The Role of the Priest in a diocese
– (1 Peter 5:1) The priests are clearly described as having the role of a pastor and teacher: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder… Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock”.
– Note: This is not just a priest, but also a bishop interchanged…..
St. Ignatius of Antioch – “I exhort you to strive to do all things in harmony with God: the bishop is to preside in the place of God, while the presbyters are to function as the council of the Apostles, and the deacons, who are most dear to me, are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ”
o Here we see the bishop surrounded by his priests and deacons. The bishop presides as God’s representative, the priests form the apostolic senate and the deacons perform the services of Christ.”
o St. Ignatius speaks often of the priest is always part of a collegial body, the presbyterium which also includes the deacons.
o Judging by the witness of the New Testament and other early Christian documents, the ancient church never thought in terms of a solitary priest but only of a college of priests – a presbyterium, united with the local bishop.
o The presbyterium was not simply a collection of parish priests residing in places where there was no bishop. It was a college that surrounded the bishop, helping him to do the work of the church.
– The presbyterium, originally gathered around the bishop as an advisory body which concelebrated the one liturgy under his presidency, was gradually pulverized when its members assumed liturgical function in the numerous communities, the presbyters lost the character of a college.
o Initially the priests were assisting the bishop in the governance of the community.
o In later centuries, as the gospel spread into rural areas, they began to exercise more of a liturgical function and became the bishops representatives in places that are distant.
o With that, the individualism of the priest would also increase from the developing theology on the priesthood.
o This led to a mutual competitiveness in pastoral work.
– Such a position emphasizes the special dignity of the ordained priesthood and his personal power to celebrate the Eucharist.
o Obviously, nothing is wrong with such a position, which is still found in Vatican II and the Catechism.
o At times, however, it served to separate the priest from the community, while emphasizing his sacramental power and cultic functions.”
– The Second Vatican Council wanted to restore the original understanding of the bishop and his priest to enhance the spiritual welfare of the people of God.
– Pope John Paul II says the priesthood cannot be defined except in the communion of the Church: “the ecclesiology of communion becomes decisive for understanding the identity of the priest, his essential dignity, and his vocation and mission among the People of God and in the world.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis 14).
– The priesthood, as the 2nd Vatican Council saw it, can no longer be viewed in an individualistic way.
o The priest is Christ, who lives and carries out a variety of ministries, all united around the bishop. The principal agent of pastoral work is no longer an individual but a community: it is the diocesan priesthood which through its unity makes the bishop present.
– So then, what is a diocese? The 2nd Vatican Council responds with the following:
o A diocese is a section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy [presbyterium] so that, loyal to its pastor and formed by him into one community in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes one particular church in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active. (CD 11).
“The presbytery or priestly body is closely and necessarily associated with the bishop. It is said to be composed of all priests who together with the bishop shepherd or feed the people of God in a diocese.” Indeed, the priestly office is properly seen only in relation to the bishop: “Because it is joined with the episcopal order the office of priests shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up and sanctifies and rules his Body.” (PO 2).
– Notice, however, that importance is always given to the bishop’s role within the presbyterium. The presbyterium is not envisioned without its head, any less than a bishop could be imagined without his clergy.
– When these circumscriptions are headed by a bishop, the clergy present in them is ontologically constituted as part of a presbyterium, of which the bishop is head.
o The reason for the existence of the clergy is in fact not only functional – that of aiding the bishop in the carrying out of his office – but is also of an ecclesiological order.
o According to Vatican II (PO 7,1), priests (and also deacons) are not simply useful collaborators of the bishop, but necessary collaborators.