Presentation of a document from
Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos on the Priest,
This instruction on the priesthood has been approved by the Supreme Pontiff who has ordered its publication.
It has been signed by Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy and his secretary, Monsignor Csaba Ternyak “August 4, 2002 in liturgical memory (new calendar) of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, Curé of Ars, patron of clergy in charge of souls”, and rendered public by L’Osservatore Romano in the French language February 25, 2003 as a supplement to its number 8.
It is this French edition that I use for this commentary.
This document begins by a beautiful reminder of the economy of salvation as conceived and desired by God for all eternity: “God wants all men to be saved.” And to quote the III chapter of the Gospel of Saint John: “For God sent His Son into the world, not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him” (Jn., III:17) In the preceding verse, Saint John explained the reason for this plan: “And God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believes in Him, may not perish, but may have eternal life.” (Jn. III:16)
Such is- in fact- the divine plan: a plan which has as a principle the merciful charity of God: “God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son...” and as an end, a charity of benevolence: “that whosoever believes in Him, may not perish, but may have eternal life.”
Saint Paul dedicates his whole epistle of the Ephesians to this divine plan of salvation: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ... As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world... having predestined us, in His love, to be His adoptive sons, by Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will... In whom (in Our Lord Jesus Christ) we have Redemption through His blood, the remission of sins... That He might make known to us the mystery of His will in accord with His favour that He set forth in Him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.” (Eph. I, 3-10).
Now it is precisely from this divine plan of salvation that the Cardinal wants to establish the sacerdotal identity. He writes: “Priestly identity should be a meditation from the divine will of salvation” (no.5). The priesthood “is... a participation in the saving action of Christ” (no.5). The priest is thus called to be “the minister of salvation” (no.5) and it is under this relationship that He is, so to speak, another Christ “Alter Christus”. This is a christological aspect of the priesthood.
Furthermore, he is “at the service of this (saving) action in the Church” (no.5). This is the ecclesiological aspect of the priesthood which is being affirmed here. And this is of capital importance - the Cardinal says - so as to “bring to light in an adequate manner, the meaning of his concrete pastoral ministry” in the Church and more particularly in the parish (no.5).
The priest is thus “ontologically assimiliated to Christ” (no.5) - an “alter Christus.” And it is because he is essentially that - alter Christus - that he is for the Church “ad gentes” - “at the service of others” in the order of salvation, “ordained to the service of community”, like Christ who came to serve and not to be served. “He is the servant of Christ for being from Him, for Him, and with Him the servant of man.” (no.5).
Thus, the christological and ecclesiological aspect of the priesthood is clearly brought to light in the beginning of this document. All the rest of the Instruction will be an explanation of these first truths.
The priesthood and celibacy
Thus it is from this Christ ordination, from this ontological bond to Christ that the Cardinal, without hesitation, justifies priestly celibacy. This is noteworthy. He writes: “The admirable gift of celibacy receives its light and its motivation in the assimilation to the nuptial donation of the crucified and resurrected Son of God with regard to ransomed and renewed humanity” (no.5). Celibacy is very inseparable from the priesthood ever since the nuptial donation of the Son of God in the Church - we find here a great conception of Saint Bernard in his commentary on the Song of Songs -,has been total, absolute, without sharing nor limit. And from this fact, the priestly action - the Cardinal says - has to correspond to his being. Being and action are correlative. Priestly being justifies priestly action, or here, celibacy.
Priestly identity being marvelously planted before the reader’s eyes, the Cardinal can then very easily recall - and with force - the essential distinction between ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful. He responds - here - to a grave error underlined in the sacerdotal crisis: the confusion of two priesthoods, one searching to absorb the other, one general, one particular... He writes: “The common priesthood and ministerial priesthood are different one from the other by their essence and not only by degree” (no.6). He clarifies as such: This is not only a case of a greater intensity of participation in the sole priesthood of Christ but of an essentially different participation” (no.6).
Thus the cardinal bases the common priesthood of the faithful on the baptismal character which forms the baptized - further - “an edifice, a spiritual temple, a holy priesthood, so as to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God by Our Lord Jesus Christ - ...”, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, an acquired people to announce the perfection of Him who has called us to His admirable light. “ - This is the well known famous text from the epistle of Saint Peter, while “the ministerial priesthood is based - says the Cardinal - on the character imprinted by the sacrament of Orders which configures to the Christ-priest in a way so as to be able to act in the person of the Christ-Head with sacred power so as to offer the sacrifice and to remit sins” (no.6). In other words, the ministerial priesthood participates in a capital grace of Christ-Redeemer.
And to this phrase, a note is attached, note 18 which recalls the Council of Trent, the 23rd session dedicated to the sacrament of Orders.
I cannot resist the joy in citing it in extenso:
“(18) cf. Conc. Oecum. De Trente, session XXIII, doctrina de sacramento Ordinis (July 15, 1563); Conc. Oecum. Vat. II, decree Presbyterorum Ordinis nn.2; 13 ; decree Christi Diminus, no. 15; Missale Romanum ; Institutio Generalis nn. 4.5 and 60 ; Ponficale Romanum ; de Ordinatione, nn. 131 and 132 ; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1366-1372 ; 1544-1553, 1562, 1568, 1581, 87”.
The Council of Trent is quoted first before all other references, not only first being a historical question, but first because it is in the light of Catholic doctrine that has been solemnly defined by the Council of Trent which will be used to interpret all the other subsequent texts. This will allow, if it is necessary, for corrections of any “equivocal” aspects in them... in particular of those of “Institutio Generalis” which have directed the liturgical reform... and to clarify it.
This is what Monsignor Lefebvre asked for.
This is also what was not conceded to him easily. This is what is today recognized as being legitimate, normal, self-evident. As a note... Things evolve nicely in the Church...
It is stated: The sacrament of Orders is based upon the hierarchical, ministerial priesthood. It configures the baptized “to Christ-priest in a way so as to be able to act in the person of Christ-Head with the sacred power, to offer the sacrifice and to remit sins” (no.6).
It is good that the Cardinal defines the priesthood in its relationship to the sacrifice of Christ. This is very evident since, preliminarily, it defines the priesthood in this great salvific work of Christ, the reason for His incarnation - and that this salvific work is realized by the oblation of the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ so as to satisfy the Father’s justice and thus honour and glorify Him. “Omnis honor et gloria.” This is the conclusion of the Roman Canon.
This is very evident - I will add - since outside of the theological reason given here, the Cardinal bases his thought on the argument of authority, on the magisterium and at first on the Council of Trent which, in Canon 1 of the 23rd session, affirms:
“Si quis dixerit, non esse in Novo Testamento sacerdotium visibile et externum - this is our ministerial priesthood - vel non esse potestatem aliquam consecrandi et offendi verum corpus et sanguinem Domini et peccata remittendi et retinendi... anathema sit” (Canon 1).
Thus I am obliged to recognize that the relationship of the priest to the sacrifice of Christ is not dead in the Church. Yes, even if it is overlooked in the “new pontifical of ordination”, as Monsignor Tissier de Mallerais affirmed at the time of the priestly Ordinations at Econe in June 2002, this capital doctrine - defined by the Council of Trent - is not totally forgotten by the Church. The proof? Cardinal Castrillos-Hoyos recalls it from the beginning - no. 6 - of his magisterial document... This notion was - indeed - forgotten in ecclesial practice, it was even omitted in the definition of the priesthood of “Institutio Generalis” - the famous article 7 - making a priest a simple president of a memorial... from where the crisis of the Catholic priesthood stems from... but it remained in the heart of the Church... in such a way that the Cardinal desires that priests adopt it once again.
Let us help him in this effort!
We can do this so much easier since this is the major idea upon which Monsignor Lefebvre based his priestly work: Christ’s sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Mass. It would be much more useful to do this rather than closing up ourselves in our donjons. And those who await the conversion of Rome so as to smile again... that they take into account this very felicitous reminder. It is in this way, - it appears to me - that Churchmen will come back to Catholic doctrine and the crisis will be over. This was the case for the holy Mass: Rome, again, without any striking declaration, permitted free celebration de facto. The same with the doctrine on the priesthood: after arriving at a simple presiding and a simple memorial... again - the priest is being defined in his ontological relationship to the sacrifice as the Church defined it within the midst of Protestant agitation.
It will be the same - one day- for “ecumenism”, for “religious liberty”. Rome will forget “its follies” and come back to a clear revealing of doctrine. Concerning this last subject - religious liberty - the solution will be to simply recall the essential difference between religious liberty and religious tolerance. The laws of the Church will be recalled. Her political reality will be - perhaps - unchanged - but what is true will be stated. This is what is capital in this case, as in all other cases. Monsignor Lefebvre ceaselessly proclaimed the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His doctrine even if the contingent political reality was something else...
But let us stop here - to come back to our text and this beautiful doctrinal reminder.
The priest acts, the Cardinal tells us, “in persona Christi Capitis”, that is “he personifies - he is an alter Christus - in the heart of the Church of the people of God the triple prophetic, cultural and royal task of Christ Himself so much the Head and Pastor of the Church” (no.6).
He insists: “Thus in the exercise of their specific functions, (the priests) act in persona Christi capitis and consequently and likewise in nomine Ecclesiae” (no.6).
Hierarchical and ministerial priesthood
The Cardinal can then without any difficulty remind us that the Catholic priesthood is hierarchical and ministerial. From there, even if this priestly service, this “ministerium” is “for the community”, at the “benefit of the community”, he does not at all imply “its origin from this community, as if it called and delegated” (no.7) Not at all! This ministerium is hierarchical, in other words, attached to a power to form and to lead the people of God, “this people of priests”, “this royal priesthood”. It is attached to its own priestly power which draws its origin from the salvific plan of Christ, “the Anointed of the Lord”, Head and leader of the Church.
Here is proclaimed by the Cardinal the true identity of the priest. And it is this forgotten truth - no doubt - which was the reason - “these last decades” for what was called “the secularization of the priest” which in turn equally explains “the clerifications” of the laity. Nature has horror of emptiness. It is the Cardinal who says this:
“this crisis of identity equally engenders the secularization of certain sacred ministers by obscuring their specific role, absolutely irreplaceable in ecclesial communion.” (no.7). “Irreplaceable” ! You have seen it with your eyes. The Cardinal goes to the point of saying “without the presence of Christ represented by the priest, sacramental guide of the community, this latter would not fully be an ecclesial community.” (no.7).
This is true.
How then could we not appreciate these felicitous reminders.
The priest, alter Christus, minister of Christ
The Cardinal comes back to priestly identity in the nos. 8 etc. He wants to deepen this notion, explain it. He acts as a good pedagogue.
He starts this paragraph by this beautiful sentence: “The priest, alter christus, is, in the Church, the minister of essential salvific actions. “ (no.8)
This conception of the priesthood is perfectly pauline. Saint Paul does not cease, in fact, to present himself to the Christian communities he founded as a minister of the Gospel; to the Ephesians, he says: “I am made a minister of the Gospel, according to the gift of the grace of God.” (Eph. III:7).
To the Corinthians, he is categorical: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ - ministros Christi - and the dispensers of the mysteries of God” (I Cor. IV). Or still in his second epistle to the Corinthinans: “Who has made us fit ministers of the New Testament.” (2 Cor. III:6). And the quotations could be multiplied. The Cardinal would be able to give us these. He is not at all note-dry... since his text contains already a hundred and fifty!
Whatever the case may be, the Cardinal explains this truth very well, in the heart of the priesthood.
He writes: “because he is minister of the essential salvific actions”.
- the priest has “a sacrificial power with the body and blood of the Redeemer” (no.8). This is his first “function”. This is good, the insistence of the Cardinal on this function.
- he also has “the power to announce the Gospel with authority.” (no.8)
- he has finally the “power to conquer the evil of sin by sacramental pardon.” (no.8)
Here are - in fact - the three sacerdotal powers - which the Cardinal recalls from the Council of Trent - powers which allow the Cardinal to say so nicely that the priest gives “life”, “the life of grace”. “From these three powers spring, in fact, life, the life of grace, divine life” (no.8). Because he enjoys these three powers, the priest is - in persona Christi Capitis - “source of life and of vitality in the Church and in his parish.” Not so much in principle - which is the role of Christ - but in as much as he distributes the sacraments of life, the sacraments of salvation. For - which is a fact - from Our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ springs life.
The priesthood and Our Lady, the Virgin Mary
And the Cardinal elevates his meditation - at the end of the eighth paragraph - to Our Lady and the priesthood, identifying them in this divine salvific work - the one and the other are “instruments of salvific communion between God and persons” : Our Lady, because She has offered Christ. She is Mother of the Holy Redeemer, the priest, by reason of his priestly ministerial powers.
The priest, “a man of communion”
This notion of minister moves the heart of the Cardinal for he dedicates all of paragraph 9 to it.
Because the priest is a minister of Christ, because he is an alter Christus, he is also “a man of communion”, in this sense that he has to promote and maintain peace and “the unity of members with the Head and all the members with each other.” (no.9)
Who does not see recalled here the fruit of the passion of Christ, as explained by Saint Paul to the Ephesians:
“But...now in Christ Jesus, you, who some time were afar off, are made not by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace who has made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in His flesh: And might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, killing the enmities in Himself. And coming, He preached peace to you who were afar off, and peace to them that were not. For by Him we have access both in one spirit to the Father”. (Eph. II, 13 and...).
Thus it is clearly following Christ as minister of Christ that the priest has the duty of exercising this noble function of “communion” and where the Cardinal’s sentence reaches its full meaning:
“By vocation (i.e. by state, by reason of what he is), the priest unites and he serves in the double dimension of the pastoral function - both eschatological and ecclesiological - which is even that of Christ” (no.9).
The priest is thus very essential to the Church - it is good to state this in a time of a shortage of priests. Isn’t this a noble task! The Church has need of the priest, “the life of the Church requires the presence of the priest”, of true priests, and not of unionists... of true priests, “of the kind that are totally assimilated to Christ” (no.9) “who live in him and with him the whole of Christ’s virtues”, of true priests who “recognize in the Good Shepherd their priestly identity” (no.9) who give their life for their sheep.
A high and beautiful notion of the priesthood!
Here is what Monsignor Lefebvre has realized in his Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, at least what he wanted to realize.
The priest, minister of the word
The priest is not only “a man of communion”, he is also “a minister of the word”. This is the second idea explained in the same 9th paragraph.
This is an essential priestly function. Here we recall Saint Paul, of his Epistle to the Romans:
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus... you shall be saved... How then can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe Him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher?” (Rom. X: 9 and 14).
But the Cardinal is not content just to recall this beautiful function. He also recalls the object of sacerdotal preaching. This is not at all useless to recall, he thinks.
“The priest is a minister of the word of evangelization which invites everyone to conversion and to holiness” (no.9). Thus the priest has to announce salvation, the Gospel.
‘The priest is a minister of a cultural word which exalts the greatness of God, and gives grace by his mercy.” It is not surprising to see here this call since the Priesthood owes the signification of its relationship to the divine plan realized - in the fullness of time - in Our Lord Jesus Christ, in His sacrifice whose finality is also to give to God “all honour and all glory”. It is its latreutic finality.
It is finally “A ministry of the sacramental word which is an efficacious source of grace”.
Thus and only thus, the priest “Shall prolong the teaching of the divine Master, in the heart of his Church.” (no.9).
Who would not be joyous to hear these reminders!
The priest and priestly holiness
It is not surprising - finally - to see the Cardinal speak on priestly holiness. He discovers the reason and specifies it.
The principle: “The priest should tend toward holiness for the following motive: in view of corresponding to this new grace which has configured him to the person of Christ” (no.10).
Since he is by his very being “an alter Christus”, he has to be such in his actions. “Agere sequitur esse”. He who is like Christ has to be such in action, “has to struggle to follow in all things the example of Christ.” (no.10).
The specificity of this holiness: the Cardinal - in fact- explains this all. The priest has to struggle to follow in all things the example of the Lord, to know - in his love of the Father, that is, in the knowledge of the will of the Father. “My food is to do the will of the Father” , and in the gift of self for the flock. And it is here - in this totality - love of God and gift of self - that the priest will find the unity of his priestly life: -as Christ - worshipper of the Father and servant of his “brothers”.
The priesthood - prayer - interior life
Thus, “the growth of this unity is rooted in a pastoral charity nourished by a solid life of prayer in such a way that the priest is inseparably a witness of charity and master of interior life” (no.10).
Does all that seem utopian? Not at all. Not at all, the Cardinal tells us. The whole history of the Church demonstrates its realization and thus its possibility. How numerous they were in the Church, “pastors enflamed with the love of Christ and of pastoral Charity” (no.10), the holy Curé of Ars...
One expects that the Cardinal is now ready to launch anathemas... let it be stated clearly that in his reprobation of those priests who have become “sociologists, therapists, workers, politicians, managers, retired...as if one was not a priest in aeternum...or intermittent priests, or even of those priests who have become discouraged... he is here paternal. All these lamentable situations owe their origin to “a lack of interior life” (no.12).
And to then conclude this paragraph: “It is spirituality which decidedly proves to be the most important pastoral work” (no.11). He insists “every pastoral plan or missionary project and even with any other dynamism of evangelization which would make an abstraction of the primacy of spirituality would be doomed to failure.” (no.11).
This is what was taught to us by Monsignor Lefebvre as well!
And here follows some very beautiful paragraphs on priestly holiness.
As minister of Christ, as “minister of the Eucharist”, recalling again - yes again - how the Eucharist is the heart of a priestly life, how he has to daily celebrate it, prepare well for it and be not afraid to visit - the holy presence - in the Church. Also that churches should remain open!
As “minister of the Church”, assuring public prayer in the Church and reminding us of its obligation. “Outside of the eucharistic sacrifice, a priest also celebrates each day the holy “Liturgy of the Hours”. He has freely embraced it as a grave obligation. From the non-bloody immolation of Christ on the altar up to the celebration of the divine office in union with the whole Church, the love for the divine Pastor grows in the heart of the priest and always is more clearly manifested to the eyes of the faithful.” (no.14).
The priest and respect for the discipline of the Church
And in all his noble functions, the priest must not forget to accomplish these, to apply these within the order and the respect he must have for the discipline of the Church... especially in liturgical matters.
Concerning these liturgical matters - the liturgy is to be considered “as an exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ” (no.15) “as the sacred action par excellence” (no.15), the Cardinal becomes imperative:
“The priest will not dare, from his own initiative, add, shorten or change anything of liturgical matter, especially in the eucharistic celebration” (no.15) and to condemn every “arbitrary initiatives”, “expressions marked by subjectivity, improvisations, or disobedience in the eucharistic celebration” (no.15). All that, says the Cardinal, would constitute “so many manifest contradictions in relation to the very essence of the most holy Eucharist which is the sacrifice of Christ” (no.15).
And this respect is to be observed not only for the holy Eucharist but for all the other sacraments.
And since the circumstances - shortage of priests - desire a certain participation of the faithful in the liturgy, that each one - says the cardinal - remain however in his role so as to avoid any “confusion”, all amalgamated. The Cardinal - about the rest - will come back to this subject.
The priest - Tradition - the Magisterium
And if the priest is to respect the rules of the Church, the ecclesiastical discipline, he has to as well respect both Tradition and the Magisterium. The Cardinal makes this reminder with a sustained accent!
It is important for the priest - for the love of the Church - to be inserted into the living unity of the Church in time whose Magisterium is the guardian and guarantor. And in fact “the fecund reference to tradition confers to the ministry of the priest a solidity and objectivity of witnessing to the Truth, which has come from Christ to be revealed in history. This helps in fleeing from this desire for novelty which harms communion and which withdraws any depth and any credibility in the exercise of priestly ministry” (no.16). This is well stated.
In a word, “the priest has to be a true model of support for the perpetual Magisterium of the Church and its great discipline” (no.16).
And it is thus in this way that the parish ministry, in a particular church, will be able “to raise itself to the dimension of catholicity, of the universal Church which bases its foundation on Peter” (no.16).
This is why, you say, that it important that the priest “welcomes in a reflected and diffuse manner the Pope’s documents and the instructions of the Roman Curia, applying them faithfully” (no.17).
This is also our desire.
The proof is right here!
* * *
Here then comes the second part of the document, it being centered on “the priest and the parish.”
From its beginning and in a mode of instruction, the Cardinal informs us of his desire to present this subject in a mode of synthesis, of summary: “It is useless to resume the characteristic principles of canonical and theological doctrine in this matter.” (no.18).
The parish and the priest
As a man of precision, the Cardinal begins by giving us a definition of the parish. It is “the Communitas Christifidelium”.
“The parish is a communitas Christifidelium concrete, constituted in a stable manner in the setting of a particular church, and whose pastoral care has been confided to a parish priest, who is the pastor, under the authority of a diocesan bishop” (no.18).
It consists “of all the faithful of a specific (ecclesial) territory” (no.18). It consists of a “par diocesis”. It is like “a cell of the diocese”. It is - as such - “the essential base element of the Church and its mission” (no.18).
The “organic communion” parish
Like every society, it is an ordered society - the Cardinal is speaking about “organic Communion.”
This - organic - communion is vertically hierarchical, “made up of ordained ministers and by other Christians under the responsibility of a parish priest who, as a representative of the diocesan Bishop, is the hierarchical link with the whole particular Church.” (no.18).
It is also horizontally hierarchical in such a manner that it “underlines, the Cardinal says, the dynamic relationship between the persons who compose it in a determined manner, under the indispensable and effective leadership of a pastor” (no.18).
Concerning this “horizontal” hierarchy, the Cardinal makes himself imperative. He asks parish priests to not introduce in their governing “a form of impromptu authoritarianism”, nor “a modality of pseudo-democratic gesture” and he makes the point that this would be “forms that are absolutely foreign to the most profound reality of the ministry”. Well said!
Concerning this subject, the Cardinal recalls the famous Roman document “Ecclesia de mysterio” signed by numerous Roman prelates - to give his argument more weight no doubt - relative to the functions of priests and laity in parish life. We have appreciated - for this time - this publication which puts some order in this delicate problems and which “saves - in fact - the authority of the parish priest from the overflow of “committed” faithful...If it would only be the same in liturgical matters...! And thus the cardinal reminds everyone of “the most absolute respect for laws, duties and functions from each one with their competence and their responsibilities.” (no.18).
The parish priest has now in his hands very clear Roman texts for making order reign in the respect for competence. This is very important in the exercise of a concrete apostolate, for a future apostolate of the Saint Pius X Fraternity in the setting of diocesan parishes - which is what Monsignor Lefebvre has always wanted!
The parish and the spirit of mission
All that being happily recalled - order, hierarchy, respective functions, the cardinal recalls the “dynamic” aspect of the parish.
“This is a matter of a pars diocesis animated by a same spirit of communion, by an ordered baptismal co-responsibility, by a same liturgical life, centered on the celebration of the Eucharist and not a same spirit of mission which characterizes the whole parish community.” (no.18).
This is the parish.
It is centered on the Eucharist, on the salvific sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us not forget that the parish, like the priesthood which founds it, is inscribed - it as well - in the plan of salvation desired by God. This is a great idea - a very felicitous one - of the Cardinal. This is the beautiful introductory idea of the document: The eternal Son of God has been sent so that “the world will be saved by Him”. (Jn. III:17) (no.1). A beautiful Pauline idea. We are allowed at the start of this presentation to cite the beautiful text of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. This is the great idea of Monsignor Lefebvre who - in fact - gives us as a special reading this very same epistle to the Ephesians.
“The spirit of the Fraternity being above all that of the Church, its members... struggle to always better understand the mystery of Christ such as Saint Paul described it in his epistles and especially in the epistles to the Ephesians and to the Hebrews” (Cor Unum - ad usum privatum - article no.2 p. 54).
This said, this parish community will discover in the Eucharist “the living root of its constitution, of its growth and the sacramental bond of its being” (no.18).
This is to say that the parish priest is at the heart of parish existence since he is a man of “eucharistic sacrifice.”
The priesthood and the “cura animarum”
And since he is such, since the role of the priest is principal, the cardinal wants to clarify this. And here yet, he does this by recalling forth two times the teaching of the Council of Trent.
The parish priest, he says, has a pastoral care, that is, the care of souls, “the cura animarum” (no.19). He cites the Council of Trent in its session 24 of November 11 1563, Canon 18. This is note 72 of the document.
This is so new and felicitous that it needs to be quoted.
72) Cf Eucum. Counc. of Trent session XXIV (November 11, 1563) can. 18; Eucum. Counc. Vat. II, Eucum. Christus Dominus no.30: In a special way, parish priests are co-operators of the bishop: it is to them that has been confided, in the quality of ordinary pastors, the care of souls in a determined part of the diocese under the authority of the Bishop.”
The Cardinal also clarifies this notion of “cura animarum”.
This “cura animarum” is manifested by the “preaching of the word of God - by the administration of the sacraments and by the pastoral leadership of the community” (no.19).
The Cardinal reminds us - timely no doubt! - that this task of the cura animarum is the specific role of the priest.
“To accomplish the mission of pastors in a parish, which includes the plenary care of souls, it is absolutely necessary to exercise sacramental orders” (no.20).
He insists even heavily on this affirmation - for us, this is evident.
“Consequently, besides ecclesial communion, the explicit condition required by Canon law in order that someone be validly a parish priest is that he belongs to the holy orders of the presbyterium.” (no.20) And to offer as a note - for the parish priest who would have need of this facing the untimely zeal of some good ladies - the canons relative to this: Canons 150-149 & 1-521 & 1.
This being said and well said - and he says it and repeats it - This is good because it is necessary to say it and to repeat it - the Cardinal is going to specify- here again - each one of the functions of the “cura animarum.”
The priest and his function of preacher
The Cardinal insists on this function. This is an important function, usually reserved to a single priest. The cardinal leans on the text of John XXIII : “Sacerdoti nostri primordia” and he just takes the passage where John XXIII invokes the authority of Saint Pius X: “Said at the right moment, it mattered to Saint Pius X to put into relief and with insistence this essential point: no matter what a priest is doing, he has not a more important task, and does not hold any more stricter obligation.” (no.20).
This is strong!
The priest and the “potestas sanctificandi”
And it is then that the Cardinal insists again on the holy Eucharist.
“Regarding the ordinary means of sanctification, Canon 528 establishes that the parish priest should particularly struggle so much so that the Most holy Eucharist truly constitutes the centre of the parish community” (no.21).
“Like the spiritual heart of the religious and parish community. Deprived of Eucharistic worship as of its beating heart, the parish becomes lifeless.” (no.21).
And to quote a pontiff who is dear to us, Pope Pius XII - yes, Pope Pius XII.
“If you desire that the faithful pray with devotion - said Pius XII to the clergy of Rome - give them yourselves firstly the example of the Church, praying in their presence. A priest kneeling before the tabernacle... is for the people a subject of edification...” (no.21).
The Cardinal equally recalls the necessity of confession, of the sacrament of penance. This is almost the whole of number 21. It shows the importance the Cardinal also attaches to this sacrament. And here, take note, he makes no allusion to “collective” confession which has destroyed the practice of confession... on the contrary, he particularly encourages “individual confession.”
“The parish priests need to reserve a particular care for individual confession in the spirit and the form established by the Church” (no.21).
He even encourages a return of the “confessional” recalling that the parish priest - he also - can prefer this manner.
“The confessor can - as well - have pastoral reasons for preferring the use of a confessional supplied with a grill.” (no.21).
The pastoral function
Regarding pastoral function, the third task of the “cura animarum”, the Cardinal clarifies what the parish priest should do:
- apply himself to “know the faithful”
- banish any spirit of “functionalism”
- launch the faithful into the apostolate
- and often to cultivate priestly vocations. How so? By launching a true pastoral of vocations, but especially, especially by developing closely “feelings of genuine affection and profound esteem, of strong enthusiasm for the reality of what the church is, spouse of Christ, collaborator of the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation... all that helps much in making priestly vocations flourish more easily” (no.22).
The priest and lay persons in the exercise of parish pastoral duties
If however, by the effects of shortage of priests, one is obliged to make an appeal for the collaboration of priests - there could exist - in fact - “some situations that are objectively extraordinary” - (no.23) - I am pleased with this expression from the Cardinal’s hand... These are then situations that are objectively possible... he reminds that while this recourse has to be “exceptional and temporary”, depending on ecclesiastical authority and according to the norms of law, in all way “the exercise of these duties does not make a faithful lay-person a pastor.”
And the reason is given.
“What constitutes the minister is not the activity itself, but sacramental ordination” (no.24).
And a reminder of the essence of the priesthood.
“Only the sacrament of Orders confers to the ordained minister a particular participation to the office of Christ-Head and Pastor and to his eternal priesthood; the supplementary exercised duty draws its legitimacy both formerly and immediately from an official delegation received from pastors and its concrete exercise is regulated by ecclesiastical authority.”(no.24).
Thus these extreme situations should make the heart of the faithful increase in prayers so as to obtain holy priests.
The parish priest and parish pastoral counsel
In the exercise of this cura animarum, it will be equally very good - as the Church has foreseen - To have recourse to the help or support of a parish pastoral counsel.
This is a necessity. Its finality is clarified by the Cardinal.
“Its fundamental finality is to serve in an institutional framework, the ordered collaboration of the faithful, in the development of pastoral activity.” (no.26).
However, the Cardinal does not omit to remind one - here as well - of its “consultative” and “subordinated” character. He writes:
“The pastoral counsel belongs to the context of relations of mutual service between the parish priest and his faithful, for it would not make sense to consider it as an organism which would replace the priest in directing his parish or which, adopting the criteria of the majority, would condition some part of the role of the priest” (no.26).
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We arrive at the end of this long document. As a long conclusion, the Cardinal calls the priest to holiness. That he watches over his personal holiness as well as the flock entrusted to him. This is, the Cardinal says, the pastoral work par excellence.
“Guide the faithful toward a solid interior life on the base of the principles of the Christian doctrine such as they have been lived and taught by the saints. This is, by far, the most important pastoral work.” (no.27).
That this be said.
It is the holiness of priests which is first. “Without truly holy priests, it would be very difficult to have a good laity and all would be ruined.” (no.27).
“More than ever, it is necessary to rediscover how prayer, sacramental life, meditation silent adoration, a heart-to-heart with Our Lord Jesus Christ, the daily exercise of virtues which conforms us to him are much more productive than any discussion.” (no.27).
“...We need to recall that the soul of any apostolate is rooted in a divine intimacy, in the fact of never placing anything above the love of Christ and in all things to seek the greater glory of God, to live the Christocentric dynamic of Marian expression: Totus tuus.” (no.28).
Here is a most felicitous doctrinal appeal and on the priesthood and its apostolate.
This appeal, no doubt, was written with “affection”, paternity, and a great pastoral experience.
Eminence, what you said about the priesthood and its apostolate, Monsignor Lefebvre said as well and taught this.
It you so desire, we are at your disposition! Without condition!
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