Benedict XVI's Address to Clergy Congregation

«The Missionary Identity of the Priest in the Church»

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2009 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Monday upon receiving in audience participants of the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Clergy.
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Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood
I am happy to be able to receive you in special audience, on the eve of my departure for Africa, where I will go to hand over the «instrumentum laboris» of the Second Special Assembly of the Synod for Africa, which will take place here in Rome next October. I thank the prefect of the congregation, lord cardinal Cláudio Hummes, for the affable expressions with which he interpreted the sentiments of all. With him I greet all of you, superiors, officials and members of the congregation, with a grateful spirit for all the work you carry out in the service of such an important sector in the life of the Church.
The topic you have chosen for this plenary assembly — «The Missionary Identity of the Priest in the Church, as Intrinsic Dimension of the Exercise of the ‘Tria Munera'» — allows for some reflections for the work of these days and for the abundant fruits that it will certainly bring. If the entire Church is missionary and if every Christian, by virtue of baptism and Confirmation, receives quasi ex officio (cf. CCC, 1305) the mandate to profess the faith publicly, the ministerial priesthood also from this point of view is distinguished ontologically, and not only by degree, from baptismal priesthood, called also common priesthood. Constitutive of the first, in fact, is the apostolic mandate: «Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation» (Mark 16:15). We know that this mandate is not a simple charge entrusted to his collaborators; its roots are deeper and must be sought much further afield.
The missionary dimension of the priest is born from his sacramental configuration to Christ the Head: this brings with it, as a consequence, a cordial and total adherence to that which the ecclesial tradition has recognized as the «apostolica vivendi» forma. The latter consists of participation in a «new life» understood spiritually, in that «new style of life» that was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and which was made their own by the Apostles. By the imposition of the bishop’s hands and the consecrating prayer of the Church, the candidates become new men, they become «priests.» In light of this it seems clear how the «tria munera» are in the first place a gift, and only as a consequence an office, participation in a life and because of this «a potestas.» Certainly, the great ecclesial tradition has justly detached the sacramental efficacy of the concrete existential situation of the priest, and thus the legitimate expectations of the faithful are adequately safeguarded. However, this correct doctrinal precision does not take anything way from the necessary, more than that, the indispensable, tension to moral perfection, which should dwell in every genuinely priestly heart.
Precisely to foster this tension of priests toward spiritual perfection, on which, above all, the efficacy of their ministry depends, I have decided to convoke a «Priestly Year,» which will run from next June 19, 2009, to June 19, 2010. Being celebrated, in fact, is the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the Cure of Ars, true example of pastor at the service of Christ’s flock. It will be your task, congregation, in accordance with the diocesan ordinaries and the superiors of religious Institutes, to promote and coordinate the different spiritual and pastoral initiatives that seem useful to make the role and the mission of the priest in the Church and in contemporary society increasingly perceived.
As the topic of the Plenary Assembly shows, the mission of the priest is carried out «in the Church.» Such an ecclesial, communional, hierarchical and doctrinal dimension is absolutely indispensable for any genuine mission and, on its own, guarantees its spiritual efficacy. The four aspects mentioned must always be recognized as profoundly related: the mission is «ecclesial» because no one priest proclaims or takes himself, rather within and through his own humanity, every priest must be very conscious of taking another, God himself, to the world. God is the only richness that, in the end, men wish to find in a priest. The mission is «communial» because it takes place in a unity and communion that only in a secondary way also has relevant aspects of social visibility. Moreover, these derive essentially from that divine intimacy of which the priest is called to be expert, to be able to lead, with humility and confidence, the souls entrusted to him to the encounter itself with the Lord. Finally the «hierarchical» and «doctrinal» dimensions suggest reaffirming the importance of ecclesiastical discipline (the term is joined to «disciple») and of doctrinal formation, and not only theological, initial and permanent.
Awareness of the radical social changes of the last decades should move the best ecclesial energies to take care of the formation of candidates to the ministry. In particular, it should stimulate the constant solicitude of pastors toward their first collaborators, either by cultivating truly paternal human relations, or being concerned for their permanent formation, above all in the doctrinal aspect. In a special way the mission has its roots in a good formation, carried out in communion with the uninterrupted ecclesial Tradition, free of ruptures and temptations to discontinuity. In this connection, it is important to foster in priests, above all in the young generations, a correct perception of the texts of the Second Vatican Council, interpreted in the light of all the doctrinal baggage of the Church. It also seems urgent to recover that consciousness that drives priests to be present, identifiable and recognizable both by the judgment of faith, or by personal virtues, or also by their dress, in the realms of culture and charity, ever at the heart of the mission of the Church.
As Church and as priests we proclaim Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ, crucified and resurrected, sovereign of time and history, in the joyful certainty that this truth coincides with the profoundest hopes of the human heart. In the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, namely, in the fact that God became a man like us, is both the content as well as the method of the Christian proclamation. The mission has here its propellant center: precisely in Jesus Christ. The centrality of Christ brings with it the correct appreciation of the ministerial priesthood, without which neither the Eucharist nor, consequently, the mission and the Church herself would exist. In this connection it is necessary to watch so that the «new structures» of pastoral organizations are not thought out for a time in which the ordained ministry is «undervalued,» starting from an erroneous interpretation of the correct promotion of the laity, because in such a case the premises would be established for an ultimate dissolution of the ministerial priesthood and the eventual presumed «solutions» would coincide dramatically with the real causes of the current problems linked to the ministry.
I am sure that in these days the work of the plenary assembly, under the protection of the Mater Ecclesiae, will be able to reflect further on these brief notes that I allow myself to submit to the attention of the cardinals and the archbishops and bishops, invoking on all the copious abundance of heavenly gifts, in pledge of which I impart to you and to your loved ones a special and affectionate apostolic blessing.
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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