Parish priest makes Christ present as Head of
On Friday, 18 October 2002, at a press conference in the Sala Stampa,
Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the
Clergy, and Archbishop Csaba Ternyák, Secretary of the Congregation
presented the Instruction The Priest,
Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community.
The Cardinal explained that "in the face of the challenges to
pastoral activity in the new millennium, a new approach to the nature
and mission of the ministerial priesthood has become a priority.... The
main goal of the Instruction, is to highlight the office of the parish
priest (or pastor), the sacramental leader in the parish who animates
and leads the faithful of the parish towards Christ, the Way to the
Father". The Instruction has two parts: a doctrinal section that
brings together teaching from the Second Vatican Council and recent
documents, and a section on the pastoral ministry itself as it is lived
in the parish.
1. The document we are presenting today, entitled "The
Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community. Instruction"
is a dynamic follow-up to other important documents: the Directory
for the Ministry and Life of Priests (1994), the Instruction
drawn up by 8 Congregations with the specific approval of the Holy
Father, entitled Ecclesiae de mysterio (ORE 19 November
1997, Special Insert), addressing the collaboration of the laity in the
ministry of priests, and the Congregation's Circular Letter to priests
entitled, The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium: Teacher of
the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community, (ORE,
21 July 1999, Special Insert) published on the occasion of the Great
Jubilee. Naturally, all these documents refer to the Conciliar decree on
the priesthood, Presbyterorum ordinis, and to the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis.
In the face of the challenges to pastoral activity in the new
millennium, a new approach to the nature and mission of the ministerial
priesthood has become a priority.
Irreplaceable Pastoral Mission
2. The document, an Instruction, could be described as a
re-presentation and a timely examination of the doctrine of the Second
Vatican Council on the life and ministry of priests, called to be
pastors and leaders of parish communities. On the theme, there is a rich
tradition which moves from the IV Lateran Council, to the Council of
Trent and on to the Second Vatican Council.
For the community and the people, the main goal of the Instruction,
is to highlight the office of the parish priest (or pastor), the
sacramental leader in the parish who animates and leads the faithful of
the parish towards Christ, the Way to the Father.
Our wish is to help parish priests to live their pastoral duties
better, to collaborate fruitfully for the good of the community and
ensure that it has a clearer understanding of the irreplaceable role of
its parish priest. In the light of the Papal Magisterium, the focus is
on the priest's place in the parish, the principal missionary objectives
for the parish, the most suitable methodology for his work and the
necessary means for the endeavours of sacred ministers in their
The document has a first doctrinal section, a compendium of the
subject we want to reaffirm as we present it in a new way required by
It was only right and proper to dedicate a document specifically to
the parish priest, and by analogy, to all priests who in other apostolic
activities can be equated with him, and even to those who collaborate
Doctrinal Section: priest makes Christ the Head of the community
3. The parish priest among his faithful is the presence of the
historical Christ. We have to stress his configuration to Christ the
Priest, since a priest is empowered to act "in persona Christi
Capitis", in the person of Christ the Head.
The parish priest must be an expert in the "sensus Ecclesiae",
the sense of Church. He is the man of communion, with the particular
Church and with the universal Church. He must therefore be a model of
faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church, and truly feel that he is
the father of the community and of the individual members who make it
up. Indeed, he is a genuine guide of souls. In the vocations crisis
today, young people's spiritual direction is more than ever a
"theological place" for a vocational orientation.
The parish priest is a priest who is consecrated for a full-time
mission, and from this consecration stems his fatherly dedication to the
whole parish family.
Since the post-war period, a variety of priestly activities have been
singled out for the notice of public opinion: from the sociologist to
the therapist, the worker, the "pensioner" who, in some
places, retires not only from office but even from the ministry.
The identity of the priest is quite different. It should be
recognized in the pastoral grace that derives from the reception of
Orders. Therefore the parish priest—and
priests in general—must be involved in all
that concerns the spread of Christ's Kingdom, and, consequently, the
eternal salvation of souls. He must do many things that are directly or
indirectly connected with this goal. In certain circumstances he has to
do them as a substitute, but, essentially, he must be able to do
everything always as a priest, as St John Bosco said: a priest at the
altar, a priest in the confessional, a priest in the school, a priest in
He must be recognized by his way of being; it must be possible to
distinguish him by the way he acts, by his way of expressing himself, by
his lifestyle, by the way he presents himself, even by his appearance.
Indeed, this is a consecration that absorbs the whole man forever, and
not just a profession that can deeply involve the person but remains
external to him.
One does not "act" as a priest, one "is" a
priest! The implications are easy to perceive. Then one can accept the
logic of the evangelical absolutes that shape it, the ecclesiastical
discipline and everything else.
The parish priest is the priest whom everyone meets in life. Indeed,
he lives very close to the people, in the heart of the neighbourhood, in
contact with everyday problems and with all human categories, young
people and adults, children and the elderly, between church, home, work
place, recreation, places of suffering; it is he who visits, with the
same warmth, both wealthy villas and shacks and huts. With the
sacraments of Christian initiation, he is beside new-born life and
children as they grow up, just as he is with married couples or
vocations and, finally, with the dying. He is always ready to bring the
word of truth, to kindle and develop sacramental life, to be the
instrument of the Lord's merciful love.
Parish as centre of life in the Church
4. The presence of parish priests—the
priceless treasure of the Church—is so
widespread that it covers practically the entire surface of the world.
The vitality of the Church is mainly—but
not only—to be found in the parish, and it
is in the parish that it is normally present. Therefore, in the parish
complex even though very modest and isolated, lies the great hope of the
future, both of the new evangelization and of the consequent work for
peace and the genuine unity of the human race.
As is clear, I refer to the parish in which the parish priest is open
to the genuine creativity of the Holy Spirit, who, among other things,
is also revealed in the many ways in which the parish comes together. I
also think of the associations, movements, confraternities, of the
different kinds of groups; all complementary realities, never exclusive,
but which, encouraged and intelligently coordinated by the parish
priest, can constitute an impressive resource for the missionary task of
the new evangelization. They are special gifts, and the parish priest
should appreciate them and help them collaborate.
5. The Instruction can appropriately help to ensure that the
ministry of the parish priest as leader of the community and his
specific role of pastoral governance, does not disappear or is not
diluted among other structures that would like to take over or, in fact,
have taken his place as leader, even though they may be valid and
In situations where clergy are scarce, all possible solutions can be
applied as long as they are in conformity with canon law, clearly
explained in the directives of the Instruction "Ecclesiae de
mysterio", keeping in mind that the priest or parish priest
is not merely the "coordinator" or "animator" of
charisms but is the real "pastor", since this title cannot
actually be given to anyone else. He makes the Bishop's fatherhood felt
by that section of people.
The non-ordained faithful may be far more educated, capable, even
better speakers than the priest who serves the parish, but the backbone
that supports the Body of the Church is not "managerial" but
indeed mystical and sacramental.
This is an opportunity to express affection and admiration to parish
priests throughout the world for their work in building the Kingdom!