1994–Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests



(Selected texts that deal with formation based on  A. Values and Principles B. Vocations, C. Initial formation and D. Ongoing formation. )

  1. Values and Principles


The rich experience of the Church concerning the ministry and life of priests, condensed in various documents of the Magisterium,(1) has received in our days a new impulse thanks to the teachings contained in the post-syndol Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis.

The publication of this document, in which the Supreme Pontiff has wanted to unite his voice as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter to that of the syndol Fathers,(2) represents for priests and for the entire Church, the beginning of a faithful and fruitful way of deepening and applying its contents.

“Today, in particular, the pressing pastoral task of the new evangelization calls for the involvement of the entire People of God and requires new fervour, new methods and a new expression for the proclaiming and witnessing of the Gospel. This task demands priests who are deeply and fully immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of embodying a new style of pastoral life”.(3)

Those primarily responsible for this new evangelization of The third Millennium are the priests, who, however, in order to realize their mission, need to nourish in themselves a life which is a pure reflection of their identity, and to live a union of love with Jesus Christ Eternal High Priest, Head and Master, Spouse, and Pastor of his Church. They should strengthen their own spirituality and ministry with a continuous and complete formation.

This Directory, requested by numerous Bishops during the Synod of 1990 and in a general consultation of the Episcopate promoted by our Congregation, was conceived in order to respond to these needs.

In order to outline the content, the suggestions of the entire world episcopate – consulted on purpose – , the results of plenary sessions of the Congregation held in the Vatican in October of 1993, as well as the considerations of many theologians, and experts on the matter from diverse geographical areas and involved in current pastoral work were taken into account.

Effort was made to offer pratical elements for employing initiatives in the most unitary way possible, while avoiding specific conditions which are proper to a particular Diocese or Episcopal Conference. With this in mind, it appeared proper that this Directory recall only those doctrinal elements which are the basis of the identity, spirituality and continuous formation of priests.

The document, therefore, does not intend to offer an exhaustive exposition on the priesthood, nor a mere repetition of what has already been authentically declared by the Magisterium of the Church, but rather to respond to the principal questions of a doctrinal, disciplinary and pastoral nature, placed upon the priests by the demands of the new evangelization .

Thus, for example, there was a need to clarify the true priestly identity, as the divine Master has willed and as the Church has always seen; it is not reconcilable with those tendencies which would like to empty or annul the reality of the ministerial priesthood. Particular emphasis was given to the theme of communion, a demand especially felt today, with its imminent presence in the life of the priest. The same can be said of priestly spirituality which, in our times, has suffered many contradictions, above all, due to secularism and an erroneous anthropologism. Therefore, it is necessary to offer some counsels for an adequate and permanent formation which may help the priests joyfully and responsibly live their vocation.

The text is directed of course, through the Bishops, to all the priests of the Church of the Latin Rite. The directives contained here concern, in particular, the secular diocesan clergy, although with due adaptations, they can also help priests of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life.

It is hoped that this Directory be a help for every priest in deepening his identity and in growing in his spirtuality; an encouragement in the ministry and permanent formation — for which each one is primarily responsible —, and a point of reference for a rich and authentic apostolate for the good of the Church and of the entire world.

  • Vocation

32. Pastoral Works and Vocations.

In his pastoral work, each priest will take particular care concerning vocations, encouraging prayer for vocations, doing his best in the work of catechetics, and taking care of the formation of the ministers. He will promote appropriate initiatives through a personal rapport with those under his care, allowing him to discover their talents and to single out the will of God for them, permitting a courageous choice in following Christ.(96)

Above all, a clear knowledge of one’s specific identity, a unity of life, a transparent cheerfulness, and a missionary zeal are the indispensable elements of the vocational work that must be an integral and organic part of ordinary pastoral action.

The priest will always maintain relations of cordial collaboration and of sincere affection with the seminary, for it is the cradle of his vocation and the first place in which he experienced communal life.

It would be desirable that every priest be concerned with inspiring at least one priestly vocation which could thus continue the ministry.

C. Formation

90. Formation of Directors.

No formation is possible without both the person who must be formed and the subject who forms: the director. The quality and the effectiveness of a plan of formation will depend partially on the organization, and principally on the directors.

It is obvious that the responsibility of the Bishop is even more significant with regards to their formation.

It is necessary, therefore, that the Bishop himself name a “group of directors” and that these persons be selected among those priests who are highly qualified and esteemed due to their background and their human, spiritual, cultural and pastoral maturity.

In fact, the directors must be, above all, men of prayer: teachers with a strong supernatural outlook, a profound spiritual life, of exemplary conduct, with adequate experience in the priestly ministry, capable of consolidating the priest’s spiritual demands with those properly human and like the Fathers of the Church and great saints of all times. They may also be Chosen from among the members of the seminary, centres or academic institutions approved by the ecclesiastical authority, including those institutions whose charisma concerns the life and spirituality of priests. In any case, doctrinal orthodoxy and faithfulness to the ecclesiastical disciplines must be guaranteed. Moreover, the directors must be trustworthy collaborators of the Bishop who stands ultimately responsible for the formation of his most valuable collaborators.

It is also important to create a committee for planning and implementing, whose task it is to help the Bishop to set the topics to be considered each year in any of the areas of ongoing formation; to prepare the necessary aids; design the courses, sessions, meetings, and retreats; and organise the calendar properly so as to foresee the absences and replacements for priests. The expert advice of some specialists in specific fields may also be sought.

Whereas one group of directors is sufficient, various committees for planning and implementing the work can be established when needed.

D. Ongoing formation


69. The Need for Ongoing formation Today.

Ongoing formation is a need which begins and develops from the moment of receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders: with it the priest is not only “consecrated” by the Father and “sent” by the Son, but also “animated” by the Holy Spirit. Hence, permanent formation springs from a Grace which produces a supernatural force destined to assimilate continually, in ever broader and deeper terms, the entire life and activity of the priest in fidelity to the gift received: “I am reminding you, writes St. Paul to Timothy, to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you” (2 Tim 1:6).

This necessity is intrinsic to the divine gift itself,(226) which is continually “vivified” so that the priest may adequately respond to his vocation. As a man situated in history, he needs to perfect himself in all the aspects of his human and spiritual existence in order to attain that conformity with Christ, the unifying principle of all things.

Rapid and widespread transformations and a secularised social fabric typical of the contemporary world are what make unavoidable the priest’s duty of being adequately prepared, so that he not lose his own identity and so that he might respond to the demands of the new evangelization. To this grave duty corresponds the specific right of the faithful, who feel the effects of priests’ solid formation and sanctity in a definite way.(227)

70. A Continuous Task.

The spiritual life of the priest and his pastoral ministry go hand in hand with that ongoing personal formation to deepen and harmonise the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral aspects of his formation. This task, which should begin in the seminary, must be supported by the Bishops at various levels: national, regional and, above all, diocesan.

It is encouraging to note that there are already many Dioceses and Episcopal Conferences involved in promising initiatives aimed at enhancing an authentic permanent formation of their own priests. It is hoped that all Dioceses may be able to respond to this need. However, where this may be impossible for the moment, it is advisable that they come to an agreement among themselves or contact those institutions or persons especially prepared to handle such a delicate task.(228)

71. Instruments of Sanctification.

Ongoing formation presents itself as a necessary means to the priest of today in order to achieve the aim of his vocation: the service of God and of his People.

In practice, this consists in helping all priests respond generously to the commitment demanded by the dignity and the responsibility which God conferred upon them through the sacrament of Orders; in guarding, defending, and developing their specific identity and vocation; and in sanctifying themselves and others through the exercise of their ministry.

This means that priests must avoid any dualism between spirituality and ministry, for it is at the origin of some profound crises.

It is evident that in order to achieve this end of a supernatural order, the general criteria on which the permanent formation of priests is to be organised must be discovered and analysed.

Such general principles must be developed in light of the end proposed for the process of formation.

72. It Must be Imparted by the Church.

Ongoing formation is a right-duty of the priest and imparting it is a right-duty of the Church. This is established in universal law.(229) In fact, in the same way that the vocation to the sacred ministry is received in the Church, only the Church has the competence to impart the specific formation according to the responsibility proper to such ministry. Therefore, permanent formation — an activity linked to the exercise of the ministerial priesthood — belongs to the responsibility of the Pope and of the Bishops. The Church, then, has the duty and the right to continue forming its ministers, helping them to progress in generous response to the gift which God has bestowed upon them.

On his part, the minister has also received, as a demand of the gift connected with Ordination, the right to have the necessary help from the Church in order to carry out his service effectively and in a holy way.

73. It Must be Ongoing.

The activity of formation is based on a dynamic demand intrinsic to the ministerial charisma, which is permanent and irreversible in itself. Therefore this can never be considered finished, neither on the part of the Church which imparts it, nor on the part of the minister who receives it. It is therefore necessary that this be thought of and developed in such a way that all priests may receive it always, keeping in mind the characteristics and possibilities that vary with age, condition of life, and assignments.(230)

74. It Must be Complete.

Such a formation must cover and harmonise all the dimensions of the formation of priests. Thus, it must tend to help each priest achieve the development of a full human personality matured in the spirit of service to others, in whatever task he may receive; it will permit him to be intellectually prepared in the theological sciences as well as in the human sciences, insofar as they are linked with his ministry, in order to pursue his function as witness to the faith with a greater effectiveness; that he have a deep spiritual life, nourished by intimacy with Jesus Christ and by love for the Church; and so that he may pursue his pastoral ministry with zeal and dedication.

In practice, such formation must be complete: spiritual, pastoral, human, intellectual, systematic and personalised.

75. Human Formation.

This formation is extremely important in today’s world, as it always has been. The priest must never forget that he is a man chosen among men to be at the service of men.

To sanctify himself and carry out his priestly mission, he must present himself with an abundance of human virtues which render him worthy of esteem by those around him.

In particular he must practice goodness of heart, patience, kindness, strength of soul, love for justice, even-mindedness, truthfulness to his word, coherence in the duties freely assumed, etc.(231)

It is likewise important that human virtues be reflected in the priest’s social conduct, correctness in the various forms of human relations, friendships, courtesy, etc.

76. Spiritual Formation.

Keeping in mind all that has been said with regards to spiritual life, we limit ourselves here to presenting some practical means of formation.

Above all, it would be necessary to deepen the understanding of the principal aspects of priestly existence, especially referring to the biblical, patristic and hagiographic teachings in which the priest must continually update himself, not only by reading good books but also by participating in courses of studies, congresses, etc.(232)

Specific sessions may be dedicated to the care exercised in the celebration of the Sacraments as well as to the study of questions of spirituality such as Christian and human virtues, ways of praying, rapport between spiritual life and liturgical ministry, pastoral ministry, etc.

More particularly, it is hoped that each priest, perhaps during spiritual retreats, would develop a concrete plan of life, possibly in agreement with his own spiritual director. The following points may be indicated: 1. daily meditation on the Word or on a mystery of the Faith; 2. daily personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist apart from the devout celebration of the Holy Mass; 3. Marian devotion (Rosary, consecration or offering, intimate conversation); 4. periods of doctrinal formation and study of hagiography; 5. due rest; 6. renewed effort to put into practice the indications of the Bishop and to verify his convictions of adherence to the Magisterium and to ecclesiastical discipline and; 7. care for his communion and friendship with other priests.

77. Intellectual Formation.

Considering the enormous influence which humanistic and philosophical trends have on modern culture, as well as the fact that some priests have not received an adequate preparation in such disciplines, and also because they come from different scholarly backgrounds, it is necessary that these meetings deal with the more relevant humanistic and philosophical themes or those that are “linked to the sacred sciences, particularly insofar as they benefit the exercise of the pastoral ministry”.(233) Such themes also constitute a valid aid in order to deal correctly with the principal arguments of fundamental, dogmatic and moral theology, of Sacred Scriptures, of Liturgy, of Canon Law and of Ecumenism, etc., bearing in mind that the teaching of these matters should not be simply problematic, informative and theoretical but must lead to an authentic formation: towards prayer, communion and pastoral action.

Things should be done in such a way that during priestly encounters the documents of the Magisterium may be studied together in a profound manner, under an authoritative guide, so that the unity of interpretation and practice — so useful in the work of evangelization — may be facilitated in the pastoral work of the Dioceses.

Particular importance in intellectual formation must be given to the handling of themes which today have more relevance in cultural debates and pastoral practices, such as, for example, those related to social ethics, bioethics, etc.

A special treatment must be reserved to the questions posed by scientific advances, which are especially influential to the mentality of contemporary men. Priests must be up-to-date and prepared to respond to questions that science may pose in its advancement. They should not fail to consult well-grounded and sound experts.

It is of the greatest interest that the social doctrine of the Church be studied, deepened and disseminated. The interests of the priests who are in favour of the needy, and of all the faithful through them, must not remain as mere desires but be converted into specific efforts, always following the impulse of the magisterial teachings. “Today more than ever the Church is aware that her social message must find credibility in the testimony of works, first of all in her internal coherence and logic”.(234)

An indispensable demand for the intellectual formation of priests is the knowledge and use of the means of social communications. These means, if well used, constitute a providential instrument of evangelization, capable of reaching not only great masses of faithful but also of leaving a mark on their minds and behaviour.

In this regard it would be opportune that the Bishop or the Episcopal Conference itself prepare programs and technical instruments appropriate for this goal.

78. Pastoral Formation.

For an adequate pastoral formation, it is necessary to organise encounters in which the principle objective is the reflection upon the pastoral plan of the Diocese. In these, the consideration of all questions pertinent to the priest’s pastoral life and practice (fundamental morals, and professional and social ethics, among others) should not be disregarded.

Special care must be devoted to understanding the life and spirituality of the permanent deacons — where they exist, as well as of the religious and of the lay faithful.

Other themes which could be helpful are those dealing with catechesis, the family, vocations to priesthood and religious life, youth, the elderly, the sick, ecumenism and the “the fallen away”.

For pastoral work in present circumstances, it is very important that special sessions be devoted to exploring and assimilating the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Especially for priests, this constitutes a precious instrument of formation for preaching as well as for works of evangelization in general.

79. It must be Systematic.

For pastoral formation to be complete, it must be organised “not as something haphazard, but as a systematic offering of subjects, which unfolds by stages and take on precise forms”.(235) This requires a certain organizing structure which will establish opportune instruments, times and contents for its particular and adequate realisation.

Such organization must be accompanied by the habit of personal study, since periodic courses would be of little use if not accompanied by serious study.(236)

80. It must be Personalised.

Although it may be for all, ongoing formation has, as its direct objective, service to those who receive it. Thus, together with the collective or common means of formation, there must also be other means which truly personalise the formation of each one.

For this reason, there should be an awareness, especially on the part of those responsible, that all priests must be reached personally, taking care of each one, and not simply having all the diverse opportunities available to them.

In his turn, each priest must feel encouraged to assume responsibility for his own formation, with the word and example of his Bishop and of his brothers in the priesthood, himself being the first agent of his own formation.(237)

His Holiness Pope John Paul II, on 31 January 1994, approved this Directory and authorised its publication.




(1).Among the most recent documents, cf ECUMENICAL. COUNCIL VATICAN II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium 28; Decree on Priestly Formation Optatam Totius 22; Decree on the pastorale Office of the Bishops Christus Dominus 16; Decree on the Ministry and life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis; PAUL Vl, Encyclical Letter Sacerdotalis coelibatus (24 June 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 657-697;S. CONGREGATION FOR THE CLERGY, Circular letter Inter ea (4 November 1969): AAS 62(1970), 123-134; SYNOD OF BISHOPS, Document on the Ministerial Priesthood Ultimis temporibus (30 November 1971): AAS 63 (1971), 898-922; Codex Iuris Canonici can. 273-289;232-264;1008-1054; CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION, Ratio Fundamentalis Institutiones Sacerdotalis (19 March 1985), 101; JOHN PAUL II, Letters to all the Priests of the Church on Holy Thursday; Catechesi on Priests, in the General Audiences from 31 March to 22 September 1993.

(2) JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (25 March 1992): AAS 84(1992), 657-804.

(3) Ibid., 18: l.c., 685

(96) JOHN PAUL II Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis 74c: l.c., 789

(226) Cf JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, 70: l.c., 778-782.

(227) Cf ibid.

(228) Cf ibid, 79: l.c., 797.

(229) Cf C.l.C., can. 279.

(230) Cf JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, 76: l.c., 793-794.

(231) Cf ECUMENICAL VATICAN COUNCIL II, Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, 3.

(232) Cf ECUMENICAL COUNCIL VATICAN II, Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, 19; Decree Optatam Totitus, 22, C.l.C can. 279, § 2, CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis (19 March 1985), 101.

(233) C.I.C., Can. 279, § 3.

(234) Cf JOHN PAUL II, Encycl.. Letter Centesimus annus (1 May 1991), 57: AAS 83 (1991), 862-863

(235) JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis 79: l.c. 797.

(236) Cf ibid.

(237) Cf ibid.