Imprinted with a special character at their ordination, priests share in the ministry of Jesus Christ, in His roles of priest, prophet, and king, in order to build up the Body of Christ; to preach the Gospel to the whole world; and to confect the source and summit of Christian life, the Eucharist. In Presbyterorum Ordinis, or the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, the Vatican II Fathers speak directly to priests, reminding them of the special nature of the priesthood, their ministry, their relationships with other members of the Church, their call to holiness, and the traits and education they should cultivate.
Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in the first half of Presbyterorum Ordinis.
* Priests play a “most important and increasingly difficult role” in the modern Church.
* Through their ordination, they receive a share in the ministry of Christ to serve the people as priests, prophets, and kings in imitation of the Lord and to build up the Church.
Chapter I – The Priesthood in the Church's Mission
Nature of the Priesthood
* All believers share in the priesthood of Christ, offering spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming the Word of God.
* Ordained priests, however, receive a special character and “are configured to Christ the priest” that they may “act in the person of Christ the head” under the authority of the bishops.
* The priest's ministry flows from and is geared toward the Eucharist.
* Priests preach the Word and offer the Eucharistic sacrifice for the glory of God and for the salvation and sanctification of humanity.
Place of Priests in the World
* Priests are consecrated, set apart, for the work of God. They are witnesses to Him and “dispensers of a life other than that of this earth.”
* At the same time, their ministry requires them to live in the world and serve their brothers and sisters.
* Priests should cultivate virtues like sincerity, courtesy, and justice that help them relate to others.
Chapter II – The Ministry of Priests
Functions of Priests
* Priests serve as ministers of God's Word. They are co-workers with the bishops in preaching the Gospel to all people; bringing faith to unbelievers; and helping faith grow in the hearts of Christians.
* Through the witness of their lives, their preaching and teaching, and their efforts to treat “contemporary problems in the light of Christ's teaching,” priests bring God's Word to all people, inviting them to conversion and holiness.
* Priests should strive to apply “the eternal truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of life.”
* Preaching and sacraments are naturally joined together. Preaching of the Word is necessary to explain the sacraments while the sacraments draw “their origin and nourishment from the Word.”
* Priests share in Christ's priesthood in a special way that they may celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
* The Eucharist is “the source and the summit of all preaching of the Gospel.” All the other sacraments and all ministry and “works of the apostolate” are “bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it.”
* The Eucharist is the center of everything, and when the priests and the faithful offer the Eucharist, they are offering themselves, their whole lives.
* Priests instruct the faithful in prayer and penance, offer guidance in the duties of their state of life, and teach them Christian values and morals.
* Priests extend the liturgy throughout every day by the Divine Office.
* They work to create “a house of prayer” in every church and cultivate “liturgical knowledge and art.”
* Priests lead the family of God as fathers and shepherds, directing the faithful toward unity and Christian maturity.
* They guide their flocks in love; encourage all Christians to minister to each other in love; and serve all people, especially the poor and weak.
* Special attention is necessary for young people, married couples, parents, religious, the sick, and the dying, but priests should also work to build community within their parishes and teach each local community to develop a missionary spirit and a strong attachment to the universal Church.
* Community is founded on the Eucharist and tends toward witness and service.
* Priests must not be swayed by “any human ideology or party” but be “heralds of the Gospel” and pastors who strive for “spiritual growth of the Body of Christ.”
Priests' Relation with Others
* Priests must always be united with their bishops. They offer them reverence, cooperation, and obedience. Bishops look on priests as helpers, advisers, brothers, and friends.
* As a result of their ordination, priests are “bound together by an intimate sacramental brotherhood.” They are united in service and purpose as “one priestly body,” so they must help and support each other.
* Priests should frequently share fellowship with one another, even living in community if possible. They should participate in associations and offer “brotherly help,” especially to priests who are struggling.
* In relation to the laity, priests serve as fathers, teachers, brothers, and fellow members of the Body of Christ. They should be servant leaders who appreciate the talents, skills, charisms, and apostolate of the laity and listen to them courteously and seriously.
* Priests shepherd the faithful with love, being peacemakers, “defenders of the common good,” and “unwavering champions of truth.”
* The faithful, in turn, are obliged to treat their priests with filial love and help them in any way possible.
The Distribution of Priests, Priestly Vocations
* Priests share in the fullness of the Church's mission to bring the Word of God and loving service to all people.
* Priests must be flexible and mobile that they might embrace the tasks and locations assigned to them.
* All Christians must pray for and work toward vocations to the priesthood, but priests are particularly responsible to promote vocations through the witness and example of their lives, through preaching, through prayer, and through spiritual direction.
* Parents and educators, along with priests, should encourage vocations and help young people discern.
Presbyterorum Ordinis in Its Own Words
“Priests by sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King. They share in his ministry, a ministry whereby the Church here on earth is unceasingly built up into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” (#1)
“The purpose, therefore, which priests pursue in their ministry and by their life is to procure the glory of God the Father in Christ. That glory consists in this-that men working freely and with a grateful spirit receive the work of God made perfect in Christ and then manifest it in their whole lives. Hence, priests, while engaging in prayer and adoration, or preaching the word, or offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice and administering the other sacraments, or performing other works of the ministry for men, devote all this energy to the increase of the glory of God and to man's progress in the divine life. All of this, since it comes from the Pasch of Christ, will be crowned by the glorious coming of the same Lord, when he hands over the Kingdom to God the Father.” (#2)
“Thus the Eucharistic Action, over which the priest presides, is the very heart of the congregation. So priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives. In the spirit of Christ the Shepherd, they must prompt their people to confess their sins with a contrite heart in the sacrament of Penance, so that, mindful of his words "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mt 4:17), they are drawn closer to the Lord more and more each day. Priests likewise must instruct their people to participate in the celebrations of the sacred liturgy in such a way that they become proficient in genuine prayer. They must coax their people on to an ever more perfect and constant spirit of prayer for every grace and need. They must gently persuade everyone to the fulfillment of the duties of his state of life, and to greater progress in responding in a sensible way to the evangelical counsels. Finally, they must train the faithful to sing hymns and spiritual songs in their hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (#5)
“Though priests of the New Testament, in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, exercise the most outstanding and necessary office of father and teacher among and for the People of God, they are nevertheless, together with all Christ's faithful, disciples of the Lord, made sharers in his Kingdom by the grace of God's call. For priests are brothers among brothers with all those who have been reborn at the baptismal font. They are all members of one and the same Body of Christ, the building up of which is required of everyone.” (#9)
The full text of Presbyterorum Ordinis is available online at the Vatican website.