Juridical Manifestations of the Presbyterium


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Introduction

Preface

During my theological studies as a seminarian, I went on pilgrimage to Paris to attend the Twelfth World Youth Day. Among the activities in preparation for the Holy Father's visit, there was a prayer service for seminarians, at which a message from Pope John Paul II was read:
During your years in the seminary, you are gathered by the Holy Spirit in a unique fraternity. This time of community life is a true experience of the Church which prepares you for life as part of the presbyterate [presbyterium], with all the diversity of charisms and sensibilities which that entails. Thus every day you will feel yourselves more and more as members of the diocesan Church.1
The Holy Father desired that our seminary would introduce us to the concept of the presbyterium, a preparation for the life of a priest who works as part of the presbyterate of a diocese, united in obedience to one's Bishop, as he continued:
Leaving behind one's self to serve the Church and to follow Christ is accomplished by entrusting one's life and future into the hands of the Bishop, as symbolically takes place during ordination, in order to act in the perspective of pastoral charity. It is through obedience that we come to do the will of God. Such an attitude reinforces the sense of service and readiness for the ecclesial mission, and one's openness to the pastoral life of the diocese. You will thus be linked to the Bishop "in loyal cooperation, in harmony with your fellow-priests".2
Thus, I was introduced the concept of the presbyterium. Of course, I had learned about the presbyteral order and the identity of the ministerial priest, how all who receive the Holy Orders have a link from their relation to Christ the High Priest. But this is something more, something new, a bond and grouping that take place within a diocese, where priests have a specific pastoral mission, serving not just the whole Church, but fully dedicated to a particular Church and the faithful who compose it. This service and mission are a call for priests to collaborate and participate within the diocese for a more fruitful ministry.

The Second Vatican Council put forward this idea, which reappraised the value of the presbyterium; the role priests have in collaborating with each other and with the bishop in the ministry and governance of a particular Church. This concept came from the ecclesiological and theological renewal made by the Council, based upon an already-existing notion in the writings of the early Church, which valued the role of the presbyterium acting with its bishop. As the teachings of the Council need to be applied, the new awareness of this reality needs to be realized in concrete and juridical ways, as the presbyterium is something greater than just fraternal charity or brotherhood among priests.

This paper will first examine the concept of the presbyterium, which comes from the scriptures and early Church, and is put in new light by the last Ecumenical Council and the Church's post-conciliar teaching. Then it will examine the juridical manifestations of the presbyterium; that is, the way this theological relation between priests and the bishop includes concrete, juridical institutions. These will be seen on both the diocesan and the parish levels. Finally, it will examine juridical means which, even if not a manifestation of the entire presbyterium, can help to reinforce this relationship, leading to a greater collaboration of the priests and the bishop.

In sum, I wish to answer the question: how can the Council's teaching on the presbyterium be put into practice, and what are the juridical ways to help reinforce this reality? The 1971 Synod of Bishops expressed the need to do this:

The guiding principle expressed by the Second Vatican Council in the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, namely that the very unity of consecration and mission requires the hierarchical communion of priests with the order of bishops, is considered fundamental to a practical restoration or renewal, with full confidence, of the mutual relationship between the bishop and the presbyterium over which the bishop presides. This principle is more concretely to be put into practice especially by the diligence of the bishops.3

Terminology and Translation

A clarification of terminology is needed. The Latin word presbyterium is used by the Second Vatican Council with a specific meaning (just as the Holy Father used the term in the first quote cited above). It refers to the priests who exercise pastoral offices in a diocese or other particular Church. There is a special bond and relationship created among those priests whom, united to their bishop, form a presbyterium. We clearly need to maintain this concept of presbyterium:
The Presbyterium is the body of Presbyters with the Bishop as head in a local church: belonging to the Presbyterium are all the priests and only the priests who, in some manner, exercise the sacred ministry in the diocese with dependency on the Bishop.4
Today, most English authors translate presbyterium as presbyterate, but this creates a problem of vocabulary. Look at the entries from two reference works:
Presbyterate. The priesthood, as the second rank of holy orders above the diaconate and below the episcopate. (Etym. Greek presbyteros, elder.)5
Presbyterate, union based upon ordination, of all priests (presbyters), including religious priests, with the diocesan bishop. Antecedents of this understanding are found in the second-century councils of presbyters united with the local bishop. After centuries of neglect, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) revived an appreciation of the sacramental bond between priests and bishop.6
The English word presbyterate is being used to translate two concepts, thus concealing the difference between them: the ordo presbyterorum (or ordo presbyteratus), as defined in the first definition, and the presbyterium, in the second. As the word presbyterate does not contain the fullness of the term presbyterium,7 I propose that it should be untranslated in English, as was done in the translations of the Code of Canon Law. Unfortunately, this was not done in the commonly used Flannery translation of the documents of Vatican II.8 This mistranslation of presbyterium is contrary to the intention of the documents, because it attempts to equate the presbyterium with the universal priesthood.
Membership in a specific presbyterium always comes within the context of a particular Church, of an Ordinariate or of a personal Prelature. In fact, unlike the case of the College of Bishops, it seems that there are no theological foundations to affirm the existence of a universal presbyterium.9
The conciliar translation edited by Abbott uses "presbytery",10 as did other authors immediately following the Council. This comes from the translation of the word presbyterium which preceded the Second Vatican Council, when the term was used to refer to either the place where priests sit in the sanctuary of a Church, or occasionally to a parish's residence house for priests. In such cases, it should be translated into English as presbytery, but when referring to the body of priests in a diocese, such a translation has fallen out of use and seems out of place, so presbyterium will be left untranslated.

Lastly, emphasizing and deepening the specifically diocesan dimension of the priesthood should never be seen as negating its universal dimension, nor the special charism of religious priests. Serving the diocesan church is never opposed to the universal church, and the missionary dimension of the priesthood remains an intrinsic part of the sacrament of holy orders: "every priestly ministry shares in the fullness of the mission entrusted by Christ to the apostles... solicitude of all the churches ought to be their intimate concern" (PO 10).11


1 John Paul II, "Message écrit pour la veillée de prière sur les vocations", 21 August 1997, 4. "Pendant vos années de séminaire, vous êtes réunis par l'Esprit Saint en une fraternité unique; ce temps de vie communautaire est une véritable expérience d'Église, vous préparant à la vie au sein du presbytérium, dans la diversité des charismes et des sensibilités qu'il comporte: ainsi, vous vous sentirez chaque jour davantage membres de l'Église diocésaine." Trans. [10-27-03] http://www.vatican.va/ holy_father/john_paul_ii/travels/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_21081997_vocation_en.html.

2 Ibid, 6. "le dépouillement de soi pour le service de l'Église et la suite du Christ passent par la remise de sa vie et de son avenir entre les mains de son évêque, comme cela se réalise symboliquement au cours de l'ordination, pour conduire son action dans la perspective de la charité pastorale. C'est dans l'obéissance que nous faisons la volonté de Dieu. Une telle attitude renforce le sens du service et de la disponibilité pour la mission ecclésiale et l'ouverture à la pastorale diocésaine; vous serez alors attachés à l'évêque 'comme des coopérateurs sûrs [qui] apportent leur concours en commun avec leurs frères'." He quotes Vatican II. "Decree On Priestly Training" Optatam totius. October 28, 1965, 9.

3 Synod of Bishops, 1971. "The Ministerial Priesthood." Ultimis temporibus. November 30, 1971, part II, II, n. 1. "Principium vero dirigens in Decreto Presbyterorum Ordinis a Concilio Vaticano II expressum, quo scilicet ipsa unitas consecrationis missionisque requirit hierarchicam presbyterorum communionem cum ordine Episcoporum, habetur fundamentale ad practice restaurandam vel renovandam, plena cum fiducia, mutuam relationem inter Episcoporum et Presbyterium cui ipse Episcopus praeest. Hoc autem principium in praxim praesertim per Episcoporum sollicitudinem pressius deducendum est."

4 Masi, R. cited in Carretto, Guido, "Il Consiglio Presbiterale." Appolinaris 44 (1971) 241. "Il Presbiterio è l'insieme dei Presbiteri con a capo il Vescovo in una chiesa locale: appartengono al Presbiterio tutti i sacerdoti e solo i sacerdoti che, in qualsiasi modo, fanno il ministero sacro nella diocesi alle dipendenze del Vescovo."

5 John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary. Bardstown (KY): Eternal Life, 1980 (2001), 435.

6 McBrien, Richard P., ed. The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1995, 1046.

7 cf. Calvo, Randolph Consultation and the Presbyteral Council: New Emphasis in the Ratio Legis. Rome: S. Thomae, 1986, 122, fn. 51. "The term is difficult to render precisely into English. In the sense used in Lumen Gentium 28, it does not pertain solely to priests as the presbytery of the diocese, but also to the relationship between the diocesan bishops and the priests who minister in the diocese."

8 English translations will be taken from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. ed. Austin Flannery, O.P. Northport (NY): Costello Publishing Co., Inc., 1996. He variously translates presbyterium as "college of priests", "priesthood", "priestly body", etc.

9 Congregation for Clergy. "Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests." Libreria Editrice Vaticana, March 31, 1994, 25. Translation and emphasis mine. "Condicio pertinendi ad certum definitumque presbyterium semper fit in ambitu alicuius Ecclesiae particularis, Ordinariatus vel Paelaturae personalis. Namque, aliter ac quod attinet ad Collegium Episcopale, fundamenta theologica esse non videtur ut possit affirmari presbyterium universale exisistere."

10 Abbott, Walter M., S.J., ed. The Documents of Vatican II. New York: The America Press, 1996, 549 fn. 105. At the same time he admits: "It is very difficult to translate the word 'Presbyterium.' The council consciously refused to use 'college of priests' so that there would be no question of any parallel between the diocesan 'Presbyterium' and the 'College of Bishops.' Cf. Cattaneo, Arturo. Il presbiterio della Chiesa particolare. Milano: Giuffrè Editore, 1993, 57. "The presbyterium does not constitute a college equivalent to the episcopal college. The Council absolutely avoids the use of the term 'college', or its derivatives, in reference to the presbyters." "Il presbiterio non costituisce un collegio equiparabile al collegio episcopale. Il Concilio evita in modo assoluto l'uso del termine 'collegio', o i suoi derivati, a proposito dei presbiteri."

11 Vatican II. Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests. Presbyterorum Ordinis. 10. "nam quodlibet sacerdotale ministerium participat ipsam universalem amplitudinem missionis a Christo Apostolis concreditae. ... ad omnes populos et ad omnia tempora necessario dirigitur".


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