Last week I led the monthly 'recollection morning' at the seminary in which I focussed on the way that the priest is implicated in the celebration of Mass. My point of departure was a part of the Council's decree on the Priesthood, Presbyterorum Ordinis (12-14). John Paul II during his Pontificate developed this teaching of the Council, enabling the Church to see the way-markers which the Council had given us for the renewal of the priesthood, and particularly for the renewal of the Diocesan priesthood.
What is the measure or gauge of the renewal of the Diocesan priesthood? I don't think that we know what a truely renewed priesthood will look like, but what we do know is that the shape and the form of the Diocesan priesthood as it presently is, is not our goal. The priesthood is called to be purified and to be renewed. Essentially, the true glory of the priest is that he is called to be glorified with Christ in the Paschal Mystery. The Council's teaching on the Priesthood was given in the context of modern culture, and because of this, the Church is called to respond in a new way to priestly life and ministry.
Presbyterorum Ordinis outlined three particular dimensions to the priesthood which lie at the basis of the renewal of the Diocesan priesthood. Firstly, that the priesthood should not be seen so much as a ministry which is above the Church, but rather as one which is within the Church, and one which therefore acts as a leven to the whole Church.
Secondly, it spoke about pastoral charity. This is something which can fail to recognise the importance of; John Paul II really opened up the depth of this expression and revealed it as the essence of priestly life and work.
Thirdly, the Decree on the priesthood spoke about the genuine ways in which men who are called to the priesthood are called to actively cooperate with the grace of Holy Orders; the subjective ways in which priests embrace the objective reality of the Sacrament which configures them to Christ the Priest.
These three indicators lie at the heart of the priesthood and therefore also of priestly renewal. The teaching of the Council on the priesthood is also more significant than the models of priesthood which we have grown up with from the recent past, and for that reason calls for renewed reflection; as does John Paul II's Letter Pastores Dabo Vobis, and the 1994 Instruction Directory on the life and mission of priests.
Basically, what I am saying is that the renewal of the Diocesan priesthood, whilst respecting the current discipline of the Church, is today being called to a fuller embracing of the mystery of the Priesthood of Christ. We have saintly individuals who are tremendous examples of Diocesan priests, St John Vianney and St John of Avila, for instance, whose witness will always be timely. But that the recent teaching of the Church on the priesthood calls us to look beyond recent models of the priesthood and to seek genuine renewal.