Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis)

We welcome this weekend a seminarian for the diocese of Cloyne, Tiernan Burke, who will speak about vocation at all Masses this weekend. Keep him and his fellow seminarians in your prayers.

In n.3 of the decree, we read of the vocation and the role of the priest. It says the “Priests of the New Testament, by their vocation and ordination, are in a certain sense set apart in the bosom of the People of God. However, they are not to be separated from the People of God or from any person; but they are to be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them. They cannot be ministers of Christ unless they be witnesses and dispensers of a life other than earthly life. But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of men. Their ministry itself, by a special title, forbids that they be conformed to this world; yet at the same time it requires that they live in this world among men.

There is a balance in the life of the priest regarding this world and the divine. Priests are called out of the People of God, to become ministers of Jesus Christ and bear witness to the life beyond this one while also being aware of this life due to the role being focused on the people who live their lives in this world. We are called to be preachers of the good news that Jesus has brought, dispensers of the sacraments that unite us with the divine in different ways and through different means. Aware of the world around us, we bear witness to the Creator of the world. Conscious of our humanity we bear witness to the divine.

An image the Church fathers used in the decree is that of the good shepherd; “they are to live as good shepherds that know their sheep” (Pope Francis uses the image and calls on us to go out and ‘smell’ the sheep) and also be ready to offer the good news to those outside the flock and be prepared to welcome them in.

A number of qualities or ‘virtues’ are seen as important to have in order to fulfil this call. Some are listed – “such as goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, zealous pursuit of justice, affability, and others”. It also gives a scriptural grounding for those virtues taken from St. Paul:“Whatever things are true, whatever honourable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever loving, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything is worthy of praise, think upon these things” (Phil 4:8)