Presentation: Priest, Pastor and Leader of Parish Community

Author: Cardinal Castillón Hoyos


Cardinal Castillón Hoyos

Parish priest makes Christ present as Head of the Church

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 InstructionThe Priest, Pastor andLeader of the ParishCommunity.

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 parishes.

Two Parts

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 present challenges.

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 with him.

Doctrinal Section: priest makes Christ the Head of the community present everywhere

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 personaChristi 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.

Parish priest

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 the street.

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.

Pastoral Governance

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 respectable structures.

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 demysterio", 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!  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
15 January 2003, page 5

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