Chapter V: What Kind of Priest?
This chapter discusses how Paul’s priestly service provides a biblical basis for considering and evaluating priestly ministry today. In Rom. 15:15-16, the priestly sacrifice offered by Paul is held by most commentators to be the Gentiles as new believers in Christ. What is foremost in Paul’s priestly service is evangelization of the nations, precisely the “service of the gospel of God” as stated in Rom. 15:16. As noted by Bernard Sesboûé, the Council of Trent declared that the “principle function of bishops” (“fonction principale de évêques”) is precisely the preaching of the Gospel.143 Thus, it is not contrary to tradition to emphasize today, as Paul does, that the priest is primarily an evangelist. This emphasis on the priest as evangelizer does not detract at all from the eucharistic ministry of the priest. In fact, what Paul loudly proclaims in his ministry is precisely “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23; cf. 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:1). In 1 Cor. 11:26, Paul explicitly links proclamation and Eucharist: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” The Eucharist tangibly and concretely re-presents that same crucifixion and therefore is central to a priestly ministry focused on preaching Christ crucified. Priestly ministry can be both emphatically evangelizing and eucharistic within a Pauline biblical framework. In fact, the emphasis on priestly proclamation ties the Christian priesthood to the priests of the Old Testament who were charged, as stated by both Vanhoye and Bony, to mediate and transmit the Word of God, as well as to offer actual sacrifices.144
The other significant aspect of Paul’s priestly service is the charismatic, an aspect that cannot be evaded despite modern reluctance to focus on charismatic aspects that are jarring to an excessively rationalistic mentality. It is undeniable that charismatic signs and wonders fueled and made possible the proclamation of Paul in his priestly service of the gospel of God, as abundantly shown in the Acts of the Apostles and as explicitly noted by Paul himself, in the immediate context of Rom. 15:16, in Rom. 15:19 (see also 1 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Thess. 1:5). The question for today’s priest is whether his priesthood can fulfill the mediation of the Word of God without such a charismatic dimension. In a recent study of the charisms in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Vanhoye also attentively and carefully considered Rom. 15:15-16, because Paul there refers to “the grace given [donnée] me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles,” and thus to a gift or charism from God to fuel his priestly service.145 This particular Pauline challenge to present-day priests remains for future study.
PRIESTS: COMPLETE ADHERENCE TO CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH
VATICAN CITY, 12 MAR 2010 (VIS) - At midday today, the Holy Father received participants in a theological congress promoted by the Congregation for the Clergy, and which is being held on 11 and 12 March in the Pontifical Lateran University on the theme: "Faithfulness of Christ, faithfulness of Priests".
In a time such as our own, said the Pope, "it is important clearly to bear in mind the theological specificity of ordained ministry, in order not to surrender to the temptation of reducing it to predominant cultural models. In the context of widespread secularisation which progressively tends to exclude God from the public sphere and from the shared social conscience, the priest often appears 'removed' from common sense". Yet , the Pope went on, "it is important to avoid a dangerous reductionism which, over recent decades ... has presented the priest almost as a 'social worker', with the risk of betraying the very Priesthood of Christ.
"Just as the hermeneutic of continuity is revealing itself to be ever more important for an adequate understanding of the texts of Vatican Council II", he added, "in the same way we see the need for a hermeneutic we could describe as 'of priestly continuity', one which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and over the two thousand years of history, greatness, sanctity, culture and piety which the Priesthood has given the world, comes down to our own day".
Benedict XVI affirmed that "it is particularly important that the call to participate in the one Priesthood of Christ in ordained Ministry should flower from the 'charism of prophecy'. There is great need for priests who speak of God to the world and who present the world to God; men not subject to ephemeral cultural fashions, but capable of authentically living the freedom that only the certainty of belonging to God can give. ... And the prophecy most necessary today is that of faithfulness" which "leads us to live our priesthood in complete adherence to Christ and the Church".
Priests, the Holy Father continued, "must be careful to distance themselves from the predominant mentality which tends to associate the value of Ministry not with its being, but with its function". Our "ontological association with God", he said "is the right framework in which to understand and reaffirm, also in our own time, the value of celibacy which in the Latin Church is a charism imposed by Holy Orders, and is held in great esteem by the Oriental Churches. ... It is an expression of the gift of the self to God and to others".
"The vocation of priests is an exalted one, and remains a great mystery. ... Our limitations and weaknesses must induce us to live and safeguard this precious gift with great faith, a gift with which Christ configured us to Himself, making us participants in His mission of salvation. Indeed, the understanding of priestly ministry is linked to faith and requires, ever more strongly, a radical continuity between formation in seminaries and permanent formation".
The Holy Father concluded by telling his audience that "the men and women of our time ask us only to be priests to the full, nothing else. The lay faithful will be able to meet their human needs in many other people, but only in the priest will they find that Word of God which must always be on his lips, the Mercy of the Father abundantly and gratuitously distributed in the Sacrament of Penance, and the bread of new life".