Optatam Totius: The Decree on Priestly Training

Vatican II dealt with the clergy in three decrees: Christus Dominus, dealing with the office of bishop, Presbyterorum Ordinis, treating the ministry and life of priests, and Optatam Totius which summarizes the Church’s approach on the formation of priests.

The former two have been analyzed on CS earlier this year, and today we’ll begin an in-depth look at the last of Vatican II’s “clerical trilogy.” Comments, as always, are welcome.

OT begins with an unnumbered preface:

Animated by the spirit of Christ, this sacred synod is fully aware that the desired renewal of the whole Church depends to a great extent on the ministry of its priests. It proclaims the extreme importance of priestly training and lays down certain basic principles by which those regulations may be strengthened which long use has shown to be sound and by which those new elements can be added which correspond to the constitutions and decrees of this sacred council and to the changed conditions of our times. Because of the very unity of the Catholic priesthood this priestly formation is necessary for all priests, diocesan and religious and of every rite. Wherefore, while these prescriptions directly concern the diocesan clergy, they are to be appropriately adapted to all.

Good start. It acknowledges the crucial role of the priest in Church renewal. It honors the notion that priests across the world have a common baseline of formation, one that enhances a certain unity within the priesthood. It remains open to beneficial and pragmatic changes, and suggests adaptation as a virtue to be applied to priests in religious orders.

OT1 begins:

Since only general laws can be made where there exists a wide variety of nations and regions, a special “program of priestly training” is to be undertaken by each country or rite. It must be set up by the episcopal conferences, revised from time to time and approved by the Apostolic See. In this way will the universal laws be adapted to the particular circumstances of the times and localities so that the priestly training will always be in tune with the pastoral needs of those regions in which the ministry is to be exercised.

A sensible beginning. Episcopal conferences build upon general laws to complete a comprehensive formation. The Vatican oversees as necessary. Not only are local adaptations made, but accommodations to the times as well.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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