INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION
THE PRIESTLY MINISTRY*
1. In the Church every hierarchical ministry goes hack to the institution of the apostles. This ministry, willed by Christ, is essential to the Church, for through it the saving act of the Lord becomes sacramentally and historically present to all generations.
2. In the New Covenant there is no other priesthood than that of Christ. This priesthood fulfills and supersedes all the old priesthoods. In the Church all the faithful are called to share in it. The hierarchical ministry, however, is necessary for the building up of the Body of Christ in which this vocation is realized.
3. Christ alone performed the perfect sacrifice by the offering made of himself to the will of the Father. The episcopal and presbyteral ministry, therefore, is priestly inasmuch as it makes the ministry of Christ present in the effective proclaiming of the Gospel message, in bringing together and leading the Christian community, in the remission of sins, and in the celebration of the Eucharist by which in a special manner the one sacrifice of Christ is actualized.
4. Thus the Christian who is called to the priestly ministry receives by his ordination not a merely external function but a new sharing in the priesthood of Christ, by virtue of which he represents Christ at the head of the community and, as it were, facing the community. The ministry is therefore a specific way of exercising the Christian service in the Church. This specific character is seen especially in the priest’s role of presiding at the Eucharist, a role that is necessary for the full realization of the Christian worship. The preaching of the word and the pastoral office are ordered toward the Eucharist, which consecrates the Christian’s entire life in the world.
5. Though one must acknowledge a certain development in the structures of the early Church, one cannot maintain that some Churches – the Pauline ones – had a purely charismatic constitution, in contrast with the ministerial constitution of other Churches. For the primitive Church there is no opposition but rather complementarity between the freedom of the Spirit in dispensing his gifts and the existence of a ministerial structure.
6. The ministry of the New Covenant has a collegial dimension that is realized analogically at different levels: the bishops around the Pope in the universal Church, and the priests around their bishop in the local Church.
* This document was approved by the Commission “in forma specifica”.