Presentation: Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community

Author: Archbishop Csaba Ternyák


Archbishop Csaba Ternyák

Clarify the understanding of priestly identity

At the press conference, held on 18 October 2002, Archbishop Csaba Ternyák, Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, spoke about the way the document was organized into two sections, a presentation of the principles and then the pastoral application. The Secretary pointed out the persistent need in some parts of the world to understand better the essential distinction between the royal priesthood of the baptized and the priesthood of the ordained. The explicit aim is to emphasize the parish priest's sacramental leadership in the parish. This constitutes a firm foundation for lay generosity and collaboration. Archbishop Ternyák also begged patience for repeating what can seem to be obvious pastoral directions in many places, that in other places can be under dispute. He explained the difference between a Directory and an Instruction. An Instruction does not impart new norms, but aims to clarify and support the application of existing norms. We offer a translation of the key sections of Archbishop Ternyák's presentation.

1) In the work of drafting the document: The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community, an effort has once again been made to offer for priests' reflection the fundamental theological values, sometimes obscured, that motivate a priest to do the work of the evangelizing mission. Much was done to highlight the relationship between the pneumatic-ecclesiological dimension, which explains the essence of the priest's sacred ministry, and the ecclesiological dimension, which helps people understand the importance of his special office in the Church.

Central theme: essential distinction between priesthood of the baptized and that of the ordained

We had to examine the confusion regarding priestly identity with its sacramental foundation and the pastoral abuses that result from such confusion. We also received so many requests for clarification that it became necessary to set out a doctrinal section that would respond to thewidespread request for making clear again the essential distinction between the baptismal and the ordained priesthood.

2) Since the majority of these pastoral abuses are restricted to several particular ecclesial regions, in the Instruction the Congregation has tried to respond in a realistic and constructive perspective. The ease of communication and exchange today—as we know from experience—along with the spread of good ideas, can permit the rapid "export" of ideas and practices which are, pastorally harmful. Thus some people may say that the Instruction does not in any way concern them, but our common pastoral responsibility requires us to inspire and to carry on the work of prevention. In bringing to bear a variety of experiences from around the world, the Plenary Assembly certainly contributed to broaden the scope and foster a stronger missionary orientation.

3) Perhaps, after scanning some parts of the text, some may say that we are presenting the obvious (for example, the parish priest has the responsibility of taking care of the confession of the children who are being prepared for their First Communion). In this regard, I would like to say that people often raise this objection to documents of the Holy See, because people forget that Rome has to keep in mind the situation everywhere, and what can seem obvious in one part of the world may not always be so in another place. The need to be of service to all is the reason for certain editorial choices.

An Instruction

4) With regard to the nature of the document, it is an Instruction. An instruction does not impart new norms but aims to clarify and encourage the implementation of the existing norms.

In general, for priests, as you know, since Holy Thursday 1994, the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests has been in force. A directory is a summary of the existing norms presented as a set of basic guiding principles. The Directory and the Instruction are meant to complement each other.

Today, priests have received the relevant summaries that serve as authoritative guides for their life and ministerial activity. As a result, it is important to see that these texts be universally published, examined, promoted and applied. They should also be a substantial part of every programme for the continuing formation of the clergy, that has to follow-up on the formation that priests receive before ordination.

5) Reading over the document, one can perceive a common theme that is the explicit aim of the Instruction: to emphasize the "sacramental leadership" that belongs to the parish priest. This does not in the least mean that the Congregation does not appreciate the active and generous contribution of the laity to the parish community. It is most appropriate to promote such involvement within the clear recognition of the priestly identity. The more clearly the parish recognizes the priest's identity, the more the laity can exercise their specific pastoral co-ministry.

Urgent pastoral problem

Some are bound to remark that the documents that Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos mentioned, namely, the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, the Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio, the Circular Letter The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium:Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community have dealt with the subject. I must say that, since pastoral problems continue to exist, it seems pastorally helpful to reaffirm the teaching but this time from a different angle.

6) Finally, the document that we now present, is also an act of homage and gratitude to the parish priests of the world who silently and faithfully go about their ministry with all its problems, misunderstandings and humiliations.

The Congregation wants to show its great appreciation to all the priests who are involved in the care of souls and to encourage them to be an image of the Good Shepherd for the people to whom they have been sent by obedience to their superiors.

The Lord has taught us there is more joy in giving than in receiving and I certainly hope that parish priests and all their collaborators may experience the great joy of the Lord.  

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

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