Priests are necessary to the Catholic Church. Without them, Catholics would not have access to many of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Confession, and the Anointing of the Sick. The Vatican II Fathers, recognizing the great significance of priests, composed Optatam Totius, or Decree on the Training of Priests, in order to lay out the principles and general regulations for priestly formation.
Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Optatam Totius.
* A priesthood “animated by the spirit of Christ” is necessary for the renewal of the Catholic Church. Priests must be trained according to sound principles that harmonize traditional practices with updates according to the condition of the modern world. Priestly formation is required for all prospective priests.
Priestly Training in Different Countries
* Episcopal conferences in each country or rite will drawn up a Program of Priestly Training, submit it to the Holy See for approval, and revise it as necessary. The Program ought to adapt to the conditions of the time and place.
More Intensive Fostering of Priestly Vocations
* The entire Christian community must work together to foster vocations to the priesthood through prayer, penance, education, and moral Christian living.
* Parents, teachers, parishes, priests, and bishops all have special responsibilities to encourage young men who may be called to the priesthood.
* The Church's hierarchy reserves the right to judge candidates for the priesthood and call and consecrate those it finds worthy.
* Minor seminaries are designed to nurture the seeds of a vocation through “special religious formation” and “spiritual direction.” They should adapt the guidelines for major seminaries according to the needs of their pupils.
* The purpose of major seminaries is to create priests who are “true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
* These seminaries train pupils in the ministry of the Word, the “ministry of worship and sanctification,” and the “ministry of the shepherd” who represents Christ to humanity.
* Seminary education as a whole must have a pastoral goal.
* Seminaries should employ the most competent teachers, who are sound in doctrine, have pastoral experience, and are trained in pedagogy and spirituality. These teachers, along with their superiors, form a united family with their students in “the closest harmony of spirit and action.”
* Candidates for the priesthood must be carefully screened to make sure that they are fit for the great responsibility they intend to undertake. If necessary, candidates should be guided into vocations better suited to them.
Greater Attention to Spiritual Training
* All candidates for the priesthood must receive spiritual formation in order to “learn to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” They must cultivate a friendship with God in “every detail of their lives.”
* Students grow in spirituality by meditating on the Scriptures; actively participating in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; praying frequently and deeply; and learning to see Christ in those around them, in those they must obey, and in those they serve.
* As part of their spiritual formation, pupils are trained in the moral life, virtues, prayer, missionary zeal, participation in the life of the Church, service to their fellow human beings, and self-denial.
* Candidates for the priesthood learn to embrace and appreciate the gift of celibacy with gratitude. This renunciation of marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” helps them practice undivided love, surrender completely to God, acquire self-mastery, and “bear witness to the resurrection.”
* Priestly formation instills in candidates maturity, stability and strength of character, decision-making skills, sound judgment, self-control, discipline, obedience, and good qualities like sincerity, justice, faithfulness, modesty, and charity.
* Candidates should receive practical experience in pastoral work.
The Revision of Ecclesiastical Studies
* Candidates for the priesthood study a variety of academic subjects to prepare them intellectually for their vocation.
* Languages are key to seminary studies. Students will study Latin and other “languages of holy Scripture and Tradition” as well as the liturgical languages of their region and rite.
* Philosophy and theology are coordinated that they might work together to reveal “to the minds of the students with ever increasing clarity the Mystery of Christ.”
* The introductory course to the formation program communicates the Mystery of Christ, helps students understand the program of studies they are undertaking, and strengthens them to accept their vocation with joy and dedication.
* Philosophy classes develop in students “a solid and consistent knowledge of man, the world and God” and help pupils learn how to dialogue with the modern world.
* Students should learn to use their reason in “rigorous investigation, observation and demonstration of the truth,” but they must also recognize “the limits of human knowledge” and the necessity of faith.
* Seminary theology classes help students “draw pure Catholic teaching from divine revelation,” grasp the deep meanings of their faith, and express and defend the faith clearly.
* Theology courses focusing on Scripture teach students to do exegesis but also help students learn the main themes of the Bible and find “inspiration and nourishment in daily reading and meditation upon the sacred books.”
* Dogmatic theology classes should examine 1. biblical themes; 2. the Fathers of the Church; 3. the history of dogma; and 4. St. Thomas Aquinas.
* Students must learn about liturgy and sacraments, moral law, salvation history, canon law, Church history, ecclesiology, and ecumenism, all with a Christocentric emphasis.
* Priestly formation focuses on training the entire person to live his vocation in a genuine and profound way.
Attention to Strictly Pastoral Training
* Pastoral concerns “characterize every feature of the students' training.”
* Students receive practical training for pastoral work by learning how to administer the sacraments, teach, preach, offer spiritual direction, serve, promote the apostolate among the laity, and enter into dialogue with non-Catholics and non-Christians.
* Practical training initiates candidates into pastoral work.
* Priests should receiving continuing education through pastoral institutes, meetings, projects, and other opportunities that they might grow in their knowledge and spirituality.
* Those pursuing a vocation to the priesthood must “develop a keen awareness that the hopes of the church and the salvation of souls are being committed to them.” They should accept their formation and vocation joyfully.
The full text of Optatam Totius is available online at the Vatican website.