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Presbyters share in Christ's priesthood

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 31 March 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. Today we are beginning a new series of catecheses dedicated to the presbyterate and to presbyters, who, as we know, are the closest co-workers of the bishops, in whose consecration and priestly mission they share. I will talk about this by adhering strictly to the New Testament texts and by following the approach of the Second Vatican Council, which has been the style of these catecheses. I begin my development of this theme with deep affection for these close co-workers of the episcopal order, to whom I feel close and whom I love in the Lord, as I have said since the beginning of my pontificate, especially in my first letter to priests of the whole world, written for Holy Thursday, 1979.

2. It must immediately be pointed out that the priesthood, in every degree, and thus in both bishops and presbyters, is a participation in the priesthood of Christ. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ is the one high priest of the new and eternal covenant, who "offered himself once for all" in a sacrifice of infinite value that remains unchangeable and unceasing at the very heart of the economy of salvation (cf. Heb 7:24-28). There is no further need or possibility of other priests in addition to or alongside the one Mediator, Christ (cf. Heb 9:15; Rom 5:15-19; 1 Tim 2:5). He is the point of union and reconciliation between mankind and God (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-20), the Word made flesh, full of grace (cf. Jn 1:1-18), the true and definitive hieréus, or priest (Heb 5:6; 10:21). On earth he "took away sin by his sacrifice" (Heb 9:26) and in heaven he continues to intercede for his faithful (cf. Heb 7:25), until they attain the heavenly inheritance won and promised by him. No one else in the new covenant is hieréus in the same sense.

3. The participation in Christ's one priesthood, which is exercised in several degrees, was instituted by Christ, who wanted differentiated functions in his Church as in a well-organized social body. For the function of leadership he established ministers of his priesthood (cf. CCC 1554). He conferred on them the sacrament of Orders to constitute them officially as priests who would work in his name and with his power by offering sacrifice and forgiving sins. The Council notes: "Therefore, having sent the apostles just as he himself had been sent by the Father, Christ, through the apostles themselves, made their successors, the bishops, sharers in his consecration and mission. The office of their ministry has been handed down, in a lesser degree indeed, to the priests. Established in the order of the priesthood they can be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission entrusted to priests by Christ" (PO 2; cf. CCC 1562). This will of Christ clearly appears in the Gospel, from which we know that Jesus assigned to Peter and the Twelve a supreme authority in his Church, but Jesus also wanted co-workers for their mission. What the evangelist Luke attests is significant, namely, that after Jesus sent the Twelve on mission (cf. 9:1-6), he sent a still larger number of disciples, to indicate that the mission of the Twelve was not enough for the work of evangelization. "After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit" (Lk 10:1). Doubtless this step only prefigures the ministry that Christ would formally institute later on. However, it already shows the divine Master's intention to introduce a sizable number of co-workers into the "vineyard." Jesus chose the Twelve from among a larger group of disciples (cf. Lk 6:12, 13). These "disciples," in the sense of the term used in the Gospel texts, were not only those who believed in Jesus but those who followed him and wanted to accept his teaching as the Master and devote themselves to his work. And Jesus involved them in his mission. According to Luke, it was precisely on this occasion that Jesus said: "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few" (Lk 10:2). Thus he indicated that, in his mind, relative to the experience of the first ministry, the number of workers was too small. That was true not only then, but for all times, including our own, when the problem has become especially acute. We have to deal with it, feeling spurred on and at the same time comforted by these words and--so to speak--by Jesus' gaze on the fields where laborers are needed for harvesting the grain. Jesus gave the example by his initiative, which could be called "vocation promotion." He sent seventy-two disciples in addition to the twelve apostles.

4. According to the Gospel, Jesus assigned to the seventy-two disciples a mission like that of the Twelve; the disciples were sent to proclaim the coming of God's kingdom. They were to carry out this preaching in the name of Christ and with his authority: "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Lk 10:16). Like the Twelve (cf. Mk 6:7; Lk 9:1), the disciples received the power to expel evil spirits, so much so that after their first experiences they said to Jesus: "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." This power was confirmed by Jesus himself: "I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold I have given you the power 'to tread upon serpents' and upon the full force of the enemy..." (Lk 10:17-19). This also means that they participated with the Twelve in the redemptive work of the one priest of the new covenant, Christ, who wanted to confer on them too a mission and powers like those of the Twelve. The establishment of the presbyterate, therefore, not only answers one of the practical necessities of bishops, who feel the need for co-workers, but derives from an explicit intention of Christ.

5. In the early Christian era presbyters (presbýteroi) were present and functioning in the Church of the apostles and of the first bishops, their successors [1] . In these New Testament books it is not always easy to distinguish between "presbyters" and "bishops" regarding the duties assigned to them. But very early on, already in the Church of the apostles, the two categories of those sharing in Christ's mission and priesthood appear to take shape. They are found again later and more clearly described in the works of the subapostolic writers (like Pope St. Clement's Letter to the Corinthians, the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Shepherd of Hermas, etc.). In the common terminology of the Church in Jerusalem, Rome and the other communities of the East and West, the word bishop was finally reserved for the one head and pastor of the community, while the term presbyter designated a minister who worked in dependence on a bishop.

6. Following Christian Tradition and in conformity with Christ's will as attested in the New Testament, the Second Vatican Council speaks of presbyters as ministers who do not have "the supreme degree of the priesthood" and who, in exercising their power, depend on bishops. On the other hand, they are "united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity" [2] . This association is rooted in the sacrament of Orders: "The office of priests, since it is connected with the episcopal order, also, in its own degree, shares the authority by which Christ builds up, sanctifies and rules his body" [3] . Presbyters too bear "the image of Christ, the supreme and eternal Priest" [4] ; therefore they participate in Christ's pastoral authority. This is the characteristic note of their ministry, based on the sacrament of Orders conferred on them. We read in Presbyterorum Ordinis: "Wherefore the priesthood, while indeed it presupposes the sacraments of Christian initiation, is conferred by that special sacrament; through it priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are signed with a special character and are conformed to Christ the priest in such a way that they can act in the person of Christ the head" [5] . This character, in those who receive it through the sacramental anointing of the Holy Spirit, is a sign of: a special consecration, in relation to Baptism and Confirmation; a deeper configuration to Christ the priest, who makes them his active ministers in the official worship of God and in sanctifying their brothers and sisters; the ministerial powers to be exercised in the name of Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church [6] .

7. In the presbyter's soul the character is also a sign and vehicle of the special graces for carrying out the ministry, graces related to the sanctifying grace that Holy Orders imparts as a sacrament both at the time it is conferred and throughout his exercise of and growth in the ministry. It thus surrounds and involves the presbyter in an economy of sanctification, which the ministry itself implies both for the one who exercises it and for those who benefit from it in the various sacraments and other activities performed by their pastors. The whole Church garners the fruit of the sanctification resulting from the ministry of presbyter-pastors: both diocesan priests and those who, having received Holy Orders under any title or in any form, carry out their activity in communion with the diocesan bishops and the Successor of Peter.

8. The profound ontology of the consecration received in Orders and the dynamism of sanctification that it entails in the ministry certainly exclude any secularized interpretation of the priestly ministry, as if the presbyter were simply dedicated to establishing justice or spreading love in the world. The presbyter participates ontologically in the priesthood of Christ. He is truly consecrated, a "man of the sacred," designated like Christ to the worship that ascends to the Father and to the evangelizing mission by which he spreads and distributes sacred realities--the truth, the grace of God--to his brothers and sisters. This is the priest's true identity; this is the essential requirement of the priestly ministry in today's world too.

[1]   cf. Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 41; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:17, 19; Ti 1:5; Jas 5:14; 1 Pet 5:1, 5, 15; 2 Jn 1; 3 Jn 1
[2]   LG 28; cf. CCC 1564
[3]   PO 2; cf. CCC 1563
[4]   LG 28
[5]   PO 2; cf. CCC 1563
[6]   cf. CCC 1581-1584"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai giovani

Carissimi ragazzi e giovani! È per me una grande gioia incontrarmi oggi con tutti voi, accompagnati dai vostri genitori ed insegnanti. Vi saluto di cuore, ringraziandovi per l’entusiasmo e l’affetto che mi manifestate. Molti di voi sono alunni di scuole cattoliche e provengono da varie città d’Italia, ma prevalente, com’è naturale, è la presenza di alunni

romani. Carissimi ragazzi, impegnatevi sempre con costanza, sotto la guida dei vostri educatori, ad approfondire e a testimoniare coerentemente i valori cristiani che vi vengono impartiti a scuola. In un mondo, nel quale risuonano voci spesso discordi, fate sì che il Vangelo orienti interamente la vostra esistenza. Cristo conta su di voi. Siatene gli araldi coraggiosi, impegnati a recare agli altri ragazzi e ragazze il messaggio gioioso della salvezza.

Saluto, ora, con affetto i soci dell’Associazione Nazionale Famiglie di Fanciulli e Adulti Subnormali, che festeggiano i 35 anni di vita associativa. Saluto, pure, con viva cordialità il gruppo della Associazione Genitori e Amici dei Disabili di Sant’Angelo Lodigiano. La vostra presenza, carissimi, è un valido richiamo al valore cristiano della sofferenza e della solidarietà. Continuate nel vostro impegno tanto nobile e meritevole!

Accolgo, poi, con gioia i bambini provenienti dalla regione di Luninetz in Bielorussia, vittime delle radiazioni nucleari della centrale di Chernobyl ed ospiti di alcune parrocchie di Roma per un periodo di cura. Possa il vostro soggiorno in Italia, cari amici, contribuire a donare più vigore al vostro fisico e maggior serenità al vostro spirito.

So inoltre, cari ragazzi, che alcuni di voi si stanno disponendo a ricevere i Sacramenti della Prima Comunione e della Cresima. Preparatevi con cura ed entusiasmo a questi importanti incontri con il Signore. Siate disponibili pienamente alla grazia divina, che Egli vi rinnoverà generosamente. Vi invito infine tutti ad unirvi ai giovani del mondo intero che, nelle loro rispettive Diocesi, celebreranno, tra qualche giorno, la Domenica delle Palme come preparazione alla VIII Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù. Essa, come ben sapete, avrà luogo a Denver, negli Stati Uniti, il prossimo 14 e 15 agosto. Augurandovi, infine, di cuore una viva e personale partecipazione al mistero pasquale, imparto a ciascuno di voi, ai vostri genitori ed educatori, la mia benedizione.

Ai fedeli francesi

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. En particulier, j’adresse un salut cordial aux jeunes filles et aux adultes du Centre Madeleine Daniélou. J’encourage les jeunes venus en pèlerinage à Rome à fonder leur vie sur le Seigneur. Avec la grâce du baptême et de la confirmation, puissent–ils être des témoins joyeux du Christ! Avec ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the groups from the Benedictine School at Downside Abbey and from the Oratory Preparatory School in Reading, as well as the lecturers and students from King’s College, London. I also welcome the group of Italian restaurant proprietors from the United States meeting in Rome. With prayers that the celebration of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection during Holy Week will be a time of spiritual renewal for all Christians, I cordially invoke upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience the abundant blessings of Christ our Saviour.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Saluto cordialmente i pellegrini di Tokyo e Sendai e gli altri giapponesi che appartengono al “ Atsugi Boys and Girls Choir ” e alla “ Tokyo Opera Association ”.

Pensando alle imminenti solennità pasquali, ma anche alle tristissime condizioni in cui si trovano le nazioni colpite dalla guerra, dalla fame e dalle malattie vi esorto tutti a concorrere con fervide preghiere e offerte delle sofferenze, insieme con quelle della B. M. Vergine e con l’esercizio della vostra professione, alla pace nel mondo.

Con questo auspicio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgrub an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Besonders grübe ich die Kirchenchöre aus der Region Krefeld, die Teilnehmer an der Diözesanwallfahrt von Schülern, Eltern und Lehrern aus dem Bistum Münster, den Kinderchor Selm sowie die Ministranten der Dompfarrei Speyer und der Pfarrei St. Marien in Neustadt an der Weinstrabe.

Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim und all jenen, die uns in diesem Augenblilck geistlich verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España. Particularmente numerosos son los estudiantes procedentes de numerosas ciudades españolas: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Tarragona, Cádiz y otras. A todos vosotros, chicos y chicas aquí presentes, os doy mi afectuosa bienvenida y os aliento a dar siempre testimonio de vuestra fe cristiana para hacer de nuestro mundo un lugar más justo y fraterno.

De corazón imparto a todos la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pozdrawiam wszystkich obecnych na tej audiencji pielgrzymów. Następujace grupy: z Krakowa – parafia św. Mikołaja i Liceum Ogólnokształcące im. Stanisława Wyspiańskiego, z Białośliwia w archidiecezji gnieźnieńskiej – parafia Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa, wspólnota modlitewno–pokutna z całej Polski, z Torunia – pielgrzymka Polskiego Czerwonego Krzyża, z Bielska–Białej – grupa pielgrzymkowo–turystyczna “ Marco ”, z Gdańska – grupa kolejarzy, z Poznania – Zespół Szkół Mistrzostwa Sportowego, z Piastowa k. Warszawy – Zespół Szkół Chemicznych i Liceum Ogólnokształcace, grupa Towarzystwa Włosko–Polskiego, młodzież z Warszawy – Liceum im. C. K. Norwida, jeszcze z Poznania – młodzież Liceum Ogólnokształcącego im. I. Paderewskiego, z Osieka – nauczyciele i młodzież Liceum Ogólnokształcącego, prócz tego uczestnicy grup turystycznych: “ Barbara ” z Warszawy, “ Mistral ” z Katowic, “ Beskid–Tour ” z Bielska–Białej, “ Voyageur ” z Katowic, “ Sigma–Travel ” z Warszawy, wreszcie wszyscy inni obecni na tej audiencji pielgrzymi, zarówno z kraju, jak z emigracji.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Nel salutare ora i pellegrini di lingua italiana, desidero rivolgere anzitutto un pensiero al gruppo di sacerdoti che hanno partecipato ad un corso di spiritualità del Movimento dei Focolari a Loppiano. Siate i benvenuti, carissimi Fratelli, chiamati ad essere testimoni e annunziatori delle grandi opere di Dio! Siate sempre consapevoli di avere ricevuto l’ineffabile dono di servire gli uomini nel loro cammino verso Cristo, nutrendoli alla mensa della Parola e del Pane della vita.

Saluto quindi il numeroso gruppo di fedeli della Parrocchia di Sant’Andrea e San Donnino, dell’Arcidiocesi di Firenze. Le due Comunità, unite pastoralmente, ospitano gruppi di lavoratori stranieri, provenienti dalla Cina e dall’Africa, oppure appartenenti a vari gruppi di nomadi. Vi esorto a testimoniare la carità di Cristo in ogni situazione, operando quale fermento evangelico all’interno della società.

Un pensiero anche ai collaboratori ed alle collaboratrici familiari, provenienti dallo Sri Lanka, appartenenti al gruppo “Amici di San Rocco” di Napoli. Auspico che il loro servizio sia confortato da segni concreti di fraterna comprensione e benevolenza.

Saluto, poi, il gruppo “Quattro torri” del Lions Club di Corato, in provincia di Bari, ed esprimo compiacimento per le iniziative di carattere sociale nelle quali l’Associazione si impegna.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Giunga, infine, il mio saluto ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli. Carissimi, vi invito a vivere l’imminente Settimana Santa con intensa partecipazione al Mistero di amore redentore, che in essa verrà ricordato. La luce del Figlio di Dio, crocifisso e risorto, vi guidi alla testimonianza della sua verità, la quale apre la mente dei giovani, rasserena il cuore dei malati, sostiene il mutuo amore degli sposi. In tal modo ciascuno di voi, carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle, potrà condurre una degna vita umana, portando nel mondo la luce del Vangelo. A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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