FIYH Introduction 1: The Primary Duty of Priests

From the start, the bishops zero in on a point relevant to our recent discussion on lay preaching and clergy responsibilities:

“The primary duty of priests is the proclamation of the Gospel of God to all.” These clear, straightforward words of the Second Vatican Council (Presbyterorum Ordinis 4) may come as something of a surprise to us. We might more spontaneously think that the primary duty of priests is the celebration of the Church’s sacraments, or the pastoral care of the People of God, or the leadership of a Christian community. Yet, the words of the document are clear: the proclamation of the Gospel is primary. The other duties of the priest are to be considered properly presbyteral to the degree that they support the proclamation of the Gospel.

It was almost three years ago we discussed PO 4, back on the old blogspot location.

How does this statement on the “primary duty of priests” square with the centrality of the Eucharist? With the option for lay preaching? Even with the role of the deacon?

(All texts from Fulfilled in Your Hearing are copyright © 1982 USCCB. All rights reserved.)

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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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5 Responses to FIYH Introduction 1: The Primary Duty of Priests

  1. Liam says:

    Ah, as Petrarch might have said: Ad fontes. Go to the source.

    FIYH might make that quote, but the actual text from Vatican II is rather different:

    “…priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.”

    Which means something else if you ponder it. Syntax means a lot. It turns out this is not talk about a duty of a priest that is primary vis-a-vis his other duties (the gloss given by FIYH). Rather it turns out that this is a duty given first to bishops and priests (impliedly, as opposed to the entire faithful as a whole). So bishops and priests are the leading proclaimers. Which, interestingly, creates great harmony with how the Church has handled lay preaching in liturgy vs outside of liturgy.

  2. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Liam, thank you for pointing that out!

    Looking at the Latin of PO n.4, I read: Presbyteri, utpote Episcoporum cooperatores, primum habent officium Evangelium Dei omnibus evangelizandi which, if I attempt to translate it, comes out in two possible ways:

    1. “Priests, as the coworkers of Bishops, have the principal obligation of the Gospel of God to be preached to all”, which renders primum as an adjective modifying officium.

    2. “Priests, as the coworkers of Bishops, have, in the first place, the obligation of the Gospel of God to be preached to all”, which renders primum as an adverb modifying habent.

    I’m not a Latin scholar and I’m not sure if one of my interpretations is incorrect grammatically (although to be honest they both sound a bit stilted, but that’s entirely my fault). If both are possible, then the Vatican web site prefers the first whereas the US Bishops prefer the second.

    I am curious if the distance between primum and officium, with habent in between them, lends itself to the adverb rather than the adjective.

  3. Jim McK says:

    Liam,
    I think FIYH understands PO correctly. Adding more context from PO 4:
    “The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God. And rightfully they expect this from their priests. Since no one can be saved who does not first believe, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the command of the Lord: “Going therefore into the whole world preach the Gospel to every creature” ”

    The passage is about preaching, and primary contrasts with the other duties, not with other hierarchical orders.

    Nonetheless, this gives context for the discussion of lay preaching. Clergy exist in order to preach. Why have anyone else do it? If there are others who could do it better, than we need to ask why they are not clergy (people allowed to preach) instead of asking why they are not allowed to preach.

  4. Diana says:

    I am always struck by this passage from the Consitution on the Sacred Liturgy (2):

    “While the liturgy daily builds up those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ, at the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ, and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together, until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.”

    All those who celebrate the liturgy are strengthened to preach in order to show the Church to those outside of it. All the baptized preach in some way (and when necessary we use words). Liturgical preaching is but one form of preaching the Gospel.

    I’m not saying that all have a right to preach in the Eucharist. I just want to point out that preaching is not limited only to the homiletic action.

  5. I think Liam has a strong point.

    But even setting that aside, I you have to read this in light of what Sacrosanctum Concilium said about the liturgy, above all the Mass, being the “source and summit” of our faith–how do we put them together?

    I would echo what Diana said: the celebration of the liturgy is all bound up with “preaching the Gospel” — the liturgy is, itself, a proclamation of the Gospel, as is the entire ministry of the ordained. I’m pretty sure its this document, but if not another, that emphasizes preaching at the Mass to lead always to the mystery of the Eucharist, as opposed to being only tangentially related. And I confess this is easy to fail at or ignore.

    Note the last sentence: “The other duties of the priest are to be considered properly presbyteral to the degree that they support the proclamation of the Gospel.” The celebration of the liturgy should “support the proclamation of the Gospel.”

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