“The Missionary Identity of the Priest in the Church which is intrinsic to the exercise of the tria munera”
Cardinal Mauro Piacenza
The Congregation for the Clergy is pleased to present the circular letter: “The Missionary Identity of the Priest in the Church which is intrinsic to the exercise of the tria munera”. It is the fruit of its last Plenary Assembly which was held in March 2009.
The address of the Holy Father to the Plenary Assembly (16 March 2009) is an indispensable forward to this letter. This address contains both the fundamental principles deriving from his theological vision, which are necessary for a correct interpretation of the Letter, as well as those basic criteria which are indispensable for the work of the Dicastery, especially with regard to certain current questions of crucial importance for the life of the Church.
Among the priorities of the contemporary Church, the members of the Plenaria were in agreement on the need for a renewal of missionary commitment. The progressive pace of secularism, with its corrosive consequences for those social and cultural structures which facilitated the transmission of the Faith, suggests a need for a genuine “leap” of responsibility both in terms of mission ad gentes, as well as in the daily exercise of the Ministry which must be lived in an authentically apostolic, and therefore missionary fashion.
The Letter makes only a brief reference to the need for Mission and of the theology and spirituality of Mission which are founded explicitly on the Mission of Christ in which all priests share by virtue of sacramental Ordination.
A more extensive consideration is reserved for the universal need for a renewal of missionary praxis (cfr. § 3 of the Letter) which, in the first place, depends on the individual’s awareness of being a disciple. There can be no authentic and effective pastoral and missionary activity unless accompanied with an effective and affective consciousness of being “disciples of the Lord”. Understood in this sense, Mission is not so much the organization of events, the results of which are dependent on human capacities, and even less so a strategy for some form of “universal indoctrination”. Mission happens and is effective wherever an authentic disciple of the Lord lives, prays, suffers and works.
An essential element of any possible renewal of missionary praxis must be a deepening of discipleship. If our particular Churches, or Communities, or even if we ourselves have no sense of the urgency of proclaiming Christ to all whom we encounter, we have to ask ourselves the primary and fundamental question: To what extent are we disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ?
The missionary characteristic is not something extraneous which is appended externally to the structure of the Church. Rather, it is almost a note of the Church which is intimately connected with apostolicity and catholicity. The Letter speaks of «the trinitarian, Christological and ecclesiological grounding of the priestly Ministry which is the basis of all missionary identity» (cfr. §2).
From discipleship, which includes a dimension of ecclesial communion, derives both an openness to the Catholic universality of the Mission ad gentes, and the flowering of that healthy creativity which engenders an authentic missionary evangelization and which, because its only objective is a real personal encounter with Christ in the Church, is capable of being «all things to all men» – as the Apostle says (cf. 1 Cro 9, 22).
The Letter also offers some concrete proposals (cf, § 3). These are developed in reference to the munus docendi, sanctificandi and regendi. They also call on the local Bishops’ Conferences to provide more specific local applications. In response to the members of the Plenaria, the spirit of the Letter is one of strengthening the apostolic and missionary zeal of priests, starting with their own identity and emphasizing the importance of formation at every level. «Formation will nonetheless prove absolutely decisive for the future of the Church: a priest with a clear personal identity, possessed of a solid human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation, will encourage new vocations with greater ease, since he will live his consecration as mission. Joyful and confident in the Lord’s love for his priestly existence, he will be fragrant with the “good odour of Christ” and will live every moment of his being as a missionary opportunity» (cf. § 3.4).
It is hoped that the circular Letter will contribute to sustaining the daily missionary commitment of priests, conscious that this derives, and in a certain sense depends on, the fundamental acceptance of the operation of the Holy Spirit in their lives. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, sustain their work and grant apostolic success to our ministry.
Vatican City, 21 January 2011
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza