ROME, MARCH 31, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The priest is not an employee, but rather a consecrated person chosen by God to serve mankind, says the secretary for the Congregation for Clergy.
Archbishop Mauro Piacenza described the priesthood in this way in L’Osservatore Romano earlier this month.
“The priest cannot be plentifully fulfilled if the Eucharist is not truly the center and the root of his life,” the prelate said, affirming that the priest’s daily efforts must be an “irradiation of the Eucharistic celebration.”
As the Gospel account of Christ’s washing of the feet testifies, the priest’s task is found in unconditional surrender, Archbishop Piacenza said. “The priest does not belong to himself. He is at the service of the people of God without limits of schedules or calendars.”
“The people are not for the priest, but the priest is for the people, in its totality, without ever restricting his service to a small group,” the prelate added. “The priest cannot choose the post he likes, the work methods he considers easiest, the people he considers most likable, the schedule that is most comfortable, the diversions — even legitimate ones — when they take away time and energy from his own specific pastoral mission.”
Moreover, even acting in the world, the priest is nevertheless not “assimilated in the world […] ceasing to be transforming leaven,” Archbishop Piacenza continued. “Faced with a world anemic from the lack of prayer and adoration, of truth and justice, the priest is above all a man of prayer, of adoration, of worship, of the celebrations of the holy mysteries, ‘before man in the name of Christ.'”
The Vatican official said the priest’s commitment is “testimony, understood in its etymological sense as martyr […] in the renewed consciousness that Christ, ordinarily, comes to us only ‘in the’ Church and ‘from the’ Church, which prolongs his presence in time.”
The Church, he said, is “transcendent and mysterious” and “only if it does not deny its own supernatural identity […] can it authentically evangelize the ‘natural’ realities. […] The Church has the ‘negative’ task of freeing the world of atheism and the ‘positive’ [task] of satisfying the indelible need that man, consciously or unconsciously, has of fulfilling himself, that is to say, of holiness.”
For this, the priest should “respond to the burning thirst of a humanity always seeking,” and to sow a restlessness that is “the holy fear of God.”
At the same time, Archbishop Piacenza added, the current vocational crisis can be served by opening the “vast horizons of the whole picture of following Christ,” while attempts to reduce the identity of the priest and pastoral ministry brings “everything to languish along the path of a progressive drying out.”
It is the light of the configuration of the priest with Jesus Christ that helps to understand the promises of obedience and chastity lived in celibacy, in the commitment to a path of detachment from things, situations and from themselves, he said.
At the altar
The archbishop highlighted that “chastity guarantees the spousal dimension and the great paternity” and recalled that “in all of this there are not ‘no’s’ but a great, liberating ‘yes.'”
“The priest never goes into identity crisis, nor loneliness, nor cultural frustration if, resisting the temptation of losing himself in the anonymous multitude, he never descends — regarding intention, moral uprightness and style — from the platform of the altar of the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ,” the archbishop contended.
Nevertheless, he acknowledged, faced with “an ever more notable disintegration of the links between persons, in every social environment […] we cannot think that the figure of the celibate priest will not suffer the backlash of these countless solitudes.”
For this, the archbishop concluded, there is a “need of priests who know how to show the fruitfulness for communion and for the community of their virginal ‘solitude.'”