Ad catholici Sacerdotii EN
On the Catholic Priesthood
Encyclical of Pope Pius XI
December 20, 1935.
To our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.
1 By the inscrutable design of Divine Providence We were raised to this summit of the Catholic priesthood. From that moment Our thoughts were turned to all the innumerable children whom God entrusted to Us. Yet, in a special way, We have felt an affectionate and earnest solicitude towards those who have the commission to be «the salt of the earth and the light of the world», for those who have been signaled out and adorned by the priestly character. In a still more special way Our thoughts have turned towards those dearly beloved young students who are being educated in the shadow of the sanctuary and are preparing themselves for this most noble charge, the priesthood.
2 Even in the first months of Our Pontificate, before We had addressed Our solemn word to the whole Catholic world, We hastened to lay stress upon the principles and ideals which ought to guide and inspire the education of future priests. This we did by Our Apostolic Letter Officiorum omnium written on the first of August, 1922, to Our beloved son, the Cardinal Prefect of the sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities. And whenever Our pastoral watchfulness prompts Us to consider more in particular the good estate and the needs of the Church, Our attention is directed always, and before all things else, to priests and clergy.
3 Nor is there lacking witness to this Our special interest in the priesthood. For We have erected many new seminaries; and others We have, at great expense, provided with new and befitting buildings, or endowed more liberally with revenues or staff, that they may the more worthily attain their high aim.
4 Upon the occasion of Our Sacerdotal Jubilee, We allowed that event, so blessed in its memories, to be celebrated with some solemnity, and We even encouraged with fatherly gratification the marks of filial affection which came to Us from every part of the globe. Our reason was that We regarded this celebration not so much as a homage to Our Person, as a dutiful tribute of honor to the dignity of the priestly character.
5 Similarly, We decreed a reform of studies in ecclesiastical faculties, by the Apostolic Constitution Deus scientiarum Dominus, of the twenty-fourth of May, 1931. Our special purpose in this decree was to make even broader and higher the culture and learning of priests.
6 This matter, indeed, is of so great and universal importance that We think fitting to devote to it a special Encyclical; since it is Our desire that the faithful, who already possess the priceless gift of Faith, may appreciate the sublimity of the Catholic Priesthood and its providential mission in the world; that those, too, who do not yet possess the Faith, but with uprightness and sincerity are in search of Truth, may share this appreciation with the faithful; above all, that those who are themselves called may have still deeper understanding and esteem of their vocation. This subject is particularly opportune at the present moment, for it is the end of the year which has seen extended, beyond the Eternal City to the whole Catholic world, the Jubilee of the Redemption. This Extraordinary Jubilee, at Lourdes, came, like a sunset, to a splendid close. There, under the mantle of the Immaculate, for a fervent and uninterrupted Eucharistic Triduum, gathered together Catholic clergy of every tongue and rite. Our beloved and venerated priests, never more energetic in well-doing than during this special Holy Year, are the ministers of the Redemption of which this year was the Jubilee. Moreover, this year, as We said in the Apostolic Constitution Quod nuper, commemorated, likewise, the nineteenth centenary of the institution of the priesthood.
7 Our previous Encyclicals were directed to throwing the light of Catholic doctrine upon the gravest of the problems peculiar to modern life. Our present Encyclical finds a natural place among these others, opportunely supplementing them. The priest is, indeed, both by vocation and divine commission, the chief apostle and tireless furtherer of the Christian education of youth; in the name of God, the priest blesses Christian marriage, and defends its sanctity and indissolubility against the attacks and evasions suggested by cupidity and sensuality; the priest contributes more effectively to the solution, or at least the mitigation, of social conflicts, since he preaches Christian brotherhood, declares to all their mutual obligations of justice and charity, brings peace to hearts embittered by moral and economic hardship, and alike to rich and poor points out the only true riches to which all men both can and should aspire. Finally, the priest is the most valorous leader in that crusade of expiation and penance to which We have invited all men of good will. For there is need of reparation for the blasphemies, wickedness and crimes which dishonor humanity today, an age perhaps unparalleled in its need for the mercy and pardon of God. The enemies of the Church themselves well know the vital importance of the priesthood; for against the priesthood in particular, as We have already had to lament in the case of Our dear Mexico, they direct the point of their attacks. It is the priesthood they desire to be rid of; that they may clear the way for that destruction of the Church, which has been so often attempted yet never achieved.
8 The human race has always felt the need of a priesthood: of men, that is, who have the official charge to be mediators between God and humanity, men who should consecrate themselves entirely to this mediation, as to the very purpose of their lives, men set aside to offer to God public prayers and sacrifices in the name of human society. For human society as such is bound to offer to God public and social worship. It is bound to acknowledge in Him its Supreme Lord and first beginning, and to strive toward Him as to its last end, to give Him thanks and offer Him propitiation. In fact, priests are to be found among all peoples whose customs are known, except those compelled by violence to act against the most sacred laws of human nature. They may, indeed, be in the service of false divinities; but wherever religion is professed, wherever altars are built, there also is a priesthood surrounded by particular marks of honor and veneration.
9 Yet in the splendor of Divine Revelation the priest is seen invested with a dignity far greater still. This dignity was foreshadowed of old by the venerable and mysterious figure of Melchisedech, Priest and King, whom St. Paul recalls as prefiguring the Person and Priesthood of Christ Our Lord Himself.
10 The priest, according to the magnificent definition given by St. Paul is indeed a man Ex hominibus assumptus, «taken from amongst men», yet pro hominibus constituitur in his quae sunt ad Deum, «ordained for men in the things that appertain to God» : his office is not for human things, and things that pass away, however lofty and valuable these may seem; but for things divine and enduring. These eternal things may, perhaps, through ignorance, be scorned and contemned, or even attacked with diabolical fury and malice, as sad experience has often proved, and proves even today; but they always continue to hold the first place in the aspirations, individual and social, of humanity, because the human heart feels irresistibly it is made for God and is restless till it rests in Him.
11 The Old Law, inspired by God and promulgated by Moses, set up a priesthood, which was, in this manner, of divine institution; and determined for it every detail of its duty, residence and rite. It would seem that God, in His great care for them, wished to impress upon the still primitive mind of the Jewish people one great central idea. This idea throughout the history of the chosen people, was to shed its light over all events, laws, ranks and offices: the idea of sacrifice and priesthood. These were to become, through faith in the future Messias, a source of hope, glory, power and spiritual liberation. The temple of Solomon, astonishing in richness and splendor, was still more wonderful in its rites and ordinances. Erected to the one true God as a tabernacle of the divine Majesty upon earth, it was also a sublime poem sung to that sacrifice and that priesthood, which, though type and symbol, was still so august, that the sacred figure of its High Priest moved the conqueror Alexander the Great, to bow in reverence; and God Himself visited His wrath upon the impious king Balthasar because he made revel with the sacred vessels of the temple. Yet that ancient priesthood derived its greatest majesty and glory from being a foretype of the Christian priesthood; the priesthood of the New and eternal Covenant sealed with the Blood of the Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
12 The Apostle of the Gentiles thus perfectly sums up what may be said of the greatness, the dignity and the duty of the Christian priesthood: Sic nos existimet homo Ut ministros Christi et dispensatores mysteriorum Dei--» Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.» The priest is the minister of Christ, an instrument, that is to say, in the hands of the Divine Redeemer. He continues the work of the redemption in all its world-embracing universality and divine efficacy, that work that wrought so marvelous a transformation in the world. Thus the priest, as is said with good reason, is indeed «another Christ» ; for, in some way, he is himself a continuation of Christ. «As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you», is spoken to the priest, and hence the priest, like Christ, continues to give «glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.»
13 For, in the first place, as the Council of Trent teaches, Jesus Christ at the Last Supper instituted the sacrifice and the priesthood of the New Covenant: «our Lord and God, although once and for all, by means of His death on the altar of the cross, He was to offer Himself to God the Father, that thereon He might accomplish eternal Redemption; yet because death was not to put an end to his priesthood, at the Last Supper, the same night in which He was betrayed in order to leave to His beloved spouse the Church, a sacrifice which should be visible (as the nature of man requires), which should represent that bloody sacrifice, once and for all to be completed on the cross, which should perpetuate His memory to the end of time, and which should apply its saving power unto the remission of sins we daily commit, showing Himself made a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, offered to God the Father, under the appearance of bread and wine, His Body and Blood, giving them to the apostles (whom He was then making priests of the New Covenant) to be consumed under the signs of these same things, and commanded the Apostles and their successors in the priesthood to offer them, by the words 'Do this in commemoration of Me'«.
14 And thenceforth, the Apostles, and their successors in the priesthood, began to lift to heaven that «clean oblation» foretold by Malachy, through which the name of God is great among the gentiles. And now, that same oblation in every part of the world and at every hour of the day and night, is offered and will continue to be offered without interruption till the end of time: a true sacrificial act, not merely symbolical, which has a real efficacy unto the reconciliation of sinners with the Divine Majesty.
15 «Appeased by this oblation, the Lord grants grace and the gift of repentance, and forgives iniquities and sins, however great.» The reason of this is given by the same Council in these words: «For there is one and the same Victim, there is present the same Christ who once offered Himself upon the Cross, who now offers Himself by the ministry of priests, only the manner of the offering being different» .
16 And thus the ineffable greatness of the human priest stands forth in all its splendor; for he has power over the very Body of Jesus Christ, and makes It present upon our altars. In the name of Christ Himself he offers It a victim infinitely pleasing to the Divine Majesty. «Wondrous things are these», justly exclaims St. John Chrysostom, «so wonderful, they surpass wonder» .
17 Besides this power over the real Body of Christ, the priest has received other powers, august and sublime, over His Mystical Body of Christ, a doctrine so dear to St. Paul; this beautiful doctrine that shows us the Person of the Word-made-Flesh in union with all His brethren. For from Him to them comes a supernatural influence, so that they, with Him as Head, form a single Body of which they are the members. Now a priest is the appointed «dispenser of the mysteries of God», for the benefit of the members of the mystical Body of Christ; since he is the ordinary minister of nearly all the Sacraments,--those channels through which the grace of the Savior flows for the good of humanity. The Christian, at almost every important stage of his mortal career, finds at his side the priest with power received from God, in the act of communicating or increasing that grace which is the supernatural life of his soul.
18 Scarcely is he born before the priest baptizing him, brings him by a new birth to a more noble and precious life, a supernatural life, and makes him a son of God and of the Church of Jesus Christ. To strengthen him to fight bravely in spiritual combats, a priest invested with special dignity makes him a soldier of Christ by holy chrism. Then, as soon as he is able to recognize and value the Bread of Angels, the priest gives It to him, the living and life-giving Food come down from Heaven. If he fall, the priest raises him up again in the name of God, and reconciles him to God with the Sacrament of Penance. Again, if he is called by God to found a family and to collaborate with Him in the transmission of human life throughout the world, thus increasing the number of the faithful on earth and, thereafter, the ranks of the elect in Heaven, the priest is there to bless his espousals and unblemished love; and when, finally, arrived at the portals of eternity, the Christian feels the need of strength and courage before presenting himself at the tribunal of the Divine Judge, the priest with the holy oils anoints the failing members of the sick or dying Christian, and reconsecrates and comforts him.
19 Thus the priest accompanies the Christian throughout the pilgrimage of this life to the gates of Heaven. He accompanies the body to its resting place in the grave with rites and prayers of immortal hope. And even beyond the threshold of eternity he follows the soul to aid it with Christian suffrages, if need there be of further purification and alleviation. Thus, from the cradle to the grave the priest is ever beside the faithful, a guide, a solace, a minister of salvation and dispenser of grace and blessing.
20 But among all these powers of the priest over the Mystical Body of Christ for the benefit of the faithful, there is one of which the simple mention made above will not content Us. This is that power which, as St. John Chrysostom says: «God gave neither to Angels nor Archangels» --the power to remit sins. «Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain they are retained» ; a tremendous power, so peculiar to God that even human pride could not make the mind conceive that it could be given to man. «Who can forgive sins but God alone?» And, when we see it exercised by a mere man there is reason to ask ourselves, not, indeed, with pharisaical scandal, but with reverent surprise at such a dignity: «Who is this that forgiveth sins also?» But it is so: the God-Man who possessed the «power on earth to forgive sins» willed to hand it on to His priests; to relieve, in His divine generosity and mercy, the need of moral purification which is rooted in the human heart.
21 What a comfort to the guilty, when, stung with remorse and repenting of his sins, he hears the word of the priest who says to him in God's name: «I absolve thee from thy sins!» These words fall, it is true, from the lips of one who, in his turn, must needs beg the same absolution from another priest. This does not debase the merciful gift; but makes it, rather, appear greater; since beyond the weak creature is seen more clearly the hand of God through whose power is wrought this wonder. As an illustrious layman has written, treating with rare competence of spiritual things: «... when a priest, groaning in spirit at his own unworthiness and at the loftiness of his office, places his consecrated hands upon our heads; when, humiliated at finding himself the dispenser of the Blood of the Covenant; each time amazed as he pronounces the words that give life; when a sinner has absolved a sinner; we, who rise from our knees before him, feel we have done nothing debasing... We have been at the feet of a man who represented Jesus Christ, ... we have been there to receive the dignity of free men and of sons of God.»
22 These august powers are conferred upon the priest in a special Sacrament designed to this end: they are not merely passing or temporary in the priest, but are stable and perpetual, united as they are with the indelible character imprinted on his soul whereby he becomes «a priest forever» ; whereby he becomes like unto Him in whose eternal priesthood he has been made a sharer. Even the most lamentable downfall, which, through human frailty, is possible to a priest, can never blot out from his soul the priestly character. But along with this character and these powers, the priest through the Sacrament of Orders receives new and special grace with special helps. Thereby, if only he will loyally further, by his free and personal cooperation, the divinely powerful action of the grace itself, he will be able worthily to fulfill all the duties, however arduous, of his lofty calling. He will not be overborne, but will be able to bear the tremendous responsibilities inherent to his priestly duty; responsibilities which have made fearful even the stoutest champions of the Christian priesthood, men like St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambose, St. Gregory the Great, St. Charles and many others.
23 The Catholic priest is minister of Christ and dispenser of the mysteries of God in another way, that is, by his words. The «ministry of the word» is a right which is inalienable; it is a duty which cannot be disallowed; for it is imposed by Jesus Christ Himself: «Going, therefore, teach ye all nations ... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.» The Church of Christ, depository and infallible guardian of divine revelation, by means of her priests, pours out the treasures of heavenly truth; she preaches Him who is «the true Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world» ; she sows with divine bounty that seed which is small and worthless to the profane eyes of the world, but which is like the mustard seed of the Gospel. For it has within itself power to strike strong deep roots in souls which are sincere and thirsting for the truth, and make them like sturdy trees able to withstand the wildest storms.
24 Amidst all the aberrations of human thought, infatuated by a false emancipation from every law and curb; and amidst the awful corruptions of human malice, the Church rises up like a bright lighthouse warning by the clearness of its beam every deviation to right or left from the way of truth, and pointing out to one and all the right course that they should follow. Woe if ever this beacon should be--We do not say extinguished, for that is impossible owing to the unfailing promises on which it is founded--but if it should be hindered from shedding far and wide its beneficent light! We see already with Our own eyes whither the world has been brought by its arrogant rejection of divine revelation, and its pursuit of false philosophical and moral theories that bear the specious name of «science.» That it has not fallen still lower down the slope of error and vice is due to the guidance of the light of Christian truth that always shines in the world. Now the Church exercises her «ministry of the word» through her priests of every grade of the Hierarchy, in which each has his wisely allotted place. These she sends everywhere as unwearied heralds of the good tidings which alone can save and advance true civilization and culture, or help them to rise again. The word of the priest enters the soul and brings light and power; the voice of the priest rises calmly above the storms of passion, fearlessly to proclaim the truth, and exhort to the good; that truth which elucidates and solves the gravest problems of human life; that good which no misfortune can take from us, which death but secures and renders immortal.
25 Consider the truths themselves which the priest if faithful to his ministry, must frequently inculcate. Ponder them one by one and dwell upon their inner power; for they make plain the influence of the priest, and how strong and beneficent it can be for the moral education, social concord and peaceful development of peoples. He brings home to young and old the fleeting nature of the present life; the perishableness of earthly goods; the value of spiritual goods and of the immortal soul; the severity of divine judgment; the spotless holiness of the divine gaze that reads the hearts of all; the justice of God, which «will render to every man according to his works.» These and similar lessons the priest teaches; a teaching fitted indeed to moderate the feverish search for pleasure, and the uncontrolled greed for worldly goods, that debase so much of modern life, and spur on the different classes of society to fight one another like enemies, instead of helping one another like friends. In this clash of selfish interest, and unleashed hate, and dark plans of revenge, nothing could be better or more powerful to help, than loudly to proclaim the «new commandment» of Christ. That commandment enjoins a love which extends to all, knows no barriers nor national boundaries, excludes no race, excepts not even its own enemies.
26 The experience of twenty centuries fully and gloriously reveals the power for good of the word of the priest. Being the faithful echo and reecho of the «word of God», which «is living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword,' it too reaches «unto the division of the soul and spirit» ; it awakens heroism of every kind, in every class and place, and inspires the self forgetting deeds of the most generous hearts. All the good that Christian civilization has brought into the world is due, at least radically, to the word and works of the Catholic priesthood. Such a past might, to itself, serve as sufficient guarantee for the future; but we have a still more secure guarantee, «a more firm prophetical word» in the infallible promises of Christ.
27 The work, too, of the Missions manifests most vividly the power of expansion given by divine grace to the Church. This work is advanced and carried on principally by priests. Pioneers of faith and love, at the cost of innumerable sacrifices, they extend and widen the Kingdom of God upon earth.
28 Finally, the priest, in another way, follows the example of Christ. Of Him it is written that He «passed the whole night in the prayer of God» and «ever lives to make intercession for us» ; and like Him, the priest, is public and official intercessor of humanity before God; he has the duty and commission of offering to God in the name of the Church, over and above sacrifice strictly so-called, the «sacrifice of praise», in public and official prayer; for several times each day with psalms, prayers and hymns taken in great part from the inspired books, he pays to God this dutiful tribute of adoration and thus performs his necessary office of interceding for humanity. And never did humanity, in its afflictions, stand more in need of intercession and of the divine help which it brings. Who can tell how many chastisements priestly prayer wards off from sinful mankind, how many blessings it brings down and secures?
29 If Our Lord made such magnificent and solemn promises even to private prayers, how much more powerful must be that prayer which is said ex officio in the name of the Church, the beloved Spouse of the Savior? The Christian, though in prosperity so often forgetful of God, yet in the depth of his heart keeps his confidence in prayer, feels that prayer is all powerful, and as by a holy instinct, in every distress, in every peril whether private or public, has recourse with special trust to the prayer of the priest. To it the unfortunate of every sort look for comfort; to it they have recourse, seeking divine aid in all the vicissitudes of this exile here on earth. Truly does the «priest occupy a place midway between God and human nature: from Him bringing to us absolving beneficence, offering our prayers to Him and appeasing the wrathful Lord» .
30 A last tribute to the priesthood is given by the enemies of the Church. For as We have said on a previous page, they show that they fully appreciate the dignity and importance of the Catholic priesthood, by directing against it their first and fiercest blows; since they know well how close is the tie that binds the Church to her priests. The most rabid enemies of the Catholic priesthood are today the very enemies of God; a homage indeed to the priesthood, showing it the more worthy of honor and veneration.
31 Most sublime, then, Venerable Brethren, is the dignity of the priesthood. Even the falling away of the few unworthy in the priesthood, however deplorable and distressing it may be, cannot dim the splendor of so lofty a dignity. Much less can the unworthiness of a few cause the worth and merit of so many to be overlooked; and how many have been, and are, in the priesthood, preeminent in holiness, in learning, in works of zeal, nay, even in martyrdom.
32 Nor must it be forgotten that personal unworthiness does not hinder the efficacy of a priest's ministry. For the unworthiness of the minister does not make void the Sacraments he administers; since the Sacraments derive their efficacy from the Blood of Christ, independently of the sanctity of the instrument, or, as scholastic language expresses it, the Sacraments work their effect ex opere operato.
33 Nevertheless, it is quite true that so holy an office demands holiness in him who holds it. A priest should have a loftiness of spirit, a purity of heart and a sanctity of life befitting the solemnity and holiness of the office he holds. For this, as We have said, makes the priest a mediator between God and man; a mediator in the place, and by the command of Him who is «the one mediator of God and men, the man Jesus Christ.» The priest must, therefore, approach as close as possible to the perfection of Him whose vicar he is, and render himself ever more and more pleasing to God, by the sanctity of his life and of his deeds; because more than the scent of incense, or the beauty of churches and altars, God loves and accepts holiness. «They who are the intermediaries between God and His people», says St. Thomas, «must bear a good conscience before God, and a good name among men.» On the contrary, whosoever handles and administers holy things, while blameworthy in his life, profanes them and is guilty of sacrilege: «They who are not holy ought not to handle holy things.»
34 For this reason even in the Old Testament God commanded His priests and levites: «Let them therefore be holy because I am also holy: the Lord who sanctify them.» In his canticle for the dedication of the temple, Solomon the Wise made this same request to the Lord in favor of the sons of Aaron: «Let Thy priests be clothed with justice: and let Thy saints rejoice.» So, Venerable Brethren, may we not ask with St. Robert Bellarmine: «If so great uprightness, holiness and lively devotion was required of priests who offered sheep and oxen, and praised God for the moral blessings; what, I ask, is required of those priests who sacrifice the Divine Lamb and give thanks for eternal blessings?» «A great dignity», exclaims St. Lawrence Justinian, «but great too is the responsibility; placed high in the eyes of men they must also be lifted up to the peak of virtue before the eye of Him who seeth all; otherwise their elevation will be not to their merit but to their damnation.»
35 And surely every reason We have urged in showing the dignity of the Catholic priesthood does but reinforce its obligation of singular holiness; for as the Angelic Doctor teaches: «To fulfill the duties of Holy Orders, common goodness does not suffice; but excelling goodness is required; that they who receive Orders and are thereby higher in rank than the people, may also be higher in holiness.» The Eucharistic Sacrifice in which the Immaculate Victim who taketh away the sins of the world is immolated, requires in a special way that the priest, by a holy and spotless life, should make himself as far as he can, less unworthy of God, to whom he daily offers that adorable Victim, the very Word of God incarnate for love of us. Agnoscite quod agitis, imitamini quod tractatis, «realize what you are doing, and imitate what you handle», says the Church through the Bishop to the deacons as they are about to be consecrated priests. The priest is also the almoner of God's graces of which the Sacraments are the channels; how grave a reproach would it be, for one who dispenses these most precious graces were he himself without them, or were he even to esteem them lightly and guard them with little care.
36 Moreover, the priest must teach the truths of faith; but the truths of religion are never so worthily and effectively taught as when taught by virtue; because in the common saying: «Deeds speak louder than words.» The priest must preach the law of the Gospel; but for that preaching to be effective, the most obvious and, by the Grace of God, the most persuasive argument, is to see the actual practice of the law in him who preaches it. St. Gregory the Great gives the reason: «The voice which penetrates the hearts of the hearers, is the voice commended by the speaker's own life; because what his word enjoins, his example helps to bring about.» This exactly is what Holy Scripture says of our Divine Savior: He «began to do and to teach.» And the crowds hailed Him, not so much because «never did man speak like this man», but rather because «He hath done all things well.» On the other hand, they who «say and do not», practicing not what they preach, become like the scribes and Pharisees. And Our Lord's rebuke to the other hand, they who «say and do not», practicing not what they preach, the word of God, was yet administered publicly, in the presence of the listening crowd: «The Scribes and Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you observe and do: but according to their work do ye not.» A preacher who does not try to ratify by his life's example the truth he preaches, only pulls down with one hand what he builds up with the other. On the contrary, God greatly blesses the labor of those heralds of the gospel who attend first to their own holiness; they see their apostolate flourishing and fruitful, and in the day of the harvest, «coming they shall come with joyfulness carrying in their sheaves» .
37 It would be a grave error fraught with many dangers should the priest, carried away by false zeal, neglect his own sanctification, and become over immersed in the external works, however holy, of the priestly ministry. Thereby, he would run a double risk. In the first place he endangers his own salvation, as the great Apostle of the Gentiles feared for himself: «But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.» In the second place he might lose, if not divine grace, certainly that unction of the Holy Spirit which gives such a marvelous force and efficacy to the external apostolate.
38 Now to all Christians in general it has been said: «Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect» ; how much more then should the priest consider these words of the Divine Master as spoken to himself, called as he is by a special vocation to follow Christ more closely. Hence the Church publicly urges on all her clerics this most grave duty, placing it in the code of her laws: «Clerics must lead a life, both interior and exterior, more holy than the laity, and be an example to them by excelling in virtue and good works.» And since the priest is an ambassador for Christ, he should so live as to be able with truth to make his own the words of the Apostle: «Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ» ; he ought to live as another Christ who by the splendor of His virtue enlightened and still enlightens the world.
Ad catholici Sacerdotii EN