particularly in certain nations, is the referral of priests to places of silence and prayer, such as monasteries, according to the spirit of the MR (1978).

There is also a third level of continuing formation, more explicitly intended to favor "priestly communion": the so-called "days of priestly fraternity." In particular, a number of dioceses place considerable importance on the date of Holy Thursday, not only as a celebration, but as an "agape" with the bishop; and a day of fraternity, often held in a seminary, with affectionate celebration of significant anniversaries of priestly ordination.

There is a fourth level, more explicitly pastoral. There is particular concern for young priests in their first five years of priesthood, through residential weeks of study, or even prolonged periods of monthly meetings.

For all priests there are plans for annual "diocesan gatherings" in the form of three-day or one week meetings, in which priests will be able to take up wider themes of pastoral questions.

There is a remarkable commitment on the part of national conferences to offer continuing formation, at an interdiocesan level, by means of specialized institutes, above all in the direction of pastoral, missionary and spiritual theology.




It seems possible to say that in the different Churches there is a commitment to continuing formation with a variety of things being accentuated: In many dioceses it seems that the spiritual dimension received greater emphasis, while in others it was the theological or the pastoral dimension. In any case, one can see certain lines of thought in the stage of application:

· the laborious passage from a disorganized experientialism to an overall sense of planning;

· the passage from formation seen as renewal to formation as a vital process which derives from Sacred Order itself and from the needs of a ministry faithful to history;

· continuing formation is becoming a continually more significant place for the testing of presbyteral communion, in which a determining factor is the direct presence of the bishop.

In this regard, the people who do the formation are quite important: In some nations there are plans for study sessions for the formation of diocesan personnel responsible for continuing formation.




Continuing formation requires a unified sense of purpose related to various age levels and, therefore, a very precise and well articulated plan. On the other hand, there remains, sometimes in a very significant way, the generation gap, with its different ways of speaking and diverse pastoral visions. In general, the formative and theological synthesis is weak among young priests, with difficulty in managing pastoral complexities.

There is a sort of Oedipus complex in the confrontations of priestly fraternity: desired and yet laborious at the same time. Therefore continuing formation ought to be accountable in three aspects of priestly life that are held in common: the domestic situation of the priest (a problem of considerable concern), common life in its most disparate forms in the pastoral and non-monastic setting, and the priest’s effective and affective sense of belonging.

Above all, in the Churches of western Europe there is urgent need for priests with strong and well developed personalities, who may be models and guides in a society marked by weak personal identities. But above all they must be capable of promoting various sorts of collaboration and be equipped against the easy discouragement of confrontation with the arduous enterprise of the new evangelization in a neopagan society. This requires most particular attention to the spiritual life of priests in pastoral endeavors as a unifying focus of all continuing formation.



Cardinal Ricardo J. Vidal




The second plenary council of the Philippines, legitimately convoked, duly celebrated, and felicitously concluded from the

r 20th of January to the 17th of February, 1991, provided the much needed data on the Philippine clergy living and ministering in 16 archdioceses, 49 dioceses, 5 vicariates and 5 prelatures. It gave a total picture of the life and ministry of the diocesan
priests which happily produced the "acts and decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines" on the clergy’s "permanent formation" (the Conciliar Document, Part IV, C, 5, b): and the decrees, Title XII, Articles 73 up to 80.) Article 80, paragraph one, which decrees that "continuing education for renewal and updating is a necessity for all priests" has particularly been followed up by a series of national conventions of priests by diocesan representations. It was during and after these clerical gatherings that together we focused on the importance and the dynamics of ongoing formation, such that "ongoing formation" becomes "ongoing dialogue. ~




The approach to ongoing formation in every diocese has not been uniform. At the national and regional levels, programs and seminars for the updating and renewal of priests are formulated by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and respect- fully submitted to the bishops. Basically, however, dioceses use the annual clergy retreat and monthly recollections as loci for the formation program. There are some dioceses however, which have up-dating programs in addition to retreats and recollections.


1 This is the original English text presented by Cardinal Vidal.

2 Archbishop of Cebu, Philippines


The sabbatical leave after five to ten years of active service has also been viewed as an opportunity for updating. Some dioceses also send their priests to attend "live-in" renewal programs which the CBCP Commission on the Clergy offers every now and then.




On the personal level, some priests have been reluctant to avail themselves of the programs because of some deep-seated resentments or antipathy; the suspicion that such programs are only for "priests in crisis" is a constant source of discouragement. A lack of enthusiasm has been noted in some priests, a fear to change and a hesitancy to renew oneself; the one who needs it most does not attend.

Resistance to the program may also stem from the difficulty to find "resource speakers" with "relevant inputs" with which to challenge the clergy. This difficulty brings to the fore the scarcity of resources in general, to support the programs, to invite good speakers, even to gather the priests from far-flung parishes in order to avail themselves of the formation programs.




At least four "attempts" have been made by the CBCP Commission on the Clergy. One, the Commission has encouraged all the bishops to appoint their official priest representatives who will be in-charge of "ongoing formation" in their respective local churches; for continuity, it has been suggested that the tenure of office be fixed. Two, the Commission has begun to firm up the structures for communication and follow-up especially in the ecclesial province area with the purpose of facilitating mutual support. Three, the Commission has offered a "retreat-seminar" for the training module of facilitators who can start and sustain the "ongoing formation program" in their respective areas. And four, the Commission also came up with a list of names of possible speakers including their respective areas of concern and competence. It would be best if the "experts" belong to the ecclesiastical province and/or region for easier, less expensive travel.




1. To provide help and support to small dioceses, vicariates, and prelatures that find it difficult to begin or come up with their own program and resources.

2. To enhance the self-confidence of the priest-in-charge of the "ongoing formation," that indeed he can do much and get support from the local clergy.

3. To encourage the bishops to send the priests especially those who have been ten years and above in the ministry, to avail themselves of the renewal programs offered by the commission. In this regard, to seek out funding agencies to help in the scholarships to be used in the rather expensive renewal programs.

4. To come up with another program that will answer a very important need experienced by the bishops, such as the "curative aspect" of renewal to help those priests with deep-seated problems of personality, sexuality, and other addictions. In this regard, to come to the aid of these priests before "mass media" capitalizes on the weakness of priests, and the scandal they cause thereby.

5. To come up with national and regional renewal centers, so we can have our own place and personnel to follow-up the important needs in the Church.


We know we have just begun. Already, there are positive signs going on. First, the bishops express enthusiasm. Second, there is a willingness to come up with the structures needed for follow-up. And three, the conviction, plus the courage of those who have begun, has been most contagious and encouraging.

We have a long way to go. We have to move quickly, we have to act with determination. Meanwhile, our renewal programs are always in the process of being updated. The programs themselves are provisional; every gathering of priests is an opportunity, a locus for consultation and dialogue where the priests can discuss their problems and needs and explore possibilities of responding to these challenges.

Our lay people have emerged, awakened, and have become alerted to and assertive with their charism; let us walk with them in faith. It would be a pity if priests become the obstacle to the lay initiatives for renewal in the Church.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of priests, continue to pray for us all.



Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento2




This result of the brief investigation conducted on the experience of continuing formation of the priests in Africa ought to be read in the particular context of Christian communities, almost all relatively young.

Furthermore, we must keep in mind that we are speaking only of "black Africa"; we are not speaking of the Churches of North Africa, of which we have no information.




The practice of retreats, especially the annual one, emerges as a constant at both diocesan and interdiocesan levels.

Monthly retreats are also quite widespread. Yet, in some places, these spirituality gatherings end up having a rather hybrid nature: they are without doubt times of prayer and meditation, but they are combined with the study of the more recent documents of the Magisterium. Furthermore, there is also the sharing of experiences and of concerns of a pastoral nature.

Finally, one should note the convinced and active agreement of the African episcopate, which seeks to assure, in the best way possible, the continuing formation of its priests, beginning with the constant practice of the interior life. In this the bishops see the sure way, the guarantee that the priest will remain faithful to his mission.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James I. Mulligan.

2 Archbishop of Luanda.


Weeks or days devoted to study are organized for the clergy in many ecclesiastical provinces of the continent. Generally, such courses or meetings deal with themes of theology, of canon law, of spirituality or of social teaching. The concern to maintain or to elevate the academic level of these gatherings often results in inviting a team of experts. The purpose of this is to facilitate the renewal of the participants.

We should recall the role played by the university formation centers in the Church in Africa. There is clearly one field to which the most special attention should be paid, that of inculturation. It is a task among the most important and delicate, and will require lengthy — perhaps generations-long — research, courageous and in-depth reflection, bound to a sense of responsibility.

We have seen how the bishops are especially solicitous when it comes to priests recently ordained. They had turned their attention to that need even before the Second Vatican Council. There are well known diocesan directives which focused attention on this need and produced precise directives. In the chapter concerning "clerics," drawing its inspiration from the decrees Christus Dominus and Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Pastoral Directory of the episcopal conference of Angola and Sao Tome, points out clearly, realistically and in detail, how to bring this continuing formation to fulfillment. The following quotation is enough: "It is to be hoped that all priests will adhere to a rule of life which permits them every day to devote about an hour to study. They ought to try to buy the books that are indispensable to continued renewal concerning pastoral and social problems and the environment in which they live. Special attention should be reserved for social questions treated in the encyclicals of the most recent Popes." 3


3 Pastoral Directory, Luanda, 1969, 14.


In the Church in Africa it is not rare to find a lack of resources and structures. In any case, it may well be precisely because of this that the action of the Holy Spirit is so evident in this part of his Church. I think that it may be time to recognize and thank God for the fruitful, generous, wonderful and often truly heroic work —even if not everywhere unscathed by shadow — work which the Holy Spirit completes in his Church in Africa through priests. We find them present in almost every facet of the mission: In the proclamation of the word, in catechesis, in the administration of the sacraments, in teaching, as untiring organizers of Charities. These priests of the holy Church, true fellow workers of the bishops, surrounded in turn by skillful catechists, by worthy sisters and the multitude of committed lay persons, have had, not only in the past but in recent time as well, the supreme honor of martyrdom. To say that is to say everything.



Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn2


My topic for this observation is Experiences of Ongoing Formation in North America. I would like to begin with some words of St. Augustine:

Late have I loved You, 0 Beauty ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved You! You were within, while I was outside myself, and there I searched for You and in my deformity I forced myself upon the beauties of Your creation... .You called and shouted and burst through my deafness.... You extended Your fragrance and I drew a breath and then parted. I tasted and now I hunger and thirst (Confessions: Book 10, Chapter 27).

This reflection by Augustine, beautiful in its poetic expression, is about growth. It is what St. Mark meant when he wrote in his Gospel (Mark 3:15) that Jesus called the Twelve to be with Him and to preach. It is what Jesus meant in the parable in St. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 12:21) when He made reference to "growing rich in the sight of God." This process in formation is generated from the conviction that St. Irenaeus was correct when he wrote: "God’s greatest glory is man fully alive."

In his Confessions St. Augustine envisioned a God whose creation can overwhelm us with its beauty and who yet will not allow us to rest in that creation because He wants more for us. He saw a God who calls us to respond to Him every day, until at last we see Him in everything and at all times.

In the United States within the past thirty years, much attention has been given to ongoing formation. We have concluded that it is intrinsic to our priestly existence. We have visited again the reality of the three basic appetites: spiritual appetite, physical appetite and psychological appetite.

We have rediscovered the relationship of all three appetites, that they are not interchangeable and attention must be given to all three if we would be fully alive. Grace builds on nature.


1 This is the original English text presented by Archbishop Flynn.

2 Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, U.S.A.

Spiritual —demanding Prayer, spiritual reading, retreats

Physical — demanding proper diet, rest, exercise

Psychological demanding friends, affection, variety, change, sense of accomplishment, solitude, leisure


As recently as this last summer of 1995, the Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States sent a form to all 178 dioceses in the United States to survey what is currently happening in each diocese with regard to ongoing formation. Over 130 responded to this questionnaire. It asked if the dioceses offer the following:

1. priests’ retreats (annually or otherwise) and whether they are optional or required;

2. priests’ days of recollection and how often;

3. priests’ support groups and whether or not they are part of a national program;

4. whether there is any existing method for the bishop to listen to and dialogue with his priests.

· Over 127 dioceses commented on the types of retreats offered for priests.

· All dioceses appear to offer some form of days of recollection for priests.

· 104 dioceses surveyed have some form of support group for priests. The majority of these groups fall into: Jesus Caritas Groups, Emmaus Groups, Cor Unum, Cenacle Groups, Priests for Life, and a great variety of other creative programs for priests.

· Our last question asked information about the existence of effective methods by which the bishop listens to and dialogues with his priests. Ninety-eight bishops responded that they have some form of dialogue with their priests, including: small listening sessions, dinner meetings, interviews with priests on retreat, luncheons with individuals or small groups, Holy Hour and dialogue, overnight convocations with all priests or small groups, and many other varied and creative forms.

It seems to me that the most important question on this survey was to the bishop: "Is there an existing and effective method in your diocese for you to listen to and dialogue with the priests?" The bond between priest and bishop cannot be emphasized enough. The bishop should take part in the ongoing formation by joining in the programs provided for priests, but he needs to do more than that. He needs to play an important part in ongoing formation by an openness to relationships with his priests. The bishop needs to find ways by which each priest will be given an opportunity to enter into real dialogue with him.

Recently a study guide was prepared by the National Pastoral Life Center at the request of the Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry and approved by the Administrative Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States. It is entitled Equipped For the Work of Ministry and is composed of six chapters based on the topics treated in Pastores Dabo Vobis by Pope John Paul II. They are: Priesthood, Relationships, Human Development, Spiritual Development, Intellectual development, and Pastoral Development.

These subjects are not mutually exclusive; each is an intimate part of all the others. Priesthood is fundamentally relational, Pope John Paul II reminds us; human development is essentially relational and true spirituality entails human development as well as intellectual development, to point to but a few ways in which the categories overlap. Nonetheless, the categories and reflections provided by the Pope offer ways for considering the many dimensions of continuing development.

Adequate use of each section by a group requires about an hour to an hour and a half and will be enhanced by the preparation of each priest prior to the meeting. Group discussion can be guided by one priest serving as host and facilitator for each meeting. Another priest might lead the opening prayer and reflection; a third might serve as recorder of the group’s conclusions.

The intent of each session and of the entire project is for each priest and each presbyterate to determine what steps are necessary for the continuing development in personal life and ministerial abilities that are called for in these days of increasingly demanding priestly ministry.

A final sheet in this packet helps the group review its deliberations when they are complete and to determine which matters they wish to present to the bishop and presbyteral council for their consideration.

Finally, we recall St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:11-16): "And he gave some as apostles, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into Him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love."



Most Reverend Ronald A. Mulkearns2


The present concern of the Catholic Church in Australia for the continuing education of priests originates in a basic questioning of the role and identity of the priest encountered during the thirty years after the Second Vatican Council, which placed renewed emphasis on the ministry of all the baptized.

In the 1970s in Australia, there were developments which reflected priests’ need for mutual support. Annual meetings of priests from all over the country, initiated by one rural diocese, were particularly significant. From these meetings was eventually born the National Council of Priests. This Council is a grassroots organization of priests and deacons which now has a membership of more than eleven hundred and has broad based support from the majority of the approximately three thousand four hundred priests and deacons of Australia. The Council convenes a national gathering of priests and deacons every two years and publishes a quarterly magazine which is sent to every Bishop, priest and deacon in the country. In recent years, a second grassroots national organization of priests with a different perspective on priesthood has been formed. This organization is called The Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.

In 1982 the Australian Bishops opened St. Peter Center for Clergy Renewal. This was in response to an expressed need for a center for continuing education, and from 1982 until its closure in 1993, three hundred and thirty-three priests from Australia and overseas took the three-month courses which were offered twice a year at the Center. Each course covered a wide range of topics touching on the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development of the Australian priest. Some religious priests and pastoral associates from congregations of religious women also participated in these courses with diocesan clergy. Lecturers, retreat directors and facilitators from all over the country happily assisted in the St. Peter Center courses. Those who attended were most appreciative of the opportunity for renewal and returned to their work with new energy and enthusiasm. In addition, many Australian priests took advantage of renewal courses offered overseas.


1 This is the original English text presented by Bishop Mulkearns.

2 Bishop of Ballarat, Australia.


A need which emerged after the St. Peter Center initiative and which complemented it was that for ongoing support for clergy in their day to day ministry. Assistance was sought from the Center for Human Development in Washington and, in the mid-80s, sixteen dioceses of Australia introduced the Ministry to Priests Programme with an Australian Office of the Center for Human Development being established in Canberra. The Ministry to Priests Programme encouraged and taught priests to minister to one another on a one-to-one basis and in small support groups for their mutual personal development. The Australian Office of the Center for Human Development eventually severed its ties with the Washington organization and became The Catholic Institute for Ministry.

In 1992, in the light of the experience of St. Peter Center for Clergy Renewal and the Ministry to Priests Programme, the Bishops of Australia took a new initiative following on the publication of the post-synodal exhortation "Pastores Dabo Vobis." They established the National Commission for the Continuing Education of Priests.

The mandate given to this new organization covers all aspects of the ongoing education and development of priests and deacons after ordination. It includes not only necessary professional knowledge of theology, scripture, liturgy, preaching, teaching, and parish organization and management, but also, and perhaps more urgently, personal relationships with others and with God.

The Commission for the Continuing Education of Priests has a membership of twelve: two bishops, five priests who are chosen by priests responsible for the continuing education of clergy in their dioceses; three lay persons; and two Religious, chosen by the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious institutes. The National Director is appointed by the Bishops’ Conference and accountable to it through the Commission.

The present agreed policy of the National Commission for the Continuing Education of Priests puts the emphasis on activities at the diocesan level. The Commission supports initiatives taken by dioceses; it responds to expressed needs, assists in the formation of structures to achieve desired results, helps with resource persons, and facilitates networking between dioceses. The needs of large urban dioceses obviously differ from those of smaller rural ones. National programmes and courses will be run only when a clear need for these emerges from the dioceses of the country. Of course, the primary responsibility for a priest’s continuing education and formation always remains with the individual priest himself.

Each year Diocesan Directors of Continuing Education or other designated representatives from all dioceses of the country meet with the Director and members of the National Commission for three days to reflect together on the situation and the needs of priests in the Church today and to meet with members of the National Commission. This important gathering enables the structure established by the Bishops’ Conference to respond directly to the needs of priests as they are perceived by the priests themselves. In addition, the National Director facilitates meetings of Diocesan Directors on a State or regional basis for days of review, planning and encouragement.

The National Director also arranges annual workshops on the practice and theory of Spiritual Direction as a necessary part of the pastoral skill of all priests and pastoral associates in the Church today.

A further initiative of the National Commission has been the convening of a Consultation for clergy on the implications of approaching retirement.

As is the case in many countries, there is a real crisis of vocations to priesthood in the Australian Church. The morale of priests themselves has been deeply affected by the disclosure of scandalous behavior on the part of some of their number and the departure of many others. Important questions urgently need answers. These concern not only how a priest can best function in the Church today and relate to others, but also what is the identity of the priest as an ordained leader in the Church and how can that identity be affirmed. Younger priests are apprehensive about demands and expectations which might be placed on them as their number decreases. This situation and the stress and strain resulting from the fact that there are fewer and older priests active in the ministry calls for an expression, from such a gathering as this, of our empathy with them, our willingness to take account of their problems, our appreciation of their fidelity and, in many instances, of their heroism.



Reverend Manuel Rubin De Celis2


Latin America is a sub-continent so vast and so varied that it is quite hard to summarize its situation in the area of continuing formation. Furthermore, almost 50% of the Catholics in the world are found in these nations and their cities.

Starting with the realization of how little can be touched upon, one can say that the meetings to which CELAM calls the regions can be divided in this way:

· the region of Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and the Antilles;

· the Bolivian region;

· the region of the southern cone.

These regions include many nations and, therefore, differing ecclesiastical experiences.

There is no doubt that the two most recent documents of the Church for the life of priests, the one by the Holy Father and, as its practical expression in action, the one of the Congregation for the Clergy, have both made an enormous contribution to the awareness and dynamism of programs and diocesan projects related to continuing formation. The evocative apostolic exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, opens to us horizons full of hope, and the concrete Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests offers us directives for continuing formation.

The Directory is intended to respond to four fundamental challenges: the challenge of unity, of a profound spiritual life, of the need for continuing formation and of the closeness of the pastor to his community. These challenges imply a desire for fraternity, for a spirit which gives life to diocesan spirituality, for a formation which is systematic, integral, progressive and which responds to different age levels, and which, in short, is fully permeated by pastoral charity, in view of the mission of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to the utmost bounds of the earth.


1 Translated from the original Italian by Msgr. James J. Mulligan.

2 Counselor, Missionary Society of the Holy Spirit.


It is too difficult to treat as one, or to bring together, such widely different environments and situations, for which reason I will limit myself to considering certain general points of view which flourish among us and certainly allow us to approximate our real situation:

I. Some regions maintain that the multiplicity of documents of the Holy See, of CELAM and of each of the episcopates has obstructed the deepening of various dimensions of continuing formation.

2. The interest in continuing formation is noteworthy. There are not great achievements, but we have the meetings of the clergy:

Monthly retreats, courses of formation, etc. The meetings find expression in times of prayer, of group reflections, of fraternity. There is no lack of study days at the national level. There is a concern for and interest in the construction of houses for priests, houses designed especially to welcome priests, both for meetings or to respond to more specific concerns. In any case, the result has not been a single systematic, organic, progressive and integral continuing formation.

3. It is necessary to create an awareness, immediately out of the seminary, of a formation which does not end with that initial period, which is part of a whole "personal plan of life." This involves "learning to learn," so that personal labor and the priesthood do not end in exhaustion and that new windows of awareness are opened to us daily. There is a need to come to an awareness of being in continuing formation, in a process of continual education in order to become like Jesus, our model and type, pastors in the midst of a priestly people, open and available to the new evangelization.

4. Meetings, days and courses of support in the dioceses are promoted everywhere. These courses last for a month, two weeks or a week. Some nations bring together representatives of various presbyterates so as to prepare them to be leaders among their own confreres. The problem is that these courses normally focus on the "action" of the priest and not on his "being" as such, or else they remain at the doctrinal-intellectual level and too seldom touch on the personal side.

5. It seems a good idea to create structures and ministry

which lend themselves to continuing formation as, for example, the creation of vicars, of teams, or to propose ways to take advantage of presbyteral and pastoral organizations in every diocese.

6. We feel the need to help priests to involve their "own persons" in an "integral" way. The majority of projects do not have solidity for exactly that reason. There is a lack of success in bringing priests to that self-encounter. There would be need to systemize anew the continuing education which touches the person (there are some such experiences) in such a way that the pastor undertakes a personal plan of life and understands his continuing formation as an integral and graduated plan. He needs a good spiritual director. These are the most urgent needs of our priests.

7. There is a lack in the experience of sabbatical years or of those experiences of continuing formation which require one or two months during the year. For priests (and sometimes for the bishop) it is difficult to set aside their activities if they have not been educated to do so. They end up abstaining from a time of renewal which is much needed and which would certainly help them to avoid negative impressions in their own pastoral practice.

8. Some countries or dioceses work on the training of people to do formation, taking advantage of international institutes. Their fruits begin to appear little by little. It would be worthwhile to invest more in this area, conscious of its importance.

9. The "presbyterium," as the privileged environment for continuing formation, does not respond adequately, and we find obstacles to the realization of some plans. A greater commitment is needed in this area so as to be able to confront the challenges launched by the present and the future and to prepare ourselves better for the third millennium of an evangelization renewed in its methods and expressions. The bishop is the primary one responsible.

10. Progress should be noted in the care and support of the youngest clergy. Yet, structures and plans· are still lacking for clergy of the third age. In any case, we cannot fail to notice the interesting work in some nations will regard to plans for retirement.

11. On all sides there is the birth of a positive attitude toward community life: Presbyteral groups are created which meet for a variety of purposes, animated by a spirituality that is the seed of hope for priests. We should reinforce the experiences that we have already had, in particular those which point to living and sharing our being and not only our deeds.

It has been my intention to offer a synthesis of what we have in Latin America in relation to continuing formation.

Personally I consider that it is the closeness of the Churches to the Holy Spirit which draws us to renewal, to rebirth: He gives us the true understanding of the Church, of communion, he will lead us to the Trinity, to the truth and to the source of "living water."


Concluding Message



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.


1 This text was unanimously approved by all the participants in the Symposium, at the conclusion of their labors on 28 October 1995.


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:

· express our gratitude to the Holy Father and to the Congregation for Clergy for this opportunity to reflect upon the conciliar decree, keeping in mind the direction given by the Magisterium in these past thirty years;

· happily attest that our work has been carried out in an ambience of genuine communion and priestly fraternity and that the topics discussed have been enriched by

theological, spiritual and pastoral teaching;

· with this message, we address all the priests of the world and propose to them these points for reflection:





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.







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.

Directory, 4


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:

a. in the formation of priests: that they be prepared for team work to be carried out together with the lay faithful, keeping well in mind the identity and distinctness of respective roles;

b. that some priests be set aside for the formation of the laity, for their involvement in apostolic life for the realization of temporal affairs and for their continuing spiritual needs;

c. that every pastor wisely identify those persons, especially among the youth, that they consider best suited for collaboration within the parish. Besides lessening the amount of work for the priest, this organization offers an invaluable opportunity for the direction of souls who are more open to a greater understanding of their baptismal responsibilities and might become an excellent occasion for discernment regarding those persons who appear to be called for special work through religious life.

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.






"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.

Directory, 38




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).




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.






"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."

Directory, 25


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.

a. The bishop is the promoter of community among his priests: he should not hesitate in proposing the organization of times of social gatherings, of meetings, of fraternal sharing, of prayer and of mutual solidarity among his priests. These worthwhile initiatives should be open to both diocesan and religious priests, the young and the elderly and those from the new movements within the Church, in a spirit of openness and respect for the charisms recognized by the Church.

b. The bishop should personally know each priest entrusted to him. In the smaller dioceses this can be done directly by the bishop himself; in the larger ones several priests, who are truly trusted by the bishop and in firm communion with him, should be appointed to dedicate themselves to the spiritual care of their brothers in the priesthood. At the timely behest of the competent authorities, the territorial size of dioceses should be examined with a view to the creation of smaller dioceses so as to enhance the pastoral dimensions of ministry.

c. The diocesan Ordinary must care for his priests: he should ensure that none are abandoned to risky situations, such as lonely assignments, spiritual or moral alienation, etc. We fervently hope that, wherever possible, parishes would be entrusted to a group of priests always according to the norm of law.

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."


Directory, 71


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.