Card. Hummes via internet to the world’s priests

Claudio Card. Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, has written to all the priests of the world via the website of the Congregation. Let’s look at the central section and pull it apart. I have some obervations along the way.

Here are some excepts from the letter. Some of it sounds a little like gobbledegook, but we can sort it through:

 

… We are bearers of a specific identity that constantly characterizes us in our existence and in our activity. We are consecrated and incorporated into the activity of Christ. The gestures and the words of Jesus become re-actualized (It: "riattualizzati") in time and in history to elicit in those who fulfill them "the same sentiments of Christ" and the same effects of salvation.

The Church, in conferring the sacrament of orders, ontologically constitutes the priest as an "alter Christus," or as some say, an "ipse Christus"; and it establishes him as a minister of the word and as a minister of the prophetic action and pastoral love of Christ. His function, therefore, is not to exhaust himself exclusively in the dimension of worship, but to fulfill himself in the prophetic dimension by proclaiming the word and in the pastoral dimension by being a guide for the community.

Among the beautiful expressions of the Second Vatican Council is the following statement, which synthesizes the functions of the priest while delineating his identity: "Priests, while engaging in prayer and adoration, or preaching the word, or offering the Eucharistic sacrifice and administering the other sacraments, or performing other works of the ministry for men, devote all this energy to the increase of the glory of God and to man’s progress in the divine life" ("Presbyterorum Ordinis," 2).

From the Vatican, Jan. 24, 2007
Memorial of St. Francis de Sales

More than one odd phrases cause us to scratch our heads. For example, "The gestures and the words of Jesus become re-actualized (It: "riattualizzati") in time and in history".

The dicta et acta of the Lord, especially known through Scripture, are central. But, "reactualized"? What on earth does that mean? The Italian, "riattualizzati" is one of those jargon words Italians put together when talkin’ purty. In Italian "attuale" is "present, current". Thus, "attualizzare" means "to bring into the present, ripopose in modern terms", which makes perfect sense in this context. "Riattuallize" is just a fancier sounding way of saying this. The English translation is a bit to slavish in sticking to the Italian.

Let’s pull this apart at the seams:

… We are bearers of a specific identity that constantly characterizes us in our existence and in our activity. [The sacrament of Holy Orders changed who we are and effects all that we do.] We are consecrated and incorporated into the activity of Christ. [Because of that, we are "set apart" (clerus) and Christ acts through us in a particular way.] The gestures and the words of Jesus become re-actualized (It: "riattualizzati") in time and in history to elicit in those who fulfill them "the same sentiments of Christ" and the same effects of salvation. [In priests, Christ's words and actions are brought into the present and cause His will to be done in the ongoing salvation of souls.]

The Church, in conferring the sacrament of orders, ontologically constitutes the priest as an "alter Christus," or as some say, an "ipse Christus" [When the Church ordains a man, he is so conformed to Christ that he can be called "another Christ"]; and it establishes him as a minister of the word and as a minister of the prophetic action and pastoral love of Christ. [thus, he proclaims and explains the Word of God and preaches the Good news while being active in good works according to Christ command to love.] His function, therefore, is not to exhaust himself exclusively in the dimension of worship, but to fulfill himself in the prophetic dimension by proclaiming the word and in the pastoral dimension by being a guide for the community. [Therefore the priest should not remain only "in the sacristy" but should also be active in the community.]

Among the beautiful expressions of the Second Vatican Council is the following statement, which synthesizes the functions of the priest while delineating his identity: "Priests, while engaging in prayer and adoration, or preaching the word, or offering the Eucharistic sacrifice and administering the other sacraments, or performing other works of the ministry for men, devote all this energy to the increase of the glory of God and to man’s progress in the divine life" ("Presbyterorum Ordinis," 2).

Tha last part is fairly clear.

One of the things I find a bit odd in this piece is the way the liturgical role of the priest is so diminished in view of "pastoral" work, as if those two things are somehow not in harmony. Furthermore, while it is true that the letter does speak clearly about the ontological change Holy Orders makes in the soul, this dimension seems to take a back seat to "activity" and "functions". It almost sounds as if there is a zero-sum view at work: a focus on liturgy can’t be "pastoral", a priestly identity is more active than contemplative.

I find this dichotomy frequently among priests and prelates: if you are contemplative, you are not "pastoral"; if you are liturgical, you are not "pastoral"; if you are intellectual, you are not "pastoral" and therefore… if you are contemplative, liturgically minded and smart… you are suspect. You might even be dangerous. As a result, the model for modern priests shifts in formation and pressure from above and from peers to emphasize being constantly busy, not too interested in all that liturgy stuff, and being "just plain folks". Therefore, "pastoral" priests are constantly on the move, they delegate liturgical matters to lay people, and usually eschew being very challenging in preaching, counseling, and conversation.

I know I am just playing around with this to see what is going on, and maybe I am being too hard on the letter, but here is my rendering again, extracted from the original text above. See what you think:

The sacrament of Holy Orders changed who we are and effects all that we do. Because of that, we are "set apart" (clerus) and Christ acts through us in a particular way. In priests, Christ’s words and actions are brought into the present and cause His will to be done in the ongoing salvation of souls. When the Church ordains a man, he is so conformed to Christ that he can be called "another Christ"; thus, he proclaims and explains the Word of God and preaches the Good news while being active in good works according to Christ command to love. Therefore the priest should not remain only "in the sacristy" but should also be active in the community.

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6 Responses to Card. Hummes via internet to the world’s priests

  1. Simon says:

    Father,

    What you say about the roles of the priest is clearly correct – but might the cardinal be attempting to address some particular problem that he perceives as requiring correction? Perhaps some, somewhere, are failing to live out the balance that you describe and are failing to take (for example) the evangelical or teaching opportunities that particular situations may present to them?

    Simon.

  2. Simon: I am perfectly content to read the Prefect’s letter in the positive light you suggest! Having read the text both in Italian and English I was initially moved to consider it in a different way.

  3. GOR says:

    In the post-60s, post Vatican II world there was an emphasis on ‘activism’ in the priesthood here in the US and in other countries (think: the Frs. Berrigan, Drinan, Groppi et al.). The priest as social worker, politician, sociologist or psychologist. It seemed that if you were not engaged in a ‘flurry of activity’ you were not being a good priest. Some of that still obtains today. In reaction to that model some priests may have ‘retreated to the sacristy’.

    For diocesan clergy it is not easy to strike a balance between the pastoral and secular roles required in parish life: the administration of the Sacraments, the Corporal Works of Mercy and the adminstrivia associated with running a parish or diocese. But the priest is first of all a ‘man of God’ striving for holiness in himself and leading others to holiness.

    The Cure of Ars is often looked upon as the model for parish priests. He certainly didn’t remain in the sacristy, was a ‘man of God’ as well as a ‘man of the people’. Of course he was a saint. But then that’s what we’re all called to be, right? Prayer is needed by priests and for priests to aid them in living up to their role of being an ‘alter Christus’.

  4. Dan Hunter says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf,
    What about contemplative monks,like the Carmelites of Cody Wyoming,and The Benedictines of Clear Creek Oklahoma?
    They do not go out into the community and host Father Son night or ask Father Hank.
    But they are fulfilling every Catholic pastoral need by praying and offering penance for the world.
    God bless you.

  5. I agree with you. The opposition of “pastoral” and “worship” jumped off the page at me. That looks like a signal.

  6. Eric the Read says:

    Dan, I am a little fuzzy on this, but AFAIK, most monks, contemplative or otherwise, are not priests as well (corrections fervently welcome on this!), so the Prefect’s letter likely doesn’t apply in that case. For those that are, I assume their vows to God take precedence over the instructions of anyone short of the Pope. I welcome correction on that detail as well.