Pope John Paul outlines the necessity for priests and the role we all play in vocations
By Tony Staley
Pope John Paul spoke twice late last month about the importance of the priesthood in the church.
First, he warned the Congregation for the Clergy, that it would be a "fatal error" to think that the current shortage of priests means tomorrow's church would have to make do without ordained ministers.
Second was his annual message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (April 21, 2002) in which he said the church cannot lower its standards for priests and religious because of shortages, but instead needs to give greater attention to the selection and formation of candidates.
The pope made it clear to the Congregation for the Clergy, that only priests can serve as pastors of parishes because they uniquely represent Christ in church communities.
"The church community absolutely needs the ministerial priesthood to have Christ, head and pastor, present in it," the pope said. "Other faithful certainly can work with (the priest) actively, even full time, but they cannot substitute (for) him as pastor because they have not received the ministerial priesthood."
The main role of the priest is to celebrate the Eucharist, "the source and summit of church life," he said. "Without Eucharistic worship -- as its beating heart -- the parish dries up."
As the sacramental representative of Christ, the priest has a special "efficaciousness" as a minister of Scripture, the pope said. Thus, only ordained clergy can read the Gospel and preach at Mass, even if some lay parishioners are better orators.
In both the address to the Congregation for the Clergy and in his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, he said shortages of priests should lead to more fervent prayers for vocations.
"It would be a fatal error to resign to the current difficulties and de facto act like one must prepare for a church of tomorrow (that is) envisioned almost without any priests," he told the Congregation for the Clergy.
In his World Day of Prayer for Vocations message, he said vocations to priesthood and religious life must be "continuously at the center of spirituality, of pastoral action and of the prayer of the faithful."
While bishops, priests and religious should lead the way in awakening new vocations, families also must play a decisive role so that their children can "listen to the divine call and make a generous response," he said.
These messages of Pope John Paul should especially resound in the Green Bay Diocese where shortages of priests have already led to the linking and merging of several parishes with even more planned in future years. We all have a role to play in serving the church and world, including encouraging vocations to priesthood and religious life.