Juridical Manifestations of the Presbyterium

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A priest, incorporated by the sacrament of holy orders into the Ordo Presbyterorum, is constituted by divine law as a cooperator of the Episcopal Order. The specific ministerial function of diocesan priests is determined, according to the practice of ecclesiastical law, by incardination, which attaches a priest to the service of a local church, under the authority of the respective bishop, and by a canonical mission, which confers upon a priest a definite ministry within the unity of the Presbyterium whose head is the bishop.1
This paper has examined how the Second Vatican Council's teachings on communion and the particular Church lead to the recognition of an important dimension of the order of presbyters: the presbyterium.
The diocesan clergy have a primary role in the care of souls because, being incardinated in or appointed to a particular church, they are wholly dedicated in its service to the care of a particular section of the Lord's flock, and accordingly form one priestly body [presbyterium] and one family of which the bishop is the father. (CD 28)2
Chapter 1 traced how the presbyterium actually is not a new concept, but is a renewal of one that existed from the time of the early Church. It flourished during the first centuries, especially as seen in the writings of the early church fathers and above all St. Ignatius of Antioch. The Bishop is the head of the local church, surrounded by his presbyterium which helps in governance, teaching and ministry, always under and in union with the bishop.

With the spread of the priests away from the episcopal city, the presbyterium lost its characteristic unity of the priests surrounding the bishop, becoming more a moral union of priests dispersed throughout the diocese. With this came a loss in the priest's participation with the office of the Bishop, and a loss of the use of the word "presbyterium".

This was rediscovered by Vatican II, that the diocesan presbyterium has an important place in the structure of the Church. Based on ecclesial communion, the priests of a diocese are co-workers with the bishop, forming a concrete, even juridical, reality. The presbyterium is one of the defining and integral elements of the particular church and its organization.

Membership in the presbyterium is first based upon the sacramental ordination in the order of presbyters, but an additional link is required, a sharing in the common mission of a diocese. This relationship comes from either incardination or appointment; i.e. either by a permanent inscription of a secular priest in the diocese, or by a temporary insertion (aggregation) of a priest - secular or religious - into the pastoral ministry dependent on the Bishop.

Since the Bishop and his Priests must succeed to establish and apply a new custom of ecclesial life, we can say that the Presbyterium may be, if not exactly 'the greatest revolution worked by the Council', at least a fact of most-notable importance.3
Chapters 2 and 3 thus examined some of the ways this "new custom" is to be put into practice, how it translates into juridical realities in the "ecclesial life" of a particular Church. The presbyterium is to be manifested in numerous ways - old and new - both on the diocesan-wide level, and within the portions of the diocese.

The first and primary juridical manifestation of the presbyterium is the presbyteral council. This is because of its composition, as it represents the priests of the presbyterium, and because of its role, as it collaborates with the bishop in governing the diocese by its advice. Because it is the senate of the bishop, the presbyteral council has a primary place among the helpers and advisors of the bishop, although it only has a consultative vote. It has concern for any serious matters that involve the diocese, not just the priests themselves. It also strives to increase the hierarchical communion between the bishop and the priests, and therefore should never be an antagonist to the bishop or distant from the presbyterium they represent.

The bishop then chooses some priests from the presbyteral council to form the college of consultors. They are his special advisors in important matters, and while primarily consultative, sometimes have a binding vote. The consultors also have an essential role in governance of the diocese when the episcopal see is vacant, electing and advising the administrator. In most places today, the college of consultors has taken over these functions from one of the more ancient manifestation of the presbyterium, the cathedral chapter.

Historically, chapters of canons were groups of diocesan priests who live a rule and attach themselves to a collegial church. Of particular importance were those linked to the cathedral church, as these cathedral chapters had a variety of powers and dignities as the primary senate and council of the Bishop. Today, these have primarily been reduced to liturgical functions, and in some places do not even exist. Yet they remain a manifestation of the presbyterium, as they are still a means for diocesan priests to join in common life and prayer together.

Another traditional manifestation of the presbyterium is the diocesan synod. These historic assemblies have always included a representation of the priests, collaborating with the bishop in making particular law for the diocese. Today the synod includes laity, and continues to have an important place in not only the creation of law, but also pastoral planning. This means for helping the bishop in his governance should not be overlooked, as it can foster greater cooperation and unity; although frequently recommended, they occur infrequently.

The last institution on the diocesan level is the curia, the persons and entities that help the bishop in the administration of the diocese, especially his daily activity. Priests hold many of these curial offices that directly collaborate with the bishop, while many other laity also provide important help in the administration of the diocese. These have an important role in directing pastoral action, promoting coordination and unity among the priests in the diocesan ministry.

Primary among the priests of the curia are the vicars, particularly the Vicar General and Episcopal Vicars. These enjoy ordinary executive power and thus have special co-responsibility with the Bishop. The vicar general exercises this power for the whole diocese, and is normally the moderator of the curia. Episcopal vicars exercise this for a particular territory or group of the faithful. Thus, both have important roles in governance and collaboration.

To achieve greater coordination and unity, it is helpful to have smaller groups of priests work together, dividing the parishes into groupings. Yet the episcopal vicariate is not the first way that the law envisions doing this. The vicariate forane or deanery is foreseen as the ordinary means of division and grouping, however it is not mandatory. This allows for exceptions where other arrangements would be more effective, and sometimes a combination of both episcopal vicars and deans will be suitable.

The dean has a variety of supervisory functions, but also a role in helping and assisting the priests. His primary task is the coordination of pastoral action, so that the apostolate is better organized within the deanery. Two important ways the dean achieves this are parish visitations, and regular meetings of the priests for their continued learning and the discussion of pastoral plans and affairs.

With the aid of the presbyteral council, diocesan curia, and deanery, each parish pastor can act as part of a unified presbyterium. Priests never act alone but together with the neighboring pastors and the pastoral plan of the entire diocese, with his fellow priests and Bishop. Coordination is needed as evangelization and ministry can easily extend beyond the traditional parish boundaries, especially in today's mobile society.

While the presbyterium may be strengthened whenever priests live and work together, this particularly occurs when priests are assigned to the same parish, either as parochial vicars or pastors in solidum. These priests assist in the pastoral care of a parish, joining in the same tasks and duties as parish pastors. Parochial vicars have a particular duty of cooperation with the pastor, just as a team of priests have with each other, since they act with joint responsibility.

These two means of parochial care are also an opportunity for promoting the custom of the common life among priests. Even if not mandatory in universal law, the common life is highly encouraged and desired for those who share the same ministry. Communal life is a well-suited means, not only to a more effective ministry, but also to a greater priestly holiness and example of communion.

Thus Chapter 4, in examining the ways that reinforce the presbyterium, lists the common life of priests as primary. The magisterium commends this practice, even for priests without a common assignment, because of the innumerable benefits it has for priests and their ministry, especially in the areas priests experience difficulty today: loneliness and celibacy. Besides its traditional form of living together, sharing a common table and frequent meetings also form part of community life. Mention should be made of common prayer, and the possibility of the sharing of property in common.

Closely linked to priestly common life are priestly associations. Indeed one of the more popular associations, the Apostolic Union, followed in the footsteps of Holzhauser's Institute of common life for diocesan priests, and provided a way for priest to associate even when common life was not possible. Besides similar advantages of aiding priest in their struggles and isolation, priestly associations are often formed for the particular purpose of increasing priestly holiness, learning and effective ministry. Associations should also foster the unity of the clergy with one another and with their Bishop, reinforcing the presbyterium, never creating divisions among it.

Another means of learning and growth for priests is ongoing formation, the continued education after ordination, which is indispensable for priests. In order to promote and ensure the fulfillment of this duty of priests, regular meetings of priests have a great importance. Besides intellectual formation, there are spiritual retreats and days of reflection, and pastoral conferences, workshops and planning sessions. An ongoing formation done in common can help build a greater unity among the presbyterium. This can and should take place on the diocesan level, as well as that of the vicariate or deanery. Yet priests may also meet for less formal reasons, gathering for prayer, relaxation and simple fraternity and friendship.

Very important among communal and liturgical prayer of priests is concelebration. When priests join in celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the unity of the priesthood and the presbyterium is manifested. This is particularly seen when priests concelebrate with their own Bishop, especially at the Chrism Mass and ordinations, or other diocesan and parish celebrations.

In the end, two needs stand out. First is to develop a greater knowledge of the concept of the presbyterium, a need for a better definition of what it is as both a theological and juridical reality. A further discovery-development of this hidden treasure of Vatican II is still lacking, partly caused by a deficient translation of Church documents into English. The concept of the presbyterium should have an eminent place in every aspect of diocesan priesthood and seminary training, from ministry to spirituality. Incardination is not merely juridical, it is also an awareness, an attitude which should imbue the entire priestly vocation.

It is necessary to consider the priest's membership in and dedication to a particular Church. These two factors are not the result of purely organizational and disciplinary needs. On the contrary, the priest's relationship with his Bishop in the one presbyterate [presbyterium], his sharing in the Bishop's ecclesial concern, and his devotion to the evangelical care of the People of God in the specific historical and contextual conditions of a particular Church are elements which must be taken into account in sketching the proper configuration of the priest and his spiritual life.4
Second, there is need for greater effort and commitment on the part of all priests and bishops. The unity of the presbyterium will not happen accidentally, rather building communion requires effort, "commitment and planning" by the diocese.5 On the part of priests, it will require overcoming of personal differences and sacrifice of one's preferences, a true self-denial for Christ and the communion of his Church. On the part of bishops, a true leadership is needed, one that both encourages and legislates. "It is the duty of the bishop to foster unity among the priests of his diocese, because together with their bishop the priests of the diocese constitute one presbyterium."6 The bishop must work to know his priests, just as the priests are to consider him a father and friend. The bishop's role can have a strong effect on the presbyterium and the juridical institutions that manifest and reinforce it.
The unity between bishops and priests is, in such manner, sacerdotal and hierarchical communion; in the sacrament and in the ministry; in the faith and in the life; it is concretized in the style of dedication of oneself to the particular Church and of coherent pastoral sharing. From here the call to the unity of the presbyterium gives translation into terms of effective co-responsibility, of participation, of solidarity and of reciprocal support in the pastoral activity: in this one must express the presbyterium as a union of the priests with the bishop not only for motives of priestly spirituality or of ministerial efficiency, but above all for the communal logic which sustains all the life, the structure and the ministry of the Church.7

1 Escrivá, St. Josemaria, Conversations with Mgr Escrivá de Balaguer, Shannon, Ireland: Ecclesia Press, 1968, 20.

2 Vatican II. Christus Dominus, 28. "In animarum autem cura procuranda primas partes habent sacerdotes dioecesani, quippe qui, Ecclesiae particulari incardinati vel addicti, eiusdem servitio plene sese devoveant ad unam dominici gregis portionem pascendam; quare unum constituunt presbyterium atque unam familiam, cuius pater est Episcopus."

3 Carretto, 235. "E poiché il Vescovo ed i suoi Sacerdoti debbono riuscire a stabilire ed applicare una nuova consuetudine di vita ecclesiale, possiamo dire che il Presbiterio sia, se non proprio 'la più grande rivoluzione operata dal Concilio', almeno un fatto di notevolissima importanza."

4 John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 31. "valor spiritalis evadit pro presbytero ipsa eius inscriptio ac dedicatio in servitium cuiusdam Ecclesiae particularis. In eo enim vinculo non organizationis dumtaxat et disciplinae normae sunt perpendendae: potiora e contra habeantur tum vinculum ipsum quo singuli ad Episcopum in uno Presbyterio uniuntur, tum participatio in sollicitudinibus ecclesialibus, tum denique dedicatio ad curas evangelicas Populi Dei in concretis adiunctis historicis et temporalibus cuiuscumque Ecclesiae particularis; haec enim talia sunt ut per ea vel maxime designetur quodammodo propria sacerdotis eiusque vitae spiritualis imago".

5 John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 42. Cited on page 18.

6 Mendonca, Augustine. "The Bishops as a Father, Brother and Friend to His Priests." Philipine Canonical Formum IV (2002) 75-95. He speaks of the juridical nature of the relationship between a bishop and his priests, which effects a bishop's ministry, for example: "the bishop must know his priests well enough to be able to assist them in their ministry." ... "it is the bishop's obligation to promote knowledge and pastoral activity of his priests." ... "the bishop has the obligation to show special concern towards them."

7 Sarzi, 2000, 39-40. "L'unità tra vescovi e preti è, in tal modo, comunione sacerdotale e gerarchica; nel sacramento e nel ministero; nella fede e nella vita; si concretizza nello stile di dedicazione di sé alla Chiesa particolare e di coerente condivisione pastorale. Da qui il richiamo all'unità del presbiterio da tradurre nei termini di effettiva corresponsabilità, di partecipazione, di solidarietà e di sostegno reciproco nell'attività pastorale: in essa si deve esprimere il presbiterio come unione dei preti con il vescovo non solo per motivi di spiritualità sacerdotale e di efficienza ministeriale, ma anzitutto per la logica comunale che sostiene tutta la vita, la struttura e il ministero della Chiesa."

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