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Vat. Ecum. Council II
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SECTION 1 The Vocation of Priests to the Life of Perfection

12. Priests are made in the likeness of Christ the Priest by the Sacrament of Orders, so that they may, in collaboration with their bishops, work for the building up and care of the Church which is the whole Body of Christ, acting as ministers of him who is the Head. Like all other Christians they have received in the sacrament of Baptism the symbol and gift of such a calling and such grace that even in human weakness1 they can and must seek for perfection, according to the exhortation of Christ: "Be you therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). Priests are bound, however, to acquire that perfection in special fashion. They have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their ordination and made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest that they may be able to carry on in time his marvelous work whereby the entire family of man is again made whole by power from above.2 Since, therefore, every priest in his own fashion acts in place of Christ himself, he is enriched by a special grace, so that, as he serves the flock committed to him and the entire People of God, he may the better grow in the grace of him whose tasks he performs, because to the weakness of our flesh there is brought the holiness of him who for us was made a High Priest "holy, guiltless, undefiled not reckoned among us sinners" (Heb 7:26).

Christ, whom the Father sanctified, consecrated and sent into the world,3 "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and cleanse for himself an acceptable people, pursuing good works" (Tt 2:14), and thus through suffering entered into his glory.4 In like fashion, priests consecrated by the anointing of the Holy Spirit and sent by Christ must mortify the works of the flesh in themselves and give themselves entirely to the service of men. It is in this way that they can go forward in that holiness with which Christ endows them to perfect man.5

Hence, those who exercise the ministry of the spirit and of justice6 will be confirmed in the life of the spirit, so long as they are open to the Spirit of Christ, who gives them life and direction. By the sacred actions which are theirs daily as well as by their entire ministry which they share with the bishop and their fellow priests, they are directed to perfection in their lives. Holiness does much for priests in carrying on a fruitful ministry. Although divine grace could use unworthy ministers to effect the work of salvation, yet for the most part God chooses, to show forth his wonders, those who are more open to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, and who can by reason of their close union with Christ and their holiness of life say with St. Paul: "And yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me" (Gal 2:20).

Hence, this holy council, to fulfill its pastoral desires of an internal renewal of the Church, of the spread of the Gospel in every land and of a dialogue with the world of today, strongly urges all priests that they strive always for that growth in holiness by which they will become consistently better instruments in the service of the whole People of God, using for this purpose those means which the Church has approved.7

13. Priests who perform their duties sincerely and indefatigably in the Spirit of Christ arrive at holiness by this very fact.

Since they are ministers of God's word, each day they read and hear the word of God, which it is their task to teach others. If at the same time they are ready to receive the word themselves they will grow daily into more perfect followers of the Lord. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Let this be thy study, these thy employments, so that all may see how well thou doest. Two things claim thy attention, thyself and the teaching of the faith, spend thy care on them; so wilt thou and those who listen to thee achieve salvation" (1 Tim 4:15-16). As they seek how they may better teach others what they have learned,8 they will better understand "the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8) and the manifold wisdom of God.9 If they keep in mind that it is God who opens hearts,10 and that power comes not from themselves but from the might of God,11 in the very fact of teaching God's word they will be brought closer to Christ the Teacher and led by his Spirit. Thus those who commune with Christ share in God's love, the mystery of which, kept hidden from the beginning of time,12 is revealed in Christ.

Priests act especially in the person of Christ as ministers of holy things, particularly in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice of Christ who gave himself for the sanctification of men. Hence, they are asked to take example from that with which they deal, and inasmuch as they celebrate the mystery of the Lord's death they should keep their bodies free of wantonness and lusts.13 In the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their greatest task, the work of our redemption is being constantly carried on;14 and hence the daily celebration of Mass is strongly urged, since even if there cannot be present a number of the faithful, it is still an act of Christ and of the Church.15 Thus when priests join in the act of Christ the Priest, they offer themselves entirely to God, and when they are nourished with the body of Christ they profoundly share in the love of him who gives himself as food to the faithful. In like fashion they are united with the intention and love of Christ when they administer the sacraments. This is true in a special way when in the performance of their duty in the sacrament of Penance they show themselves altogether and always ready whenever the sacrament is reasonably sought by the faithful. In the recitation of the Divine Office, they offer the voice of the Church which perseveres in prayer in the name of the whole human race, together with Christ who "lives on still to make intercession on our behalf."

As they direct and nourish the People of God, may they be aroused by the example of the Good Shepherd that they may give their life for their sheep,16 ready for the supreme sacrifice following the example of priests who, even in our own day, have not shrunk from giving their lives. As they are leaders in the faith and as they "enter the sanctuary with confidence, through the blood of Christ" (Heb 10:19) they approach God "with sincere hearts in the full assurance of the faith" (Heb 10:22) they set up a sure hope for their faithful,17 that they may comfort those who are depressed by the same consolation wherewith God consoles them.18 As leaders of the community they cultivate an asceticism becoming to a shepherd of souls, renouncing their personal convenience, seeking not what is useful to themselves but to many, for their salvation,19 always making further progress to do their pastoral work better and, where needful, prepared to enter into new pastoral ways under the direction of the Spirit of Love, which breathes where it will.20

14. In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.21

In order to continue doing the will of his Father in the world, Christ works unceasingly through the Church. He operates through his ministers, and hence he remains always the source and wellspring of the unity of their lives. Priests, then, can achieve this coordination and unity of life by joining themselves with Christ to acknowledge the will of the Father. For them this means a complete gift of themselves to the flock committed to them.22 Hence, as they fulfill the role of the Good Shepherd, in the very exercise of their pastoral charity they will discover a bond of priestly perfection which draws their life and activity to unity and coordination. This pastoral charity23 flows out in a very special way from the Eucharistic sacrifice. This stands as the root and center of the whole life of a priest. What takes place on the altar of sacrifice, the priestly heart must make his own. This cannot be done unless priests through prayer continue to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of Christ.

In order to measure and verify this coordination of life in a concrete way, let priests examine all their works and projects to see what is the will of God24-namely, to see how their endeavors compare with the goals of the Gospel mission of the Church. Fidelity to Christ cannot be separated from faithfulness to his Church. Pastoral charity requires that priests avoid operating in a vacuum25 and that they work in a strong bond of union with their bishops and brother priests. If this be their program, priests will find the coordination and unity of their own life in the oneness of the Church's mission. They will be joined with the Lord and through him with the Father in the Holy Spirit. This will bring them great satisfaction and a full measure of happiness.26


. Cf. 2 Cor 12:9.


. Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, Dec. 20, 1935: AAS 28 (1936) n 10.


. Cf. Jn 10:36.


. Lk 24:26.


. Cf. Eph 4:13.


. Cf. 2 Cor 3:8-9.


. Cf. among others: St. Pius X, exhortation to the clergy Haerent Animo, Aug. 4, 1908: St. Pius X, AAS 4 (1908), pp 237ff. Pius XI, encyclical letter Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, Dec. 20, 1935; AAS 28 (1936). Pius XII apostolic exhortation Menti nostrae, Sept. 23, 1950: AAS (1950) 657ff. John XXIII, encyclical letter Sacerdoti Nostri Primordia, Aug. 1, 1959: AAS 51 (1959) 545ff.


. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol. II-II, q. 188, a. 7.


. Cf. Heb 3:9-10.


. Acts 16:14.


. Cf. 2 Cor 4:7.


. Cf. Eph 3:9.


. Cf. Roman Pontifical on the ordination of priests.


. Cf. Roman Missal, Prayer over the Offerings of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.


. Paul VI, encyclical letter Mysterium Fidei, Sept. 3, 1965: AAS 57 (1965), pp 761-762. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963, nn 26 and 27; AAS 56 (1964), p 107.


. Cf. Jn 10:11.


. Cf. 2 Cor 1:7.


. Cf. 2 Cor 1:4.


. Cf. 1 Cor 10:33.


. Cf. Jn 3:8.


. Cf. Jn 4:34.


. Cf. 1 Jn 3:16.


. "May it be a duty of love to feed the Lord's flock" (St. Augustine, Tract on John, 123, 5: PL 35, 1967).


. Cf. Rom 12:2.


. Cf. Gal 2:2.


. Cf. 2 Cor 7:4.

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