Our Holy Father has recently announced a Jubilee Year “for the interior renewal of men.” In due time the Bishops of the Philippines will make known the concrete steps to be taken for the Year’s implementation. Renewal is a constant need of our Church and of all its members.1 However the call of the Holy Father may be considered in a special way directed to priests since they, because of their eminent position in the Church, should lead the way.
It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of priests in the Church. It is true that the Bishop stands at the head of the diocese and carries, under the Sovereign Pontiff, full authority and responsibility for its spiritual welfare. But in the practical order the life of the Church is largely energized by its priests. They are an extension of the Bishop; only through them can he generally be present to most of his faithful. As the Bishop is the sign of Christ in the diocese, the priest may be said to be the sign of their Bishop. 2
Bishops are the first to recognize the indispensable role of the priests. They are sensitive to the admonition of the Second Vatican Council that they should show special love for their priests “since they assume in part the Bishop’s duties and cares, and carry the weight of them day by day so zealously.”3
The Bishops of the Philippines, well aware of this singular contribution to the work of God in this nation, wish to make public acknowledgment of it, and to express their desire to continue assisting their priests in their personal and ministerial needs, and to help them towards a holy, zealous and fruitful ministry. They wish also to promote among them and with them charity, union and understanding, and it is for this reason that they approve of those priests’ associations which contribute thereto. The bishops’ concern for the welfare of their priests has further found expression in the establishement of an insurance plan on a national scale which will provide security in addition to that already assured in diocesan security projects.
Since priests are in effect the head of the Mystical Body in the area of the Church they cultivate, they must be like that head whom they represent, Christ. This is the first duty incumbent on the priests. The Second Vatican Council says: “By the Sacrament of Orders priests are configured to Christ… so that as ministers of the head and co-workers of the Episcopal order they can build up and establish His whole body which is the Church… Despite human weakness they can and must pursue perfection according to the Lord’s words. ‘You therefore are to be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.’4 Priests are bound in a special way to pursue this perfection.5
And the first thing they will strive to imitate in Christ is His uninterrupted union with His Father. How impressive are the words of St. Luke: “Jesus would always go off to some place where he could be alone and pray.”6
It seems to be a regrettable fact of our time that some priests are praying less. Our present Holy Father has lamented: “We have the impression nowadays that even well-meaning men, even the faithful, even those who are consecrated to the Lord pray less than was once usual.”7
The Divine Office, now known as the Liturgy of the Hours, has always been considered, with the Mass, the priests’ prayer par excellence . In it they are especially conscious of their role as a leader of the Mystical Body. Unfortunately, there has been noted in recent years a certain neglect of this obligation. And yet “what we call ‘the Divine Office’ is the prayer of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ which is offered to God in the name of all, and for the benefit of all, when it is performed by priests and other ministers of the Church.”8
The Church has had occasion recently to reiterate the obligation which priests have to say their Office everyday. But this prayer is not important so much because of this obligation; rather it is obligatory because it is important. Surely priests who recall that they are praying for the Church, that the Office is largely composed of prayers which our Saviour Himself often said, and which holy men of the Old Testament and millions of saintly priests and religious since Christ have employed, will feel joy to be a part of this hallowed uninterrupted voice of the Church.
Similarly the priest will treasure his daily Mass as a unique channel of communication with God. Even when he is not urged thereto by the needs of the faithful entrusted to his care, he will celebrate Mass because it is in the Mass especially that he continues the work of Christ. “Priests fulfill their chief duty in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In it the work of our Redemption continues to be carried on. For this reason priests are strongly urged to celebrate Mass everyday, for, even if the faithful are unable to be present, it is an act of Christ and the Church.”9
Finally the priests will derive great spiritual fruit from retreats and days of recollection, which, the Second Vatican Council says, “they should undertake gladly.”10 These exercises not only afford indispensable spiritual renewal but are also excellent occasions for fraternal meetings with fellow priests and thus of increased charity and unity.
Priests will also imitate Christ in their zeal to bring supernatural life to men. Though priests are laudably involved in social and political improvements, their vocation is first to the spread of the Kingdom of God. Christ said that He came that men might have life, which life He identified as knowing Him and the Father.11 “The central work of the priesthood of Jesus Christ is the work of religion–bringing God’s word and His Sacraments to man and reconciling man to God. This must in every case remain the primary emphasis of our work.” 12
Their zeal will not be limited to the confines of parish or diocese or country, but will embrace the whole People of God and in fact all men. While it is true that their immediate personal effort normally will be completely taken up by their own local ministries, nevertheless they should by their prayers and holy interest transcend these boundaries and manifest zeal for all concerns of the Church.
Especially they will be alert to discover and encourage vocations to the priesthood among our young men and thus to provide worthy successors for themselves in the vineyard of the Lord. The stimulus for this will come from the experience of their own joy in the priesthood, which will make them eager to share it with others: “How good Yahweh is; only taste and see”13. This same joy manifest in their whole conduct will at the same time be a powerful argument to win those young men whom God’s grace has touched.
The zeal of our priests will move them to exert every effort to bring men to frequent attendance at Mass and reception of the Sacraments. They should stress the importance of the Sunday Mass obligation, which is the center of Catholic life. Catholics who stay away from Sunday Mass or even who, going to Mass, do not receive Communion will not long retain any serious interest in Christ and His Kingdom. This is the road to “nominal” Catholicity.
In our time a notable decrease in the number of people going to confession has been observed. As far as this is due to a disinclination of priests to engage in this onerous ministry it is very regrettable, and the Vatican Council has alluded to the defect. “Priests should show themselves entirely and always ready to perform the office of the Sacrament of Penance as often as the faithful reasonably request it.”14 The practice of frequent confession, including the Confession of devotion, is not only reasonable but highly esteemed in the Church. Priests themselves are urged by the Vatican Council to “the repeated sacramental act of penance.”15 as a means of holiness; surely it is not less so for the souls entrusted to them.
“Priests of the New Testament exercise the most excellent and necessary office of father and teacher among the People of God and for them.”16 They should therefore be zealous to preach well-prepared sermons on the treasures of the Bible, the mysteries of our faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life.17 Though the world has many pressing needs and though priests are rightly concerned with them, the sermon is not the occasion for merely social or political discussions.
Moreover, priests should in their preaching office abstain from controversial topics which rather stimulate curiosity than provide spiritual nourishment. This is not to deny the importance of efforts to reach a deeper knowledge of our faith by study, discussion and re-examination, but these efforts are for the lecture hall and the learned journal and not for general preaching, where because of the brevity of time and the uneven preparation of the audience they are more likely to produce harm than profit. What our people need is a clear, simple, precise formulation of the doctrines of our faith, sensitive always to the guidance of our Holy Father and the respective Bishops.
At times one hears of the pulpit being used to air singular speculations which are little in harmony with traditional and universal doctrine. Priests who misuse their sacred office in this fashion should heed the warning of the prophet Ezechiel: “I am going to call the shepherd to account… I shall rescue my sheep from them; they will not prey on them anymore.”18
If priests in their sermons and other ministries are to be fruitful to contemporary Catholics, they cannot rest content with the knowledge they received in the seminary. They must continue to grow by attendance at seminars, reading of ecclesiastical periodicals, etc., in order to be able to instruct the faithful on the most recent teachings of the Magisterium and on the explanation of responsible theologians. At the same time they will be enabled to protect the faithful against errors that might be circulating with respect to the faith, and learn themselves to avoid positions in conflict with Catholic doctrine and practice.
In our day when the Church never tires of urging the liturgy, a priest will show his pastoral zeal especially by fostering a liturgical life. However as the Second Vatican Council warns “it is necessary that the faithful come to the liturgy with the proper disposition.”19 They must “take part knowingly, actively and fruitfully”20; and be persuaded that however excellent other aspects of their Catholic life may be “every liturgical celebration is a sacred action surpassing all others.”21 The Church is most fully the Church when gathered around the altar; there the “sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their goal, are most powerfully achieved.”22
As it is proposed in our day, the liturgy possesses a variety and flexibility which are calculated to make it attractive and very fruitful for the faithful. Nevertheless the liturgy always remains public prayer and is governed by those who govern the Church. “Absolutely no other person, not even a priest may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”23
We live in a time when many changes are being suggested for the liturgy. In this matter the Church is proceeding wisely and with an open mind. Individual priests should neither presume to go against the regulations of the Church nor to anticipate them. Thus in the matter of Masses in private homes, eucharistic prayers, the manner and minister of Holy Communion, liturgical vestments, general absolution, priests should not usurp the function of the ecclesiastical authorities and, in effect, constitute a private liturgy (which is a contradiction in terms).
One of the most powerful sermons is good example: “They should remember that by their daily life and interests they are showing the face of a truly priestly and pastoral ministry to the faithful.”24 People are edified whose deportment reflects the sublimity of their vocation. They are not edified when they see priests indulging strange whims in garb and general demeanor. The faithful note that the legal, medical and academic professions, and the business world on the whole, are soberly groomed. They are disconcerted when they fail to find a similar sobriety in their priests. Priests should dress as ordained by the Conference of Bishops of 1968, the prescriptions of which were confirmed by the Holy See. Religious superiors are reminded that in this they and their subjects must abide by the CBCP regulations.
Moreover priests at times frequent places and amusements that are out of harmony with a profession of Christian virtue. Catholic people expect something better from their priests, even people who themselves may not be very proper in their own conduct.
The Bishops are charged with the obligation of making decisions about the conduct of their priests. Their rulings are arrived at after careful thought. Obviously, as in other human affairs, there can be difference of opinion, individuals may not agree with their bishops. But it is the nature of society that subjects must submit to the provisions of legitimate authority. In the case of the Church this demand is not merely the conclusion of a philosophical principle, but a postulate of religion, since authority in the Church speaks for Christ himself.
Much is being said in our times about the inability of some priests to find their identity. “The purpose which priests pursue by their ministry and life is the glory of God the Father, as it is achieved in Christ. The glory consists in this: that men knowingly, freely and gratefully accept what God has achieved perfectly through Christ and manifest it in their whole life.”25 The priests’ work is Christ’s work namely, spreading the Kingdom of God which is the life of supernatural grace. This is the priests’ identity. Everything else, however laudable, is secondary to this. The much discussed crisis of the priesthood is a crisis of faith. Therefore, some priests who seem to have lost their sense of the supernatural, of the spiritual values contained and transmitted in the Church, in Mass and Communion, in Baptism and Confession, in prayer and penance, may no longer fully recognize these as channels of the life of God to men.
It seems that the exhortation of the Vatican Council to go to the world has in some cases been interpreted to mean that Catholics and priests should accept the values of the world as absolutes. The appeal of social and political development has become so strong that instead of being integrated into the supernatural, it has replaced it. Therefore, the urgent need of the priests to which we add our exhortation, is a return and revival of the supernatural in their lives, a return to Sacred Scripture and evangelical conduct, a return to prayer and leadership of the flock of Christ in the life of Christ.
The Second Vatican Council summed up the nature of the priesthood beautifully: “By sacred ordination and by the mission they receive from their bishops, priests are promoted to the service of Christ, the Teacher, the priest and the King. They share in His ministry of unceasingly building up the Church on earth into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.”26
Given on Pentecost Sunday, June 10, 1973, the beginning of the Holy Year 1975 celebration proclaimed by Pope Paul VI.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+TEOPISTO V. ALBERTO,D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
1 Decr. on Ecumenism, 6; Abbott, p. 350.
2 Introd. to the Decr. on the Priestly Ministry by Bp. Guilford C. Young. W. M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 527-528.
3 Decr. on the Bishop’s Pastoral Office in the Church. 16; Abbott, p. 408.
4 Matt. 4, 48.
5 Decr. on the Ministry and Life of Priests. Second Vatican Council, 12, Abbott, pp. 557-558.
6 Luke, 5, 16
7 Paul VI, Documentation Catholique, Sept. 7, 1969, p. 757.
8 Mediator Dei, p. 164.
9 Decr. on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 13; Abbott, pp. 560-561
10 Decr. on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 18; Abbott, p. 570.
11 John, 10, 10; 17, 3.
12 Cardinal Cooke to the Priests of the NY Archdiocese, Dec. 5, 1972.
13 Psalm, 38, 8.
14 Ministry and Life of Priests, 13; Abbott, 561.
15 Ibid. 18; ibid. 570.
16 Ibid. 19; ibid. 552.
17 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 51 and 52; Abbott, 155.
18 Ezech. 34, 10.
19 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 11; Part I; Abbott, 143.
21 Ibid. 7; Abbott, 141.
22 Ibid. 10; Abbott, 142-143
23 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 22; Abbott, 146.
24 Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, 28; Abbott, 55.
25 Ministry and Life of Priests, 2; Abbott, 536.
26 Ibid. 1; Ibid. 533.
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