Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI has proclaimed a special Year for Priests, during which he will proclaim Saint John M. Vianney (the Curé of Ars) "Patron of all the priests of the world." The pope himself made the announcement today, to participants in the plenary meeting of the Congregation for the Clergy, received in audience.
The speech to the Vatican dicastery for the clergy was also an opportunity, for Benedict XVI, for some statements about priests, beginning with the statement that missionary activity is "intrinsic" to priestly life, for which "there is an essential apostolic mandate: 'Go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to all creation' (Mk. 16:15)." This distinguishes "ontologically" the mission of the priest from that of the lay Christian, in that for the priest the missionary dimension "arises from his sacramental configuration to Christ the Head." Because of this, on the one hand, there is a "necessary, even indispensable tension toward moral perfection, which must inhabit every authentically priestly heart," and on the other hand the necessity of the ministerial priesthood, without which there would not be the Eucharist, nor even the mission or the Church itself. "In this sense," the pope added, "it is necessary to be careful that new pastoral structures or organizations are not designed in view of a time when one will have to 'do without' the ordained ministry, departing from an erroneous interpretation of the proper promotion of the laity, because in this case the presuppositions would be put in place for a further dilution of the ministerial priesthood and the eventual presumed 'solutions' would dramatically coincide with the real causes of the contemporary problems connected to the ministry."
The mission of the priest "is carried out 'in the Church'. This dimension of ecclesiality, communion, hierarchy and doctrine is absolutely indispensable to any authentic mission, and alone guarantees its spiritual efficacy. The four aspects mentioned must always be recognized as being intimately correlated: mission is 'ecclesial' because no one proclaims or conveys himself, but within and through his own humanity every priest must be well aware of convening an Other, God himself, to the world. God is the only treasure that men ultimately want to find in a priest. Mission means 'communion' because it takes place in a unity and communion that only secondarily has significant aspects of social visibility. Moreover, these derive essentially from that divine intimacy in which the priest is called to be an expert, in order to be able to lead, with humility and trust, the souls entrusted to him to the same encounter with the Lord. Finally, the dimensions of 'hierarchy' and 'doctrine' suggest a reiteration of the importance of ecclesial discipline (a term related to 'disciple') and initial, permanent doctrinal formation, and not only theological.
The pope emphasized this last point both in order to stress the necessity of the permanent formation of the priest, and, in this regard, to reaffirm that the necessary interpretation of Vatican Council II must be made within the Church's tradition, and not as a "novelty" detached from it. "Mission," he said, in fact, "has its roots in a special way in good formation, developed in communion with the uninterrupted ecclesial tradition, without ruptures or temptations of discontinuity. In this sense, it is important to foster among priests, especially in the young generations, a correct reception of the texts of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II, interpreted in the light of the entire doctrinal heritage of the Church."
It appears equally urgent "to recover that awareness which drives priests to be present, identifiable, and recognizable for their judgment in faith, their personal virtues, and even their dress, in the areas of culture and charity, always at the heart of the Church's mission."
The pope, finally, will take part, at the closing of the Year for Priests - which begins next June 19 - in a "World Encounter of Priests" in St. Peter's Square, on June 19, 2010. During the Year for Priests, a "Directory for Confessors and Spiritual Directors" will also be published, together with a collection of texts by Benedict XVI on essential topics of priestly life and mission in the present era.