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Posted September 30, 2009

Fostering the Baptismal Priesthood
in the Year of the Priests

Author: Cardinal Roger Mahony
Origins. Oct. 1, 2009. Vol 39. No. 17

During a Sept. 18 speech on the priesthood at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles asked, “In this Year for Priests, how might we better understand the ministerial priesthood as being at the service of the common priesthood?”

Cardinal Mahony discussed the importance of the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood. He said that the “priestly ministry is not only for the purpose of celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick and dying, and officiating at marriages. The priest is ordained to be a leader within a community of co-responsibility.”

Cardinal Mahony said one of the key roles a priest plays is as teacher, as one who passes along the teachings and tradition of the church to a living faith community, so that they pass tradition along to the next generation. He said that Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical letter, “Caritas in Veritate” can be seen in relation to the Year of the Priests that the pope convoked June 19. Cardinal Mahony said “In this Year of Priests, we would do well to consider how those in the ministerial priesthood might direct their efforts to teach those who share in the common or baptismal priesthood about the church’s social teaching as found in “Caritas in Veritate.”

Excerpts from the Talk:

The priestly ministry is in service of the word. Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, makes this clear. “Priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have as a primary duty the proclamation of the Gospel to all.”

The full implications of such a view of priestly ministry are yet to be probed. But what is implied here is at least this much: The service of the word is the context within which sacramental ministry is to be exercised. Further, as a corrective in the face of the tendency to understand the priest almost exclusively as a supplier of sacraments, we would do well to recognize that in the most effective exercise of priestly ministry, the service of the word is prior to the priest’s sacramental ministry.

It is a quick leap then to move on to an affirmation of the importance of preaching in the life of the priest with all that this entails, especially the need for well-prepared, carefully crafted homilies. But my point here is that the service of the word in the life of the priest entails much more than delivering a good homily. The priest must be able to evangelize and catechize, to guide and lead people in the ways of prayer, to teach and to encourage the Christian people in exercising their baptismal priesthood. This is to say that he must exercise his service of the word in manifold ways, not least of which is teaching.

. . . .”The priest needs not only focus on his own spiritual life and discipline, the uniqueness of his identity and ministry, but on how in service of the word he might teach and guide, assist and encourage his parishioners.”

“With this encyclical [Caritas in Veritate] the church has given moral authority to efforts to work out a solution to the massive problems we are facing, particularly as these affect the poor of the earth, who are not to be considered a burden, but a resource.”

. . . . “Theology renders an invaluable contribution to the initial and ongoing formation of priests, lay ministers and those in other fields as diverse as environmental concerns, law and literature, thereby assisting all of us in bringing about the ‘integral human development’ that is the gift and the task of church and the university.”