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Vat. Ecum. Council II
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SECTION I Priests' Functions

4. The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God.1 And rightfully they expect this from their priests.2 Since no one can be saved who does not first believe,3 priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.4 In this way they fulfill the command of the Lord: "Going therefore into the whole world preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15),5 and they establish and build up the People of God. Through the saving word the spark of faith is lit in the hearts of unbelievers, and fed in the hearts of the faithful. This is the way that the congregation of faithful is started and grows, just as the Apostle describes: "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17).

To all men, therefore, priests are debtors that the truth of the Gospel6 which they have may be given to others. And so, whether by entering into profitable dialogue they bring people to the worship of God,7 whether by openly preaching they proclaim the mystery of Christ, or whether in the light of Christ they treat contemporary problems, they are relying not on their own wisdom for it is the word of Christ they teach, and it is to conversion and holiness that they exhort all men.8 But priestly preaching is often very difficult in the circumstances of the modern world. In order that it might more effectively move men's minds, the word of God ought not to be explained in a general and abstract way, but rather by applying the lasting truth of the Gospel to the particular circumstances of life.

The ministry of the word is carried out in many ways, according to the various needs of those who hear and the special gifts of those who preach. In areas or communities of non-Christians, the proclaiming of the Gospel draws men to faith and to the sacraments of salvation.9 In the Christian community, especially among those who seem to understand and believe little of what they practice, the preaching of the word is needed for the very ministering of the sacraments. They are precisely sacraments of faith, a faith which is born of and nourished by the word.10 This is especially true of the Liturgy of the Word in the celebration of Mass, in which the proclaiming of the death and resurrection of Christ is inseparably joined to the response of the people who hear, and to the very offering whereby Christ ratified the New Testament in his blood. In this offering the faithful are united both by their dispositions and by their discernment of the sacrament.11

5. God, who alone is holy and who alone bestows holiness, willed to take as his companions and helpers men who would humbly dedicate themselves to the work of sanctification. Hence, through the ministry of the bishop, God consecrates priests, that being made sharers by special title in the priesthood of Christ, they might act as his ministers in performing sacred functions. In the liturgy they continue to carry on his priestly office by the action of his Spirit.12 By Baptism men are truly brought into the People of God; by the sacrament of Penance sinners are reconciled to God and his Church; by the Anointing of the Sick, the ill are given solace; and especially by the celebration of Mass they offer sacramentally the Sacrifice of Christ. In administering all sacraments, as St. Ignatius Martyr13 has borne witness from the early days of the Church, priests by various titles are bound together hierarchically with the bishop. And so in a certain way they make him present in every congregation.14

The other sacraments, as well as with every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are tied together with the Eucharist and are directed toward it.15 The Most Blessed Eucharist contains the entire spiritual boon of the Church,16 that is, Christ himself, our Pasch and Living Bread, by the action of the Holy Spirit through his very flesh vital and vitalizing, giving life to men who are thus invited and encouraged to offer themselves, their labors and all created things, together with him. In this light, the Eucharist shows itself as the source and the apex of the whole work of preaching the Gospel. Those under instruction are introduced by stages to a sharing in the Eucharist, and the faithful, already marked with the seal of Baptism and Confirmation, are through the reception of the Eucharist fully joined to the Body of Christ.

Thus the Eucharistic Action, over which the priest presides, is the very heart of the congregation. So priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives. In the spirit of Christ the Shepherd, they must prompt their people to confess their sins with a contrite heart in the sacrament of Penance, so that, mindful of his words "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mt 4:17), they are drawn closer to the Lord more and more each day. Priests likewise must instruct their people to participate in the celebrations of the sacred liturgy in such a way that they become proficient in genuine prayer. They must coax their people on to an ever more perfect and constant spirit of prayer for every grace and need. They must gently persuade everyone to the fulfillment of the duties of his state of life, and to greater progress in responding in a sensible way to the evangelical counsels. Finally, they must train the faithful to sing hymns and spiritual songs in their hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.17

Priests themselves extend to the other hours of the day the praise and thanksgiving of the Eucharistic celebration in praying the Divine Office, offered in the name of the Church for all the people entrusted to their care, and indeed for the whole world.

The house of prayer in which the Most Holy Eucharist is celebrated and reserved, where the faithful gather and where the presence of the Son of God, our Savior, offered for us on the altar of sacrifice bestows strength and blessings on the faithful, must be spotless and suitable for prayer and sacred functions.18 There pastors and the faithful are called to acknowledge with grateful heart the gift of him, Who through his humanity constantly pours divine life into the members of his Body.19 Let priests take care so to foster a knowledge of and facility in the liturgy, that by their own liturgical ministry Christian communities entrusted to their care may ever more perfectly give praise to God, the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit.

6. Exercising the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and according to their share of his authority, priests, in the name of the bishop, gather the family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit. Through Christ they lead them in the Holy Spirit to God the Father.20 For the exercise of this ministry, as for the other priestly duties, spiritual power is conferred upon them for the building up of the Church.21 In building up of the Church, priests must treat all with exceptional kindness in imitation of the Lord. They should act toward men, not as seeking to please them,22 but in accord with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. They should teach them and admonish them as beloved sons,23 according to the words of the Apostle: "Be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine" (2 Tim 4:2).24

Priests therefore, as educators in the faith, must see to it either by themselves or through others that the faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free.25 Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing, will be of little value if they are not directed toward the education of men to Christian maturity.26 In furthering this, priests should help men to see what is required and what is God's will in the important and unimportant events of life. Also, Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but, according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others.27 In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men.

Although they have obligations toward all men, priests have a special obligation to the poor and weak entrusted to them, for our Lord himself showed that he was united to them,28 and their evangelization is mentioned as a sign of messianic activity.29 With special diligence, attention should be given to youth and also to married people and parents. It is desirable that these join together in friendly meetings for mutual aid in leading more easily and fully and in a Christian manner a life that is often difficult. Priests should remember that all religious, both men and women, who certainly have a distinguished place in the house of the Lord, deserve special care in their spiritual progress for the good of the whole Church. Finally, and above all, priests must be solicitous for the sick and the dying, visiting them and strengthening them in the Lord.30

The office of pastor is not confined to the care of the faithful as individuals, but also in a true sense is extended to the formation of a genuine Christian community. Yet the spirit of the community should be so fostered as to embrace not only the local church, but also the universal Church. The local community should promote not only the care of its own faithful, but, filled with a missionary zeal, it should prepare also the way to Christ for all men. In a special way, catechumens and the newly-baptized who must be educated gradually to know and to live the Christian life are entrusted to his care.

No Christian community, however, is built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist; from this, therefore, all education to the spirit of community must take its origin.31 This celebration, if it is to be genuine and complete, should lead to various works of charity and mutual help, as well as to missionary activity and to different forms of Christian witness.

The ecclesial community by prayer, example, and works of penance, exercise a true motherhood toward souls who are to be led to Christ. The Christian community forms an effective instrument by which the path to Christ and his Church is pointed out and made smooth for non-believers. It is an effective instrument also for arousing, nourishing and strengthening the faithful for their spiritual combat.

In building the Christian community, priests are never to put themselves at the service of some human faction of ideology, but, as heralds of the Gospel and shepherds of the Church, they are to spend themselves for the spiritual growth of the Body of Christ.


. Cf. 1 Pt 1:23; Acts 6:7; 12:24. "(The apostles) preached the word of truth and founded Churches." (St. Augustine, On Psalms, 44, 23; PL 36, 508).


. Cf. Mal 2:7; 1 Tim 4:11-13; 1 Tim 1:9.


. Cf. Mk 16:16.


. Cf. 2 Cor 11:7. All that has been said regarding bishops also applies to priests inasmuch as they are cooperators of the bishops. Cf. Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua, c. 3 (ed. Ch. Munier, Paris 1960, p 79); Decree of Gracian, c. 6, D.88 (ed. Friedberg, 1, 307); Council of Trent, Decree De Reform., Session 5, c. 2, n 9 (Ecumenical Council Decrees, ed. Herder, Rome 1963, p 645); Session 24, c. 4 (p 739); Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21, 1964, n 25: AAS 57 (1965), pp 29-31.


. Cf. Constitutiones Apostolorum II, 26, 7: "(Priests) are teachers of sacred science as the Lord himself commanded when he said: 'Going, therefore, teach, etc.'" (ed. F.X. Funk, Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum, I, Paderborn 1905, p 105); Leonine Sacramentary and other sacramentaries up to the Roman Pontifical, preface of the ordination of priests: "By this providence, Lord, you have added to the apostles of your Son fellow teachers of the faith through whom the apostles have filled the whole world with their teaching." Ordo Book of the Mozarabic Liturgy, preface to the ordination of priests: "Teacher of peoples and ruler of subjects, he keeps intact the Catholic faith and announces true salvation to all." (ed. M. Ferotin, Paris, 1904, col. 55).


. Cf. Gal 2:5.


. Cf. 1 Pt 2:12.


. Cf. Rite of priestly ordination in the Alexandrian Jocobite Church: "...Gather your people to the word of doctrine like a foster-mother who nourishes her children" (H. Denzinger, Oriental Rites, Book II, Wurzburg 1863, p 14).


. Cf. Mt 28:19; Mk 16:16; Tertullian, On Baptism, 14, 2 (The Body of Christians, Latin Series, I p 289, 11-13); St. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 2, 42 (PG 26, 237); St. Jerome, On Matthew, 28, 19 (PL 26, 218 BC): "First let them teach all nations, and then pour water on those who have learned. It cannot be that the body receive the sacrament of baptism unless the soul first has received the truth of faith;" St. Thomas, "Exposition of the first decretal," n 1: "Sending his disciples to preach, our Savior enjoined on them three things: first, that they teach the faith; second, that they confer the sacraments on believers.... (ed. Marietti, Opuscula Theologica, Taurini-Rome 1954, 1138).


. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963, n 35, 2: AAS 56 (1964), p 109.


. Cf. ibid, nn 33, 35, 48, 52 (pp 108-109, 113, 114).


. Cf. ibid, n 7 (pp 100-101); Pius XII, encyclical letter, Mystici Corporis, June 29, 1943: AAS 35 (1943), p 230.


. St. Ignatius Martyr, Smyrn., 8, 1-2 (ed. F.X. Funk, p 282, 6-15); Constitutions of the Apostles, VIII, 12, 3 (ed. F.X. Funk, p 496); VIII,29, 2 (p 532).


. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21, 1964, n 28: AAS 57 (1965), pp 33-36.


. "The Eucharist indeed is a quasi consummation of the spiritual life, and the goal of all the sacraments" (St. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q.73, a.3 c); cf. Summa Theol. III, q. 65, a. 3.


. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q. 65, a. 3, ad 1; q. 79, a.1, c. and ad 1.


. Cf. Eph 5:19-20.


. Cf. St. Jerome, Epistles, 114, 2 (PL 22, 934), See Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963, nn 122-127: AAS 56 (1964), pp 130-132.


. Paul VI, encyclical letter Mysterium Fidei, Sept. 3, 1965: AAS 57 (1965), p 771.


. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21, 1964, n 28: AAS 57 (1965), pp 33-36.


. Cf. 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10.


. Cf. Gal 1:10.


. Cf. 1 Cor 4:14.


. Cf. Didascalia, II, 34, 3; II, 46, 6; II,47, 1; Constitutions of the Apostles, II, 47, 1 (ed. F.X. Funk, Didascalia and Constitutions, I, pp 116, 142 and 143).


. Cf. Gal 4:3; 5:1 and 13.


. Cf. St. Jerome, Epistles, 58, 7 (PL 22, 584).


. Cf. 1 Pt 4:10 ff.


. Cf. Mt 25:34-45.


. Cf. Lk 4:18.


. Other categories could be named, e.g. migrants, nomads, etc. The Decree on the Pastoral Duties of Bishops, Oct. 28, 1965, treats of these.


. Cf. Didascalia, II, 59, 1-3 (ed. F.X. Funk, I, p 170); Paul VI, allocution to Italian clergy present at the 13th week-long congress at Orvieto on pastoral aggiornamento, Sept. 6, 1963: AAS 55 (1963) pp 750ff.

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