In the Church Christ is
On Wednesday, 14 April , at the
General Audience in St Peter's Square the Holy Father reflected on the
priest's configuration to Christ through the exercise of the three "munera".
The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given
In this Easter Season that brings us to
Pentecost and also ushers us into the celebrations for the closure of
the Year for Priests, scheduled for this coming 9-11 June, I am eager to
devote a few more reflections to the topic of the ordained Ministry,
elaborating on the fruitful realities of the priest's configuration to
Christ the Head in the exercise of the tria munera that he
receives: namely, the three offices of teaching, sanctifying and
In order to understand what it means for
the priest to act in persona Christi Capitis
in the person of Christ the Head
and to realize what consequences derive from the duty of representing
the Lord, especially in the exercise of these three offices, it is
necessary first of all to explain what "representation" means.
The priest represents Christ. What is
implied by "representing" someone? In ordinary language it usually means
being delegated by someone to be present in his place, to speak and act
in his stead because the person he represents is absent from the
Let us ask ourselves: does the priest
represent the Lord in this way? The answer is no, because in the Church
Christ is never absent, the Church is his living Body and he is the Head
of the Church, present and active within her. Christ is never absent, on
the contrary he is present in a way that is untrammelled by space and
time through the event of the Resurrection that we contemplate in a
special way in this Easter Season.
Therefore the priest, who acts in
persona Christi Capitis and representing the Lord, never acts in the
name of someone who is absent but, rather, in the very Person of the
Risen Christ, who makes himself present with his truly effective action.
He really acts today and brings about what the priest would be incapable
of: the consecration of the wine and the bread so that they may really
be the Lord's presence, the absolution of sins. The Lord makes his own
action present in the person who carries out these gestures.
These three duties of the priest
which Tradition has identified in the Lord's different words about
mission: teaching, sanctifying and governing
in their difference and in their deep unity are a specification of this
effective representation. In fact, they are the three actions of the
Risen Christ, the same that he teaches today, in the Church and in the
world. Thereby he creates faith, gathers together his people, creates
the presence of truth and really builds the communion of the universal
Church; and sanctifies and guides.
The first duty of which I wish to speak
today is the munus docendi, that is, the task of teaching.
Today, in the midst of the educational emergency, the munus docendi
of the Church, exercised concretely through the ministry of each
priest, is particularly important. We are very confused about the
fundamental choices in our life and question what the world is, where it
comes from, where we are going, what we must do in order to do good, how
we should live and what the truly pertinent values are.
Regarding all this, there are numerous
contrasting philosophies that come into being and disappear, creating
confusion about the fundamental decisions on how to live; because
collectively we no longer know from what and for what we have been made
and where we are going.
In this context the words of the Lord
who took pity on the throng because the people were like sheep without a
came true (cf. Mk 6:34). The Lord had noticed this when he saw the
thousands of people following him in the desert because, in the
diversity of the currents of that time, they no longer knew what the
true meaning of Scripture was, what God was saying.
The Lord, moved by compassion,
interpreted God's word, he himself is the Word of God, and thus provided
an orientation. This is the function in persona Christi of the
priest: making present, in the confusion and bewilderment of our times,
the light of God's Word, the light that is Christ himself in this our
Therefore the priest does not teach his
own ideas, a philosophy that he himself has invented, that he has
discovered or likes; the priest does not speak of himself, he does not
speak for himself, to attract admirers, perhaps, or create a party of
his own; he does not say his own thing, his own inventions but, in the
medley of all the philosophies, the priest teaches in the name of Christ
present, he proposes the truth that is Christ himself, his word and his
way of living and of moving ahead.
What Christ said of himself applies to
the priest: "My teaching is not mine" (Jn 7:56); Christ, that is, does
not propose himself but, as the Son he is the voice, the Word of the
Father. The priest too must always speak and act in this way: "My
teaching is not mine, I do not spread my own ideas or what I like, but I
am the mouthpiece and heart of Christ and I make present this one,
shared teaching that has created the universal Church and creates
This fact, namely that the priest does not
invent, does not create or proclaim his own ideas, since the teaching he
announces is not his own but Christ's does not mean, however, that he is
neutral, as if he were a spokesman reading a text that he does not,
perhaps, make his own. In this case too the model of Christ who said: "I
do not come from myself and I do not live for myself but I come from the
Father and live for the Father" applies. Therefore, in this profound
identification, Christ's teaching is that of the Father and he himself
is one with the Father.
The priest who proclaims Christ's word,
the faith of the Church, and not his own ideas, must also say: "I do not
live by myself and for myself, but I live with Christ and by Christ and
therefore all that Christ said to us becomes my word even if it is not
mine". The priest's life must be identified with Christ and, in this
manner, the word that is not his own becomes, nevertheless, a profoundly
On this topic St Augustine, speaking of
priests said: "And as for us, what are we? Ministers (of Christ), his
servants; for what we distribute to you is not ours but we take it from
his store. And we too live of it, because we are servants like you" (Sermo
The teaching that the priest is called
to offer, the truth of the faith, must be internalized and lived in an
intense personal and spiritual process so that the priest really enters
into a profound inner communion with Christ himself. The priests
believes, accepts and seeks to live, first of all as his own, all that
the Lord taught and that the Church has passed on in that process of
identification with his own ministry
of which St John Mary Vianney is an exemplary witness (cf. Letter for
the inauguration of the Year for Priests; L'Osservatore Romano
English edition [ORE], 24 June 2009, p. 3). "For in charity
itself we are all listening to him, who is our One Master in heaven" (En.
in Ps 131:1, 7).
Consequently the priest's voice may
often seem to be "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Mk 1:3),
but his prophetic power consists precisely in this: in never being
conformist, in never conforming to any dominant culture or mindset but,
rather, in showing the one newness that can bring about an authentic and
profound renewal of the human being, that is, that Christ is the Living
One, he is the close God, the God who works in the life and for the life
of the world and gives us the truth, the way to live.
In the careful preparation of Sunday
preaching, without excluding weekday preaching, in imparting
catechetical formation in schools, in academic institutions and, in a
special way, through that unwritten book which is his own life, the
priest is always an "educator", he teaches; yet not with the presumption
of one who imposes his own truth but on the contrary with the humble,
glad certainty of someone who has encountered the Truth, who has been
grasped and transformed by it, hence cannot but proclaim it.
In fact, no one can choose the
priesthood on his own, it is not a means of obtaining security in life
or achieving a social position: no one can give it to him nor can he
seek it by himself. The priesthood is the response to the Lord's call,
to his will, in order to become a herald of his truth, not a personal
truth but of his truth.
Dear brother priests, the Christian
people ask to hear from our teachings the genuine ecclesial doctrine,
through which they can renew their encounter with Christ who gives joy,
peace and salvation.
In this regard Sacred Scripture, the
writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Catechism of
the Catholic Church are indispensable reference points in the
exercise of the munus docendi, so essential for
conversion, the development of faith and the salvation of humankind.
"Priestly ordination... means... to be
immersed in the Truth" (Homily at the Chrism Mass, Holy
Thursday, 9 April; ORE, 17 April 2009, p. 15), that Truth which
is not merely a concept or a collection of ideas to be assimilated and
passed on but, rather, is the Person of Christ with whom, for whom and
in whom to live and thus, necessarily, the timeliness and
comprehensibility of the proclamation are also born.
Only this knowledge of a Truth that
became a Person in the Incarnation of the Son justifies the missionary
mandate: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole
creation" (Mk 16:15). Only if it is the Truth is it intended for every
creature, it is not the imposition of some thing but openness of heart
to what the creature has been created for.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Lord has
entrusted a great task to priests: to be heralds of his word, of the
Truth that saves; to be his voice in the world to bring what serves the
true good of souls and the authentic path of faith (cf. 1 Cor 6:12).
May St John Mary Vianney be an example
to all priests. He was a man of great wisdom and heroic fortitude in
resisting the cultural and social pressures of his time in order to lead
souls to God: simplicity, fidelity and immediacy were the essential
features of his preaching, the transparency of his faith and of his
The Christian People was edified by him
as happens for genuine teachers in every epoch
recognized in him the light of the Truth. In him it recognized,
ultimately, what should always be recognizable in a priest: the voice of
the Good Shepherd.