A simple reflection on the spirituality of the diocesan priest must take into account the parallel Christian spirituality of every baptized faithful, namely its Christ-centered, Spirit-inspired, ecclesial and local characteristics. Indeed, every spirituality is basically unifying. Christ is its essential point of reference, the Holy Spirit is its guide and the local Church its constant foundation.
However, the spirituality is also multifaceted since every Christian lives it in a different manner, namely according to his canonical existential situation (to wit, in the sacred ministry, in the religious life or as a lay person), and, within this framework, according to his special charisma.
Hence, albeit grounded on a common theological basis, one may find various ways in which the same spirituality is put into practice. The Apostle Paul himself wrote in the first letter to the Corinthians: ''To each was given a special manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.''
These thoughts of mine shall follow a double track: one doctrinal and the other existential.
A correct presentation of priestly spirituality, applicable both to bishops and priests (but also to deacons) must take its necessary leave from the primary and essential reference to Christ. If this holds true in the case of the spirituality of a simple Christian, it becomes all the more appropriate for the priest. Sacred ordination creates a special ontological bond between the priest and Christ. The teaching of the Church defines this bond as ''a special configuration'' to Christ.
The priest, already configured to Christ through baptism, by means of ordination receives a special configuration to Christ as ''head and shepherd'' of the Church. Herein lies the peculiar character of the second degree of the sacrament of order and in a higher form in the first degree, which is the episcopacy.
We read in the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (on the formation of priests) by Pope John Paul II:
· ''the sacrament of Holy Orders, which configures them (the priests) to Christ, the head and shepherd, the servant and spouse of the Church'' (PDV, No. 3);
· ''the priest (. . .) is sent forth by the Father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom he is configured in a special way as head and shepherd of his people'' (PDV, No. 12);
· ''by sacramental consecration the priest is configured to Jesus Christ as head and shepherd of the Church, and he is endowed with a 'spiritual power' which is a share of the authority whereby Jesus Christ guides the Church through the Spirit'' (PDV, No. 21).
The ontological reality of this configuration, according to this exhortation, summons the priest to be ''a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd'' (PDV, No. 15), and the ''living image of Jesus Christ, the shepherd of the Church and the spouse of the Church'' (PDV, No. 22).
This Christ-centered dimension of the priest, even if in a different manner, was always emphasized in the theological thinking and polity of the Church. Indeed, at times it was so strongly stressed as to overshadow its ecclesiological aspect.
This point deserves a brief reflection in order to better comprehend the topic in question.
In early times, during the apostolic and subapostolic periods, the Church was engaged not only in expanding throughout the world, but also in structuring herself according to various ministries: apostles, prophets, doctors, bishops, priests, deacons, and so on. The priests exercised their ministries in strict communion among themselves and with the local bishop.
In a way, the ministries were dictated by the concrete needs of the local Churches and aimed at their constant growth.
An ordained minister could not be understood but in the service of a local Church, as can be seen in the injunction of the Council of Chalcedon of 451against sacred ordinations ''without a title,'' namely, without a deputation to serve a specific Church, a fact which is indicated today with the word ''incardination'' or ''ascription'' in a local Church (diocese or eparchy).
The sixth canon of that council is severe in that it declared that such ordinations were not simply illicit but invalid.
Despite this strong dictate, the practice of ''unconditional'' ordinations continued to exist for a long time, carried out mostly by so-called ''transient'' bishops on behalf of persons without any specific formation, who limited themselves to celebrate the Eucharist alone. Hence there prevailed the notion of priests devoted only to the altar, the so-called ''Mass priests,'' as they came to be known later on.
Beginning with the fourth century, when Christianity became the official religion of the empire, the ordained ministers were likened to civil officers of the state. As Christianity spread from the cities to the country, there slowly emerged two models of ecclesial life and Eucharistic assemblies.
In the city, the bishop officiated with his college of priests. This was the time of the great bishops of history, such as Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Chrysostom of Constantinople, and Gregory of Nyssa.
In the rural areas, the individual priests presided over the liturgy and the parish. Ever so slowly the Eucharistic mode ceased to be considered as the primary action of an ecclesial assembly and became the celebration of individual priests. Moreover their relationship with the bishop became more and more evanescent.
During the feudal period (8th-9th centuries), often this dispersion took up the appearance of a separation: priests at the service of squires from whom they received benefices, par- ishes, and, naturally, protection. The ecclesial dimension, already fragile, became more and more forgotten.
From the 10th century to the Council of Trent (1563) the practice of celebrating the Eucharist in private without the participation of the faithful became more and more common, as well as the practice of Mass devotion. This has as a consequence the multiplication of the individual altars in churches.
The ritual aspect of the priest was emphasized to the point of becoming almost exclusive. The Latin language used in the celebration, no longer understood by most, induced the people to pray privately during the Mass. This practice continued in some parishes until the 1950s.
Not infrequently, the pastoral activity of many priests was limited to the ritual celebrations. The perspective of a local Church -- meaning the complex of structured relationships with the bishop and his pastoral office, and of the ties among the entire diocesan presbyterium -- was normally absent. This was due also to the fact that it was forgotten in the places and in the books of formation to the priesthood.
Whoever was curious enough to research the ecclesiastical archives and read the booklets of the 19th century containing talks to the priests making their spiritual retreats will find out that the themes almost exclusively dealt with the topic of the last things inhuman life: death, judgment, heaven and hell as the final realities.
The Council of Trent
The Council of Trent reacted vigorously against the individualistic practice of the priests by emphasizing their pastoral activities and the fact that the daily exercise of the ministry is a source of holiness. Indeed, in order to guarantee an exact exercise thereof imposed the obligation of residence on those enjoying benefices, both bishops and parish-priests. Those who would not comply were called simply ''mercenaries.''
However, the pastoral style of the priests remained individualistic for a long time: thus, the relationship to the diocesan Church was seen as a juridical one, the bishop a far-away authority, the presbyterium an abstract entity, the collaboration among priests mostly as a ritual or organizational fact. It's no wonder, therefore, if those who were not parish-priests sought to create their own living spaces by establishing chapels with their own feasts or by becoming court chaplains or instructors in wealthy Christian families.
Indeed, theologian Karl Rahner wrote: We older priests have been individualistic spiritually. Thuseach one created for himself a living space wherein to live his own spiritual existence.
Vatican II: the Dual Path
Vatican II has effected a marked recovery of the ecclesial dimension of the profile and the pastoral activity of the priests, above all through a more accurate reading of the New Testament and a closer examination of the life of the early Christian communities.
At the Christological roots of the ministry of sacred ministers, which remains central (in fact we speak of roots), Vatican II has placed in parallel order the ecclesial dimension which, albeit in subordination to the former, is also equally important. Both belong to the essence of the sacred ministry.
The already mentioned exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis says it with clear and effective words:
The priest has a fundamental relationship with Jesus Christ, head and shepherd. [. . .] However, intimately connected with such union is also the relationship with the Church.
And it further explains:
These are not simply similar ''relationships,'' but intimately connected in a sort of mutual coexistence. The relationship to the Church is inherent in the sole and unique relationship to Christ, in the sense that it is the sacramental representation of Christ which is at the basis of and animates the relationship of the priest to the Church (PDV, No. 16).
For the Church's teaching, therefore, the sacred/ordained minister -- and with it the spirituality of the priest -- walks in the Christological/ecclesial track.
In the Church and in the Forefront of the Church
One should not overlook the twofold emphasis carried out by this papal document, namely, that the priest is set not simply in the Church but also in the forefront of the Church. The priest is in the Church because, by virtue of baptism, he shares the grace of rebirth in Christ together with all the faithful; but at the same time he is in the forefront of the Church because, by virtue of ordination he is an official herald of the Gospel, the dispenser of the sacraments, and the guide of the Christian flock.
The exhortation says that, through him, ''the Church obtains the awareness of faith of coming from herself but from the grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit, because she is the visible continuation and the sacramental sign of Christ'' (PDV, No. 16).One may further note that the priest is the Lord's sign given to the Church, just like the column of cloud and fire that guided Israel in the journey of the Exodus.
This twofold position of the priest ''in'' and ''in the forefront'' of God's people is wonderfully summarized by the famous words of St. Augustine:
To you I am bishop, with you I am Christian. The former is a title received; the latter comes from grace. The former is a name spelling danger; the latter is source of salvation.
All this implies authority not power, service not control, and, moreover, an exemplary life.
The diocesan spirituality of the priests -- and the use of the terms is far from secondary -- has two vital relationships, Christ and the Church. Christ is the source and the model, leader and shepherd, servant and bridegroom of the Church; and the Church is the milieu where every ordained minister is formed and operates.
Keeping in mind that the ecclesial reference has been neglected through the centuries, it is necessary to reflect on it more at length, since, as Cardinal Avery Dulles writes,
The greatest danger encountered by the priests today concerns his ecclesiological dimension. If, at the time of the ''identity crisis'' of the '70s, the Christological relationship was at risk, nowadays it is the relationship to the Church that risks being forgotten.
In this part of our reflection we will emphasize a few aspects of the relationship of the priests to the Church, whose vital part they are. Let us begin with the exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis which emphasizes (see No. 17) a threefold relationship, which one may characterize by way of three adjectives: filial, fraternal, paternal: filial relationship with the bishop, fraternal with the members of the presbyterium, and paternal with the faithful.
Relationship with the Bishop
The ministry of the priests consists first of all in a ''responsible and necessary communion and collaboration with the ministry of the bishop, with whom they form a single presbyterate'' (PDV, No. 17).
This applies to all priests, both diocesan and religious, without exception. This relationship to the diocesan bishop and through him to the local Church and thereby to the universal Church is necessary and must be without reservation, exception or limitation. Indeed, there are no two presbyterates, one stable and local (diocesan priests), the other movable and universal (religious priests).
There is only one presbyterate, hence one priesthood, which is acting according to different pastoral tasks (different duties and assignments) and responding to the various pastoral situations (charismas, affiliation with religious or lay institutes of consecrated life or apostolic groups). In fact, no diversity can weaken, much less eliminate the unity of the ordained ministry and its relationship to the bishop of the local Church.
The apostolic constitution Lumen Gentium states that ''the bishops have undertaken, along with their fellow-workers, the priests and deacons, the service of the community, presiding in the place of God over the flock whose shepherds they are, as teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship and ministers of government'' (LG, No. 20);and they ''govern the Churches entrusted to them as vicars and legates of Christ'' (LG, No. 27).
The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis asserts that ''the very unity of their consecration and mission requires their hierarchical communion with the order of bishops'' (PO, No. 7). And the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis affirms that ''all priests, whether diocesan or religious, share in the one priesthood of Christ the head and shepherd; they work for the same cause, namely the building of the Body of Christ'' (PDV, No. 17).
This is part of the teaching of the Church, to which -- as prescribed by the sacred canons -- we owe the religious submission of mind and will.
Cardinal Walter Kasper writes: ''The emphasis on the relationship with the bishop and with a specific Church marks a clear inversion of trend from the practice of the unconnected ordination and manifests the intention of recapturing the ancient form of an ordination bound to a Church.'' We might describe it as the ecclesiology of the salusanimarum, that is, the salvation of souls.
We know well that the present canonical discipline reminds us that the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to the pastor, but under the authority of the bishop. Nothing can be carried out apart from his pastoral directives, much less against them.
Relationships with the Presbytery
It pays to add here that the term ''presbytery'' does not entail a body of persons who carry out the same work (such as, for instance, a team of firemen), but it indicates above all the truth that the priests are united among themselves by special bonds which are sacramental in nature, not just by bonds of reciprocal aide, collaboration or the like. It might be surprising that the statements on the presbytery on the part of Church teaching so far lack a certain appropriate depth. However, they are meaningful even under the existential, as well as the doctrinal aspect. A brief review of some of these texts should be useful.
In Lumen Gentium we read that ''by virtue of the sacred ordination and the mission they have in common, all priests are bound together in a close fraternity . . . and constitute along with their bishop one presbyterium though destined to different duties'' (LG, No. 28).
The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, which speaks of the priests only in the plural form as if to stress that their ministry is never a personal task, states that ''priests are bound together by close sacramental bonds of brotherhood and form one priestly body in the diocese to the service of which they are attached under its bishop. Though engaged in a variety of duties, they nevertheless exercise a single priestly ministry for the people. Each one is bound to the other members of this priestly body by special links of apostolic love, service and brotherhood'' (PO, No. 8).
Similar to the spirit of the council is the post-conciliar teaching, like the mentioned exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis which says:
Within the ecclesial community, the priest is called in particular to grow, thanks to his ongoing formation, in and with his presbyterium in union with his bishop. The presbyterate, in the fullness of its truth, is a mysterium: it is in fact a supernatural reality because it is rooted in the sacrament of Holy Orders. This is its source and origin. This is its place' of birth and of its growth (PDV, No. 74).
The presbyterate appear as true family, as a fraternity whose ties do not arise from fresh and blood but from the grace of Holy Orders. This grace takes up and elevates the human and psychological bonds of affection and friendship, as well as the spiritual bonds which exist between priests. It is a grace that grows ever greater and finds expression in the most varied forms of mutual assistance, spiritual and material as well (PDV, No. 74).
With sacred ordination, the priest enters into a group which exists before him, becomes part of a fraternity which does not depend from a decision of the members to accept him and to love him. The unity exists beforehand, even independently from its concrete realization. Just as the unity of the Church/Body of Christ exists before the decision of the baptized to live in charity, because it is a gift of God, so also is the presbyteral communion: it is also a gift of God which precedes the choice of the individual to live in it. Indeed, the gift always precedes its acceptance, and it exists even if man rejects it.
It is the constitution into a body that makes possible the communion of the presbyterate and in the presbyterate, not the other way around. This -- be it clear -- in no way entails lack of interest (disengagement). In this point also, as in all the dynamic reality of grace, the gift is the basis for responsibility and duty; however, it is the acceptance of it that makes it possible. Therefore the unity of the presbyterate is as much the gift of God as the work of man.
Through sacred ordination, the priest enters into a group that has special, and not general bonds, of psychological, social and functional nature for a better organizational system of the common work.
The Latin liturgy lex orandi, lex credendi, that is, ''the way one prays, the way one believes'' indicates these bonds in the two gestures of the priests attending the ordination of a new priest: the hands raised during the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of hands over the head of the person to be ordained.
Thus we could think of a parallelism: just as the person through baptism becomes a member of the mystical body of Christ and is incorporated into the Church, so also the priest, through ordination, becomes member of the presbyteral body in the service of the Church.
One can also state that, as the Church is not the sum total of the baptized, but is the body of Christ of which each is part, so also the presbyterate is not simply the sum total of the priests, but a reality complete in itself of which each priest is part.
The bond is so strong that some theologians have said: ''We do not belong to the presbyterate because we are priests, but we are priests because we are members of the presbyterate.''
The unity of the individual priest with the presbyterate and of the presbyetarte with the diocesan bishop is an absolutely unavoidable condition of the spirituality of priests even before being a useful condition to carry out his pastoral activities. In other words, pastoral collaboration and the mutual assistance between priests follow and derive from the presbyteral communion. The foundation is the communion that comes from the very sacrament of sacred orders which sets up a radical 'community form' in the presbyterate and between the presbyterate and the local bishop.
At any rate, it is certain that this aspect of the spirituality of the priest, not individualistic but commutual, deserves a different attention from what it had received until now. And this also in order to subtract the diocesan priest from any temptation of pastoral and existential isolation. ''Whoever is alone is in bad company!''
Therefore, the communion of priests among themselves and with their bishop is not to be considered an option, but as an essential condition to be a priest and to exercise the priestly ministry.
George Tavard thus writes: ''It is on this point of presbyteral communion that the future of the post-conciliar Church is at stake, a Church that is called to put into practice the ecclesiology of communion set down as the heritage of the Council.''
Father Gallaro is Professor of Canon Law and Dean of Students at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Pittsburgh, Pa. He received his Licentiate in Ecumenical Theology (1994) and his Doctorate in Eastern Canon Law (1981) from Pontifical Universities. In addition, he holds a Specialization in Liturgical Theology (1980) as well as his Bachelor in Philosophy. Professor Gallaro teaches and writes in the areas of ecclesiastical law, ecumenical theology, and Eastern Churches history. He lives in Pittsburgh.