DAILY CATHOLIC     MONDAY     July 19, 1999     vol. 10, no. 133

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Letter from Congregation for the Clergy

          VATICAN CITY, JUL 16 (ZENIT).- On July 11, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published a letter from the Congregation for the Clergy entitled "Teachers of the Word, Ministers of the Sacraments and Guides of the Community." The letter was signed by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos and Bishop Ternak, president and secretary, respectively, of the Congregation. The letter is a summary of the conclusions of the meeting held by this Congregation in Rome from October 13-15, 1998. It is a veritable "vademecum" for the priests of the third millennium.

          The letter emphasizes the importance of preaching, and the need for preparation in terms of content and presentation. The document suggests "the preparation of an outline of what is to be said"; the homily must be "positive and stimulating," using proper and elegant language that can be understood by all sectors of our contemporaries, avoiding banality and a hip tone."

          The letter draws a comparison with the media. The "professionals of audiovisual media prepare well for their work. It would not be an exaggeration for the teachers of the Word to study with intelligence and patience the improvement of the 'professional' quality of this aspect of their ministry."

          The letter also stresses the importance of sacramental celebrations, especially to attract those who are most distanced to a more regular religious practice. The "quality of the celebration" is recommended, the need to insist on the obligation to fulfill religious precepts, catechesis on the "conditions to receive the fruit of communion" and the re-launching of the sacrament of confession.

          "To offer all the faithful the real possibility to go to confession requires great dedication of time," says the letter, and, because of this, "it is strongly recommended that fixed periods of time be established for presence in the confessional" that everyone will be aware of through "clear, broad and convenient schedules."

          "As Jesus taught," the exercise of priestly authority "is never oppressive but reflects availability and a spirit of service." Consequently, priests should avoid "interfering in temporal questions, such as those of the socio-political order, which God has given to men." Even when they enjoy "considerable prestige with civilian authorities" they must use it with humility and to collaborate actively in the soul's salvation.

          The letter also dedicates space to the question of authority. The priest must "not be afraid to exercise his authority in areas where he must do so, because this is why he has been given authority," but "he must avoid introducing into his pastoral ministry extemporaneous forms of authoritarianism as well as democratic ways of managing his work, which are foreign to the profound meaning of his ministry."

          To act in these ways would end in the "secularization of the priest" and the "clericalization of the laity." Priests do not always want to exercise the authority they have been given. Behind this kind of behavior might be a "hidden fear to take on responsibilities, to make mistakes, to be unappreciated, to go out and meet the cross," the letter conjectures. In other words, neither authoritarianism nor imitation should be part of a priest's approach.

          The document concludes by emphasizing the importance of the priest's witness to the faithful. They "see (observe!) and feel (listen!) not only when God's Word is preached but also when the different liturgical celebrations are carried out, when they are received in the parish office, where they hope to meet with welcome and affability; when they see that the priest eats and rests and are edified by his example of sobriety and temperance; when they find him at home and rejoice to see the priestly simplicity and poverty in which he lives; when they see him dress with propriety, order and in his proper suit, when they speak with him, including on everyday topics and are comforted by his supernatural vision, the sensitivity and human style with which he addresses even the most humble people, reflecting authentic priestly nobility."

          In practical terms, the letter proposes an evangelical style, which is a requirement to insure that the "grace of the altar" will reach everywhere, from schools and youth activities to the media and hospitals. ZE99071605

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July 19, 1999       volume 10, no. 133


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