New Instruction Highlights Identity of Parish Priest

Document Emphasizes Pastor as Sacramental Leader

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 18, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican published a new document aimed at highlighting the identity of priests as sacramental leaders and helping them live their mission.

“The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community” was published today by the Congregation for the Clergy. The prefect of the dicastery, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, presented it at the Vatican Press Office.

“The principal objective of this Instruction is to highlight the identity of the pastor as sacramental leader, who from the parish encourages and leads the faithful to Christ, the Way to the Father,” the cardinal explained.

The document, or instruction, seeks to help parish priests “to live their pastoral tasks better and to collaborate fruitfully for the good of the community, in such a way that the latter will […] discover the irreplaceable importance of the parish priest himself,” he said.

The document begins by publishing John Paul II’s address to the participants in the Nov. 23, 2001, plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, which focused on the sacramental figure of the parish priest.

The first part of the instruction addresses the subject of the royal priesthood and the ordained priesthood; the key elements of the ministry; and the life of priests.

According to Cardinal Castrillón, this part of the instruction, which is doctrinal, emphasizes that the parish priest is “the man of communion, with the particular Church and the universal Church. Hence, he must be a model of adherence to the magisterium of the Church and truly feel himself father of the community and of each one of its members. He is an authentic leader of souls.”

“He does not ‘practice’ being a priest; he ‘is’ a priest!” the cardinal said, explaining that over the past 50 years a distorted image of the priest has emerged, which “ranges from the sociologist to the therapist, from the politician to the manager. It has even led to the idea of the ‘retired’ priest.”

The second part of the document touches upon the positive challenges of parish pastoral care, and states that the “widespread secularized” culture “tends to classify the priest with its own categories of thought, stripping him of his fundamental mystery-sacramental dimension.”

The document ends with a “Prayer of the Parish Priest to Mary Most Holy.”

Cardinal Castrillón explained that the instruction is given to protect “the ministry of the parish priest as leader of the community and his specific function of pastoral governance,” so that the latter might “not disappear or be so denatured amid other structures … even if these structures are valid and respectable.”

The instruction continues with a series of documents of the Congregation for the Clergy, such as the “Directory for the Ministry and the Life of Priests” (1994), the instruction “Ecclesiae de Mysterio” (1997) and the letter “The Priest, Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments, Leader of the Community in View of the Third Christian Millennium published on the occasion of the Great Jubilee.”

At the end of the press conference, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, explained that the document also renders “homage to the numerous parish priests throughout the world who carry out their ministry silently and faithfully, despite difficulties, misunderstandings and humiliations.”

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