Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Three Tasks of the Priesthood

Luca Signorelli (Luca d'Egidio di Ventura de' Signorelli)
Stories from the Life of Saint Benedict: God Punishes the Priest Fiorenzo, (1497-8)
Fresco detail,
Chiostro Grande, Abbey Monte Oliveto, Tuscany

This scene shows " How God punished Fiorenzo," a wicked rival abbot, who had tried to poison Saint Benedict, and to lead his monks astray. In the back-ground four grotesque devils are tearing down the walls of his convent, with extraordinary energy of action, and three others bear away the soul of the monk, whose body may be seen crushed beneath the ruins. In the foreground the Saint listens to the tale, told by a kneeling brother.

The Holy Father has continued with his teaching. Unfortunately it has been drowned out by the furore. You may have missed it.

Starting on 14th April 2010 the Holy Father began a series of catecheses on the ordained ministry and in particular "the three tasks (munera) of the priesthood"

He began his talk by first discussing in general the three "munera" of the ordained ministry (teaching, sanctifying and governing) and what is meant by the phrase "the priest acts "in persona Christi Capitis" ":

"Dear friends,

In this Easter season, which leads us to Pentecost and also directs us to the celebrations closing the Year for Priests, planned for next June 9, 10 and 11, I cherish dedicating again some reflections to the topic of the ordained ministry, pausing on the fruitful reality of the priest's configuration to Christ the Head, in the exercise of the three "munera" he receives, that is, the three offices of teaching, sanctifying and governing.

To understand what it means to act "in persona Christi Capitis" -- in the person of Christ the Head -- on the part of the priest, and to understand also what consequences stem from the task of representing the Lord, especially in the exercise of these three offices, it is necessary to clarify first of all what is intended by [the word] "representation."

The priest represents Christ.

What does it mean, what does it signify to "represent" someone? In ordinary language it means -- generally -- to receive a delegation from a person to be present in his place, to speak and act in his place, because the one who is represented is absent from the concrete action.

We ask ourselves: Does the priest represent the Lord in the same 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 in it. Christ is never absent; in fact he is present in a way totally free of the limits of space and time, thanks to the event of the Resurrection, which we contemplate in a special way in this Easter season.

Hence, the priest who acts "in persona Christi Capitis" and in representation of the Lord, never acts in the name of someone who is absent, but in the very Person of the Risen Christ, who makes himself present with his truly effective action.

He really acts and does what the priest could not do: the consecration of the wine and the bread so that they will really be the presence of the Lord, [and] the absolution of sins.

The Lord makes present his own action in the person who carries out such gestures.

These three tasks of the priest -- which Tradition has identified in the different mission words of the Lord: teach, sanctify, govern -- in their distinction and in their profound unity, are a specification of this effective representation.

They are in reality the three actions of the Risen Christ, the same one who today teaches in the Church and in the world and thus creates faith, gathers his people, creates the presence of truth and really builds the communion of the universal Church; and sanctifies and guides."

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