In the previous two sections, we looked briefly at the role of bishops in catechesis. In today’s two sections, the Church considers the role of the parish priest:
224. The function proper to the presbyterate in the catechetical task arises from the sacrament of Holy Orders which they have received. “Through that sacrament priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest, in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head”. (Cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis 8; 6; 12a; John Paul II, Post synodal exhortation Pastores dabo vobis 12 (25 March 1992)) In virtue of this ontological configuration to Christ, the ministry of the priest is a service which forms the Christian community and co-ordinates and strengthens other charisms and services. In catechesis the sacrament of Holy Orders constitutes priests as “educators of the faith”. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 6b) They work, therefore, to see that the faithful are properly formed and reach true Christian maturity. (Cf. canon law 773) Conscious, on the other hand, that their “ministerial Priesthood” (Lumen Gentium 10) is at the service of “the common Priesthood of the faithful”, (Lumen Gentium 10. Concerning the “two ways of participating in the single priesthood of Jesus Christ”, cf. canon law 1546-1547) priests foster the vocation and work of catechists and assist them in carrying out a function which springs from Baptism and is exercised in virtue of a mission entrusted to them by the Church. Thus priests put into effect the request which the Second Vatican Council made of them: “to recognize and promote the dignity of the laity and their specific role in the Church’s mission”. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 9b)
In the midst of all these footnotes (the ministry of the clergy is referenced carefully and significantly, don’t you think?) I don’t want to lose this thought that doesn’t have a note:
In virtue of this ontological configuration to Christ, the ministry of the priest is a service which forms the Christian community and co-ordinates and strengthens other charisms and services.
The association to Christ is less because of proper words, or of a notion of tradition–though these are not unimportant. The priest’s catechetical ministry does not happen only because of his ministry as a teacher and preacher, though these too are not unimportant. The true test of the fruitfulness of presbyteral ministry in a parish is the degree that the clergy coordinates others, and strengthens how these others serve. GDC spells out a bit of this, guiding clergy to practice a sense of shared responsibility with the laity, their affirmation in ministry, discernment of catechetical vocations, fostering links with the diocese. It also rates the importance of evangelization very highly:
225. The catechetical tasks proper to the presbyterate and particularly to parish priests are: (Cf. canon law 776-777)
– to foster a sense of common responsibility for catechesis in the Christian community, a task which involves all, and a recognition and appreciation for catechists and their mission;
– to care for the basic orientation of catechesis and its planning by giving emphasis to active participation of catechists and by insisting that catechesis be “well structured and oriented”; (Catechesi Tradendae 64. With respect to this basic orientation which priests must collaborate in giving to catechesis, the Second Vatican Council indicates two basic requirements: “their role is to teach not their own wisdom but the word of God”, (Presbyterorum Ordinis 4) and “to expound the word of God not merely in a general and abstract way but by an application of the eternal truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of life” (ibid.))
– to promote and to discern vocations to the service of catechesis and, as catechist of catechists, attend to their formation by giving the greatest attention to this duty;
– to integrate catechetical activity into his programme of community evangelization; and foster the link between catechesis sacraments and the liturgy;
– to secure the bonds between the catechesis of his community and the diocesan pastoral programme by helping catechists become active co-operators in a common diocesan programme.
Experience bears out that the quality of catechesis in a community depends very largely on the presence and activity of the priest.