Priestly Tasks: Identity, Sanctification and Mission

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza Invites to Prayer for the Sanctification of the People of God

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By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, JUNE 18, 2012 ( In view of the celebration last Friday of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, spoke with ZENIT.

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ZENIT: What is the meaning of the June 15 celebrations?

Cardinal Piacenza: The Year for Priests, which was an exceptional event desired by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, was intended to stress the profound bond between the identity and mission of priests, recognizing how the two elements are totally related to one another: the ministerial priesthood is for the mission and in the mission the identity of the priest is defined. The World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests is, instead, an annual event, which every particular Church is called to observe, showing that communion and reciprocity in prayer, which must characterize all the People of God, called to implore from the Lord the gift of holy pastors. After all, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of what is common to all the baptized, which is acted, concretely, in the answer to the universal call to holiness.

ZENIT: But, is a World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests necessary? And why precisely on the Feast of the Sacred Heart?

Cardinal Piacenza: There is never enough of the prayer “nunquam satis!” To pray for the sanctification of priests means, in a certain sense, to pray for the sanctity of all the People of God, to whom their ministry is ordained. Hence, it is an occasion to foster communion and reciprocal prayerful custody among members of the presbytery itself, almost in an ideal sequence, which goes from the Chrism Mass to the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, embracing the fundamental mysteries of our faith and being contemplated in a priestly key. In fine, as affirmed by the Cure of Ars, “the priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus,” be it by understanding that necessary intimacy and identification that a priest must always have with the Lord, or by indicating the love and charity of Jesus, “Good Shepherd,” to whom every exercise of the ordained ministry must tend. Pastoral charity is the true interpretative key of this Day of Prayer.

ZENIT: And how is all this placed in the perspective of the upcoming Year of Faith?

Cardinal Piacenza: The Year of Faith was desired by the Holy Father to commemorate two important anniversaries, one dependent on the other. First of all the 50th of the opening of Ecumenical Vatican Council II and, consequently, the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the Catechism of the Ecumenical Vatican Council II! Once again priests are called to offer their generous contribution, also in the Year of Faith, to carry out the indications of the Pope, remembering how, precisely in the mission and work of evangelization, their own priestly identity is strengthened. To read and, in a certain sense “rediscover” the Council, in all its prophetic and missionary worth, is one of the main urgent tasks in the Church today.

ZENIT: Do you think the Council is not sufficiently known?

Cardinal Piacenza: I believe that the Church is always guided by the Holy Spirit and that, hence, texts even after 50 years, can and must continue to speak to the whole ecclesial Body and, in particular, to all priests. The Council, as confirmed many times either by Blessed John Paul II or by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, is a “compass” for the third millennium and, consequently, for every endeavor of evangelization and New Evangelization. The correct hermeneutic is a condition, and not an obstacle, to knowledge of the Council. Suffice it to think, for example, and I recall it clearly, the impact that the encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi had, of the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, in which already interpreted, in a prophetic way for those times, was the missionary impulse of the Council.

ZENIT: Your Eminence, you speak a lot of “mission.” But is this the emergency in the Church today? Do you think there is a missionary “deficit”?

Cardinal Piacenza: The mission is not one of the “activities” of the ecclesial Body, but it characterizes essentially its identity. Without mission, there is no Church and vice versa! The Church is totally relative to the mission, to the encounter of men, of every time and place and of every culture, with the Risen Lord. To take to all the proclamation of the Kingdom and of Salvation: this is the essential task of the Church! A task that, in the different times and circumstances, is carried out in different ways, but which always keeps its essential nucleus, constituted by obedience to Jesus’ command: “Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” If the men of the Church, all the baptized, and priests in particular, lost such a missionary yearning, an essential aspect of their baptismal identity would be diminished and, in certain ways, the Christian faith itself.

ZENIT: The Letter of Proclamation, present on the Web site of the Congregation ( states that the sanctification of the clergy “is not contradicted by the awareness of […] personal non-fulfillment, and not even by the faults of some that, at times, have humiliated the priesthood in the eyes of the world.” Can it be said that the “clergy-emergency” is finished?

Cardinal Piacenza: No. The emergency is first of all the wounds caused by the faults of some and, until the wounds are healed, it’s not possible to speak of healing. Of course we have all learned a fundamental lesson from what has happened: it’s no longer possible to let one’s guard down, because evil “like a roaring lion goes around seeking someone to devour.” The instruments of ordinary sanctification and a high level of spirituality are the indispensable assumption to hope for a future in which certain episodes are but a terrible memory.

We will never be entirely holy in this earthly phase of the Kingdom, but we certainly can and must in the main tend to holiness through all the instruments that the Church offers us, beginning with the Word and the sacraments, to come to community life and to missionary zeal for all souls. The passion to proclaim Christ is the real “measure” of the temperature of the faith of an age!

May the Virgin Mary, Star of the mission, help us.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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