Pope Francis on Homily in “Evangelii Gaudium”

Pope Francis on Homily in “Evangelii Gaudium”

The homily

pope francis135. Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors. I will dwell in particular, and even somewhat meticulously, on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.


2011- Pope Benedict XVI- Internet in the seminary forming future Priests

Internet in the seminary forming future priests

Benedict XVI to participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education

The educational emergency, the Internet in the seminary, intercultural education, the educational role of teaching of the Catholic religion at school: these are some of the topics that the Holy Father suggested to those taking part in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education on Monday morning, 7 February, 2011.. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Address at the Audience in the Vatican’s Consistory Hall, which was given in Italian. 

Your Eminences,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate

and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I address to each one of you my cordial greeting at your visit on the occasion of the Plenary Meeting of the Congregation for Catholic Education. I greet Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Dicastery, and thank him for his courteous words, as well the Secretary, the Undersecretary, the Officials and the Co-Workers.

The common denominator of the topics you are addressing in these days is education and formation, which today constitute one of the most urgent challenges that the Church and her institutions are called to face. The task of educating seems to have become increasingly difficult because, in a culture which all too often makes relativism its creed, the light of truth is lacking; indeed it is even considered dangerous to speak of truth, thereby sowing doubt on the basic values of personal and community life. This explains the importance of the service that the many educational institutions inspired by the Christian vision of man and of reality carry out in the world. Educating is an act of love, an exercise of “intellectual charity” which calls for responsibility, dedication and a consistent life. Your Congregation’s work and the decisions you make during these days of reflection and study will certainly contribute to responding to the current “educational emergency”.

Your Congregation, established by Benedict XV in 1915, has carried out its invaluable work in service to the various Catholic educational institutions for almost 100 years. There is no doubt that the seminary is one of the most important of these institutions for the life of the Church and therefore requires a formative plan that will take into account the above-mentioned context.

On various occasions I have emphasized that the seminary is a precious stage of life in which the candidate to the priesthood experiences being “a disciple of Jesus”. This training period requires a certain detachment, a certain “desert”, so that the Lord may speak to hearts with a voice that is heard if there is silence ( cf . i Kings 19:12); but also required is the willingness to live together, to love “family life” and the community dimension, which anticipate the “sacramental brotherhood” which must characterize every diocesan priest ( cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis , n. 8) I also wished to recall this in my recent Letter to Seminarians: “one does not become a priest on one’s own. The “community of disciples” is essential, the unity of those who desire to serve the greater Church (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 October 2010, p. 1).

In these days, you are also studying the draft of the Document: The Internet and formation in seminaries . Because of its ability to cover distances and put people in touch with each other, the Internet also presents great possibilities for the Church and her mission. With the necessary discernment for its intelligent and judicious use, the Internet is an instrument that can serve not only for study but also for the pastoral action of future priests in the various ecclesial areas, such as evangelization, missionary action, catechesis, educational projects and the management of institutions. In this field too it is extremely important to be able to rely on properly trained formation teachers who will be faithful and ever up-to-date guides in order to assist candidates to the priesthood in the correct and positive use of information technology.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, set up by Venerable Pius XII to encourage collaboration between the Holy See and the local Churches in the valuable work of promoting vocations to the ordained ministry. This anniversary serves as an opportunity to know and to evaluate the most important vocational projects promoted in the local Churches. In addition to emphasizing the value of the universal call to follow Jesus, the pastoral care of vocations must insist more clearly on the profile of the ministerial priesthood, characterized by its specific configuration to Christ, which essentially sets it apart from the other faithful and puts it at their service.

Furthermore, you have started to revise what the Apostolic ConstitutionSapientia Christiana prescribes on ecclesiastical studies, with regard to Canon Law, Higher Institutes for Religious Studies and, recently, philosophy. Theology is a sector that calls for special reflection. It is important to strengthen increasingly the bond between theology and the study of Sacred Scripture, so that the latter may truly be its heart and soul ( cf. Verbum Domini , n. 31).

Nevertheless the theologian must not forget that he is also the one who speaks to God. Hence it is indispensable to keep theology closely united with personal and community prayer and, especially, with liturgical prayer. Theology is sciencia fidei and prayer nourishes faith. In the union with God, mystery is in a certain way, savoured, it makes itself close, and this closeness enlightens the mind.

I would also like to stress the connection between theology and the other disciplines, given that it is taught at Catholic, and, in many cases, at secular universities. Bl. John Henry Newman spoke of the “circle of knowledge”, to indicate that an interdependence exists between the various branches of knowledge; but God and God alone has a relationship with the whole of reality; consequently, eliminating God means breaking the circle of knowledge. In this perspective, Catholic universities, with their specific identity and their openness to the “totality” of the human being, can carry out a valuable task to further the unity of knowledge, guiding students and teachers to the Light of the world, “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9). These are considerations that also apply to Catholic schools. First of all there must be the courage to proclaim the “broad” value of education, in order to form solid people who can collaborate with others and give meaning to their lives. Today there is talk of intercultural education , which is also an object of study at your Plenary Assembly.

In this realm courageous and innovative fidelity are required that can combine a clear awareness of one’s own identity with openness to others because of the requirements of coexistence in multicultural societies. To this end the educational role of teaching the Catholic religion is also emerging as an academic subject in an interdisciplinary dialogue with others. In fact, this makes a considerable contribution not only to the student’s integral development, but also to knowledge of the other, to mutual understanding and respect. To achieve these objectives special attention must be given to the training of leaders and formation teachers, not only from the professional but also from the religious and spiritual viewpoints so that the Christian educator’s presence, with the consistency of his or her life and with personal involvement, will be an expression of love and a witness of the truth.

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for all you do with your competent work at the service of educational institutions. Always keep your gaze fixed on Christ, the only Teacher, so that with his Spirit he will make your work effective. I entrust you to the motherly protection of Mary Most Holy, Sedes Sapientiae , and I cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to you all.

from Osservatore Romano

2011- Pope Benedict XVI- Internet in the seminary forming future Priests

Internet in the seminary forming future priests

Benedict XVI to participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education

The educational emergency, the Internet in the seminary, intercultural education, the educational role of teaching of the Catholic religion at school: these are some of the topics that the Holy Father suggested to those taking part in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education on Monday morning, 7 February, 2011.. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Address at the Audience in the Vatican’s Consistory Hall, which was given in Italian. 

Your Eminences,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate

and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I address to each one of you my cordial greeting at your visit on the occasion of the Plenary Meeting of the Congregation for Catholic Education. I greet Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Dicastery, and thank him for his courteous words, as well the Secretary, the Undersecretary, the Officials and the Co-Workers.

The common denominator of the topics you are addressing in these days is education and formation, which today constitute one of the most urgent challenges that the Church and her institutions are called to face. The task of educating seems to have become increasingly difficult because, in a culture which all too often makes relativism its creed, the light of truth is lacking; indeed it is even considered dangerous to speak of truth, thereby sowing doubt on the basic values of personal and community life. This explains the importance of the service that the many educational institutions inspired by the Christian vision of man and of reality carry out in the world. Educating is an act of love, an exercise of “intellectual charity” which calls for responsibility, dedication and a consistent life. Your Congregation’s work and the decisions you make during these days of reflection and study will certainly contribute to responding to the current “educational emergency”.

Your Congregation, established by Benedict XV in 1915, has carried out its invaluable work in service to the various Catholic educational institutions for almost 100 years. There is no doubt that the seminary is one of the most important of these institutions for the life of the Church and therefore requires a formative plan that will take into account the above-mentioned context.

On various occasions I have emphasized that the seminary is a precious stage of life in which the candidate to the priesthood experiences being “a disciple of Jesus”. This training period requires a certain detachment, a certain “desert”, so that the Lord may speak to hearts with a voice that is heard if there is silence ( cf . i Kings 19:12); but also required is the willingness to live together, to love “family life” and the community dimension, which anticipate the “sacramental brotherhood” which must characterize every diocesan priest ( cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis , n. 8) I also wished to recall this in my recent Letter to Seminarians: “one does not become a priest on one’s own. The “community of disciples” is essential, the unity of those who desire to serve the greater Church (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 October 2010, p. 1).

In these days, you are also studying the draft of the Document: The Internet and formation in seminaries . Because of its ability to cover distances and put people in touch with each other, the Internet also presents great possibilities for the Church and her mission. With the necessary discernment for its intelligent and judicious use, the Internet is an instrument that can serve not only for study but also for the pastoral action of future priests in the various ecclesial areas, such as evangelization, missionary action, catechesis, educational projects and the management of institutions. In this field too it is extremely important to be able to rely on properly trained formation teachers who will be faithful and ever up-to-date guides in order to assist candidates to the priesthood in the correct and positive use of information technology.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, set up by Venerable Pius XII to encourage collaboration between the Holy See and the local Churches in the valuable work of promoting vocations to the ordained ministry. This anniversary serves as an opportunity to know and to evaluate the most important vocational projects promoted in the local Churches. In addition to emphasizing the value of the universal call to follow Jesus, the pastoral care of vocations must insist more clearly on the profile of the ministerial priesthood, characterized by its specific configuration to Christ, which essentially sets it apart from the other faithful and puts it at their service.

Furthermore, you have started to revise what the Apostolic ConstitutionSapientia Christiana prescribes on ecclesiastical studies, with regard to Canon Law, Higher Institutes for Religious Studies and, recently, philosophy. Theology is a sector that calls for special reflection. It is important to strengthen increasingly the bond between theology and the study of Sacred Scripture, so that the latter may truly be its heart and soul ( cf. Verbum Domini , n. 31).

Nevertheless the theologian must not forget that he is also the one who speaks to God. Hence it is indispensable to keep theology closely united with personal and community prayer and, especially, with liturgical prayer. Theology is sciencia fidei and prayer nourishes faith. In the union with God, mystery is in a certain way, savoured, it makes itself close, and this closeness enlightens the mind.

I would also like to stress the connection between theology and the other disciplines, given that it is taught at Catholic, and, in many cases, at secular universities. Bl. John Henry Newman spoke of the “circle of knowledge”, to indicate that an interdependence exists between the various branches of knowledge; but God and God alone has a relationship with the whole of reality; consequently, eliminating God means breaking the circle of knowledge. In this perspective, Catholic universities, with their specific identity and their openness to the “totality” of the human being, can carry out a valuable task to further the unity of knowledge, guiding students and teachers to the Light of the world, “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9). These are considerations that also apply to Catholic schools. First of all there must be the courage to proclaim the “broad” value of education, in order to form solid people who can collaborate with others and give meaning to their lives. Today there is talk of intercultural education , which is also an object of study at your Plenary Assembly.

In this realm courageous and innovative fidelity are required that can combine a clear awareness of one’s own identity with openness to others because of the requirements of coexistence in multicultural societies. To this end the educational role of teaching the Catholic religion is also emerging as an academic subject in an interdisciplinary dialogue with others. In fact, this makes a considerable contribution not only to the student’s integral development, but also to knowledge of the other, to mutual understanding and respect. To achieve these objectives special attention must be given to the training of leaders and formation teachers, not only from the professional but also from the religious and spiritual viewpoints so that the Christian educator’s presence, with the consistency of his or her life and with personal involvement, will be an expression of love and a witness of the truth.

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for all you do with your competent work at the service of educational institutions. Always keep your gaze fixed on Christ, the only Teacher, so that with his Spirit he will make your work effective. I entrust you to the motherly protection of Mary Most Holy, Sedes Sapientiae , and I cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to you all.

from Osservatore Romano

1963- Pope Paul VI-Summi dei Verbum


November 4, 1963

To see the document in the Vatican site Click here

 Apostolic Letter of His Holiness, Pope Paul VI
on the Occasion of the Fourth Centenary of the Establishment of Seminaries by the Council of Trent

Venerable Brethren, Greetings and Our Apostolic Blessing:

Jesus Christ, divine model of the seminarian and priest

Just as the Word of God, the true Light, that “enlightens every man who comes into the world,”(1) wished to become man for our salvation and to dwell amongst us in order to show us His glory, “glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”(2) so also He deigned to live a hidden life for 30 years in the humble house of Nazareth in order to prepare worthily for His apostolic mission in prayer and toil, and to give us the example of every virtue. Indeed, under the loving care of His putative father Joseph and of His most holy mother Mary, the child “advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.”(3)

Now if the imitation of the Incarnate Word is obligatory for all Christians, it is particularly binding on those whom He calls to become His representatives before men, no less by sanctity of life than by the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Historical precedents of the institution of seminaries

Conscious of this sacred duty of the ministers of Jesus Christ to shine before men as teachers of virtue, first by example and then by word, so that they really become “the salt of the earth,…the light of the world”(4) from the first centuries the Church has shown particular care for the instruction and education of youth destined for the priesthood.

For this we have the authoritative witness of St. Leo the Great, who writes: “Rightly the venerable counsels of saintly Fathers in the choice of priests looked upon as suitable for sacred administrations only those who had proved themselves over a long period by carrying out the duties of the lesser orders, so that each man’s past conduct might stand as his testimonial.”(5)

A succession of general and regional councils fixed the uninterrupted traditions, making ever more precise the laws and practices which would become in the future holy norms for the entire Church. Suffice it to quote in this regard the clear directions of the III and IV Lateran Councils.(6)

Reasons for the institution of seminaries

But, unfortunately, because of the worldly mentality that spread more and more even into ecclesiastical circles, and of the pagan spirit that was being reborn in the schools where the young were educated, these norms laid down by the Church for the preparation of future priests appeared inadequate. For this reason, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the necessity was more and more appreciated both for a general reform of morals in the Church, and for preserving the young levites from the dangers that threatened them, by providing for them an appropriate formation in suitable places under the guidance of wise teachers and superiors.

Institution of seminaries by the Council of Trent

To meet this urgent and fundamental need of the Church, Cardinals Domenico Capranica and Stefano Nardini, in the 15th century, undertook to found in Rome the colleges which bore their names. So too, in the following century, did St. Ignatius of Loyola, when he founded in Rome the two celebrated colleges, the Roman and the German—one for teachers, and one for pupils.

At the same time, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Archbishop of Canterbury, having urged the Bishops of Cambrai and of Tournay to imitate St. Ignatius’ example, prepared for England his famous decree on seminaries—a decree which, approved by the synod of London in 1556 and published on the 10th of February of that year, served as a model for the law which emanated a few years later from the Council of Trent for the Universal Church, in Chapter 18 of the decree “De Reformatione,” approved on the 15th of July, 1563.(7)

This year, therefore, is the fourth centenary of an event of great importance for the life of the Catholic Church. Its recurrence is all the more worthy to be duly remembered in that it coincides with the celebration of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Church, while it has at heart the promotion by far-seeing decrees of the renewal of the Christian people, will likewise not fail to devote particular attention to a sphere of supreme and vital interest for the entire Mystical Body of Christ, the sphere of the young who devote themselves in the seminaries to preparation for the priesthood.

Importance of seminaries in the history of the Church and of society

It is not Our intention to retrace the course of the labors that preceded the approval of the canon about the institution of seminaries, nor to dwell on the regulations contained in it. It is unquestionably an index of its importance that it was unanimously approved by the Fathers in the 23rd session of that renowned council.

We feel rather that it is more in accordance with the purpose of a fruitful celebration of the fourth centenary of this decree to emphasize the spiritual benefits which it brought to the Church and to civil society, and then to call attention to some aspects of the ascetic, intellectual and pastoral formation of the young seminarian and priest which today require a deeper consideration.

That the institution of seminaries was destined to bring a great spiritual benefit to each diocese of holy Church was clearly foreseen by the Fathers of the Council of Trent themselves, since they voted unanimously for the relevant canon in the 23rd session. About this, Cardinal Sforza Pallavicino writes:

“Above all the institution of seminaries was approved, many being heard to say that if no other good were to come from the present council, this alone would compensate for all the labors and all the inconveniences, as the one instrument which was looked upon as effective in restoring the lost discipline, it being quite certain that in any state we shall have the sort of citizen that we bring up.”(8)

Another, and even more significant, indication of the great confidence placed by the hierarchy in seminaries for the reform of the Church, and the flowering anew of the priestly life amongst the clergy, was shown by the intrepid zeal with which, shortly after the council was over, attempts were made, in the midst of all sorts of difficulties, to implement the suggestions of the wise decree. It was Pope Pius IV himself who led the way, opening his seminary on February 1, 1565. He had been preceded by his nephew, St. Charles Borromeo, in Milan in 1564; and, in a more modest form, by the Bishops of Rieti, Larino, Camerino and Montepulciano.

There followed the establishment of other seminaries by bishops who were concerned for the rebuilding of their dioceses, while a select group of men, zealous for the good of the Church, came to their aid. Among these We are pleased to recall, for France, Cardinal Pierre de Berulle, Adrien Bourdoise, St. Vincent de Paul with his priests of (the Congregation of) the Mission, St. John Eudes, and Olier with his company of St. Sulpice.

In Italy it was above all the merit of St. Gregory Barbarigo, at the end of the 17th century to have labored indefatigably for the reorganization of the seminaries of Bergamo and Padua according to the norms laid down by the Council of Trent, keeping in mind all the time the spiritual and cultural needs of his time. The example given by this most zealous pastor to the other Italian bishops is still alive in all its strength, for he knew how to combine fidelity to traditional methods with wise innovations, among which is to be remembered the study of Oriental languages, so as to provide a better knowledge of the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers of the Christian East, in view of a religious rapprochement between the Catholic Church and those separated from her.

Our predecessor John XXIII, of venerable memory, made special mention of this merit of the great Bishop of Padua in the homily he gave on the occasion of Barbarigo’s enumeration in the catalogue of saints.(9)

From the good seed sown by the Council of Trent in the fertile fields of the Church by the aforementioned decree, there came also the flowering of seminaries or colleges with special purposes, such as those of Propaganda Fide in Rome, of the Foreign Missions in Paris, and of the various national colleges in Rome, Spain, and Flanders. Thus the entire complex of providential cenacles of ecclesiastical formation in the Church today can well be compared to the tree of the Gospel parable which, born from a tiny seed, grew and spread to such immense proportions that it could shelter in its branches the innumerable birds of the sky.(10)

We must therefore be deeply grateful to the Lord that the institution of seminaries, decided upon by the Fathers of the Council of Trent, far from being weakened in succeeding centuries, though harassed in many countries by ideologies and practices opposed to the teaching and the salutary mission of the Church, continued to develop, so as to pass beyond European frontiers and to accompany the progress of Catholicism in the Americas and even in the missionary countries.

The Holy See for its part hastened to give to the seminaries directions that were more and more in accordance with the spiritual and cultural needs of the clergy, according to the circumstances of time and place. In this field, unquestionably one of the most delicate which the Holy Spirit, who inspires all wise conciliar decisions, (11) has entrusted primarily to the Supreme Pastor of the Church, it is Our duty to recall the outstanding merits of Our venerable predecessors, among whom stand out the names of Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Clement VIII, Urban VIII, Innocent XI, Innocent XIII, Benedict XIII, Benedict XIV, Clement XIII, Pius VI, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, and John XXIII.

No wonder therefore that seminaries, the object of solicitous care of the Apostolic See and of so many zealous pastors throughout the Catholic world, should prosper to the glory and the advantage not only of the Church, but of civil society. This is the glorious page in the history of seminaries which Our predecessor Pius IX recalled in the apostolic letter Cum Romani Pontifices of June 28, 1853, by which he established the Pius Seminary. In that letter, he drew the attention of governments and of all those who love the true good of human society to “the way in which a right and accurate formation of clergy contributes to the safety and prosperity of religion and society, and to the defense of true and sound doctrine.”(12)

Present importance of seminaries

This same blessed link which binds the religious, moral and cultural progress of peoples with the good and learned ministers of the Lord was recently stressed by

Pius XI in these memorable words: “It is such as confers on the Church dignity, efficiency, and life itself, and is of the greatest possible interest for the welfare of the human race. For the immense benefits which have been won for the world by Jesus Christ the Redeemer are communicated with men only through the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.”(13)

We therefore readily endorse, after the example of Pius XII, the wise sentence pronounced by Leo XIII, of unforgettable memory, about seminaries: “With their estate the fortune of the Church is inextricably linked.”(14)

Since then, on the one hand, We invite all Our brothers in the episcopate, the priests and the faithful to render due thanks to Almighty God, “giver of all good gifts,” for the great benefits which have flowed from the wise institution of seminaries, We take the opportunity of the present centenary celebration to address to all a fatherly exhortation. We should like to say to all the members of the Catholic Church that they should feel themselves at one in the support of seminaries of every kind.

Undoubtedly it is on the supreme pastors of dioceses, on the rectors and spiritual directors of seminaries, on the teachers of the various subjects that the primary duty rests for the manifold work of the instruction and education of candidates for the priesthood. But their work becomes impossible, or more difficult and less efficient, if it is not preceded and supported by the fervid and incessant cooperation of parish priests and their assistants, of the Religious and laity who are dedicated to the teaching of the young; and in particular, by the cooperation of Christian parents.

Necessity and duty of creating a favorable atmosphere

Indeed, how is it possible to overlook the fact that the priestly vocation, from its beginning to its full realization, while it is of course principally a gift of God, nevertheless demands the generous collaboration of all, whether of clergy or laity? In fact, since modern civilization has spread among the faithful the esteem and the desire for worldly goods, it has lowered in many minds the appreciation of spiritual and eternal goods. How then could there arise many authentic priestly vocations in family and academic circles wherein only the values and benefits of worldly pursuits are exalted?

How few, alas, are those Christians who seriously ponder the warning of the divine Savior: “What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”(15) And how difficult it is, in the midst of the infinite distractions and seductions of the world, to make our own the thought of the Apostle: “…We look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen. For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.”(16)

Is it not perhaps by opening one’s mind and heart to the vision and hope of eternal rewards that the Lord invited the poor fishermen of Galilee to cooperate with His divine mission? For seeing the two brother fishermen, Simon and Andrew, He said to them: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”(17)

And to Peter, who on behalf of the other disciples asked Him what would be their fate, as they had left all things for love of Him, Jesus gave the solemn assurance: “Amen I say to you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, shall also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”(18)

In order therefore that a regard and a holy enthusiasm for the priestly life should grow and develop in the hearts of the young, it is necessary to create the requisite spiritual atmosphere, whether in the home or in the school. In other words, although few Christians are called to the priestly or the religious life, all are bound to live and act according to the spirit of supernatural faith(19) and therefore to show the highest respect and veneration to those who consecrate themselves entirely to the spiritual well-being of humanity, to their own sanctification, and to the greater glory of God. Only thus can the mind of the Lord be spread among Christian people. Only thus will the flowering of priestly vocation be made easy.(20)

Nature of vocation. Its first source: God. Necessity of prayer

The first duty then that devolves on all Christians in regard to priestly vocations is that of prayer, according to the precept of the Lord: “The harvest indeed is abundant, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest.”(21) It is clearly indicated in these words of our divine Redeemer that the primary source of the priestly vocation is God himself, in His free and merciful will. Hence He said to His apostles: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and have appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”(22)

And St. Paul, while exalting the priesthood of Jesus above that of the Old Covenant, observed that every legitimate priest, being by nature a mediator between God and men, depends mainly on the divine benevolence: “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in the things pertaining to God…And no man takes the honor to himself; he takes it who is called by God, as Aaron was one.”(23)

How excellent, therefore, and a free gift is the calling to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, of whom the same Apostle writes: “Christ did not glorify himself with the high priesthood…and when perfected, he became to all who obey Him the cause of eternal salvation, called by God a high priest according to the order of Melchisedech.”(24)

Therefore with good reason St. John Chrysostom writes in his valuable treatise De sacerdotio: “Although the priesthood is exercised on earth it rightfully belongs to the celestial realm. For it was no man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power that arranged this function, but the Holy Spirit himself, and it was He, too, that inspired men to seek the ministry of angels.”(25)

But when discussing this divine call to the priesthood (to which no one can claim any right) it is worth recalling that it concerns not only the spiritual faculties of the chosen one—his intelligence and free will—but involves also his sensitive faculties and even his very body. For the whole person must be fitted for the task of carrying out, in an efficient and worthy manner, the arduous duties of the sacred ministry, a ministry which often demands renunciation and sacrifice, sometimes even of one’s own life after the example of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

We must not, however, imagine that God would call to the priesthood boys or young men who, insufficiently endowed in mind or heart, or because of obvious psychopathic weaknesses or serious organic defects, would afterwards be unable to carry out properly their various duties, or fulfill the obligations involved in the ecclesiastical life.

On the contrary it is comforting to hold the Angelic Doctor’s doctrine that the Apostle’s words about the first preachers of the Gospel can be applied equally to every one who is called to the priesthood. These are the words of St. Thomas: “Those whom God chooses for some task he so prepares and disposes that they may be found suitable for the task for which they are chosen in accordance with the words of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians,3, 6: `He also it is who has made us fit ministers of the new covenant.”(26)

Timely development necessary and obligatory

But the duties of parents and pastors, and of all who are responsible for boys and young men are not confined to creating an atmosphere favorable to religious vocations and imploring the Lord to bestow His grace on new bands of levites. They must do all in their power to direct them to the seminary or religious institution as soon as they show clearly that they aspire to the priesthood and are suited to it. Only in this way will they be sheltered from the corruption of the world and enabled to cultivate the seed of the divine call in the most suitable surroundings.

Now begins the responsibility of the superiors, the spiritual director and the teachers: the responsibility, namely, of discerning in these young men, in a more exact manner, the signs that they have been chosen by Christ as His future ministers, and of assisting them to prepare themselves worthily for their exalted mission. This complex work of physical, religious, moral and intellectual education that must be carried out in the seminary is well outlined in the canon of Trent: “Nurture them, and train them in piety and knowledge.”(27)

Priestly vocation and right intention

We come now to a question of the utmost importance: which of the signs of priestly vocation is the most characteristic and indispensable, so as to merit the special attention of those engaged in the instruction and formation of young seminarians—in particular the spiritual director? The answer is unquestionably a right intention, which may be described as the clear and determined desire to dedicate oneself completely to the service of the Lord. This answer is confirmed by the conciliar decree which lays down that only those young men be admitted to the seminary “who by their character and good will inspire the hope that they will dedicate their whole lives to the priestly ministry.”(28)

Thus Our predecessors Pius XI, in his celebrated encyclical, Ad catholici sacerdotii, did not hesitate to declare, when speaking of the intention required in the candidate for the priesthood: “He must look to the priesthood solely from the noble motive of consecrating himself to the service of God and the salvation of souls. He must likewise have, or at least strive earnestly to acquire, solid piety, perfect purity of life and sufficient knowledge such as We have previously explained. Thus he shows that he is called by God to the priestly state.”(29)

Moral certitude about priestly vocation and the bishop’s call

It is sufficient, then, that the young men, before they be accepted into the seminary, show at least the beginnings of that intention and character that is required for the sacred ministry and the obligations attached to it. But before they be admitted to Orders, and especially the priesthood, the candidates must show, to the bishop or the religious superior, the evidence of mature decision and of progress in sanctity, in learning and in discipline that will inspire in their superiors the moral certitude that before them stands the chosen one of the Lord.”(30)

The responsibility of the Ordinary in this matter is indeed tremendous, for it is he who must pronounce the final judgment on the signs of vocation in the candidate. He alone has the right to call to the priesthood and thereby set the Church’s seal on a divine call that has gradually grown to maturity.

On this matter, the Catechism of the Council of Trent rightly declared: “Those who are called by the legitimate ministers of the Church are said to be called by God.”(31) Confronted with the regrettable defections of some ministers of the sanctuary, which could have been prevented by a greater severity in selection and training, the shepherds of dioceses will do well to keep in mind the severe warning which St. Paul gave Timothy: “Do not lay hands hastily upon anyone, and do not be a partner in other men’s sins.”(32)

Other elements necessary for the proper development of a vocation

We have recalled briefly the essential element of priestly vocation, which is the clear, definite and enduring intention to embrace the priestly state, through a desire especially for the glory of God, the salvation of one’s own soul, the souls of one’s brethren and of all who have been redeemed by the Precious Blood of our divine Savior. It will not be out of place now to refer to the other factors involved in the total preparation of the future minister of the altar.

This problem, which is of the utmost importance in the life of the Church, has been dealt with repeatedly by Our predecessors and all are well acquainted with their most recent pronouncements, such as the encyclical Ad catholici sacerdotii(33) of Pius XI; the exhortation Menti Nostrae(34) of Pius XII; the encyclical Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia(35) of John XXIII.

In addition, the ecumenical council has under examination a constitution “On the formation of seminarians,” the approval of which will bring up-to-date the provident regulations of Trent and of the various documents of the Apostolic See which followed. This new document is destined to give a great impetus to the work of enlisting candidates for the priesthood, and to that other more important and demanding task of directing properly the ascetical, liturgical, intellectual and pastoral formation of these candidates.

While We look forward with confidence to the learned deliberations of the council on the question of seminaries, We feel compelled by Our supreme pastoral office to invite all who are engaged in the education of young aspirants to the priesthood to give careful consideration to certain dangers which threaten the efficacy of the system of training now in use in the seminaries; let them consider also which aspects of that training must be developed with greater care.

Dangers and errors

Just as the open field is at the mercy of every sower of poisonous weeds, so the mind of the adolescent today is more than ever exposed to dangers. His intelligence is threatened by a critical attitude to everything and everyone. His will revolts—even from earliest years—against any restraint imposed by natural law or by ecclesiastical or civil authority, and seeks untrammeled freedom of action.

In this way the higher faculties are weakened in their striving towards supreme truth and good. So it is not surprising that the sensitive powers, both internal and external, reject the necessary control of right reason and good will. For the faculties of reason and will have been cut off from the continuous and efficacious influence of grace and the supernatural virtues. This is why the adolescent in his conduct and his speech falls short of those ideals of humility, obedience, modesty and chastity that befit his dignity as a rational being and, more particularly, as a Christian, whose very body has become through grace a member of Jesus Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The adolescent who displays such a superficial and confused attitude of mind will surely develop into the type of man who claims many rights and accepts few obligations. Therefore this attitude of mind presents a really serious obstacle to the development of priestly vocations which must be based on solid conviction and a spirit of generosity. One must combat vigorously everything which threatens the healthy education of the young, and especially of those whom Christ has called to continue His work of redemption. But with what weapons can one carry on this battle?

Remedy: the development of natural and supernatural virtues

In the first place, parents and teachers must cultivate in their children and pupils from the very earliest years the spirit of prayer, humility, obedience, dedication and sacrifice. This applies especially to those whose character appears more docile, more generous and more suited to the ideals of the priesthood. The superiors and teachers in the seminary have the responsibility of preserving and developing in their students those gifts which we have mentioned above, but they must also see to it that the candidate to Holy Orders, as he progresses in years, acquires and cultivates those qualities of soul that must be regarded as essential to a solid and complete moral formation.

The qualities of most fundamental importance, in Our view, are the spirit of reflection and of right intention in one’s conduct, the free personal choice of good, even of the greatest good, and the control over the will and senses. This self-control will enable one to resist the promptings of self-love, the evil example of others, the temptations that arise from a nature weakened by original sin, from the world and the spirit of evil which still furiously attacks the chosen ones of the Lord in an effort to bring about their ruin.

Moreover, in his dealings with others the man who wants to bear witness before the world—with Christ and for Christ—to that truth which brings freedom(36) must be trained in the virtue of truth in word and action, and so must cultivate sincerity, loyalty, integrity, fidelity He must follow Paul’s exhortation to his beloved Timothy: “Recall these things to their minds, charging them in the sight of the Lord not to dispute with words, for that is useless, leading to the ruin of listeners. Use all care to present thyself to God as a man approved, a worker that cannot be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”(37)

Christian and priestly education must accompany natural development

The task then is to root out from the soul of the adolescent the insidious buds of sin and vice, and in their place to plant and tend the seeds of virtue. In this work one ought to rely on those good qualities that are inherent in human nature, so that the spiritual edifice rests on the solid basis of the natural virtues. In this respect the wisdom of Aquinas was never more appropriate: “Since grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it, natural reason must be subject to faith, just as the natural tendency of the will is guided by charity.”(38)

Nevertheless, one must not exaggerate the importance of good qualities and natural virtues, as though the true and lasting success of the priestly ministry depended principally on natural resources. Nor must one forget that it is impossible to train young people perfectly in these same natural virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, humility, meekness and the other virtues connected with them, if recourse can only be made to the principle of right reason and the methods of natural sciences such as experimental psychology and pedagogy.

For Catholic doctrine teaches that without the healing grace of our Savior it is impossible to fulfill all the commandments of the natural law or to acquire perfect permanent virtue.(39) From this undisputed principle there follows a great practical conclusion: The formation of the man must proceed step by step with that of the Christian and the future priest, so that the natural energies are purified and strengthened by prayer, by the grace which comes from frequent reception of Penance and the Eucharist, and by the influence of the supernatural virtues which receive protection and assistance from the natural virtues.

But this is not enough! As the Apostle warns us, the natural energies of mind and will must be ruled by faith and charity, so that all our actions carried out in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ may merit an eternal reward.”(40)

Education in a spirit of sacrifice and the imitation of Christ

It is clear that all We have said must be kept in mind by those who are called to be with our divine Savior victims of love and obedience for the salvation of mankind, and to lead a life of virginal chastity, and of exemplary detachment, interior and exterior, from the empty riches of this world, in order that their ministry may be more worthy and more fruitful. For they will be called upon one day not only to place all their talents at the service of the sacred ministry, but even to sacrifice many lawful desires, and endure hardship and persecution in carrying out faithfully and generously the work of the Good Shepherd.

Every true minister of Jesus Christ must be able to say with St. Paul: “To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all. I do all things for the sake of the Gospel, that I may be made partaker thereof.”(41) Such in fact has been the rule of life of many bishops and priests whom the Church by canonization proposes as an example to all the clergy.

This in broad outline is the exalted mission of training and spiritual formation that is entrusted to the rector and spiritual director of the seminary under the supreme guidance of the bishop. But their work depends for its completion on the collaboration of the various professors who are responsible for the full development of the intellectual faculties of the candidate for priesthood.

The fruit of this intelligent and harmonious collaboration between superiors and professors will be the total formation of the young man, not only as a human being and a Christian but above all as a priest, whose whole personality must be penetrated by the light of divine revelation. For it is divine revelation which ensures that “the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work.”(42) It is worth recalling the warning of Chrysostom: “The soul of the priest must shine forth like a light which illuminates the whole world.”(43)


The cultural formation of the young priest must certainly include an adequate knowledge of languages and especially of Latin (particularly for those of the Latin rite). His familiarity with history, science, mathematics, geography and art must be equal to that of the educated classes among whom he lives.

But the chief treasure of the mind of the priest must be the possession of that human and Christian wisdom which is the fruit of a solid philosophical and theological formation according to the methods, doctrine and principles of St. Thomas in complete accordance with the teachings of divine Revelation and the Church’s teaching authority.

Among the essential or complementary studies in his theological training there must be included Biblical exegesis, according to the laws of Catholic hermeneutics, canon law, Church history, sacred liturgy, archaeology, patrology, history of dogma, ascetical and mystical theology, hagiography, etc.

Participation in the life of the diocese

As he approaches major Orders, and in the first years of his priesthood, the student must be introduced to the problems of pastoral theology, and take an increasingly active part in the life of the diocese.

This will include a participation in the liturgy, catechetical instruction, the direction of Catholic Action amongst the youth, and apostolic work on behalf of the missions. In this way the future pastor of souls will gradually become acquainted with his particular field of activity, and receive a suitable preparation for it. Another valuable part of this preparation will be an adequate knowledge of Gregorian chant and sacred music.

All this will enable him to give a greater unity to his studies with his future pastoral ministry in mind, in the conviction that all his activity must have as its ultimate aim the coming of the kingdom of Christ and God, in accordance with the wise admonition of St. Paul: “For all things are yours…and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”(44) Thus, at the present time, when the interests of God are being more and more neglected in the various fields of human activity, the priest must shine forth in the world as another Christ and a “man of God.”(45)

Exemplary sanctity

Holiness and learning must therefore be the distinguishing mark of him who is called to become an ambassador of the Word of God, Redeemer of the world. He must possess holiness in an exceptional degree, superior to that of the laity and nonordained Religious, as St. Thomas rightly observes: “Because the religious state does not necessarily include ordination, it is clear that ordination confers a greater dignity. By ordination one is entrusted with the most exalted office as an instrument of Christ in the sacrament of the altar.”(46)

Therefore a very fervent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament must be manifested by the life of him who aspires to be its consecrator and dispenser. This devotion to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ ought to be harmoniously completed by devotion to the Most Holy Name of Jesus and to His Most Sacred Heart.

Praise and exhortation

To conclude this exhortation, We wish to address a word of paternal encouragement to all who are engaged in a spirit of zeal and self-sacrifice in the work of recruiting and educating candidates for the priesthood in the secular clergy or religious orders. A special word of praise must go to those who carry on this work in those areas where there is a great shortage of vocations, and where the work of securing new ministers for the sanctuary is most difficult and often dangerous.

Our approval is directed next to those who, following the directives and exhortations of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities, strive by their writings and discussions to perfect for the greater good of the Church the methods of seminary training in view of the particular need of time and place, and the progress of pedagogy, but with due respect for the proper purpose and spirit of the priestly life.

Prayer and fraternal charity

We turn to you, beloved sons, who like the apostles in the Cenacle are gathered in earnest prayer within the seminary walls. As you prepare under the maternal gaze of the Queen of the Apostles to receive the superhuman power of consecrating the Body and Blood of the Lord and of remitting sins, as well as the abundant grace of the Holy Spirit, which will enable you to fulfill worthily the ministry of reconciliation,(47) We say with St. Paul: “Let every man remain in the calling in which he was called.”(48) Docility and fidelity to the divine call are indispensable for anyone who wishes to cooperate more intimately with Jesus Christ in the salvation of souls and to assure himself a more splendid crown of glory in eternity. Treasure this inestimable gift which the Lord has given you, and serve Him from your earliest years in joy and exultation.(49)

Finally, venerable brethren, it is Our earnest desire that you do all in your power to apply in your dioceses, to yourselves and to the faithful in your care – especially to your ecclesiastical students – these instructions, whose only inspiration has been love of the Church. As a pledge of Our desire, We impart to all a fatherly apostolic blessing.



1. John 1,9.

2. John 1, 14.

3. Luke 2, 52.

4. Matt. 5, 13-14.

5. Epist. 12, Pl. 54, 650.

6. Mansi, Ampliss, Council. Collect. XXII, 227, 999, 1013.

7. Cf. Roccaberti, Bibliotheca maxima Pontificia, XVIII, 362; L. Pastor, Storia dei Papi, VI, 569; VII, 329.

8. P. Sforza Pallavicino, Istoria del Concilio di Trento, ed. di A.M. Zaccaria (Roma, 1833), IV, 344.

9. Cf. A.A.S., LXII (1960), 458-9.

10. Cf. Matt. 13, 31-32.

11. Cf. Acts 15, 28.

12. Pius IX P.M. Acta, I (1846-54), 473.

13. Apostolic letter “Officiorum omnium,” A.A.S., XIV (1922), 449.

14. Apostolic letter “Paternae providaeque,” Acta Leonis (1899) p.194; cf. Pius XII, A.A.S., XXXVII (1945) p. 207.

15. Mark 8, 36.

16. 2 Cor. 4, 18.

17. Matt. 4, 19.

18. Matt 19, 28.

19. Cf. Hebrews 10, 38.

20. Cf. 1 Cor. 2, 16.

21. Matt. 9, 37-38.

22. John 15, 16.

23. Hebrews 5, 14.

24. Hebrews 5, 5,9.

25. De sacerdotio, Lib. III, n. 4: PG, XLVIII, 642.

26. Summa Theol., III, q. 27, a, 4, c.

27. Mansi, Ampliss. Concil. Collect., XXIII, 147.

28. Mansi, 726, 38-39.

29. Litt. encycl. “Ad catholici sacerdotii,” Dec. 20, 1935, A.A.S XXVII (1936), 40.

30. Cf. 1 Kings 16, 6.

31. Catech. Concil. Trid., III, “de Ordine,” 3.

32. 1 Timothy 5, 22.

33. A.A.S., XXVIII (1936), 5-53.

34. A.A.S., XLI (1950), 659-702.

35. A.A.S., LI (1959),  545-579.

36. Cf. John 18, 36; 8, 32.

37. 2 Timothy 2, 14-15.

38. Summa Theol., I, q. 1, a. 8, c.

39. Cf. Summa Theol., I-IIae, q. 109, a.4, c.

40. Cf. Col. 3, 17; 1 Cor. 13, 1-4.

41. 1 Cor. 9, 22-23.

42. 2 Timothy 3, 17.

43. De sacerdotio, lib. VI, n. 4: PG, XLVIII.

44. 1 Cor. 3, 22-23.

45. 1 Timothy 6, 11.

46. Summa Theol., II-IIae, q. 184, a. 8,c.

47. Cf. 2 Cor. 5, 18.

48. 1 Cor. 7, 20.

49. Cf. Ps. 99, 2.

1961-On Selection and Training of Candidates to Religiouos and Priestly Life

Congregation for Religious


Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders (S. C. Rel., 2 Feb., 1961).

An Instruction, Religiosorum institutio, to the Superiors of Religious Communities, Societies without vows, and Secular Institutes on the careful selection and training of candidates for the states of perfection and Sacred Orders is as follows

Purpose, Binding Force, And Extent Of This Instruction

1. The Instruction Quantum Religiones

The training of religious and of others pursuing perfection and aspiring to the ranks of the clergy in the states of perfection has always been particularly close to the heart of the Sacred Congregation for Religious. Thus, in the Instruction Quantum Religiones, of 1 December, 1931, the Sacred Congregation instructed the superiors general of religious communities and clerical societies on the proper religious and clerical training of their subjects, and on the investigation to be carried out before profession and the reception of Sacred Orders.1

The main purpose of this Instruction was, in so far as human frailty may permit, to forestall serious cases of defection not only from the religious state but likewise from the sacred ranks in which religious had been enrolled through the reception of Orders.

2. The Purpose Of This Instruction And Its Binding Force

Now, however, without any change in the chief directives and criteria contained in the aforesaid Instruction, this Sacred Congregation proposes to take up this same question again and to treat it anew (can. 22), especially as regards the selection and training of candidates and the investigation to be made prior to professions and Sacred Orders in order that the aforesaid Instruction may be in complete harmony with subsequent developments and with later pertinent pontifical documents.

3. The Principal Sources Of This Instruction

In the Jubilee Year of 1950 there was held at Rome an International Congress of the States of Perfection, in which specialists summoned from all over the world on the basis of their knowledge and experience, spoke and wrote on the selection, nurturing, and perfecting of religious and clerical vocations. These discussions were published in the four-volume Acta et Documenta of the Congress. Later, congresses were held in various nations and in them the same topics were taken up.

During this same period other documents of the utmost importance appeared. These were the encyclical letter of Pope Pius XI, of immortal memory, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, of 20 December, 1935,2 and various others published by Pope Pius XII, of venerable memory, to whom the states of perfection are so indebted, such as his Exhortation to the Clergy,Menti Nostrae, of 23 September, 1950,3 his encyclical letter, Sacra Virginitas, of 25 March, 1954,4 his allocution, Sollemnis Conventus, of 24 June, 1939, to all clerical students and their superiors,5 his allocution, Haud Mediocri, of 11 February, 1958, to the superiors general of religious orders and congregations resident in Rome.6 and especially the Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae, of 31 May, 1956, on religious, clerical and apostolic training of clerics in the states of perfection.7 Nor of any lesser value are those documents which the Sovereign Pontiff, John XXIII, happily reigning, has issued on the priesthood and priestly formation, both in his solemn allocution on the occasion of the first Roman Synod and likewise in the Synodal Constitutions.8 There was also published a reserved Circular Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments on 27 December, 1955,8a addressed to local Ordinaries for secular clerics, imposing an investigation of candidates before their promotion to Orders.

Certainly it was most opportune for, and even the duty of, this Sacred Congregation to incorporate the fruits of this longstanding and rich experience and evolution into a new Instruction, which would likewise serve as a particularized commentary on the Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae (cf. n. 40 and the Statuta Generalia, art. 17).

4. To Whom This Instruction Is Addressed

This Instruction is addressed to the superiors of religious communities, societies living the common life, and secular institutes, especially as far as the last are concerned, if their members are incorporated into the institute as clerics. Therefore, although frequently, for the sake of convenience, only religious will be mentioned, the norms and criteria set forth in this Instruction are also applicable to the members of the other states of perfection (cf. Stat. Gen., art. 16, §§ 1-2).

Likewise, although the Instruction refers especially to candidates for the clerical state, nevertheless those points which by their very nature deal with the selection and training of candidates for the states of perfection are, with due adaptations, to be applied also to lay religious, including religious women (Ibid., §3, 2°).

I. The More Common Causes Of Defection

5. An Inquiry Into The Causes Of Defections

It is necessary at the very outset to set down the most frequent grounds alleged for defections and to lay before superiors the reasons which religious priests claim to be the causes why they lose interest in the life they have embraced and ask the Holy See for secularization or even for “laicization,” i.e., reduction to the lay state. Attention must be drawn also to the pretexts under which these same religious priests presume to leave the religious life and return to the world on their own initiative, or even make so bold as to question before the Apostolic Dicasteries their clerical obligations, especially celibacy. Once the causes of defections are known, superiors will be able to exercise more experienced care and vigilance either in examining the divine vocation of candidates or in strengthening and preserving it by their devoted efforts.

In general, the aforesaid religious claim either that they entered on this way of life and continued in it without a genuine divine vocation, or that they lost the genuine divine vocation during the period of their formation or in the early years of their ministerial life.

6. Undue Family Influence

Frequently such religious claim undue influence from parents and members of their family, inasmuch as they were born into a large or poor family and thus were advised either by their parents or by other relatives to leave the paternal home and go to the seminary as a happy solution of family difficulties and were even at times pressured by request, persuasion, or even disguised threats, into embracing the life of perfection and the priestly life and continuing in it. As a result, they allege that their repugnance or reluctance to accept the religious clerical state, for which they had an aversion, was broken down.

7. Undue Influence Of Superiors And Directors

There were also those who lay at the door of their religious superiors and their spiritual directors the responsibility for their most difficult situation, claiming that these latter, although they had noticed in them no happiness in the religious clerical life, no spirit of piety, and no zeal as they grew older, nevertheless did not hesitate to urge them on, either because they hoped the subjects would do better in the future or because they were more interested in the number than in the quality of vocations, or because, blinded by a false sense of kindness toward the candidates, they threatened them with the danger of loss of eternal salvation if they left the religious clerical state.

8. Ignorance Of Obligations And Lack Of Liberty In Accepting Them

Not infrequently religious priests plead insufficient knowledge of religious and clerical obligations, especially celibacy, or uncertain will in advancing to perpetual profession or Sacred Orders. If they entered a religious seminary as young boys or in their early adolescent years with only a confused knowledge of the religious and ecclesiastical vocation or with a very uncertain will, these unfortunate religious and priests claim that they never got over this state of mind, once they had completed their studies and their years of formation. Nevertheless, they did not withdraw from the path on which they had entered either because they heedlessly followed their companions according to custom, or because, being bashful and incapable of any serious decision, they unwillingly went along with the urgings and counsels of their superiors. Hence they affirm that in making profession or receiving Orders they were not sufficiently aware of the obligations of the priestly life or did not accept them with full freedom.

9. Fear Of An Uncertain Future

At times such candidates, on the verge of Sacred Orders or perpetual profession and somewhat mature in age, finding themselves without academic degrees and untrained in any art or liberal profession, were afraid to leave the religious life, feeling deep down in their hearts that if they returned to the world, they could not make an upright living unless by manual labor, or would be obliged to make difficult and uncertain efforts to acquire a liberal profession. Therefore they regarded the decision to continue in the religious clerical life as a lesser evil.

10. Difficulty With Chastity

Sometimes these religious priests affirm that it is now impossible for them to observe chastity, first because of bad habits contracted in youth, which were sometimes corrected but still never completely eradicated, and secondly because of sexual tendencies of a pathological nature, which they feel cannot be brought under control either by ordinary or extraordinary means, even those of a spiritual order, in such a way that they frequently fall into the solitary sin.

11. Loss Of The Religious Spirit

Lastly, not infrequently there is adduced as a cause the loss of the religious spirit either because, under the insidious impact of present-day naturalism, these priests become incapable of discipline and religious observance, or because, living in religious houses an indolent and unproductive life, deceived by the desire of life outside and ill-regulated pseudo-apostolic activism and neglecting the interior life, they fall victims to dangers of all kinds, which they do not avoid and do not even recognize.

12. Weakness And Subjective Character Of Such Arguments

Unfortunate religious priests bring forth these and other similar arguments, at times even attempting to make the Church responsible for their deplorable condition, as though the Church, through her ministers, had admitted them to the religious and priestly life without the necessary qualifications, or did not know how to train and protect them once they had been called unto the portion of the Lord. But, as the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments states in the above-mentioned Circular Letter: “it cannot be denied that these charges made by the priests during the trials have only a shadowy appearance of truth, for often the only proof is the statement made by the plaintiff alone, a very interested party, and not by witnesses or documents proved in court.”8b Nor is this surprising since these unfortunate religious priests not infrequently take their present state of mind and psychic crisis, which has gradually evolved over a period of years, and unconsciously transfer it to the time of their profession and ordination, being unaware of the inner change which has taken place within themselves.

13. Removal Of All Appearance Of Justification For These Claims; Superiors’ Obligation In Conscience

And yet the honor of the Church, the welfare of religious communities and the edification of the faithful demand of superiors most accurate diligence and untiring zeal in order not to provide even a vestige of foundation for priests advancing such claims.

Superiors should see to it that they be not responsible for the mistakes or errors of those in charge of selecting and training young men. This will be the case if they are culpably uninformed of the norms laid down by the Church, or ignore them, or apply them carelessly; if, ignoring the necessary discernment of spirits, they admit into religious life and allow to remain therein those who have not been called by God, or if they neglect to give proper formation to those who are evidently called and to safeguard them in their divine vocation. Therefore, this Sacred Congregation regards it as its duty to exhort superiors most earnestly always to keep before their eyes the norms herein set forth, being mindful of the grave warning of this Sacred Congregation in its Instruction, Illud Saepius, of 18 August, 1915: “When a religious leaves his order, the superior of that same order, if he has diligently examined his conscience before God, will very frequently be well aware that he himself is not without fault and has failed in his duty. This neglect of duty is often verified either in the admission of candidates or in training them to the religious life, or, after they have made vows, in keeping watch over them.”9

II. The Care To Be Taken In The Selection Of Candidates For The State Of Perfection And The Clerical State

A) General Warnings

14. Quality Before Quantity

First of all, although vocations to the state of evangelical perfection and to the priesthood are to be promoted by every means (Stat. Gen., art. 32), still care must be taken lest an immoderate desire to increase numbers should interfere with quality and selection. Let all be convinced that, unless great zeal for an abundance of students is closely bound up with proper care for their formation, such zeal does not produce the desired effects, and even does just the contrary. For just as it is evident that, with the help of God’s grace, nothing contributes more to inspiring vocations than the exemplary life of those who have been properly formed, in the same way nothing is more conducive to impeding the growth of vocations or to suffocating them than the example of mistakes which are unfortunately beheld in those who are without proper solid formation. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice and all these things will be added unto you. We can say, and all superiors should repeat: Let us seek out quality first of all, because then, if we may use such an expression, quantity will automatically be present by itself. This will be the concern of Divine Providence. It is not our task to look for numbers, since it is not given to us to inspire vocations in souls. In this truth there is contained the whole of the theology of a vocation: it comes from God and only God can give it. It is our task to nurture this vocation, to enrich it, and to adorn it . . . This is the guarantee and promise of your future prosperity.”10 As a matter of fact, experience teaches us that God favors with an abundance of vocations those religious communities which flourish with the rigor of discipline and carry out their own proper role in the Mystical Body of Christ, and that, on the contrary, those communities suffer a lack of candidates, whose members do not comply faithfully with His divine counsels. Wherefore, those who are suffering from a shortage of vocations and anxiously devote themselves to collecting them, using at times methods and procedures which are certainly not to be recommended, would do well to exert the greatest care in training in the best way possible the candidates who spontaneously come to them or are drawn to them by prudent means and are already entrusted to them by the Church and Divine Providence. For the rest, let us not be unmindful of the teaching of Holy Scripture, which the Sovereign Pontiff recalls to us in such timely fashion: “Gedeon, who had at his disposal an immense multitude of men apparently ready and prepared to fight all battles and conquer all difficulties, heard the voice of the Lord declaring that to accomplish hard and difficult tasks, rather than large numbers, the courage of a few was sufficient.”11

15. Positive Signs Of A Vocation

It will be helpful to recall, then, that only those candidates can be admitted who are free of any canonical impediment and who, at the same time, show positive signs of a divine vocation, conformably to the prescriptions of the Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae, and the Statuta Generalia, art. 31, § 2, 1°, 2°. Let this be the first and absolute principle in selecting vocations. For, as we are clearly admonished by the same Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae: “A call from God to enter the religious or the sacerdotal state is so necessary that, if this is lacking, the very foundation on which the whole edifice rests is wanting. For whom God has not called, His grace does not move nor assist.”12

The canonical fitness of the candidate for bearing the obligations of the institute (can. 538;Stat. Gen., art. 31, § 1) must be evinced by positive arguments (can. 973, §3), and it must consist in all the requirements and, according to differences in age, all the physical, intellectual and moral qualities, either of nature or of grace, whereby a young man is rightly prepared for the worthy acceptance and performance of religious and priestly obligations (Stat. Gen., art. 33).

16. Moral Certainty Of The Fitness Of Candidates

Candidates should not be admitted to religious seminaries except after careful investigation and the securing of detailed information on each individual. In seminaries and novitiates the necessary proofs and investigations are to be repeated with faithful observance of the General Statutes of the Apostolic Constitution Sedes Sapientiae, art. 31-34. Doubtful fitness is not enough but “as often as there still remains some prudent doubt as to the fitness of a candidate, it is wrong to permit him to contract obligations (can. 571, § 2), especially if they be definitive, (can. 575, § 1; 637).13 Still greater care must be exercised in this regard if there be question of Sacred Orders.14 The period of trial is to be continued as provided for in canon law, and all possible means must be employed which may be useful in acquiring this moral certitude” (can. 571, § 2; 574, § 2; Stat. Gen., art. 34, § 2, 1°, 2°, 3°). Appropriately, therefore, all due proportion being guarded as to the different degrees of probation and selection, should superiors and all those engaged in deciding vocations apply to themselves the canonical prescriptions whereby the bishop is warned “that he should confer Sacred Orders on no one unless he is morally certain, by positive arguments, of the candidate’s canonical fitness; otherwise, he not only sins most grievously himself but exposes himself to the danger of sharing in the sins of others” (can. 973, § 3). For the selection and training of a religious candidate is a step toward sacred ordination and in the ordination of religious, as Pius XI wisely warns, the Bishop “always places full confidence in the judgment of their superiors.”15 Consequently, in case of doubt as to fitness, it is certainly unlawful to proceed further for there is involved something on which the welfare of the Church and the salvation of souls depend in a special manner, and in which consequently, the safer opinion must always be followed. “This safer opinion in the question now before us, does more to protect the best interests of ecclesiastical candidates since it turns them aside from a road on which they might be led on to eternal ruin.”16

17. The Responsibility Of The Internal And External Forum; Both Should Use The Same Principles

In this most important task the chief responsibility lies with major superiors. It is their work to organize and direct this entire activity, to be acquainted thoroughly with the norms set down by the Apostolic See, and to make sure they are faithfully carried out. On them, consequently, in this matter lies the greatest burden of responsibility (Stat. Gen., art. 27, § 1). But major superiors need the helpful cooperation of all who are in charge of selecting and training candidates, whether they be superiors and directors in the external forum or confessors and spiritual prefects, each within the limits of his office. For some of the signs of a divine vocation or lack of it, by their very nature, come to the knowledge of superiors in the external forum, while others, since they belong rather to the intimate realm of mind and conscience, can oftentimes be known only by confessors and spiritual directors. All these individuals accept a burden in conscience in the choice of priests and religious and in their admission to profession and to ordination, and through their ignorance or negligence they may have a share in the sins of others. Nevertheless, they must use different methods in discharging their duties. Directors in the external forum must do their duty exteriorly according to the norms of common and particular law. The case is different with confessors who are bound by “the inviolable sacramental seal,” and with spiritual directors in the stricter sense (cf. Stat. Gen., art. 28, § 2, 9°), who are likewise bound to secrecy “by virtue of the religious office they have accepted.” Confessors and spiritual directors should strive, but only in the internal forum, to see that those who either are not called by God or who have become unworthy should not go farther. But although the procedure in the internal and the external forum is different, it is of the utmost importance that “all should use the same principles in testing vocations and taking appropriate precautions to the end that young men may be prudently admitted to profession and to Orders.”17

18. The Role Of The Confessor And The Spiritual Director

Confessors have the grave duty of warning, urging, and ordering unfit subjects, privately and in conscience, with no regard for human respect, to withdraw from the religious and clerical life. Although they may appear to have all the dispositions required for sacramental absolution, they are, nevertheless, not for that reason to be regarded as worthy of profession or ordination. The principles governing the sacramental forum, especially those pertinent to the absolution of sins, are different from the criteria whereby, according to the mind of the Church, judgment is formed on fitness for the priesthood and the religious life. Consequently, penitents who are certainly unworthy of profession and ordination can be absolved if they show proof of true sorrow for their sins and seriously promise to drop the idea of going on to the religious or clerical state, but they must be effectively barred from profession and ordination. Likewise spiritual directors are under obligation in the non-sacramental internal forum, to judge of the divine vocation of those entrusted to them and are also under the obligation to warn and privately urge those who are unfit, to withdraw voluntarily from the life they have embraced.

19. The Careful Choice Of Confessors And Spiritual Directors

Lastly, using this occasion, this Sacred Congregation earnestly stresses for superiors both the importance and the necessity of carefully choosing as confessors and spiritual directors in religious seminaries men properly trained and gifted with great prudence and perspicacity in understanding the minds of the young (Stat. Gen., art. 24, § 2). Superiors themselves must encourage a watchful and uniform policy among all those dedicated to the formation of the young lest they allow unqualified candidates to ascend to Orders.

20. The Cooperation Of Candidates; Recommendation Of Sincerity And Docility

Finally, candidates should be prudently urged to cooperate in the formation of a correct judgment on their vocation, for to them this is of the utmost importance. They should understand correctly that leaving the religious life and the ranks of the clergy is not always and for everyone an evil. It is not an evil but is actually something good for those who are not called or are not properly disposed. Indeed, infidelity resulting in the loss of a divine vocation is certainly dangerous, but the situation would be still more serious if those who are not called or who are unworthy were blindly to take on religious and clerical obligations. Therefore, they are especially urged to practice simplicity and sincerity in opening their hearts, and docility and perfect obedience to the counsels and precepts of their confessors, directors, and superiors: “According as young men will be known for their integrity and sincerity, all the more effectively can they be assisted by their superiors, when the time comes to decide if they are divinely called to enter upon the way of perfection and to receive Sacred Orders.”18

Consequently, all candidates should be well aware of the mind of the Church on the manifestation of conscience as set forth in canon 530, § 2, and as explained in the Statuta Generalia. 19

21. The Time For Definitive Selection

As for the time when the definitive selection is to be made, every means should be diligently employed to insure that this selection takes place within the time limits determined by law. Superiors shall bear well in mind that only rarely should a further extension of probation be requested (cf. Stat. Gen., art. 34, §3). The excellent norm laid down in the encyclical letter, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, should be observed: “And although it is better not to postpone this selection unduly, since in this matter delay usually leads to error and causes harm, nevertheless, whatever may have been the motive for the delay, just as soon as it is evident that there has been a deviation from the right path, then, with no trace of human respect, the remedy must be applied.”20

B) The Required Freedom

22. Freedom: A Sign Of A Divine Vocation

Among the requisites for a genuine divine vocation there is rightly listed the free will of the candidates or a choice free of all moral pressure along with perfect knowledge of the obligations of their state. Full freedom is prescribed by ecclesiastical law for the reception of Orders and for the validity of the novitiate and profession21 and, in virtue of art. 32, § 3 of the Statuta Generalia, in the recruitment of vocations everything must be avoided which could diminish the freedom of the candidates or improperly affect it. Particularly in the free acceptance of this counsel there is discerned the special call from God or the movement of the Holy Spirit, who interiorly enlightens and inspires a person, who has the other qualifications, to pursue the evangelical counsels or to embrace the priesthood. For the divine inspiration required by St. Pius X22 in a true vocation, or that marked attraction for sacred duties mentioned by Pius XI in his encyclical letter, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii,23is discerned in their right propensity and intention of mind or the choice of their free will (cf. can. 538), rather than in an inner urging of conscience and sensible attraction which may be lacking.

23. Superiors Should Seek Out Supernatural Motives

Since it is the task of superiors to pass judgment on the vocation of their candidates, they should the more carefully examine the spontaneous response of these candidates or the decision of their free will. Let them examine very frequently into the supernatural motives of vocations in their students, especially if they come from poor families, or are without the means of leading an upright life in the world, or are lacking academic degrees, or if they are known for narrow-mindedness, anxiety or ambivalence, worried by scruples, or completely incapable of facing up to anything important. To provide fuller knowledge of candidates, they can request of them an “historical sketch” of their vocation in so far as this may be possible. Thus they can be brought face to face with genuine personal reflection on their own vocation.

24. Fatherly Help For Those Who Suffer Interior Or Exterior Trials

Superiors should not fail to remind candidates in a fatherly way that if any one, as the result of undue influence from parents or relatives, or because of financial difficulties, feels himself being forced into profession or ordination against his will, he should confidently make the situation known to his superiors or confessor. These latter should show themselves ready to provide assistance to enable the candidate to escape this danger unscathed, providing ways and means, if possible, to help him conveniently obtain a respectable livelihood in the world.24

25. Acquiescence To The Judgment Of Directors Of The Forum

When any student, on the advice of his confessor or spiritual director, informs his superiors that he does not have the qualifications for the priesthood, then the superior should accept this statement and make no further investigation. If the candidate in question is a subdeacon or deacon, then, with his consent, the superior should take up with the Apostolic See his reduction to the lay state.25

26. How To Handle The Hesitant

In the case of candidates who are undecided and apprehensive and who cannot make up their minds either to accept or leave the religious life or to receive or decline Orders, superiors should dismiss those whom they recognize as unworthy. Those whom they deem qualified should be exhorted to make vows or to agree to be ordained. Nevertheless, they should refrain from forcing profession or ordination on them and should leave the final decision to their own free will, avoiding all undue influence which could give the impression of drawing them on to profession or ordination by coaxing or by threatening spiritual disaster and the pains of hell which they would incur if they withdrew from profession or ordination.26

C) Necessary Knowledge Of The Obligations

27. Candidates Should Be Taught The Obligations To Be Assumed

Candidates Must make vows and receive Orders deliberately; otherwise they would not be free. Superiors are seriously obliged in conscience to make sure that aspirants and novices as well as students throughout the entire period of their studies be carefully instructed on the duties and obligations of the religious and clerical life. The duties and obligations of the religious and clerical life should be discussed frequently by novice masters and spiritual prefects, each in his own field, by means of timely warnings and the usual instructions and exhortations. Preachers should likewise take up this subject in retreats before perpetual profession and sacred ordinations. Lastly, in their explanation of the tract on Orders, professors of moral theology should provide lectures on clerical duties and obligations, and candidates for Orders should be questioned on these points in their examinations.

28. Denunciation Of Temerity In Embracing The Religious And Clerical Life

It is commendable to keep the sanctity of the religious life and the dignity and excellence of the priesthood frequently placed before candidates from the very beginning and throughout the whole period of their formation, and defection from a genuine divine vocation is justly censured. But similarly, and even more severely, should rashness in embracing the religious and priestly state be denounced and its manifold dangers pointed out for those who either were not called by God or have become unworthy of a divine vocation, but who venture to make vows or to receive Sacred Orders. Superiors should form the conscience of candidates, carefully avoiding all error and confusion in their teaching on the religious and priestly vocation, and on virginity and Christian marriage. Let all be firmly convinced that the time for sounding out a vocation does not lapse completely with the first admission of the candidate, but continues on to perpetual profession and ordination to the priesthood.27

D) The Required Chastity

29. Importance Of This Point; Young Persons Are To Be Properly Instructed And Warned Of Its Dangers

Among the proofs and signs of a divine vocation the virtue of chastity is regarded as absolutely necessary “because it is largely for this reason that candidates for the ranks of the clergy choose this type of life for themselves and persevere in it.” Consequently:

a) “Watchful and diligent care is to be taken that candidates for the clergy should have a high esteem and love for chastity, and should safeguard it in their souls.

b) “Not only, therefore, are clerics to be informed in due time on the nature of priestly celibacy, the chastity which they are to observe (cf. can. 132), and the demands of this obligation, but they are likewise to be warned of the dangers into which they can fall on this account. Consequently, candidates for Sacred Orders are to be exhorted to protect themselves from dangers from their earliest years.”28

c) Although virginity embraced for the kingdom of heaven is more excellent than matrimony, nevertheless, candidates for Sacred Orders should not be unaware of the nobility of married life as exemplified in Christian marriage established by the plan of God. Therefore, let them be so instructed that, with a clear understanding of the advantages of Christian matrimony, they may deliberately and freely embrace the greater good of priestly and religious chastity.

d) But should superiors find a candidate unable to observe ecclesiastical celibacy and practice priestly chastity, then, completely ignoring any other outstanding qualities, they should bar him from the religious life and the priesthood (cf. Stat. Gen., art. 34, § 2, 4°), conforming to the following directives and using all prudence and discretion in the application of the same, namely:

30. Those To Be Excluded; Practical Directives

1. A candidate who shows himself certainly unable to observe religious and priestly chastity, either because of frequent sins against chastity or because of a sexual bent of mind or excessive weakness of will, is not to be admitted to the minor seminary and, much less, to the novitiate or to profession. If he has already been accepted but is not yet perpetually professed, then he should be sent away immediately or advised to withdraw, according to individual cases, no matter what point in his formation he has already reached. Should he be perpetually professed, he is to be barred absolutely and permanently from tonsure and the reception of any Order, especially Sacred Orders. If circumstances should so demand, he shall be dismissed from the community, with due observance of the prescriptions of canon law.

2. Consequently, any candidate who has a habit of solitary sins and who has not given well-founded hope that he can break this habit within a period of time to be determined prudently, is not to be admitted to the novitiate. Nor can a candidate be admitted to first profession or to renewal of vows unless he has really amended his ways. But if a novice or a temporarily professed religious gives evidence of a firm purpose of amendment with good grounds for hope of success, his probation can be extended as provided for in canon law (canons 571, §2; 574, §2; 973, § 3; Stat. Gen., art. 34, § 2, 3°).

Well-grounded hope of amendment can be provided by those youths who are physically and psychically normal or endowed with good bodily and mental health, who are noted for solid piety and the other virtues intimately connected with chastity, and who sincerely desire the religious and priestly life.

3. A much stricter policy must be followed in admission to perpetual profession and advancement to Sacred Orders. No one should be admitted to perpetual vows or promoted to Sacred Orders unless he has acquired a firm habit of continency and has given in every case consistent proof of habitual chastity over a period of at least one year. If within this year prior to perpetual profession or ordination to Sacred Orders doubt should arise because of new falls, the candidate is to be barred from perpetual profession or Sacred Orders (cf. above, no. 16) unless, as far as profession is concerned, time is available either by common law or by special indult to extend the period for testing chastity and there be question of a candidate who, as was stated above (no. 30, 2) affords good prospects of amendment.

4. If a student in a minor seminary has sinned gravely against the sixth commandment with a person of the same or the other sex, or has been the occasion of grave scandal in the matter of chastity, he is to be dismissed immediately as stipulated in canon 1371, except if prudent consideration of the act and of the situation of the student by the superiors or confessors should counsel a different policy in an individual case, sc., in the case of a boy who has been seduced and who is gifted with excellent qualities and is truly penitent, or when the sin was an objectively imperfect act.

If a novice or a professed religious who has not yet made perpetual vows should be guilty of the same offense, he is to be sent away from the community or, should the circumstances so demand, he is to be dismissed with due observance of canon 647, § 2, 1°. If a perpetually professed religious is found guilty of any such sin, he is to be perpetually excluded from tonsure and the reception of any further Order. If the case belongs to the external forum, he is to receive a canonical warning unless, as provided for in canons 653 and 668, there be grounds for sending him back to the world (cf. Stat. Gen., art. 34, § 2, 4°).

Lastly, should he be a subdeacon or deacon, then, without prejudice to the above-mentioned directives and if the case should so demand, the superiors should take up with the Holy See the question of his reduction to the lay state.

For these reasons, clerics who in their diocese or religious who in another community have sinned gravely against chastity with another person are not to be admitted with a view to the priesthood, even on a trial basis, unless there be clear evidence of excusing causes or of circumstances which can at least notably diminish responsibility in conscience (Circular Letter of S. C. of the Sacraments, n. 16; Canon Law Digest, 4, p. 314).

Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.

5. Very special investigation is needed for those students who, although they have hitherto been free of formal sins against chastity, nevertheless suffer from morbid or abnormal sexuality, especially sexual hyperesthesia or an erotic bent of nature, to whom religious celibacy would be a continual act of heroism and a trying martyrdom. For chastity, in so far as it implies abstinence from sexual pleasure, not only becomes very difficult for many people but the very state of celibacy and the consequent loneliness and separation from one’s family becomes so difficult for certain individuals gifted with excessive sensitivity and tenderness, that they are not fit subjects for the religious life. This question should perhaps receive more careful attention from novice masters and superiors of scholasticates than from confessors since such natural tendencies do not come out so clearly in confession as in the common life and daily contact.

31. Care Of Psychopathic Cases

In addition, special attention must be paid to those who give evidence of neuropsychosis and who are described by psychiatrists as neurotics or psychopaths, especially those who are scrupulous, abulic, hysterical, or who suffer from some form of mental disease (schizophrenia, paranoia, etc.). The same is true of those who have a delicate constitution or, particularly, those who suffer from weakness of the nervous system or from protracted psychic melancholia, anxiety or epilepsy (can. 984, 3°), or who are afflicted with obsessions. Similarly, precautions are needed in examining the children of alcoholics or those tainted with some hereditary weakness, especially in the mental order (cf. Stat. Gen., art. 33; 34, § 1). Finally, those young men are in need of special attention who manifest exaggerated attachment to the comforts of life and worldly pleasures. Superiors should carefully examine all these types and subject them to a thorough examination by a prudent and expert Catholic psychiatrist who, after repeated examinations, will be in a position to determine whether or not they will be able to shoulder, with honor to that state, the burden of religious and priestly life, especially celibacy.

III. Care In Training And Strengthening Vocations

32. Experienced Directors Should Be Appointed And Sought Out Wherever They May Be

After the accurate selection of vocations, superiors should have as their second principle the task of appointing excellent and experienced directors for the education of young religious conformably to art. 24 of the Statuta Generalia. “To these religious houses,” advises Pius XI, “assign priests adorned with excellent virtue, and do not be afraid to take them away from other tasks which may be apparently more important but which cannot match this work of capital importance, which can be replaced by no other. Look for them also in other fields, wherever you find men capable and fit for this most noble task.”29 Only if this advice is heeded will this Instruction produce any real fruit; if this counsel is not heeded, then the entire Instruction will be to no purpose.

33. The Qualities And Appointment Of Those In Charge Of Formation

Let all superiors, each one within his own jurisdiction, exactly carry out all the pertinent prescriptions of the Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae, articles 24 and 25. Two points call for special emphasis in this Instruction:

1. Responsibility for formation should not be entrusted to younger religious. It should be observed, first of all, that it is extremely dangerous to turn over to younger priests the very difficult work of religious and priestly formation and especially the task of training minds, since these younger religious have not yet fully completed their own personal formation nor achieved the maturity of age required by canon 559, § 1, nor acquired any measure of experience in the ministry.30

2. Nor should they be assigned without preparation. Secondly, superiors should beware of directors who are chosen haphazardly or who are unprepared. A natural disposition is not enough but, presupposing all the natural and supernatural gifts needed for this difficult task, they usually have a real need to study ecclesiastical pedagogy because, in this sacred discipline, those in charge of formation learn the principles, criteria, and the practical norms of clerical and religious training according to the words and the mind of the Church. On the other hand, ignorance of these principles gives rise to many lamentable evils.

34. Avoiding False Humanism

The Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae, with the accompanying Statuta Generalia, deals with religious, clerical, and apostolic formation. Nothing needs to be added to this Constitution lest we fall into unnecessary repetitions, but some points having a particular bearing on our purpose need to be mentioned. In the first place, those charged with the training of youth should never lose sight of the warning of Pius XII, formulated in the Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae, n. 23 (Canon Law Digest, 4, p. 176), where he states: “Nevertheless, though all should make much of the human and natural training of the religious cleric, the supernatural sanctification of the soul undoubtedly has the first place in the entire course of his development.”

Therefore, the religious life must be defended against any appearance of false humanism or naturalism, and its supernatural character and sanctity must be safeguarded by all available means. “This is necessary particularly today, if at any time, when so-called naturalism has worked its way into the minds and souls of men.”31

35. Natural Considerations Are Not To Be Made Light Of But Supernatural Ones Are To Be Preferred

Consequently, supernatural reasons for embracing religious vows and the priestly life should be stressed and they should be preferred to the natural virtues in the training of young religious. For rightly, in this matter, does Leo XIII warn: “It is truly difficult to understand how those imbued with Christian wisdom can prefer natural to supernatural virtues and attribute to the former greater efficacy and fecundity. Will nature, with the help of grace, be weaker than if left to its own powers? Did those most holy men whom the Church admires and openly honors show themselves weak and incompetent in the order of nature because they were outstanding for Christian virtue?”32

And Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae, teaches as follows: “With regard to the resources and methods of education, those which nature itself supplies and those which are offered by the human ingenuity of the present age, if they are good, are clearly not to be neglected, but to be highly esteemed and wisely employed. However, there is no more fatal mistake than to rely exclusively or excessively on these natural means and to relegate supernatural aids and resources to a secondary place or in any way to neglect them. Because in order to attain religious and clerical perfection and apostolic results, the supernatural means, the sacraments, prayer, mortification, and the like, are not merely necessary but altogether primary and essential.”33

36. Training In Obedience And Self-Sacrifice

On more than one occasion in these modern times the Roman Pontiffs have spoken on religious obedience and abnegation of the will, and they have enlightened us on their supernatural nature, the diligence and perfection with which religious should practice them, on dangerous doctrines on these subjects and, in particular, on the false concept of personality and a certain popular or democratic spirit which is making its way into men’s minds and which makes obedience as taught and practiced by Christ our Lord altogether void of meaning.

Attention should be called to the pernicious effects on the religious life of that practical “system” which, ignoring more or less the obligations of the religious life, gives in to all the inclinations and pleasures of nature, which are not only not regarded as unlawful but are even looked upon as a postulate of our times and as a perfecting of human nature and, as a result, as something owed to nature or at least altogether permitted. Whence, upon the pretext of progress, bodily comforts and pleasures of all kinds are sought out as well as freedom for the internal and external senses, the satisfaction of one’s faculties, and the indiscriminate indulgence of curiosity in regard to books, newspapers, radio, movies, television,34 profane worldly spectacles, and, lastly, a life without subjection, with ample free play for one’s will and activity. All these endanger even the essential obligations of the religious life since they preclude any spirit of humility, self-sacrifice, and mortification which, on the contrary, according to the words of Christ, “If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me,” (Matt. 16:24), must be taken as the foundation of the entire Christian life35 and which can be achieved only through crucifixion to the world (Gal. 6:14). “He who is half-hearted or slothful,” the Sovereign Pontiff exhorts, “who wishes to loll around in the comforts of this life, who burns with excessive thirst for human things and human knowledge, and who wants to experience all that earth can give, can neither be nor be called a true soldier of the kingdom of God. Beloved sons, take careful note of this, namely, that the secret and fruitful power of your future apostolate lies particularly in the necessary right detachment of soul from the things of earth.” “The man who, shying away from the austerity of religious discipline, would want to live in a religious community just as if he were a man of the world, who seeks out according to his own will whatever seems to be to his own advantage, whatever pleases and satisfies him — would that man be worthy of Christ his Head?”36 Consequently, superiors have a grave obligation to implant the following rule of the life of perfection in the souls of their young subjects: religious may use these comforts and pleasures of life only in so far as they contribute to the pursuit of evangelical perfection and the proper exercise of the apostolate according to one’s own constitutions. This norm differs not a little from the one used as a standard for the common state of the Christian life.

However, this does not prevent the acceptance of today’s fine, useful discoveries when they are regarded as aids to a fuller formation, or as helps in multiplying apostolic activities and advancing perfection, carefully shunning all the extras which please and satisfy nature but which are not at all necessary for the achieving of the scope of the religious life and the apostolate. Wherefore, buildings intended for seminaries should be built and furnished according to the norms of religious simplicity and poverty, which demand that these houses be so organized that the minds of the students will be imbued with that spirit of austerity and self-sacrifice which, by its very nature, is required both by the state of the evangelical counsels and likewise by their future apostolic life.

37. Students Should Be Trained For The Apostolate, But Especially For A Spiritual And Deeply Religious And Priestly Life

Lastly, it is an all too clear fact that many young men at the present time are more interested in the external activity of the apostolate, which falls in well with their particular bent of mind, than in the religious perfection of their own souls, of which they have only vague ideas and little esteem. Because of this, after some years in the active life, they are bored by religious practices whose real value they do not understand, or which they regard as hindrances to the apostolate. Then they want to be free of these observances and wish to enter the secular clergy. In order to forestall this danger, superiors, in training their students, should take very special care that the life of evangelical perfection is kept before them and explained in its various phases that they may be attracted to the religious life and be strengthened in perseverance therein, not merely out of the desire of engaging in the apostolate, but particularly from a sincere determination to pursue evangelical perfection unwaveringly through the observance of the evangelical counsels and their own constitutions (can. 593) out of an intense love of God in imitation of Jesus Christ and a supernatural desire of sanctifying their souls, because, as Pius XII notes, “the priest is by his very office an instrument for the sanctification of others, so much so that the salvation of souls and the growth of the Kingdom of God depend in a considerable degree upon his holiness.”37

IV. Declarations And Investigations Required Before Profession Or Incorporation, And Before Orders

38. Attestation Of One’s Own Vocation To Sacred Orders In The Religious Life

Since in the acceptance of religious or clerical obligations it is most important to safeguard and foster the liberty and spontaneous freedom of the candidates and to avoid completely the weakness which may be called the “follow-the-crowd” attitude, and since it is altogether proper that in serious decisions in matters affecting their own life they form the habit of thinking for themselves, the following directives shall henceforth be observed by all superiors of clerical Religious Communities, Societies and Secular Institutes.

Before temporary profession, which absolutely must precede promotion to tonsure and Minor Orders, novices are to present to their superiors a written declaration in which they attest explicitly to their vocation to the state of perfection and the clerical state, and at the same time declare their firm intention to bind themselves forever to the ranks of the clergy in the state of perfection.38 This declaration can again be demanded of temporarily professed candidates before perpetual profession. These petitions and attestations are to be preserved in the archives. Lest the students sign approved printed formulas mechanically, they should write out these declarations in their own hand and, before they sign their name, should carefully consider, in consultation with their spiritual director, each and every one of the points contained therein.

39. Above All, The Fitness Of The Candidate Is To Be Established Clearly

Superiors should not allow any one to be advanced to Orders, even only Minor Orders, without clear evidence, secured through careful examination, regarding his conduct, piety, modesty, chastity, inclinations for the clerical state, progress in ecclesiastical studies, and religious discipline.39 To obtain this with greater certainty, superiors should get the opinion of the spiritual prefect, if he is directly responsible for the training of the students, and that of others who, because of their special association with the students, may be in a position to have a thorough knowledge of their life and conduct.40 These opinions should not be accepted lightly but should be carefully weighed, with all due consideration of the prudence, sincerity, and maturity of judgment of those who have given them.

An authentic report of these investigations and of the outcome of these inquiries should be drawn up and kept in the archives.

Finally, the superiors, either personally or through some other experienced and prudent priest likely to win the confidence of the students, should question them carefully in order to acquire still greater certainty that they are aspiring to Orders in the religious state freely, deliberately, and for supernatural motives.

40. The Best Time For Conferring Sacred Orders; Major Orders Should Not Be Conferred Before Perpetual Or Definitive Profession

As regards ordination itself, this Sacred Congregation adopts the timely directives formulated by the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments in no. 14 of its Circular Letter, namely: For the more careful and immediate preparation of candidates for Orders, especially Sacred Orders, provision should be made that sacred ordinations be had at the time more fit for them, at a date well known ahead of time and never unexpectedly. As a result, it seems very appropriate to exclude the time immediately preceding or following the end of the scholastic year. At this time, as a rule, the students, tired by work and preoccupied in mind because of the examinations recently taken in sacred studies or because of those soon to be taken, lack the necessary peace of mind for being properly able to ponder the very serious business of their ordination.

As for the reception of Major Orders, superiors of the states of perfection should bear in mind that they may not promote their students to these orders before perpetual profession or incorporation (can. 964, 3°, 4°). In those states of perfection which do not have perpetual obligations or vows, superiors are likewise forbidden to promote their candidates to Sacred Orders before these vows or obligations have become definitive.41

41. New Inquiry Before Subdeaconate

Before candidates are admitted to the subdeaconate, superiors must make a new inquiry on the above-mentioned points (n. 39). To this end, the records of the investigation already made and preserved in the archives are to be examined anew and further testimony on the conduct and spiritual qualities of the student is to be compared with previous reports in order to see clearly what progress these young men have made since their first profession both in religious discipline and in clerical studies. After all this, if the candidates are found worthy and fit, and if there is no canonical reason for withholding them from the reception of Orders, the superiors may issue dimissorial or testimonial letters for their ordination, with due observance of the prescriptions of canon law and their own constitutions.42

42. Oath To Be Signed Before The Subdeaconate

In all the states of perfection, before presenting candidates for the subdeaconate, superiors must, in view of the sacred ordination which is to follow in proper time and in addition to the inquiry prescribed above, demand an attestation written personally by the candidates and confirmed under oath before the superior in the following terms:

“I, the undersigned, . . . a member of the (Order, Congregation, Society, Institute of . . . ), in presenting this petition to Superiors for the reception of the Order of the Subdeaconate, after having carefully considered the matter before God, do hereby testify under oath: 1) that in the reception of the said Sacred Order I am moved by no coercion, compulsion, or fear, but am seeking it of my own accord, and do of my own full and free will desire to embrace it together with the obligations that are attached to it. 2) I acknowledge that I am fully informed of all the obligations that flow from the aforesaid Sacred Order, and I freely embrace them, and resolve with the help of God to keep them faithfully during my entire life. 3) I declare that I clearly understand all that the vow of chastity and the law of celibacy prescribe, and I firmly resolve with the help of God to observe these obligations faithfully until the end of my life. 4) Finally, I sincerely promise that I will always, according to the sacred canons, most respectfully obey in all things which are commanded me by my Superiors according to the discipline of the Church, and am prepared to give good example both in work and in word, so that in the reception of this great office I may be worthy to receive the reward which God has promised. To all this I testify and swear upon these sacred Gospels which I touch with my hand.

This_____day of___ 19__43

(Signed) ______________________________

43. Before Deaconate Or Priesthood Superiors Should Carefully Inquire Into The Fitness Of Candidates

 Although for the Order of deaconate and priesthood it is not necessary to gather such detailed information and to require new testimonials, nevertheless, superiors should be watchful and determine whether, in the interval between the conferral of one sacred ordination and the next, any new factors may have emerged which might raise doubts on their vocation to the priesthood or show they have no vocation. In this case, after a most careful investigation and after seeking the advice of prudent men, superiors should strictly forbid the reception of any new Order and should refer the case to this Sacred Congregation, which, according to the requirements of individual cases, will decide what seems most opportune in the Lord.44

44. In General, Dispensations Are Not To Be Requested

Superiors should bear in mind the prescription of the Statuta Generalia, art. 34, § 3, 2°, 3°, namely: “Only in individual cases and for causes which are proportionately really serious should superiors venture to ask for dispensations concerning: . . . 2° age and the other requirements for Orders, especially Sacred Orders; 3° the organized course of studies, either as regards the individual disciplines, attendance at class, or passing examinations.” Superiors of religious orders who have the faculty of anticipating sacred ordinations beyond the limits laid down by common law should, in the use of this privilege, as long as it remains in force, follow the same restrictive criterion as that formulated in art. 34. In addition, as is proper in the use of other privileges, they should comply with the practice and rules customarily observed by the S. Congregation for Religious in granting similar indults to those subject to common law.

When there is question of age, superiors should lean more toward postponing rather than anticipating ordination.

45. Superiors’ Obligation In Conscience In Issuing Dimissorial Or Testimonial Letters

As regards the ordination of religious, in virtue of canon law major superiors either issue dimissorial letters to the ordaining Bishops (can. 964, 2°, 3°; 966, § 1) or at least they present their candidates for ordination with testimonial letters (can. 993, 5°). By these testimonial letters the religious superior not only testifies that the candidates belong to his community but also certifies that they have completed the prescribed studies, have taken the oath, and have complied with the other requirements of law (can. 995, § 1). Hence it is clear that the very serious obligation, which binds Bishops to train, test, and choose their secular candidates who wish to receive Sacred Orders, likewise extends to religious superiors to whom it pertains to permit their subjects to advance to Sacred Orders. And although, as canon law provides (can. 997, § 2), Bishops are free to disregard the declarations of superiors and to examine religious ordinands personally, nevertheless, they are not bound to do so but, before God and the Church, they may accept the testimony of superiors and throw back on them the full responsibility in conscience for the training and the worthiness of their candidates (can. 970; 995, § 2).

V. The Care Of Newly Ordained Priests

46. Precautions To Be Taken In The First Years Of The Priesthood; The Dangers Of Inexperience

After they have completed their course of studies and the pastoral year and have received Sacred Orders, young priests should start their ministry with all due precautions, aware of the very special dangers confronting them in the first years of their priesthood, during which, not infrequently, as Pius XII observed in his exhortation to the clergy, the great hopes entertained for young priests have apparently faded away.45

At the outset of their ministry, both because of the passions besetting their youth and because of their more frequent contacts with the world, many serious difficulties usually arise along with new kinds of temptations. And since new priests experience a certain sense of independence and feel that they must do their work in their own way in the ministry entrusted to them, they easily tend to shake off all restraint and, because of their inexperience, can fall into numerous errors and failings which may rightly be feared to lead to deplorable defections. This is why young priests sometimes think they must act on their own and introduce many reforms, disregarding the methods and systems of older priests. Lastly, they frequently are either left without any fruitful occupation or else are overloaded with self-assigned work or work which has been given to them by their superiors, not without danger to their spiritual life.

47. The Danger Of The “Heresy Of Action”

On this spiritual danger Pope Pius XII, of venerable memory, has warned us in the following most serious words: “We cannot refrain from expressing Our concern and Our anxiety for those who, because of special circumstances of our day and age, have too frequently so engulfed themselves in a whirl of external activity as to neglect the first duty of priests, that is to say, procuring their own personal sanctification. We have already publicly stated (cf. A.A.S., 36 [1944] — 239, Letter Cum proxime exeat) that ‘those men must be recalled to the right path who rashly hold that man can be saved by what is rightly and deservedly called the “heresy of action,” that kind of action, We say, which is not based on the assistance of Divine Grace and does not make constant use of the necessary means for the pursuit of sanctity provided by Jesus Christ.’ “46

48. The Danger Of Imitating Worldly Conduct

It happens that the sacred ministry, which should be an instrument for personal sanctification, at times becomes for some people, through their own fault, an occasion for relaxation of discipline and harm to their religious spirit. Not rarely in the exercise of this ministry religious priests adopt the habits of people in the world in speech, conduct, and comportment; they violate poverty through uncontrolled use of material things; they lose esteem for regular discipline and the exercises of piety through prolonged absence from their religious house. Such priests quickly go seeking outside their religious house activities, which provide stable and permanent work in order to have a pretext for withdrawing from religious discipline.

49. Young Priests Should Be Introduced Into The Ministry Gradually Under The Direction Of An Experienced Guide

Superiors will forestall these difficulties if, in the first place, they effectively put into practice the excellent advice, based on experience, of the Statuta Generalia, art. 51, namely: that “the young priest should not be regarded as definitively formed and put to the test in his religious and apostolic life until, after the completion of about his thirtieth year and through personal contact with the ministry,” he has rounded out his formation. In the meantime, according to the directives contained in the aforementioned exhortation of Pope Pius XII,47 young priests should be introduced gradually into the apostolic ministry, safeguarded with wise and watchful care, and paternally directed in their activities. For this reason, contact with the world should not be either abrupt, frequent, or awkward; rather it should be moderate, humble, and gracious while the young priests devote themselves to study and prayer under the direction of a skilled spiritual director and, as far as possible, the guidance of some other experienced priest assigned to assist them. For “just as long periods of time are necessary for oak trees to put down solid roots, in the same way long-standing patience is always required for the formation of a man of God. Consequently, restraints should be placed on the generous self-assurance of youth whereby they would be plunged into activity before their time, since undue haste in activity scatters rather than builds, and is both for him who indulges in it and for the apostolic ministry itself a source of harm.”48

50. Young Priests Should Not Be Assigned To Small Houses; Interest In Those Who Are Absent

As a general rule, young priests should not be assigned to small houses but should rather be assigned where religious discipline is easily reconciled with moderate exercise of the apostolate and where the prescriptions of the preceding article can be conveniently complied with.

In addition, superiors should see to it that the aforesaid priests do not spend unduly long periods away from their religious house and, in every case, that they return to the community for the monthly day of recollection and for their retreat.

Finally, they shall exercise special vigilance over those who are absent from the religious house in what concerns their life, conduct, comportment, and the use and administration of temporal goods.49

51. Vacations With Relatives, At Spas And Other Worldly Centers

Superiors should not allow religious priests to spend long periods with relatives or friends for vacation or rest since this practice causes surprise to people of the world and becomes a source of criticism among their fellow-religious. Nor for purposes of health should they be permitted to make frequent visits to the homes of relatives nor given easy access to spas and other public places, which are indeed places for convalescence but are likewise centers of unrestrained and worldly satisfactions, contrary to religious decorum and spirit. If there be question of sojourns at beaches or if religious must spend time outside their house at warm springs, “they should carefully conform to the prescriptions laid down by local Ordinaries.”50 For the rest, the directives enumerated by this Sacred Congregation for Religious for superiors general51 on the frequentation of spas are confirmed and once again it is recommended that religious houses be located in healthful climates where those in need of rest and treatment may occupy themselves and at the same time live their religious life.

The Reading Of This Instruction

52. It is of the greatest importance for the Church that the criteria and directives here set down should, first of all, be known and that they should be kept in mind and constantly put into practice. It is no less important that there should be a uniform policy in all the states of perfection and, especially, that within the same institute there should be concerted action on the part of all those dedicated to the training of youth.

Wherefore, let superiors see to it that at the beginning of each school year, in place of the Instruction Quantum Religiones, this Instruction be read or at least summarized before the superiors, masters, spiritual prefects and their assistants, confessors, and professors, as well as in monastic, general, and provincial councils.

At the same time there should be read or made known to the young candidates the prescriptions which touch them directly, such as those referring to freedom and the conditions to be complied with in embracing the religious and clerical life, the sworn declaration mentioned in n. 42, and other similar provisions.

By the faithful observance of all these directives, the task of investigating the canonical fitness of candidates for the state of perfection and Sacred Orders will meet with success; those who are not fit will be barred in time and at the very outset, and only those worthy and fit will be admitted to Sacred Orders. These, in turn, properly instructed and trained, will effectively promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls to the honor of the Church and the state of evangelical perfection.

In the audience graciously granted on 23 January, 1961, to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, our Holy Father, Pope John XXIII, deigned to approve this Instruction and ordered that it be communicated to superiors of institutes of evangelical perfection.

Rome, the 2nd day of February, feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 1961.

S.C. Rel., 2 Feb., 1961; translated from the original Latin text; references to English versions were, of course, entered by us.

[Note: Although this Instruction was not published in AAS or any other public form but was privately circulated, it is, nevertheless, referred to by the S. C. Rel. itself as “a matter of public law” (cf. below: S. C. Rel., 28 April, 1961).]


1. AAS 24 (1932) -74 -81; Enchiridion de Statibus Prefectionis, Rome, 1949, n. 363, pp. 471-479. Cf. also the Instruction Illud saepius, De Qualitatibus recipiendorum, 15 August, 1915, in Enchiridion de Stat. Perf., n. 286, pp. 340-344. English version ofQuantum Religiones in Canon Law Digest, 1, pp. 473-482.

2. AAS 28 (1936)-5-533; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 367, 481-521.

3. AAS 42 (1950)-657-702.

4. AAS 46 (1954)-161-191.

5. AAS 31 (1939)-245-251; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n 373, pp. 530-537; Canon Law Digest, 2, pp. 427-433.

6. AAS 50 (1958) 153-161; Canon Law Digest, 5, pp. 365-374.

7. Cf. the doctrinal section in AAS 48 (1956) 354-365. The Statuta Generalia appended to this same Apostolic Constitution were printed and promulgated separately from theAAS. The references in the Instruction are to the second edition published under the direction of the Sacred Congregation for Religious. English version of doctrinal section inCanon Law Digest, 4, pp. 169-182; English version of the Statuta is available from the Catholic University of America Press.

8. These documents of Pope John XXIII can be consulted in AAS 52 (1960)-179-309, and in the Prima Romana Synodus, A.D. 1960, Vatican Press.

8a. English version in Canon Law Digest, 4, pp. 303-315.

8b. Canon Law Digest, 4, p. 308.

9. Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 286, p. 341.

10. Allocution of Pius XI to the General Chapter of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, 14 September, 1932. Allocution of Pius XII to the superiors General, 11 February, 1958, inAAS 50 (1958)-160; Canon Law Digest, 5, p. 373.

11. John XXIII, allocution of 28 January, 1960, to the clerical students of the Diocese of Rome or residing in Rome, in AAS 52 (1960)-263; English version in The Pope Speaks, 6 (1960)-364. Prima Romana Synodus, p. 436. Cf. Pius XI, encyclical Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, AAS 28 (1936)-44; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 367, p. 513.

12. Apostolic Const. Sedes Sapientiae, nn. 12-13; Canon Law Digest, 4, P. 173.

13. Stat. Gen., art. 34, § 2, 1°.

14. Ibid., n. 2°.

15. Pius XI, Encyclical Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, AAS 28 (1936) Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 367, p. 513.

16. Pius XI, ibid., AAS 28 (1936)-41; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 367; p. 511. Cf. also the Encyclical Sacra Virginitas, AAS 46 (1954)-180-181.

17. Prima Romana Synodus, 484, § 3.

18. Cf. Prima Romana Synodus, 477.

19. Cf. Stat. Gen., art. 28, § 3, 1°.

20. Pius XI, Encyc. Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, AAS 28 (1936)-39; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 367, pp. 509-510.

21. Cf. canons 971; 542, 1°; 572, § 1, 4°; 2352.

22. St. Pius X, Apostolic letter, Cum primum, 4 Aug., 1913, in AAS, 5 (1913)-388;Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 279, p. 331.

23. Pius XI, Encyc. Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, 28 (1936)-39; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 367, p. 510.

24. Circular Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, n. 5; Canon Law Digest, 4, p. 311.

25. Ibid., n. 6; Canon Law Digest, loc. Cit.

26. Stat. Gen., art. 32, §3. Cf. Prima Romana Synodus, 467, §2. Circular Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, n. 7; Canon Law Digest, 4, p. 311.

27. Cf. Stat. Gen., art. 39, §1, 1°.

28. Pius XII, Exhort. Menti Nostrae, AAS 42 (1950)-690-691; cf. Encyc. Sacra virginitas, AAS 46 (1954)-164, 170, 174, 179, 182.

29. Pius XI, Encyc. Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, AAS 28 (1936)-37; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 367, p. 508.

30. Cf. Stat. Gen., art. 5l.

31. Pius XII, Exhort. Menti Nostrae, AAS 42 (1950)-673.

32. Leo XIII, Letter Testem benevolentiae, 12 Jan., 1899, in Acta Leonis XIII, vol. XIX, pp. 15-16.

33. Pius XII, Apost. Const. Sedes Sapientiae, n. 21; cf. also Pius XII, Alloc. Haud Mediocri, 11 Feb., 1958, to superiors general resident in Rome, AAS 50 (1958)-153 ff. Cf. respectively Canon Law Digest, 4, pp. 175-176; 5, pp. 365 ff.

34. Cf. Sacred Congregation for Religious, Letter to the Superiors General of the Institutes of Perfection on the use of radio and television, 6 August, 1957; Canon Law Digest, 4, pp. 206-209.

35. Cf. Alloc. of Pius XII, Haud Mediocri, as quoted above in note 33; Alloc. to the Superiors General, 11 Feb., 1958, in AAS 50 (1958)-156; Canon Law Digest, 5, p. 368.

36. Quotations from John XXIII and Pius XII respectively: John XXIII, Alloc. to the ecclesiastical students in Rome, AAS 52 (1960)-264; The Pope Speaks, 6 (1960)-364; Prima Romana Synodus, p. 437; Pius XII, Alloc. to the Society of Jesus assembled in General Congregation, 10 Sept., 1957, in AAS 49 (1957)-808; The Pope Speaks, 4 (1957-58)-449.

37. Pius XII, Apost. Const. Sedes Sapientiae, n. 23; Canon Law Digest, 4, p. 176; also his Allocution to Superiors General, 11 Feb., 1958, in AAS 50 (1958)-157; Canon Law Digest, 5, p. 370. Cf. Stat. Gen., art. 37; 40, §2, 1°, 2°; 3.

38. Cf. can. 973, § 1; Sacred Congregation for Religious, Instruction Quantum Religiones, 1 Dec., 1931, in AAS 24 (1932)-79; Ench. de Stat. Perf; n. 363, p. 477;Canon Law Digest, 1, pp. 479-80.

39. Cf. can. 973, § 1 and can. 1357, § 2.

40. Cf. Stat. Gen., art 28, § 2, 3°, 9°, 10°, and the Instruction Quantum Religiones, n. 14, as quoted above in note 38.

41. Cf. Stat. Gen., art. 8, § 1, 2°; Sacred Congregation for Religious, InstructionQuantum Religiones, n. 15, in AAS 24 (1932)-80; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 363, p. 478;Canon Law Digest, 1, p. 480.

42. Sacred Congregation for Religious, Instruction Quantum Religiones, n. 16; Canon Law Digest, 1, pp. 480-481.

43. Ibid., n. 17; Canon Law Digest, 1, p. 481.

44. Ibid., n. 20; Canon Law Digest, 1, p. 482.

45. Pius XII, Exhort. Menti Nostrae, AAS 42 (1950)-692. Cf. also the InstructionQuantum Religiones, n. 10; Canon Law Digest, 1, p. 478.

46. Pius XII, Exhort. Menti Nostrae, AAS 42 (1950)-677.

47. Ibid., p. 692.

48. Pius XII, Alloc. Quamvis Inquieti, 17 Sept., 1946, in AAS 38 (1946) -383; Ench. de Stat. Perf., n. 385, p. 574.

49. Cf. the Instruction of the Sacred Congregation for Religious on religious military chaplains, in AAS 47 (1955)-93-97, and the decree on religious in military service, especially articles IV and V, 30 July, 1957, in AAS 49 (1957)-871-874. For these documents respectively, see Canon Law Digest, 4, pp. 152-157; 90-93.

50. Cf. Prima Romana Synodus, 87.

51. Sacred Congregation for Religious, Circular Letter of 15 July, 1926; Canon Law Digest, 3, p. 216.

1980- On Spiritual Formation in Seminaries (Ratio Fundamentalis)


To All Local Ordinaries

The document entitled “Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis” and, following this, the various national “Rationes” produced by Bishop’s Conferences have given to spiritual formation its deserved place, namely, the most important of all.

However, there are many signs today which indicate that it might be opportune and useful to reflect further and deeper on this matter. We presume that people today are ready to accept such further reflection and, with the help of God’s grace, we expect rich fruit from it.

After pointing out encouraging signs in this field, the present circular letter aims not at producing a complete and systematic study, but at calling the attention of seminary authorities to certain, selected areas where immediate effort seems to be needed. At the conclusion, a suggestion will be proposed that could be quite important for the future of the priesthood in the Catholic Church.


Providential Signs

The sign which we would like to point out first, since it has made the greatest impression on us in the Sacred Congregation, is the truly exceptional quality of the “Plans of Action for Vocations,” which we ventured to ask the bishops to prepare and which are arriving here at a rate that we had never dared to expect. The climate of courageous faith shown by the spiritual aspects of these “Plans” indicates that the time might have arrived for some initiatives in the spiritual field that will not be undertaken in vain. If these “Plans” put forward by the diocese were concerned only or mainly with clever vocational techniques, they would not justify this present circular letter. However, the position that prayer occupies in them -always in the forefront of every initiative and the animating force behind it—brings evidence of the presence of grace. We are living in one of the “favorable times” when generous commitments can be demanded.

Resurgence of Vocations

Moreover, projects and hopes are not the only things involved. The widespread increase in the number of vocations throughout the world confirms the presence of a providential activity which is bearing fruit. Of course, many dioceses and even entire countries—although these are in the minority—are still behind in this trend and are even a source of worry. But, it is remarkable that in those places where the upward trend is the strongest, and especially where it is most unexpectedly vigorous, one often comes across the following interpretation of the facts by the bishops: it is, first of all, to the spiritual renewal of seminaries that the increase must be attributed. This renewal has been sought and produced in different forms, but there are certain common points to which we must return if we are to gather any profit from these experiences and find our way forward.

The Urge To Pray

Another consideration cannot be ignored. Everyone today agrees that recognition must be given to a real “urge to pray” more or less everywhere in the Church and even outside of her. The number of “centers” is almost beyond counting where people come to learn about prayer, where they gather to pray and where they hope to find a “teacher of prayer.” People sometimes go to great lengths in order to find such a person and run the almost certain risk of losing their way and being disappointed. A new method needs only to be suggested somewhere and immediately students are found who arrive ready to try it out. But, whatever may be the spiritual qualities involved, whatever may be the setbacks and errors, it is undeniable that there exists a general and profound inclination to pray. In many ways this invitation to prayer is receiving a worthy answer. But, do we realize sufficiently the extent of this quest or the extraordinary opportunity that is being offered to the Church for the progress of the Faith? We do, so long as we are able to find in our priests real “teachers of prayer” with a firm knowledge of tradition, priests who experience God in a deep and fervent way, who are capable of being wise and prudent “directors of souls” following the paths of the great masters, and who are also responsive to the needs of the time. This is quite a different matter from judging various prayer movements, often confused in their origins. Rather it means helping priests to be able to reply effectively to the call God gives to His chosen ones, so that they can become “teachers of prayer.”

Spiritual Resurgence in the Church

Furthermore, the general context of the life of the Church must be taken into consideration here. Can one avoid the feeling that the Church has just lived through an impressive series of events, the spiritual richness of which has disconcerted the usual opinion makers and left them confounded, as if they were faced with evidence of the intervention of something that goes beyond human factors? Who was not struck and even dumbfounded by the surprising dignity of the funeral of Pope Paul VI? The whole world was able to witness this through our advanced means of social communication. Who did not suspect that there was at least something other that a prominent “news story” in the astonishingly rapid and unanimous conclaves which followed and in the eventual arrival of the Pope “from afar,” whose simplicity and radiant faith immediately captured the hearts of the faithful? One can suppose that the presence of such a leader—emerging from the storms of the post-conciliar period—is an exceptional opportunity for encouraging priests to arm themselves with that same faith, a faith that springs from sources of prayer.

The Young Generation

We must note here the extent to which the younger generation has in its own way responded to the situation which we have been describing. Young people are waiting for Christ. They are awaiting someone to point Him out to them and to make them love Him. They are ready to welcome priests who are able to do this. Many of them would give themselves enthusiastically for this very mission. Therefore, our seminaries must be prepared to meet their expectations. The future of the Church at the present moment depends most of all on the spiritual formation of future priests.

In the soul of a young person today, spiritual hunger naturally and generally takes the form of an anxious search for a reason for living, which the world about him does not provide. It leaves him to face life while being deprived of what would give sense of purpose to life. We ourselves know, through faith, that this reason for living is none other than Christ. The young man who aspires to the priesthood usually has already begun to understand this. He also knows that other young people already have some intuition about Christ and that, more or less distinctly, they have already begun to call on His Name. He would like to make Him known to them in the fullness of truth. He expects the seminary to make him capable of rendering this service to them.

Christ, the Ideal of the Seminarian

No other group than the young is more aware of the spiritual vacuum that needs to be filled. However, because of this there is no other group in which solutions born of despair are more to be feared: the attraction of false ideologies, the mindless promise of destructive experiences such as drug-taking, the rejection of all constraint whether moral, familial, or social, and, in extreme cases, the renunciation of life itself. One who brings to this generation the Person of Jesus Christ, who is the only true response, will himself have to be solidly prepared for his task and to have found in Christ not only light but strength, the true reason for living, the authentic model for humanity to follow, the Savior to whom we must submit and with whom we must “cooperate” to use a well known phrase of St. Teresa of Avila.

It is from this starting point that the essential task of a seminary must begin, the task that belongs to all who are responsible for forming future priests.

It is toward Christ, in fact, that grace has attracted the gaze of the young men who aspire to His priesthood. They have already given Him their hearts in an outburst of generosity which is still ignorant of the demands of formation, but which already instinctively consents to all the sacrifices involved. The future priest knows that he will have to give everything and, in the depths of his soul, he already has done so.

Jesus Christ: life in a seminary must be designed solely to allow this initial grace to come to full maturity, according to the measure in which it is given to each. The heart of the future priest will have to free itself from everything which, by nature or habit, could constitute an obstacle to the development in him of the love of Christ. All the resources of his being must be employed so that they become instruments to the accomplishment of this one end. It must be Christ who is contemplated with enough fervent and patient persistence so that, little by little, according to the admirable idea of St. Paul (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), the very face of Christ is imprinted on that of believers. It must be Christ who is ceaselessly offered to the Father for the salvation of the world in the mystery of which the future priest cannot fail to proclaim and whose kingdom, by the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of the Father, must be the permanent concern and the only reason for the seminarian’s existence.


Four Directives

We believe it is our duty to point out four of the most urgent guidelines which the work of spiritual formation for future priests ought to follow:

1. Priests need to be formed in such a way that the Word of God is welcomed by them and loved in depth. This Word is none other that Christ Himself. For this end we must begin with the cultivation of a sense of genuine interior silence. To acquire such a sense is difficult. As St. Ignatius of Loyola says, “To find Christ” is not possible without long and well-directed, patient effort. It is the way of prayer which is esteemed, loved and desired here despite all the distractions and all the obstacles. The future priest, through his own real experience, must be able to be a “teacher of prayer” for all those who will come to him or whom he will seek out, and for all whom so many false prophets today easily lead astray.

2. Priests need to be formed today who recognize in the Paschal Mystery, of which they will be the ministers, the supreme expression of God’s Word. To this end they must be taught the way to communion in the mystery of Christ who died and rose from the dead. It is there that Christ is truly the “Savior.” If the image we have of Christ is not that of the “Crucified One,” we have an image of someone else. St. Paul recalled this with singular vigor (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). Now it is the priest who in the Eucharistic Mystery makes present the sacrifice of Christ and gathers the Christian people around him to participate in it. One can say, without hesitation or exaggeration, therefore, that the life of a seminary can be judged by the understanding it is able to impart to future priests about this Mystery and about the inalienable responsibility which priests have to make the faithful communicate worthily in it.

3. Priests need to be formed who are fearless in accepting the fact that real communion with Christ entails self-denial, and, in particular, in understanding that following Christ entails genuine obedience. Thus the seminary will have to impart a sense of penance. This means, of course, the sacrament of Penance, but also and above all, it means teaching seminarians that penance which is indispensable for anyone who wants to live in Christ, not participating falsely in His Mystery, not refusing a share in His passion, but carrying one’s cross in His footsteps, acquiring those virtues which support a Christian soul and enable it to prevail, that is to say, “stand firm” against the enemy in the combat, which St. Paul compares to the contests in a stadium (1 Cor. 9:24). A seminary which allows a future priest to leave unaware of the struggles which await him and of self-denial, without which his fidelity is impossible, just as for the ordinary faithful, would have gravely failed in its mission.

4. Finally, a seminary ought to be a school of filial love towards her who is the “Mother of Jesus” and whom Christ on the cross gave us as our mother. This must not be merely a pietistic and sentimental note attached to spiritual formation in seminaries. Rather the taste for prayer to the Blessed Virgin, confidence in her intercession, and sound habits in this area are to be an integral part of the formation program of a seminary.

Now we shall discuss each of these points more thoroughly.

1. Christ, the Word of God

Interior Silence

A candidate for the priesthood must become capable of listening to and understanding the Word, the “Verbum Dei.”

It is not necessary to insist here on the manifest quest for interior silence, both among Christians and non-Christians alike. One could cite the groups being formed, the “centers” being created, the often frantic search for those who are deemed able to unlock a “secret” in regard to this matter, the interest shown in various formulas which more or less take their inspiration from certain areas of Asia, etc.

Let us leave aside all detailed description of these searches for silence and all attempts at judgement. Let us here simply recognize the quest and go on to draw conclusions in regard to our future priests. They must receive an experience of interior silence. They must acquire a genuine sense of it. They must become capable of communicating it to others.

First of all, it is important that priests should have a precise idea about this silence. They must know in what it consists. Surely nobody will confuse it with a simple external silence, from which, however, it is in a certain way inseparable, which we shall mention later. There are other, more serious, ambiguities in this field, and many people become exposed to them when they get involved in oriental mysticism or other similar activities. Christian mysticism has no other aim than to bring about a meeting with Christ, to foster an interior intimacy and a real dialogue with Him. Genuine interior silence, about which someone like St. John of the Cross speaks so well, has in Christ its source and its goal. It is the fruit of living faith and of charity. It is abandonment to God and dependence upon Him and is, in itself, “distinct from one’s feelings and from the extraordinary” (St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort). It is a profound attitude of soul which seeks everything from God and is entirely turned towards Him. It is not linked essentially to any bodily position and even less does it concern a sensible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. This is what the seminarian will have to be made to discover and accept. This will be done by training him in the school of sound spiritual masters and in that of the Church herself in her official prayers.

The Art of Prayer

To attain interior silence proper steps must be taken. Training in this field is slow and difficult because it involves liberating a man from certain internal inclinations and from the constant distractions of the world. Without pretending to make quick and superficial judgements about some methods proposed here and there, we must beware of “short cuts” which promise too much too soon, throw us off the right track, and create false quests with an illusion of almost automatic and deceptive results. What results? A certain human warmth is taken for spiritual well-being; violence is done to the body in a way that harms the soul; beguiling music is taken for prayer, etc. The school of faith is arduous, and it is this that we are speaking about here. The true instruments in this area are: contact with authentic teachers, prayer that is patiently cultivated, and above all, a perfect and deep participation and sharing in the official prayer of the Church. We must add to this the presence of a guide, the sort of director which the future priest himself will become tomorrow. Furthermore, we must not separate this aspect of the life of faith, which is truly fundamental, from the other aspects of formation, making the rule a faith which is exercised through love.

Spiritual Masters

The Church, thank God, has never lacked “spiritual teachers.” Their recognized personal sanctity and the extraordinary fecundity of their activity are there to invite us and encourage us. They are the “saints” who have formed generations of saints. Everyone remembers their names, but how many future priests will come into real contact with them before leaving the seminary? How many will, through such contact, acquire a genuine spiritual climate for themselves, a taste for the things of God, and a desire for interior silence, which is not deceptive and which allows them to discern falsehood in these areas? Every seminary must have a policy about this, and each seminary must give its students a habit and a taste for the great spiritual writers, the real “classics.” Reading these classics does not exclude other spiritual reading, but reading these writers must be a preeminent activity and must remain indispensable.

Learning How To Pray

In this context, the students must be taught to pray. They must accept the fact that at first this will be arduous and sometimes disappointing. There should be no fear of issuing rules, of humbly adopting a method, and of putting the method into practice. If in a given context ample prayer in common is not thought possible, then at least the times for private prayer must be firmly stipulated and the seminary must make certain that personal prayer is conscientiously carried out. Abstract preparation should be avoided. Instead, one must turn to the Gospel and constantly recall the goal: “to search for Christ,” “to wait on Him alone,” “not thinking a beautiful idea is necessarily a good result,” “learning the limits of one’s knowledge,” “deepening rather than widening one’s experience,” etc. This then effects a development; from simply listening one passes to asking, from wordless adoration one passes to praise, etc. This is what the guide or director must continually call to the seminarian’s mind so that he will not go astray and may evaluate his progress correctly.

Prayer of the Church

Nothing, however, is more important and decisive than a deeper and more complete participation in the official prayer of the Church. That is to say, first of all, the Mass and the Liturgy of the Word which constitutes the first part of it. (We shall return to this later.) But, it also means the Liturgy of the Hours. The prayer of the Church is nourished by the prayer of the psalms. The Church receives from God Himself these “inspired” words. They are like the “mold” into which she pours human thoughts and feelings. It is the Holy Spirit who through the psalms suggests words and forms the heart. It was thus that Jesus prayed. His passion bears witness to this. It was thus that Mary prayed, if one accepts the evidence of her “Magnificat.” There is no prayer more able gradually to create the inner silence that men seek, the silence which is true, the silence which comes from God, than the Divine Office when it is simply, intelligently, and perfectly sung, either inwardly or, better still, in community.

External Silence

In all of this, material silence is not useless nor a matter of indifference. When inner silence exists it calls forth external silence. It demands this, and it fosters it. In its turn external silence serves the purposes of interior silence. In a seminary which is preparing future teachers of prayer, there must be external silence. The seminary Rule of Life must provide for this as a priority. However, if the students do not understand the origin of such silence and what it is meant for, it can only be received by them as meaningless and be badly accepted. On the other hand, where internal silence has been deepened, the demand for material silence is all the stronger and more vigorous. There can be no doubt that in a seminary where external silence does not exist, interior silence is also absent.

General Seminary Climate

It is immediately obvious that such initiation into prayer requires certain conditions and if such conditions are not provided, seminaries are failing in their duty. We have already stated that formation for prayer is inseparable from general education. It cannot remain isolated. It must be linked to a life of neighborly love and to a search for Christ through study and to service in the kingdom of God which is present and will be present in the future in the Church. However, training in prayer also demands specific and particular methods. Above all, the main task of those responsible for the running of seminaries is the formation of the students in interior silence. They must make continual and concerted efforts in this undertaking. Each has a special part to play in this, from the rector to the spiritual director, to each member of the staff. If this chain is broken, there is no real formation. If each seminary authority is not aware of his responsibility for this formation, in his conscience and in fact, or if he does not allow this to be the object of mutual and continuous reflection, the best methods will lose their value because the right general climate does not exist.

2. The Word of the Cross; the Redemptive Sacrifice

Sacrament and Sacrifice

The prayer of the Church reaches its “apex” in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the words of the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (no. 10), it is “the summit and the source.” In fact, the Eucharist is nothing other than the sacrifice of the Lord which is offered and shared within the community of the baptized. The providential renewal begun by Pope St. Pius X has borne great fruit, and the Second Vatican Council has given new thrust to this effort. Future priests must be able to exploit this movement in depth and at the same time maintain its proper direction. Today this requires a firm hand, a solid and sure theological sense, an absolute fidelity to the discipline of the Church, and deep, well nourished personal experience.

The Eucharist is the “sacrament of the redemptive sacrifice.” Theology has never ceased explaining this mystery from which the Church permanently draws life. The fullness of this mystery is such that human thought can scarcely grasp it. At times there is a risk of reducing it in order to make it fit within the categories of human reason. At other times there is risk of exploiting one aspect of it to the detriment of others, which is to say there is a risk of disturbing the structure of our Faith. That is why in a seminary the doctrine about this matter must be taught with extreme care and must be constantly recalled. No single aspect should be sacrificed to another. The teaching of the Council of Trent on the reality of the sacrifice must be professed in all its force, as must the teaching on the “Real Presence.” The aspect of brotherly communion, however deeply understood, cannot overshadow the fundamental aspect of the sacrifice of Christ, outside of which the Eucharistic Banquet loses its meaning. The deviations which are occurring today on these points cannot be ignored and future priests must be carefully warned about them. Pastoral work which does not have its basis in doctrine cannot be considered beneficial.

Eucharistic Adoration

Eucharistic faith has undergone an inevitable and gradual development through the centuries in the matter of worship outside of the liturgical sacrifice. This has opened up a certain space for eucharistic prayer, offered with grateful fervor to Christ given for us in the host and sacramentally present beyond the confines of the Mass, especially reserved as “Viaticum” for the dying. The continuous development of the cult of Eucharistic adoration is one of the most marvelous experiences of the Church. The extraordinary sanctity which has developed from it, and the number of whole communities specifically consecrated to this adoration are a guarantee of the authenticity of its inspiration. Someone like Brother Charles de Foucauld, alone in the desert with the Eucharist, yet shining out in the Church through his “Little Brothers” and “Little Sisters,” is a most striking example of this in our own time. A priest who does not have this fervor, who does not acquire a taste for this adoration and is unable to communicate this to others is betraying the Eucharist itself and is blocking the way of the faithful to an incomparable treasure.

The Priesthood

The doctrine of the priesthood is grafted onto this. The encouragement given to the theological consideration of ministries in the Church should not cast doubt on the doctrine of priestly ministry as this was happily and solidly defined in the Church, especially in the Council of Trent. Clerics and lay people have a complementary mission in the Church. The development of lay ministries does not alter the specific nature of the ministerial priesthood. Far from compromising the sense and importance of God’s Word, the Eucharistic action consecrates it. Two aspects are welded and bound together in the person of the priest, the two aspects by which people are given food from heaven. These are the two aspects which are stressed so strongly as radically united in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, speaking about the preaching of Jesus at Capharnum. The priest is ordained to prepare and distribute under two sacramental forms—that of the sign of the word, and that under the sign of bread—the eternal bread which is Christ.

Even in these, his own fields, in missionary areas, the ministerial priest might need some assistance. However, whatever aids the Church recognizes as legitimate and on occasion necessary from the laity, a priest cannot lose nor abandon his own essential responsibilities. When a layman is asked to preach, the priest remains responsible for the choice of a collaborator, whose appointment cannot be taken lightly, and for the contents of what he preaches. It is exactly the same way when the priest chooses extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. This is why the seminary must attach extreme importance to the means which the Church has instituted for preparing future priests to become conscious of the charge laid upon them and its special significance. The two liturgical ministries, which formerly were called minor orders, namely lectorate and acolytate, are no less indispensable or serious today in the rather modest garb they now wear. To underrate their value, for example, by conferring them both at the same time, is to go against a good of the first order and to deprive oneself of a supernatural, pedagogical resource in a serious area. One ought to reread the moving letter of St. Cyprian (Epistle XXXVIII, in the edition of Can. Bayard, Paris, 1925, pp. 96—97), in which he called to the office of lector a young Christian who rendered himself worthy of it by risking martyrdom. St. Cyprian presents this office as a necessary and desired preparation for higher responsibility, that of the priesthood.

The Discipline of the Church

Understanding the Eucharist leads one to understand and to respect meticulously the discipline of the Church in this matter. People often speak today about “creativity.” However, this can only be understood correctly within the framework of the rules formulated by the Church. The rules which order prayer must be accepted with the same obedience as those which concern faith, according to the classical formula lex orandi est lex credendi. These are inseparable. The rules formulated by the Church are deeply liked to the essential values which individuals might lose sight of, even inspired, as they might be, by real pastoral concerns. Thus it is possible for the faith to become disordered. Furthermore, this produces difficult problems and painful divisions. The essential point of reference here is the Ecumenical Council. It has been abundantly proved that the general orientations of the Council, if they are faithfully observed, do not irritate the People of God. They rebel only against novelties and excesses. For instance, the Council is far from having banned the use of the Latin language. Indeed, it did the contrary. Thus the systematic exclusion of Latin is an abuse no less to be condemned than the systematic desire of some people to use it exclusively. Its sudden and total disappearance will not be without serious pastoral consequences. Only in a gradual way can the “Word of God” take on, for the general good, the apparel of everyday language. Otherwise it will be confused with the “words of men” in the consciences of the faithful (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13). This is why the seminary must ensure that future priests understand the seriousness of what is at stake and help them not only to practice, but also to love obedience. There is quite enough room for new initiatives in the liturgy within the framework of the official directives.

Christ, the Bread of Life; Word and Eucharist

The disciples on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burn within them (cf. Lk. 24:32) while Scripture was being explained to them by the mysterious traveler. But, they recognized Him only in “the breaking of the bread.” At each Mass the Church retraces the same road. Through His Holy Spirit, Christ comments on the Scriptures for His people so that they may be ready to take part in the banquet prepared by His hands. The deep unity of the mystery of the Divine Word, now offered so liberally in the liturgy, with the Eucharist itself is something that must be evermore deeply

experienced by future priests. There are in fact not two separate “tables,” since the one leads to the other, just as the revelation in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John goes from the bread of the Word to the bread of the Eucharist. The whole of this Gospel is slanted towards the “hour” of Christ which He spends so much time explaining. The whole teaching of the Word was designed to bring people to an understanding of the Paschal Mystery. In fact, it was “for this that He had come.” The Liturgy of the Word prepares one for the sacrifice. It is in this Liturgy of the Word which precedes the Eucharist that the Word acquires its full meaning. It lives fully only through formal contact with the Eucharist. The “celebrations of the Word” provided for by the Ecumenical Council cannot avoid making reference to the Eucharist. And, it is here that the prayer life of a future priest must realize its full promise, find its full significance, and locate its true value.

Clerical Dress

It can be truly said that one can judge the spiritual climate of a seminary by its participation in the Eucharist. Is this not the place perhaps to note that at the Eucharist people see the need and the meaning of clerical dress, which has been too easily abandoned, to the harm of the very pastoral work this was supposed to foster?

Pope John Paul II has already recalled on several occasions the need for a priest to appear before men for what he is, one of them, certainly, but marked by a deep sign which sets him apart and which sends him out in the name of God to God’s followers and to all the world. Now how is it possible to deny the evidence? In the eyes of the faithful and in the very conscience of the priest, the significance of the “sacraments of faith” is steadily degraded when a priest is habitually negligent about his clothing or even fully secularized when he is the minister of them. These sacraments include Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and, above all, the Holy Eucharist. Often the situation ends with the priest not even using the prescribed liturgical vestments. If this trend is thought to be inevitable, the end is disastrous and fatal. The seminary has no right to be lax when faced with such possible consequences. It must have the courage to speak, to explain, and to make demands upon its students.

3. The Word of the Cross;

Spiritual Sacrifices

Alongside the Eucharist, Penance must be assigned an important place. This word has been used as the name of a sacrament, but when used in the context of priestly life one must obviously extend its meaning to one which involves an effort tending to unite one with Christ the Redeemer and to participate personally in His passion in an effective way. The priest must become a “teacher of penance” to others in the same way that he must be a “teacher of prayer.”

Preparation for Penance

The Second Vatican Council did not relegate the sacrament of Penance to the shadows. If it seems to have become less important when compared to the practice of the recent past, one can state that this is a real abuse. “Penitential celebrations” were not designed to gradually eliminate individual confession and to substitute for it “general absolution,” which some falsely claim is a return to early Christian practice. Public penance in the early Church involved a small number of specific sinners who were well known from private contact over a period of time with the bishop. The so-called “public” penance involved bringing to public notice a penitent whose penitential journey had up to that time been private. What has this ancient rite got in common with an absolution given to an indeterminate group about whom nothing is known? Even if the Church allows “general absolution” in cases of necessity and under certain conditions, it is in private penance, in the way in which theology has progressively defined and explained it, that one finds a resemblance to the public penance of the past ages.

Having said this, it must now be asserted that penitential services are a very fine initiative which in a timely way bring people’s consciences to a state where they feel able to go individually to a priest. Some find that these devotional services provide a suitable spiritual atmosphere, which they did not have in the past, enabling them to gain a clear idea about the will of God and His specific demands and allowing them to put things right which had been long amiss. One can see what kind of rich training the seminary must give to future priests if they are to succeed in this area, following the Instruction on Liturgical Formation in seminaries, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education recently (no. 35). Through authentic contact with the Word of God, seminarians must be trained to have a right idea about the structure of a Christian conscience, which is certainly based on charity, but which is also well aware of how charity has to be translated into action, in justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, to use the classical expressions. At the same time they must be trained to put all this reflection and investigation in the context of the love of God from which genuine and calm contrition can spring.

Private Penance

From all this, personal contact with a priest becomes a natural consequence. Nothing can take the place of that meeting with a priest when a mind that has been informed and a heart that has been stirred asks him whom God has given the power to forgive sins to utter those irreplaceable words which we hear so often in the Gospels and which touch the heart of each repentant sinner: “Your sins are forgiven.” If possible and when it is thought useful, this pardon is matched with appropriate advice. While the preparation may have been communal and has permitted each penitent to benefit from the prayers of all, the pardon is, of itself, personal and incommunicable. The seminary must impart to its students a taste for this private absolution along with one for communal celebrations of penance where these are possible. The future priest who has grasped this well will find the courage to impose on himself the hard regime that made the Cure of Ars a saint and of which someone like St. John Bosco has given a magnificent example in more recent times.

Spiritual Directors

It is important to note that, in the context of the sacrament of Penance which is, worthily and authentically received, the light of the Lord passes freely and goes beyond pardon. A priest who hears confessions becomes in many cases a “spiritual director.” He helps people to discern the ways of the Lord. How many vocations have never been discovered through a lack of this unique supernatural contact in the course of which a priest could have at least asked a question? One can probably attribute the striking slackening off in the number of vocations at least partially to the gradual decline in the practice of private confession. A seminary must realize that it is preparing future “spiritual directors.”

Self-denial and the Rule of Life

The sacrament of Penance is never anything other than the intervention of God who comes to bring to fruition an individual’s work, in which the penitential service was a preliminary and fortunate stage. God comes to meet the penitent who must continue as a Christian to carry his cross in the footsteps of Christ. The expression “self-denial” is rarely heard today. Self-denial itself is accepted very unwillingly. However, it is indispensable for everyone according to his state in life. A priest cannot be faithful to the charge laid upon him and to all his priestly commitments, especially celibacy, if he has not been prepared to accept and impose upon himself real discipline. Seminaries do not always have the courage to say this or to demand it, especially in relationship to a “Rule of Life,” a set of rules which are wise, modest, and yet firm and which will prepare the students to impose on themselves in the future a rule of life. The absence of precise rules to be obeyed is a source of many problems for a priest. He is left open to wasting time, to losing all idea of his mission and of the restraints it imposes on him, to a progressive vulnerability in all attacks of his feelings, etc. It should be remembered what sacrifices conjugal fidelity involves. Surely priestly fidelity can demand no less. This would be quite paradoxical. A priest simply is not permitted to see, hear, say, or experience everything he feels inclined toward. A seminary must train future priests to enable them, in their inner liberty, to bear sacrifices and to accept personal discipline both intelligently and loyally.


One cannot avoid pausing a moment to consider the problem of obedience. The word “obedience” must stop being a forbidden word. One cannot be a disciple of Christ and still deny a title which St. Paul uses for Christ as one of His claims to glory (cf. Phil. 2:8-9). Not only is personal freedom uncompromised by obedience but, when it is well understood, it is the highest expression of freedom.

Obviously then, obedience must be well understood.

One certainly cannot claim to be obedient to God when he refuses to obey those to whom God has confided His mission. Indeed, the exercise of authority and obedience cannot be understood unless on both sides there is expressly involved a notion of obedience to God. In this matter both the rector and the seminarian must have their attention fixed constantly on the will of God. This will of God is made explicit in the “common good” of the seminary. It is the rector’s job to clearly define this “common good,” to help people to see it and accept it, to help them understand it and love it, to stimulate people to put their initiatives and good will at its service, to interest his students in grasping this “common good” to in those points where they might find it unclear, and to dialogue about it. Finally, he must judge with authority and without hesitation. It is the duty of a future priest to listen to and understand the rector whom the Lord has given the mission of governing in His name. It is also his job to cooperate, according to his capacity, in bringing about the fulfillment of the common good. This always consists in creating and maintaining an atmosphere in which the priesthood of Christ can be discerned and recommended to all, in which the grace of God can do it’s work in everyone, and in which not more or less is demanded than people are capable of giving.

Obedience will always be a sacrifice. It must at the same time be a joy, for it is a way of loving God. In the future, a young priest will have to practice obedience in many ways. He must in the seminary be enabled to understand it in the person of Christ and to love it. In this context one can authentically experience a real brotherly, Christian community in the seminary in which all are bound together by the will to cooperate with each other for the good of the kingdom of God.

4. The Word Made Flesh in the Womb of the Virgin Mary

The Marian Mystery—an Object of Faith

A point of major importance would be omitted in the present circumstances if there was neglect in remembering briefly and firmly the place that should be occupied in seminary life by devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The word “devotion” today is rather equivocal. It might seem that what is being dealt with here is a personal and entirely optional matter. In fact, it is a question quite simply of accepting the Faith of the Church and living out what our creed requires us to believe. The Word of God became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The words of Christ on the cross would serve to show, were it needful, that it is not some simple, ephemeral contribution made by Mary to the economy of salvation that we are concerned with here. The Annunciation is another name for the Incarnation. The Church gradually has become more aware of the Marian mystery. Far from adding her own conjectures to what she found in Sacred Scripture about Mary, she has met the Virgin at every stage of her journey towards the discovery of Christ.

Christology is also Mariology. The fervor with which our Supreme Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, lives the Marian mystery is nothing other than fidelity. This is the way in which love of the Blessed Virgin must be taught in a seminary. The problems which Christology faces today could find their main solution in a fidelity of this kind. In particular, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary can and must be a guarantee against everything which would tend to eradicate the historicity of the mystery of Christ. One cannot help but wonder whether the decline in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary does not often mask a certain hesitation to profess frankly and openly the mystery of Christ and the Incarnation.

Marian Attitude

Obviously, the mystery of the Virgin cannot be lived out except in an inner climate of simplicity and abandonment, which has nothing to do with sweet sentimentality and superficial outpouring of feelings. Contact with the Blessed Virgin can only lead to greater contact with Christ and His cross. Nothing better introduces on, in the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council and of the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus of Pope Paul VI, to the joy of believing. “Blessed are you who have believed” (Luke 1:45). A seminary must give its students, without shrinking from this task, a sense of the authentic mystery of Mary. This should be done through the means traditionally used by the Church to arrive at a real interior devotion, such as the saints possessed as, in the expression of St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, the “secret” of salvation.


In conclusion we wish to offer a suggestion. In fact, we would like this suggestion to be followed and gradually to become part of the normal seminary practice in a solid and lasting way.

The ideal which we have in part described is not easy to attain. The generous young men who offer themselves for the priesthood come from a world in which inner recollection is almost impossible because of continuous over-excitement of the senses and of over-abundance of concepts. Experience shows that a period of preparation for the seminary, given over exclusively to spiritual formation, is not only not superfluous but can bring surprising results. There is evidence from seminaries in which the number of candidates has suddenly gone up. In these the people responsible attribute this to such a brave initiative. This period of spiritual apprenticeship is welcomed by the students. It appears that it is the diocesan authorities who are rather opposed to this spiritual propaedeutic period. This seems to come from a lack of priests and a view that it would be foolish to institute such a practice. In reality, were it tried they would soon become convinced of its benefits. Permit us to insist, in conclusion, that this suggestion be tried.

This period of preparation would benefit from being conducted somewhere other than the seminary itself. It should be of sufficient duration. Thus something could be achieved at the beginning which might be very difficult or impossible to achieve later on when seminary training is taken up with a great deal of intellectual work. Then the students often do not have the leisure and the freedom of mind to accomplish a real spiritual apprenticeship.

If this suggestion is followed, the things indicated in this circular would have a good chance of success, and one could expect they would bear rich fruit.

Evidently, this will not always be possible. But, other possibilities might open themselves up to generous imaginations of those who will try to understand and put into practice the matters mentioned in this circular letter, and who are prepared to give themselves trustfully to Christ so that their labors may be helped and sustained by His grace.

Given at Rome, from the offices of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, the 6th of January in the year of our Lord 1980, the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

Gabriel-Marie Cardinal Garrone, Prefect

Antonio-Maria Javierre-Ortas, Titular Archbishop of Meta, Secretary