Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Priests Within Associations of the Faithful

by Pontifical Council for the Laity


On December 3, 1981, Most Rev. Paul Josef Cordes, Vice-President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, presented the following document of the said Council to journalists in the Press Office of the Holy See.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano

Publisher & Date

Vatican, May 10 and 17, 1982


Ever since it came into existence, tile "Laity Council", or as it became later the "Pontifical Council for the Laity" has taken a lively interest in questions concerning the identity and mission of ecclesiastical assistants within associations of the faithful. In fact, studying these questions is an essential part of one of its - tasks, which is the maintenance of a steady dialogue with the laity and the clergy about all the apostolic programmes of the laity (cf. A.A., 26).

Pre-conciliar developments, but even more the clear recognition by Vatican Council II of the world's own value and autonomy, have highlighted the mission proper to the laity, which is to be at one and the same time the sign of salvation in the world and the point of contact between the world and the Church.

Given the fact that this vocation derives from being a member of the People of God, it cannot be fulfilled simply in terms of individual commitment, but will reach fulfilment first of all in the communities of the Church's traditional structure. that is, the parish and the diocese, whose importance for the proclamation of the Gospel to the world has been explicitly underlined by modern theology. It will also be fulfilled in accredited groups representative of the whole community of those who believe which includes all kinds of lay associations and groups. Since they also occupy a place within the complex framework of Church-world relations, they must sustain the individual witness of their members through their commitment to the act of salvation and its permanently continuing actualization. Their existence and still more the achieving of their goal, therefore depend on the presence among them of the person who has the official mission of bringing about salvation through Christ by his words and deeds.

History of the document

It was because certain specific issues arose within associations of the faithful that the Pontifical Council for the Laity felt the need for a more thorough examination of the place of the ordained ministry within these associations, the specific nature of the relationship between it and the common priesthood of the faithful, and the forms which this can take.

As a result of its continual dialogue with different types of associations of the faithful and their ecclesiastical assistants (1) the Council was led to draw up some guidelines on "the identity and mission of priests within associations of the faithful"

This document is therefore based on a long labour of preparation. In fact, it is thanks to the generous collaboration of many people concerned with these questions or involved in them, that it has been possible to draw up this study document, which is intended as a contribution to the research going on in this area. The document is addressed then to all those who are interested in this subject or who, because of their work, are brought up against it; it is addressed to bishops and to associations of the laity, but above all to those priests who have been entrusted with the pastoral care of associations.

Approach and theological perspective of the document

The document begins by outlining the biblical basis of the involvement of the laity and their associations and the only criteria by which they can fulfill their mission effectively:

Ever since he founded the Church, the Lord has awakened in her a plurality of charisma resulting in a diversity of service (cf. I Cor 12-14).

Within each community, groups of the faithful were formed to take on responsibility for different tasks. The consciousness of being a "chosen race" and a "royal priesthood" (1 Pet 2:9) as well as the gift of the Father's mercy received in Jesus, are the greatest riches which Christians have to share with the poorest of the poor. This act of mercy is the essential precondition of all true fellowship, and all commitment to making society's structures more Christian. The Father's love alone, as proclaimed and made visible by Jesus, is the measure of all human love and the commitment of the Christian in the world.

Inasmuch as he is Christ's minister. at the service of this "chosen race" and guarantor of its faithfulness to its identity, the priest has the official responsibility for putting into effect the common priesthood. The mission of the ecclesiastical assistant within associations of the faithful, then, can only be understood and taken on by starting from the origin of it: the will of the Father that all men should be saved, as Jesus revealed and achieved. The historical distance which separates the priest of today from the salvation wrought by Jesus must be bridged by the priest's intimacy with him who has given him the power to act publicly in his name before all men and women. His sole task and the goal of all his efforts must be to enable all men and women to come to the Lord and thus find salvation.

The particular framework of each association offers him invaluable opportunities for carrying out his mission. His closeness to the community which has been entrusted to him, and to its social milieu and its aims. must facilitate the communication of the faith. And this remains true even if his sense of solidarity with the other members of the association threatens to blur the specific nature of his ministry. In order to avoid this risk, the ecclesiastical assistant has to shoulder the tension brought about by his twin concern for fidelity to his priestly identity and identification with the community, and find the unity between the two.

The absence of God ill our contemporary world hurls a challenge at all believers. presenting responsibilities and duties which priests and laity have to take on together.


A careful choice will be made of priests with the ability and appropriate training for helping special forms of the lay apostolate. Those who take part in this ministry in virtue of a mission received from the hierarchy represent the hierarchy in this pastoral action of theirs. Ever faithfully attached to the spirit and teaching of the Church they will promote good relations between laity and hierarchy, they will devote their energies to fostering the spiritual life and the apostolic sense of the Catholic associations confided to them; their wise advice will be there to help these along in their apostolic labours; their encouragement will be given to their enterprises. In constant dialogue with the laity they will make painstaking search for methods capable of making apostolic action more fruitful, they will develop the spirit of unity within the association, and between it and others" (A.A., 25).

Men and women today have many different reasons for hoping that tomorrow they will be able to fulfil themselves. The promoters of a new world offer a wide range of suggestions. Specialists in the human sciences, for example, place more reliance on community spirit than on leaving things to the individual or in private hands, they favour a creativity which would break through the rigidity of every system and stimulate cultural renewal. Many people involved in the world of business and labour complain about the lack of social justice and co-responsibility. The promotion of another life-style, more dynamism and a new economic order at world level seems to be an urgent necessity. Politicians and ideologues inscribe their banners with different visions of a better future which they propose to bring about: democratization and quality of life private enterprise or class warfare, protection of the environment, aid for development and leisure activities. And even if this profusion of programmes threatens to bewilder contemporary man, always ready to believe, he should, rather than scorning these suggestions, examine them carefully, because he cannot withdraw from his responsibilities with regard to future history.

1. The challenge of the world

During the course of their life and their journeying in the faith, the members of the Church are subjected to the influence of all these hopes and promises. Lay people especially have to respond every day to different appeals for commitment or identification. They collaborate in the building up of society and peoples like all men and women, they are subject to the influence of present- day currents of thought. Their place, in fact, is "in the midst of the world".

In their political and economic activities they have to come to decisions which bring the spirit of the Gospel into the public and private domain. Christianity presents them with challenges when new and-unexpected questions are put to them about Nature in general; or Man in particular, questions to which they have not yet found an answer, for quite rightly they find themselves at the point where the demands of the Gospel touch upon the autonomy of the world. When they express the pressing concerns of their contemporaries and the demands which characterize their life, they are contributing to the constant updating of the Church's pastoral care. Lastly, they shape creation and bring into being the evidences of culture in order that, inasmuch as they convey meaning, these things should contribute to keeping men and women open to spiritual values and to faith itself.

2. The twin position of the laity

It is then above all the laity who through their twin position in the Church and in temporal reality, form the indispensable link and the point of junction between the two, a situation which is always very demanding. The Council Fathers of Vatican II expressed this thought in the following fashion: "But by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit of the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven..." (L.G., 31).

The Constitution on the Church leaves no doubt about the fact that the laity's task arises out of their very existence, situated as they are at the point of intersection between the Church and the world: they are called upon to proclaim the great deeds of him who has called them out of darkness into his own marvellous light (cf. I Pet 2:9).

If a lay person wishes to perform this service, it is essential that he does not allow himself to be bewildered by the confusion of voices promising him salvation. On the one hand, he is under obligation to be open to and make contact with all men and women, for he cannot vivify society without entering into its vital processes. On the other hand, he must not lose his Christian identity amidst the conflict of the tensions surrounding him. How can he be an instrument of salvation if he himself becomes blind to the salvation which comes from God? He will be reduced to that teetering on the brink which others have at the centre of their lives. "If salt has lost its taste..." (Mt 5:13).

3. Necessity of setting up communities

At the point where the affirmation of this identity becomes problematical, the support of the community represents a great help to the lay person in the world. This is why the Council reminds the faithful that man is by nature a social being and that it has pleased God to gather together into one people and into one body those who believe in Christ. It is therefore a matter both of human and of Christian necessity to give witness to the faith and to undertake apostolic activities in collaboration and union (cf. A.A., 18).

Moreover, the effectiveness of the apostolate presupposes community with others who share the same faith. The Council Fathers go so far as to affirm that the pursuit of concrete objectives presupposes uniting efforts in common: "The group apostolate is in happy harmony therefore with: a fundamental need in the faithful, a need that is both human and Christian. At the same time it offers a; sign of the communion and unity of the Church... The group apostolate is very important also for another reason: often, either in ecclesial communities or in various other environments, the apostolate calls for concerted action" (ibid.).

The post-conciliar period has led to a greater and greater recognition at world level of the importance of associations of the laity. The associations themselves have discovered the essential rode which they play in the world and in society on the national and international plane Situations where there is social injustice, attacks against the rights of man, the secular city and those men and women who have lost sight of the meaning of their life, are so many challenges asking for a commitment to the building of snore human structures in order to lead mankind to the discovery of God the Liberator.

4. Direction of the community of the Spirit

If the Spirit of God does not keep the laity on the path of faith, their union and association with a view to pursuing spiritual or material goals, no matter how fruitful they might be, will necessarily be limited to a psychological or political influence and hence run the risk of a wrong orientation. Baptism and confirmation have endowed them with the gifts of the Spirit they have "been anointed by the Holy One" (I Jn 2:20). The light of God inspires their involvement, it illuminates them as individuals and as a community in order to satisfy the demands of the service which they carry out in their families their jobs and their public life.

This Spirit of God is the one who makes us cry out, "Abba! Father!" (Rom 8:15)-it is "the Spirit of his Son" (Gal 4:6), and hence the guarantee of a personal bond: the first movement towards the Thou of God. At the moment when they receive it, there begins for each man and woman, and each community a journeying towards God, with Jesus: Christ. God acts towards the believer in such a way as to win his love, in total freedom. The history of salvation shows us that God does not use that tyrannical violence which attacks and wins a faith at all costs. He takes risks along the whole length of a human life. Again and again, he stoops down to put himself on the same level as the manifold voices which try to beguile man, down to the point where his voice is no more than one among many and assuredly not the loudest, not the one which makes its demands with the greatest clarity and vigour. Only in this way can man come to the realization of the illusoriness of wanting to be self-sufficient, and of the vanity of his ego. centrism. Later he will have the chance to deepen his faith in this God who is close to him and offers him security he will hand himself over to him with an ever growing willingness. He will be able to discern the hopes contained in God's salvific plan and to delight in the trust which has been shown him and in having been honoured with the choice of being able to collaborate in the work of salvation.

It is true that the grace which accompanies the "anointing" is not something which one possesses for ever. It is necessary to remain united to the Lord so that, when he comes, one will not have the shame of being found far from him (cf. I Jn 2:28). Disobedience to the will of God destroys communion with the Lord. The Spirit of Jesus is not, therefore, a possession which is always available when one wishes to have recourse to it-like a capital investment from which one withdrawal after another can be made as the need arises. Even though in Saint John's Gospel the Lord himself prays for his own so that the Father might keep them "in his name" (Jn 17:11), it cannot be taken for granted that all those who have been called remain faithful to the will of God.

It is true that freedom carries its risks. It is always accompanied by challenges and dangers. The short-circuit of a purely immanent realization exercises its attractions. But when earthly nourishment has finally become abundant, it becomes obvious that man needs something more than food and clothing. Even optimum conditions of life are not sufficient-they are still not a source of courage and joy in living. The experience of one's own powerlessness obliges one to seek out a new path-who is there to point it out?

Mankind desires communion with Life itself. There is no salvation without the Saviour. Only the person who, over and above progress and every new structure, seeks for the encounter with Another (cf. C.T., 5) who will fulfill all his hopes-with the Man-God-will come to eternal joy.


"In the organizations and associations which you serve--make no mistake about it!--the Church wishes you to be priests, and the lay people that you meet in them wish you to be priests and nothing but priests. Confusion of charisms impoverishes the Church; it does not enrich it in any way." (John Paul II, Address to the ecclesiastical assistants of International Catholic Associations, (13th Dec. 1979)

1. Jesus, the presence of that salvation which comes from the Father

Christ Jesus came to redeem from sin every creature and the whole of creation. He announced to men the message of the Father's reconciliation and the coming of the Kingdom. He is called "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2), "the source of eternal salvation" (Heb 5:9). In our day, as in every age before us, it is necessary to start from his words and his deeds if one wishes to construct a real future for men and women, and for society. It is the only path for those who look for human fulfilment.

1.1. Jesus, revealer of the Father's love

In fact, it is in the incarnation of the Eternal Word that there was marked "the high point of the history of man within God's loving plan. God entered the history of humanity" (R.H., 1). It is therefore the Eternal God who definitively takes mankind into his care in the earthly life of Jesus and in his resurrection. The Gospels relate, with ever new variations, how the Lord refers those who listen to him to his Father who is in heaven to persuade them that with him they will find safety.

1.1.1. By his words

We have an example of this in the anthology of Jesus' words presented by the evangelist Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount (5- 7). We do not find there just a summary of the New Testament ethic-which makes great demands upon the disciples with regard to their behaviour towards others. The Sermon on the Mount also contains the solid basis-and this is often not made clear -which alone, according to Jesus" teaching, makes loving care between men and women possible. Jesus explains how the Father acts towards men: the Father does not give a stone to someone who asks for bread; he does not give a snake to someone hoping for a fish (cf. 7:7 ff.). God's love is directed towards the heart of man. He knows too the intent and the motive of his acts, both of charity and of adoration (cf. 6:1 ff.). That is why it is only right that the Father should demand to be man's treasure (cf. 6:19 ff.). he knows what we need. He alone can guarantee the morrow. And because he takes care of men, they need have no cares (cf. 6:25 ff.).

Because of his absolute loving care towards men and women the Father is the source and the measure of the behaviour of Jesus' disciples with- regard to their neighbour. The Lord himself reveals to those who listen to him that the Father's love allows them to be good towards others; he goes so far as to take the Father's goodness as the criterion for the behaviour of his own (cf. 5:17-48).

It is true that the Jews of the time of Jesus spoke freely about the God of the Covenant, but they veiled him under circumlocutions On the other hand, Jesus made constant and very clear reference to him. It seems that the Lord could not stop himself thinking about the Father and putting everything in relation to him. For he was conscious that the Father is always with him, with each of his words and with each of his actions. He also proclaimed with his whole being-explicitly, or, as it might be, implicitly-one thing above all others to his disciples: that in every moment they must turn their gaze towards the Father and take care that their judgments and their behaviour should be a conscious response to that union in love which the Father grants to each of them.

The Gospel of Saint John expresses this total turning of the Son towards the Father by the word, among others, "hour". This term keeps coming up all through the Johannine accounts of the public activity of Jesus and the teaching which he gives his disciples. It expresses his constant heeding of the Father's will and guarantees as well the basis of the Son's extraordinary works ("The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise", 5:19).

1.1.2. By signs

By his works, the Lord does not just affirm that the Father's saving goodness is present in him. His works also confirm his message and throw a new light on God's saving will: the measure of wine which the Lord offers to the wedding guests at Cana truly runs over-it is limitless, like the joy which he offers to his own-for he knows that they are in search of joy (cf. Jn 2). And he knows too that they need their daily bread. That is why in the desert he offers them that too without measure. But more than bread, they need him for he is the bread of life; therefore he does not hesitate to give himself to them in the bread (cf. Jn 6). He has come, he who is stronger than all the earthly suffering which weighs upon men. For in his unreserved obedience to the will of the Father, he has overcome sin, and by this victory he has torn up the roots of sickness and death. That is why he can cure the cripple (cf. In 5), open the eyes of the man born blind (cf. Jn 9), raise Lazarus from the dead (cf. Jn 11).

The evangelist takes care to point out that at Cana it is the mother of Jesus who asks for the Lord's intervention and that it is she again who urges the servants to obey his word (cf. vv. 3 and 5). Thus Mary is the first to bring out the way in which God, here grasped through the public activity of Jesus, has no wish to bring about man's salvation without his collaboration. It becomes evident that each person can in a mysterious way participate in the work of Christ's salvation.

In the preaching of Jesus, all these signs go to underline his words. In this way he makes himself heard and, at the same time, perceived in manifold ways by his contemporaries, for he has demonstrated that the whole of creation is subordinate to his will. In this way, he tries to persuade men of the truth of his message, even with the aid of signs which speak to the senses.

1.1.3. Jesus. seal of this love

Finally, he seals his message and the demand which it contains with-his own death and his resurrection. The revelation of the Father's love requires the commitment of his whole being. It is not a work which has nothing to do with him personally, which can be performed like a job done for payment, or like a part-time occupation. Giving himself over to the Father's will leads him to the sacrifice of his life on the cross. It is precisely through the Son's gift of himself in death that the Father witnesses to his unrepentant love towards men (cf. 3:16); by his willingness to face death, the Son demonstrates that "there is no greater love" (cf. 15:13).

The Son's death therefore reveals in an unsurpassable way God's attitude towards men: the love which unites the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit is not limited to the circle of the divine Persons. Through the death of his Son, God makes this love accessible to all men and women. In this love, he triumphs over the enmity and division which reigns even between creatures. They are to share in the unity which exists between the divine Persons. It is necessary that they should participate in it because it is through this unity between believers, established by the love of God, that one will know that it is God himself who has sent Jesus (cf. 17:20-23).

But since this love is the very essence of God, it cannot remain in the tomb. It is the personal realization of him for whom life and love are identical. Death then cannot vanquish love: Jesus is risen. His cross can no longer be considered a catastrophic end; it is the pledge of an invincible hope.

2. The mission of the disciples

Our Lord accomplished the work which the Father had entrusted to him. He has returned to his place of honour at the right hand of the Almighty. But his own who were left in the world could not keep silent about the person and works of him who had brought them Revelation. They had no right to keep silent, for it was not for their own sake alone that they had received the gift of salvation and recognized the redemptive work of Jesus. It was necessary that their words and their witness should reach the ends of the earth. It was for this reason that the Lord had blessed them and sent them out, just as he himself had been blessed and sent by the Father to accomplish the work of salvation (cf. 4:38; 17:18; 20:21).

2.1. The gift of the Spirit to all those who believe

The community of the disciples is marked out for this mission which it is being prepared to carry out after having received the strength which comes from on high: the fire of the Spirit descends upon the early community gathered in prayer "with Mary, mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14). She who is all willingness becomes, through her very willingness, the model for the community of the believers. the bearer and instrument of the Spirit of Jesus Christ who is the personification of the Father's love. It is the Spirit who, in accordance with the Lord's promise, allows a better under standing and a deeper welcoming of the message. It is he who "will guide into all truth" (Jn 16:13). He is able to lead even those men and women to commit themselves to him, for whom being a Christian simply meant improving their knowledge of some abstract set of the truths of the faith. Out of all the talents and all the activities of those who follow Jesus, he brings forth a diversity of ministries for the growth of all in the faith (cf. I Cor 12- 14). It was in this way that the Church was born and called to carry out her functions. Her primary task consists in celebrating and proclaiming the great works which God has accomplished in her through his Son (cf. I Pet 2:5 ff)-today tomorrow and throughout the whole of history until the Lord should come again. The words and works of Jesus must of course retain for all time their at traction and fascination. They have to be presented in close connection with the present moment and in all their up-to-the- minute vitality. It is obvious therefore that down the course of history the Church must take to heart every new problem and every new aspiration of men and women. It is only under these conditions that the Spirit will let her know the answers contained in God's Revelation. On the other hand, in performing this service the Church depends entirely upon her faithfulness to Jesus and adherence to his message. It is the very meaning of the Church which is involved here; if the Church becomes alienated and detached from the Person and the gift which gave her origin, she loses her identity.

2.2. The witness of the instituted ministries

It is for this reason that ever since the beginning of his work of salvation the Lord has called out special witnesses from among his own. It is up to them to make his preaching and his action ever again "actual" throughout history. Their task is to facilitate for all those who will come after them access to the work of salvation performed by Jesus, and to preserve his message from the falsifications of fashion or the fossilization worthy of a museum piece

2.2.1. Their specific mission

Jesus instituted the ministry in his Church. The Risen One, by his own power, sent out the whole community of his disciples onto the mission (cf. Mt 2:18 f.). But this sending out concerned above all the "eleven disciples" (Mt 28:16), who are considered as the representatives of all those who follow Jesus and who, after the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, become the heads of the primitive community at Jerusalem. They are the same ones whom the Lord had already called to share in his actions and his powers during his pre-Easter activity (cf. Mk 1:16 ff.; 3:13 ff.; 6:7- 13), who come to represent the twelve tribes of the People of the Covenant in the New Covenant (cf. inter alia, Lk 6:13, 9:1 ff., 22:29 ff.), and finally those to whom, the night before he suffered, he entrusted the testament of his life (Mk 14:22 ff.). The call and commitment of the eleven point out the primary characteristics of the reality and principal traits of the New Testament ministry.

Furthermore, the apostleship of Saint Paul has marked the ministry of the Church in a decisive fashion. His letters testify to his own faith experience and his conception of the apostolic mission.

The institution of disciples as apostles and the Pauline concept of the apostolate are an excellent model of the ecclesial ministry which will always remain valid.

2.2.2. Their specific power

Paul is conscious of having received the responsibility of being "a steward of the mysteries of God" (I Cor 4:1 ff., 9:17). He has been chosen and "set apart" for this service (Rom 1 :1); he is sustained in it by a "commission" (I Cor 1:17; Gal 2:8). He has a specific power (cf. 2 Cor 10:18) which enables him to perform his service on "behalf of Christ" (2 Cor 5:20). He also has an authority to act which allows him to offer criticism with regard to the community and the faults which it commits (cf. I Cor 5:1 ff.; 6:1 ff.; 11:17 ff. passim). He does not forget, however, that he received his authority gratuitously (cf. I Cor 15:8 ff.) and that the obedience which he demands is due to Christ (cf. 2 Cor 10:5). His authority is therefore a service (cf. 2 Cor 1:24).

In is a fact that the personal testimony of the letters simply illustrates the concept which Saint Paul had of his ministry in the Church, and that in part it only holds good for his own apostolate. In spite of this the concept acquired, even during his lifetime, the character of a model: other members of the community take part in his task, Timothy and Titus, for example, are his "brothers" but also his "fellow-workers". The former serves the Gospel with him (cf. Phil 2:22) and "does the work of the Lord, as so do I" (I Cor 16:10). He becomes therefore his representative (cf. I Cor 4:17). Similarly, he sends the latter to one of the communities which he has founded, and the Corinthians welcome him with respect and obedience (cf. 2 Cor 7:15).

The writings of the New Testament, written after the death of the Apostle to the Gentiles, point to an evolution of Synoptic and Pauline concepts of ecclesial ministry. The Acts of the Apostles and the Pastoral Letters illustrate the foundation of this ministry and its principal traits. It is instituted by the laying on of hands and the prayer which act companies it, for the two things hand on the "gift of God" (2 Tim 1:6); the function of this ministry is witness through service and watchfulness; it is indispensable to the Church until the Lord's return (cf. Acts 1:11). It does not just consist therefore in enabling the Church to perform certain functions, but it also ensures the continuity of the powers which the Lord himself entrusted to it. It is clear that in the more recent New Testament books-just as in the Pauline documents-ministry is not considered as an alternative to the manifold forms of service which the Spirit rouses up in the community. On the contrary: the charismatic powers of the Church are in no way forgotten and are not to be underestimated (cf. Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9 ff. passim), but rather roused and stimulated (cf. Eph 2:20, 4:11 ff., 1 Pet 4:10 ff.; 5:3 ff.; the reference to "prophets" in 1 Tim 1 :18; 4:14).

2.2.3. The triple dimension of ministry

The principles of ministry described above were decisive for its development in New Testament times. They turned out to be determinative, and retained all their importance even after the death of the apostles. It is starting from theft that gradual differentiation takes place- as is shown still more clearly by, for example, the Didache or the First Letter of Clement-into the episcopal, presbyteral and diaconal ministry. Its function is concretized in the services of teacher, priest and pastor.

It is within this framework that each era of the Church has exercised its influence upon the form of ministry. The manner in which the ministry influenced the form of piety and life-style of those who exercised it varied considerably. The predisposition of ministers to accept the poverty, chastity and obedience which the New Testament counsels for those who follow Jesus, as guidelines for their daily life, has also varied considerably. The function of Church minister has taken on different emphases: sometimes the preacher and teacher have had more importance where they were responsible for building up the community and uniting it in love and peace, other times it was the priest, whose liturgical service allows the faithful to unite the sacrifice of their life with that of Christ on me cross, and to offer themselves to the Father with the dying Lord in the reception of the sacraments.

A true interpretation of the form of ministry demands, however, that none of these fields of action should give way to the other two, nor impose itself as the specific domain of the priest. Despite all the differences manifested in the profile of ministry down the ages and in particular situations, only the mutual integration of these three services gives ministry its fullness. Thus, for example, the priests' directive function has to be accompanied by a specifically priestly activity, if the minister does not wish to fall into the superficiality of a "manager" and if he hopes to build up a community open to the action of the Spirit. Moreover, his proclamation of the Word of God must be orientated towards this priestly activity, for this alone can create the space in which the members of the community will be able to come to the Lord by way of effective signs perceived by the senses. If, however, this priestly function were to be transformed into a role of simple social predominance in the Church, the ministry would degenerate into cultic functionalism and would betray the biblical model of ministry (cf. I Pet 5), that of the shepherd who gives his whole heart to his flock. Furthermore, the minister ought constantly to refer himself to the Word of God-and, as well as himself, to refer his community to it so that its unity should not be achieved at the expense of Gospel truth.

It can be seen from the words and deeds of Jesus himself that the proclamation of the salvific will of the Father and the witness to his divine power by extraordinary signs cannot be separated from the goal pursued by the Son, that is, "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (Jn 11:52). He himself is the origin of the existential correlation which exists between the minister's three functions. From this and from the mission of Jesus, it can be seen "clearly that it is necessary to speak of a triple dimension to service... rather than of different functions. They are in fact closely connected, they explain one another, influence and clarify each other" (John Paul II, Letter to priests, 1979, 3). In our day, it was Vatican Council II which reformulated the fundamental affirmations about the priestly ministry. In doing so, it sought to establish a distinction between what was immutable in this ministry and what theology and history had added to it. These documents once more show a ministry with the triple dimension already referred to-teacher, priest and pastor-and thus give breadth to a narrow vision of priesthood which was the fruit of a unilateral interpretation of decisions made by the Council of Trent. Furthermore-and this is even more important- Vatican II puts Christ Jesus at the very centre as the original model for ministry and strives to formulate the specific nature of ecclesiastical ministry starting from him.

3. Characteristic aspects of the priestly ministry

The Council chose two formulae which complement each other and which, together, seize upon the decisive characteristic of ministry: the minister can act "publicly for men in the name of Christ", that is to say, "in the person of Christ the Head" (P.O., 2).

3.1. Attachment to Christ

The central point of this definition is the reference to Christ the Lord. It is he who can do everything, he who is the personification of the saving will of the Father. Compared to Christ, a minister is no more than a servant. Even if it must always be kept in mind that God has no wish to give up his collaboration with man in the history of salvation, it remains however quite clear that Christ is the principal agent in the minister's actions. Thus Saint Augustine, for example, in his controversy with the Donatists, writes, "If the Lord Jesus Christ had so wished, he could have conferred on one or the other of his servants the power of administering baptism on his behalf, so to speak, renouncing the power to baptize himself in order to transfer this power to one of his servants, giving this baptism the same efficacy as that administered by the Lord. He did not so wish, so that the hope of the baptized might rest upon him by whom they know they have been baptized. He did not then wish that servant should put his hope in a servant (In Ev. Tract., 5, 7; PL 35, 14-17).

But at the same time, Christ himself lifts the priest's service on to a higher level, according him in this way a quality which distinguishes his service from. the private priesthood common to all Christians: the priest is officially empowered to accomplish, by his words and his actions, salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the true content of the specific power of the priest in the public life of the Church. To the man who is ready to interpret the priestly mission in faith and to accept it, there comes, in his time and where he is, what the most daring imagination would not have risked conceiving: the believer encounters the Father's love in salvific word and effective sign-that is, he encounters that love which is personified in Christ. It is this fact which makes the priest irreplaceable. And it is comprehensible that there exist on earth "places where men anxiously await a priest or, after some years, they feel his absence and never stop wishing for his coming" (John Paul II, ibid., 10).

Personal intimacy with the Lord has consequences for the vision which the priest ought to have of himself and his life of faith, consequences which cannot here be more than briefly laid out:

1. A minister does not depend solely on himself and his own efforts, he must believe that the action of the Lord sustains his work and that Christ supplies for his limitations.

2. Empirical evaluation is no good. The spiritual gift of the sacrament is of such a kind that one must also allow for set- backs, because the law of Christ requires death in order to arrive at resurrection.

3. In his pastoral work, a minister should place at the very centre of his activity the spiritual reality which he his received in the sacrament, that is, Christ, so that through his actions and behaviour, any one who hears the Word may also come to Christ.

The specific power of a minister should not be considered as a reward or as a personal distinction. By his ordination, the one who is called and sent is not nor does he become a better Christian than others-even bearing in mind the fact that "acting on behalf of Christ" demands from him a personal commitment of Saint Paul too had the feeling of being affected by a "necessity laid upon (him)" from which he neither could or should withdraw (cf. 1 Cor 9:16). Full powers are given to a minister for the sake of men. Someone who has been granted these powers receives them so that the people of God might not cease to proclaim the works of God; he bears the official responsibility for the true realization of the common priesthood.

3.2. The specific gift of the Spirit

However, he does not receive the power of the hands from those whom he is to serve. At first sight, it might seem that his service is to be determined exclusively by pastoral needs, or motivated by objectives recognized by the Church, or that his candidacy was to have been voted upon. But neither delegation nor election confer his ministry upon him, but the Sacrament of Orders alone. No group within the Church nor any ecclesiastical authority, can of themselves be the origin of priestly mission. It is Christ himself who must be present in the word and gesture of a priest, and so it is also he who must be responsible for this mission. He does so by filling the candidate with his Spirit. There is the power of the holy "pneuma" in which the Lord himself is present in such a way that the Apostle can say, "The Lord is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:17). It is the Spirit of God who created the human life of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary (cf. Lk 1:35), the bride of the Holy Spirit. In her total willingness, Mary thus became the model for those through whom the Lord wishes to continue to intervene in history and she helps them along the length of their journey. It is in the Spirit of God that the One Risen from the dead reveals his power and his invincible strength (cf. Rom 1:4).

Right from its beginnings, the Church has considered the call to the ministry to be a grace bestowed by the Spirit of God. That is why the Pastoral Letters exhort their hearers not to neglect the charism bestowed on them by the laying on of hands, but rather to rekindle it (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). The same reality is likewise expressed in all ordination formulae from the earliest one known to us, contained in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome (+ 235), through the first Christian sacramentaries and on to the pontificals of the Middle Ages and modern times: the reality of the invocation of the Holy Spirit by the bishop and the community in prayer and the descent of the Holy Spirit as the climax of the ordination. There is in this an interpretation of the Sacrament of Orders which is confirmed by a large number of testimonies by the Greek Fathers and by the ordination rites of the Orthodox Church.

This Spirit creates the relationship with Christ characteristic of a minister, a personal relationship which is not an automatic consequence of the fact of being a Christian. By virtue of this relationship a minister can face up to the tasks described above. It is impossible to lay down a general outline of all priestly activities, because the range of situations in which the gift of the Holy Spirit may be exercised is too vast. Instead, it must be borne in mind that the central effect of this sacrament, as is the case with all the others, does not appear first of all, and most especially does not appear totally, on the level of sense experience.

4. The Spirit of unity

the reality of the institution of the ministry in the Spirit of Christ Jesus, as described above, also throws light on the collaboration of the priest with his brothers in Christ. It sets the frame. work within which the Christian community's involvement can become fruitful and the unity of believers can be preserved.

4.1. Order according to the Spirit

The Spirit of God manifests itself in very different ways in the charisma of all the baptized. In addition, everyone has a right to speak and act in the community. Everyone is first of all charged with listening (cf. Jas 1:19). Above all, those who have some responsibility within the Church have the duty of being open to the suggestions which the Divine Spirit arouses within the people of God. The decree on the Apostolate of the Laity addresses to pastors in particular the exhortation of Saint Paul not to extinguish the Spirit (cf. A.A., 3), in order that no one might pass off his mood or his obstinacy as the will of God. On the other hand pastors must likewise "pass judgment on the authenticity and good use of these gifts" (ibid.). They especially can count upon divine support. At the moment of ordination, this prayer is made over them: "Look upon your servant here present and make him a sharer in your Spirit of Grace and the counsels of the presbyterate, so that he may sustain and guide your people with a pure heart. (I Hippolytus" Traditio Apostolica). And no one of those who are truly guided by the Spirit of God will neglect this. Who can make use of the Spirit of the Lord as his authority when it is the Lord himself who gives the commands? This same Lord who has at his disposition all the gifts of grace wants no other Church but this. In this way, ecclesiastical ministry and charismatic gift come together in the common care for building up the community (cf. 1 Cor 12:12 ff.).

4.2. The "logic of power" of the Spirit

In fact, the Spirit of God is not a spirit of discord, party or clan. His method is not that of decisions taken by a small majority nor that of agreements reached by a vote. It is received by those who "are all together in one place" (Acts 2:1) to pray. It keeps the community together in unity so that there is "but one heart and soul" (ibid. 4, 32). It is therefore unanimity which characterizes the community of Christ. Divisions and opposition groups are a proof that at the deepest level the community is not living fully rooted to Christ (cf. I Cor 1:10 ff.).

4.2.1. Within the People of God

Only he who knows that he belongs entirely to Christ acts in the faith as a member of the Church, never for getting that those who share his faith also belong to Christ, whether they be ministers with their special abilities for service in the Church or whether they be lay people. Only thus can the spiritual reality of the Body of Christ set its seal on the life of the community, and only thus will all decisions be able to be taken in the unity of a common spirit. The different voices must always come into harmony. The more a common opinion for the solution of a problem is arrived at, the more obvious will be the action of the Spirit of God.

In fact, the internal construction of the Church is not carried out in accordance with the usages of the parliamentary system. This is a fact which must not be forgotten, even if the democratic model can teach us something useful for the internal life of the Church. Parliamentarism always and necessarily ends up by entering into conflict with the ideal of unity in the Spirit, for which very reason ministers have an especial responsibility, due to the fact that they should "develop the spirit of unity within the association, and between it and others" (A.A., 25). The parliamentary system, as a method of political action is unthinkable without "the struggle to share power or to influence the allocation of power" (Max Weber). But in this way the community divides into interest groups or even becomes itself a lobby. It devotes itself to controversy, which can make use of all possible means. If the members of church communities, met together in associations, were to consider themselves as members of a parliament, and if the church communities within the local or universal Church were to consider themselves as parliamentary type interest groups on the model of the political parties, they could not but conceive their life as a Church from the viewpoint of temporal power. Their orientation would then not be the spiritual reality of the Church and the sacraments but modern philosophical theories. concerning the State which take reason as the sole criterion and the sole authority for a decision. But following this line would be to give up the horizon of faith and deny the transcendental dimension of all involvement in the Church

4.2.2. Within the presbyterium

Faith in the reality of the Holy Spirit should determine the community between priests and lay people. It can also-help in understanding more deeply the relations of a priest with other ordained ministers. We find in the already quoted ordination rite contained in the Traditio Apostolica of Hippolytus a passage from which it emerges that after the bishop, all the priests likewise lay their hands upon the newly-ordained "by virtue of the same common Spirit". The gift of the Spirit then is not to be considered as a special individual possession, but as a partial sharing in the presence of the Spirit, who is known to be already in the bishop and his presbyterium. This means that the individual relationship of the ordained with Christ, who bestows on him his full powers, is completed by sacramental insertion into the community of those who have received this same Spirit "of grace and counsel", the one who makes them fit to lead the people of God (ibid.).

The Decree of Vatican Council II on the Ministry and Life of Priests calls this reality "communio-koinonia", a reality which exists between those who, by ordination and mission, share in the priesthood and ministry of Christ. This "communio-koinonia" is the reason why the relationship of the ecclesiastical assistant to the bishops should be marked by respect towards those "who enjoy the fullness of the sacrament of Order", and at the same time by close union with them, since they should consider the priests who are their fellow-workers as "brothers and friends" (P.O. 7).

4.3. The celebration of unity

By using the expression "communio-koinonia" to express its understanding of the community which exists between the ordained, the Council had recourse to a spiritual reality of which the Church was already aware in the post-apostolic period. According to the testimony of the first Christians, it is the eucharistic celebration which characterizes and creates this community. In fact, the community of the believers is expressed celebration of the Eucharist: "Strive to celebrate but one single Eucharist, for there is but one single flesh of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and one single chalice for us to unite with his blood, t here is one single altar and one single bishop who should be at one with the presbyterium and the deacons, those who serve with me..." (Phil 4). To celebrate the Eucharist in a spirit of opposition to the ministers of the Church or, what here with a given reality. The believer does not create it, he comes to it. It reveals itself as a community of faith to him who has been called: the conditions for belonging to which have already been laid down and which, for the celebration of the sacraments, require a juridical character. No association or interest group could bestow continuity or growth on the Church.

In the liturgy, the idea of "communio" is expressed by the mention of the name of the Pope and the bishop (a usage to be found since the middle of the first century), and was also expressed by the exchange of a particle of the eucharistic body of the Lord. The bishops gave mutual witness to their "communio" through their sharing of the eucharistic bread. At the moment of the sign of peace, the celebrant put into the chalice the particles which had been exchanged. The fact of eating one single bread represents and brings about the unity of the body of Christ. This practice was maintained until the mid-4th century, despite the distance which separated the different communities. Later, the same solidarity between those who presided at the Eucharist and the bishop, and between the members of the presbyterium, was expressed by the use of "fermentum".

These theological data should be kept in mind when defining the relationship of ministers between themselves as "communio". The double bond established by the celebration of the Eucharist and by ordination deeply involves all those who are ordained. The community between bishops and priests and of priests between themselves is not therefore just a datum given by faith and baptism, but it is also given by a brotherhood created by the Spirit of Orders, common to all. Such a brotherhood must decide upon both the canonical incorporation of the minister into pastoral service and also his personal autonomy and responsibility based on Christocentrism. Beginning from this reality, a priest will be able, by his work within associations "to promote good relations between laity and hierarchy" (A.A., 25) in all Church communities.

5. Priestly service within associations of the faithful

The carrying out of the priestly vocation and the tasks which spring from it take very varied forms. Priests may fulfill their vocation in a parish or equally in the different areas of social and cultural life. They work with the sick with groups of outcasts, with the lost. They set out for mission countries or dedicate themselves to the education of young people. One cannot draw up a scheme for priestly service, due to the very fact that there is "variety in the structure of human life, in social processes, and in the heritage and historical traditions of the various cultures and civilizations" (John Paul II, Letter to priests, 6).

5.1. Identification and identity of the ecclesiastical assistant

The aim of priestly service is always that of making possible the encounter between the Lord and each Christian or community, that encounter which brings about salvation (cf. 2.2. above). Since the ecclesiastical assistant has been nominated to achieve this goal within an association and a community, no one can deny that his involvement is a priestly service, in the fullest sense of the term. And this service carries a great responsibility with it. The Council underlines this when it advises choosing and nominating ecclesiastical assistants carefully. An ecclesiastical assistant, in fact, is not integrated into ordinary pastoral service but into a world determined by given social, cultural, political or philosophical factors. There is no more the encounter then with all the dimensions and diversity of the stages of human life and its states of mind which demand ever new reactions and orientations from the priest. It is rather the possibility of dedicating oneself to a precise age-group, a typical social context or a definite pastoral goal. For this reason, and also because he is much closer than other members of the community, he can identify himself more easily with those with whom he exercises his priestly ministry.

This closeness and this identification constitute an opportunity but also a problem. On the one hand, they increase the ecclesiastical assistant's capacity for witness, and this witness is certainly the most important basis for the proclamation of the Gospel. And they free him from limitations which can arise out of his official position and which often cause obstacles to pastoral involvement. On the other hand, this closeness makes the assistant more vulnerable, since the "structures" may equally represent a protection against excessive absorption by the milieu. And the fact of always being within the same intellectual horizon may, through lack of discernment, habit or solidarity with the situation, lead the assistant to consider erroneously, the social, cultural and political options peculiar to it as belonging to the truths of the faith, and thence to absolutize them instead of seeing them as no more than a context shaping his pastoral and spiritual orientations.

5.2. His task as a priest

It is not possible here to describe in detail what is expected of the priest in his work within an association: some of them have to give a theological, spiritual or pastoral orientation; others are the "founders" or "directors" of associations in the widest sense, yet others will concern themselves with questions about the organization and its structures.

This is why it might be advisable for the priest who is appointed to be an ecclesiastical assistant to have a certain amount of personal experience in working with associations. It is obvious that one cannot require "experts" in this sense, of course. The priest's work will vary according to the personal charism of the ecclesiastical assistant, and the position of the association.

But in any and every case, the work of the priest ought to consist in proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments. It is precisely through this service that he keeps alive the consciousness of the people of God of being, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, of holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Pet 2:9). He should therefore lead those who have been entrusted to his care to "offer spiritual sacrifices agreeable to God, through Jesus Christ" (v. 5).

This service bears fruit to the precise degree that the one who has been called to render it proclaims the message by his life. In this lies the extraordinary pastoral opportunity offered to the ecclesiastical assistant. Sharing his life with the members of the association, and his own identification with the values of that life which he promotes, allow him to give greater concreteness to his pastoral designs and bestow: greater vigour on his capacity for persuasion.

This holds good whatever the type of the association: pious associations, charitable associations whose aim is the animation of temporal realities with the Christian spirit and ones which put forward a Christian professional ethic, apostolic movements of the "Catholic Action" type, family associations, and numerous other movements whose objectives and characteristics are of the most diversified kind.

6. Designating an ecclesiastical assistant

Anyone who seeks to deepen his understanding of ministry in the Church and really wishes to discover the data of faith upon which this ministry is based, twill have to come up against truths which the modern mentality will hardly accept. And yet these truths, which are an essential part of ministry, cannot be denied, even if they are difficult to understand; from them it takes the whole of its substance, without them it no longer exists. This conception of ministry involves one essential element: the fact ifs that the existence and work of the [ecclesiastical assistant are not legitimized by the association with which he performs his service. This would mean that it was the association which "called" or "delegated" the assistant. On the contrary, ministry is a gift which Christ has bestowed on his Church for the community (cf. John Paul II, ibid., 4).

That is why an ecclesiastical assistant is nominated by the official ministers who have care of the Church, that is, the Ordinary of the place for a diocesan association or a diocesan branch of a national or international association, the Episcopal Conference for a national association or a national branch of an international association, the Holy See for an international association recognized by it.

An ecclesiastical assistant shares in the bishop's mission towards associations of the laity, upon which are bestowed an autonomy and responsibility proper to them in the carrying out of their apostolic aims. The fact that he has been explicitly nominated by the competent ecclesiastical authority is not opposed-quite the contrary-to the assistant's full participation !in the life of the association at whose service he has been sent. In order that the mission which has been entrusted .to him by the hierarchy might bear fruit, he must-and this condition is a sine qua non-be capable of fitting in, as a priest, to the association, of collaborating, with respect and fidelity, with the lay people in charge; of understanding the objectives, programmes and educational strategy of the association as situated in the context of the Church's mission, of bringing with him, on the pastoral level, a particular care for the social milieu in which the association acts. Indeed, it is suitable for the association to propose, for the exercise of this function, a list of candidates with the required experience and competence.

7. Fundamental aspects of his service

Amongst the faithful, every priest should have a consciousness of being "brothers among brothers" (P.O., 9). An assistant can easily acquire this consciousness since he is entering into the larger family of an association which is in agreement about the goal which it is pursuing, and since he is bound to it by the kinship of choice. He can then on the level of human experience, verify the truth of faith that baptism in the name of the same Father who is in heaven fills all the members of the association with the same Spirit, and brings about a spiritual kinship which transforms them all into brothers and sisters in Christ.

But at the same time, priests should be "fathers and pastors" of their brothers (ibid.), in fact, the apostle Paul, writing to those whom he has brought to life according to the Gospel, can state, "I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel" (1 Cor 4:15). Priests working within associations are therefore called upon by turns, to work fraternally with the faithful and to have a "paternal attention" for them in Christ (L.G., 28); they should therefore share with zeal and joy in the life of the community without forgetting that they carry an irreplaceable responsibility.

7.1. Architect of unity

As "architect of unity" the ecclesiastical assistant has the mission of helping the association which has been entrusted to his care to deepen its consciousness of being a member of the Church. In it dwells the same Spirit which also prays in the heart of the faithful and testifies to their adoption as children of God, the Spirit who unites the whole Church in the carrying out of its service and builds it up by his different gifts (cf. I Cor 12:1 ff.). This Spirit desires unity (cf. ibid., v. 5). The assistant has to leave the field free for its action in such a way that the association, as a structure, movement or service of the Church, testifies to its unity with her and always acts in accordance with that unity.

In the Spirit, the assistant also promotes unity within the association, between its members and between its local and national sections. He distributes the bread of the Word, the body and blood of the Lord-the fruit and expression of that same love which embraces all men. In the same Spirit, he encourages dialogue with other associations of the faithful, especially with those dedicated to similar tasks and working in similar areas, In doing so, he strives to make the association aware of the Church's pastoral orientations, as well as the tasks and principal concerns of her pastors, from whom he will take inspiration in the fixing of his programmes and activities, watching to make sure that the association takes its place in the overall pastoral strategy in accordance with its own characteristics and aims. In this way he will avoid isolation and will oppose himself to any tendency to self-sufficiency on the part of the association. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you'... But God has so composed the body... that the members may have the same care for one another" (1 Cor 12: 21, 24 f.).

The ecclesiastical assistant is also an "architect of unity" when he helps others responsible for the Church's pastoral care (whether they be priests, lay people or members of pastoral councils, at the parish or diocesan level) to understand better the nature, objectives and activities of the associations and to analyse together the different experiences had by each In order to manage this, he should seek; in collaboration with the others, to create a community between the associations and the pastors of the Church, as well as establishing a regular and trusting dialogue between them and those in charge of the associations.

The assistant is therefore the one who visibly traces the line of union between the universal Church and the association (cf. L.G., 28). He brings right within it the pastoral care of the presbyterium united to the bishop, and in so doing he preserves it from narrow sectarianism and opens it up to catholicity.

7.2. Educator in the faith

As "educator in the faith", the ecclesiastical assistant should continually encourage the members of the association on the personal and communitarian level, to orientate themselves towards Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Almighty Father.

7.2.1. Proclamation of the Word

Individual and communitarian faith are never ready-made goods, always available to be used constantly. On the contrary, on the level of faith each person has his own history. This includes first of all a deepened understanding of the data of faith and the intellectual penetration of the truth of the faith. But as such this is not something which is static as knowledge of the faith, it can always be developed and progress. And the act of faith can operate on different levels. It can lose its force for the believer, or again it can take him over completely, to the point of becoming that faith which can move mountains (cf. Mk 11:23).

Faith grows in the encounter with the Lord, even if the believer has to cry out, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!" (Mk 9:24). Ministry in the Church takes on its deepest meaning when it permits the bringing about of this ever-new encounter with the Lord (cf. above, no. 3). In fact, through the proclamation of the Word of God Christ continues his march of victory in it, he reveals himself (cf. 2 Cor 2:14-17). "He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the church" (S.C., 7). Through the Scriptures, then, is handed on that "Word of Life" which alone is efficacious, penetrating the human heart and letting the Christian achieve maturity.

Furthermore, when he proclaims the Gospel the ecclesiastical assistant should ensure that he is giving a genuine education in the faith which respects its integrity, that is, the sum total of the truths about Christ, the Church and man, truths which are indissolubly bound up with one another. In this respect, he touches upon both intellectual formulation and behaviour/action. For this reason, the assistant himself will be docile to the Spirit of God manifested in the magisterium of the Church, of which he is the interpreter to the association, he will therefore strive to follow the directives of Vatican Council II, preventing the association from letting itself be carried away uncritically "by every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14) inspired by the mentality of the "world".

7.2.2. Sacramental service

When it accompanies and interprets an action, the preaching of the Gospel takes on an altogether new dimension. The Word then becomes a sign, and offers the People of God a new and more intense form of encounter with the Lord which touches man's senses and corporeality: the encounter with the Lord in the sacrament. The Apostle Paul refers to this when he writes to the Corinthians, "As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (I Cor 11:26). As "minister of the sacraments", especially the Eucharist, the ecclesiastical assistant will take care that the members of the association recognize in it the action of Christ, and he will take particular care that it might be "the summit and the fount" (S.C., 10) of the association's life.

It is true that in the Eucharist the Lord is met only underneath a veil and can be recognized only with the eyes of faith. That is why, when celebrating it, the assistant -should take steps to see that word and sign are received in faith. He will take care to bring out the context of faith which allows the believer to recognize the sign as Christ acting and hence as the opportunity for personal encounter with him. They will be enabled to achieve this goal through the interpretation of the Church but also through the purifying healing of the eyes of faith (cf. Lk 11:34 ff.) as it takes place in the Sacrament of Penance.

In addition, the ecclesiastical assistant should always take care that the celebration of the sacraments be truly worthy, he should also communicate the mystery of God and ensure a catechesis leading more and more to the discovery of the Lord's action through the sacraments.

7.3. True apostle of Christ Jesus

The grace of God is not just a gift but also and always a task to be assumed. For this reason, the assistant is a "true apostle of Christ Jesus" in his association that is, a "prudent cooperator with the episcopal order" (L.G., 28). During his ordination, he received from the hands of the bishop spiritual powers for his priestly service: ordination makes him a man who has "attained the second order in the hierarchy and exemplifies right conduct in his life", a man who "might be a fellow worker, so that the words of the gospel may reach the farthest parts of the earth, and all nations, gathered together in Christ, may become one holy people" (Prayer of consecration in the rite of priestly ordination).

As a co-operator with the episcopal ministry, he is called, as is every Christian through baptism and confirmation, to the service of the apostolate. He fortifies the faith of the members of the association so that God may be for them more and more the absolute criterion, and so that by this fact they might pass beyond all uncertainty. Moreover, his faith will become stronger to the degree that he meets half-way the problems and hopes of each person, each family, each national or international social group, giving his witness by word and service and devoting himself particularly to the poor and defenceless. He thus takes on the task- of "bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity and, through its influence, transforming humanity from within and making it new" (E.N., 18).

In the different fields of human activity, especially those which his association aims at reaching, he is to take care to proclaim the Gospel to all men in co-operation with the other members. In fact, whatever the aim and configuration of an association may be, the programme common to them all can only be the proclamation of the Kingdom of God "a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace" (L.G., 36). And it is the laity won over to this programme who change the world, shaping it in accordance with the words of the Gospel.

7.4. Spiritual animator

As "spiritual animator"-one might be tempted to say as mystagogue- the ecclesiastical assistant lays the basis for a handing on truly worthy of the faith of the Gospel to men and to the community. It is true that only he who can see can act as guide (cf. Lk 6:39), and anyone who wishes to proclaim the "Word of Life" must be close to him and live in communion with him (cf. I Jn 1:1 ff.). The ecclesiastical assistant is to learn then the art of spiritual direction, that "most subtle art" (John Paul II), to the extent that he himself is committed to the way of sanctity and sets himself to penetrate the mystery of God the Trinity and live according to Holy Scripture. He must be a man of prayer, for prayer is the first condition of conversion, personal fulfilment, spiritual progress and sanctity. As a man of prayer, he also makes visible to other Christians "the vocation to sanctity" to which everybody is called and in particular the members of a community. In addition, the ecclesiastical assistant has to lead all the members of the association into the mysterious and engaging reality of the presence of God.

Along with them, he should seek to read the "signs of the times" (Mt 16:3); he should also make them more and more capable of doing so themselves, and through the spiritual belief of individuals and the community, he should give the charism of the association and its members its particular stamp. The more an association engages in evangelization, the more its efforts are directed towards a difficult and securalized milieu, the more it co-operates with other Christians believers of other religions or simply with men of good will, then the more important does its spiritual animation and capacity for discernment become.

As a man for God and a man for others, the ecclesiastical assistant will yet be the more available the more united he is to God. In this way, he testifies to his faithfulness to his vocation; he arouses and strengthens in the members of the association the call of the Lord to commit themselves to his service as lay people, priests or religious-the call of the Lord to commit oneself entirely along with him.

7.5. Witness to the absoluteness of God

As a "witness to the absoluteness of God", the ecclesiastical assistant guarantees the religious dimension of the motives and aims of the association. Since it is "in the world" but "not of the world" (cf. Jn 17:11, 14), it resists all reduction to immanence. In set-back and hope, it makes reference to that Infinite which has revealed itself to be Love. Amidst all problems, its members are "always prepared to make a defence to any one who calls (them) to account for the hope that is in (them)" (1 Pet 3:15), the hope of eternal life, the definitive encounter and total communion with the living God.

Being rooted in God saves the association from idolatry and earthly messianism; it allows it not to forget the "distance given by the eschatological perspective", it makes it more obvious that the goal to be pursued is essentially of a religious, not a political, technical or economic nature. It follows that the association should not consider itself as a simple promoter of earthly well-being, nor as a sect foreign to this world the reason for its hope is rather the definitive gift of the "new heaven" and the "new earth" (cf. Rev 21:1) which transcend human history.

This hope, which should call to mind the "witness to the absoluteness of God" gives a new dimension and a new orientation to every effort which aims at creating conditions of peace and justice truth and love, in the relations between men and peoples.

8. Practical applications

Now that we have presented some reflections upon the identity and role of the ecclesiastical assistant within associations of the faithful, we would like to draw some conclusions of a practical nature concerning the way he fits into the ecclesial structure.

8.1. Each association usually involves just one ecclesiastical assistant at each level-diocesan, national, international. Obviously, it may involve other priests. These may be members of the association, or they may have been requested by it to render different services of their ministry, such as permanently ensuring theological reflection or faith education or spiritual animation. In such cases the association will choose priests of whom it has need in agreement with the ecclesiastical assistant, and it will not engage them until after having obtained the agreement of the competent authority.

8.2. A priest may be ecclesiastical assistant to several organizations, for example, associations working in the same area or social milieu, this can undoubtedly facilitate the harmonization of these associations' activities.

8.3. It is important that ecclesiastical assistants be integrated into the official pastoral structures;` thus, for example, diocesan assistants should be represented on the presbyteral council or the diocesan pastoral council.

8.4. It is desirable that ecclesiastical assistants, at all levels, should be in contact with and helped by the bishop or religious superiors of the diocese into which they are incardinated, as well as by the bishop or religious superiors of the diocese where they reside in order to carry out their function.

8.5. It is preferable, as shown by experience, that ecclesiastical assistants should not be named for an indefinite time or even "for life", but that they should have a mandate for a fixed period which may eventually be extended.

8.6. On the international level:

8.6.1. The ecclesiastical assistants to International Catholic Organizations are nominated by the Holy See after consultations with the organization in question. This procedure is necessary to assure the assistant of a warm welcome and the opportunity of fulfilling his mission in a spirit of collaboration and communion. The fact that the ecclesiastical assistant is appointed by the Holy See derives from ecclesiology and the responsibility of ministry in the Church (cf. 4.2.1.). Vatican II dealt with this issue in the decree Apostolicam Actuositatem n. 24.

8.6.2. It is evident that, on the pastoral level the Pontifical Council for the Laity should maintain regular contacts with the ecclesiastical assistants to help them in their mission.

8.6.3. An association with continental and/or sub-continental structures which desires priests to take on for these structures the function of spiritual counsellor will choose them as indicated above (cf. 8.1). These priests will act under the responsibility of the international ecclesiastical assistant, who will act as guarantor for them to the ecclesiastical authorities. When they have been chosen, their name will be communicated to the Pontifical Council for the Laity and to the continental episcopal authority corresponding to the international assistant who ensures a constant link with these organisms.

9. Questions held over

Finally, we would also like to indicate some points relating indirectly to the subject in hand which will have to be the object of further reflection

9.1. The possibility which an ecclesiastical authority has of entrusting to deacons, men and women religious, lay people or lay teams pastoral tasks in particular areas. Because of the shortage of priests, the Church is trying to fill the gap with the help of other persons, albeit without conferring any specific priestly tasks upon them.

9.2. The fact that a number of associations, even officially recognized ones have difficulty finding priests competent to take on the function of ecclesiastical assistant or spiritual counsellor. The shortage of priests as well as the diversity and multiplication of pastoral activities are often the cause of this. But everything must be done so that the Church community as a whole might understand better the importance of this function as well as the necessity of nominating and seconding priests to carry it out.

9.3. The training of priests and seminarians with a view to the exercise of this ministry in associations of the laity must aim at developing the spiritual and human qualities, theological, pastoral and pedagogic competencies required for this ministry. It should also be done if possible, jointly with the different types of associations. It would be necessary to promote and develop periodic meetings of ecclesiastical assistants at different levels. These meetings, while offering them the opportunity for exchanging their experiences, would enrich them and allow them to go deeper into the demands of their role and their own responsibilities. They should likewise be the starting-point for the setting up of a permanent training programme which would encourage the renewal, in the Holy Spirit, of the priestly life of the ecclesiastical assistants in the course of their mandate.

10. "Fellow workers of God" (1 Cor 3:9)

In a world which so many nowadays do not even consider to have been created, and which is so often considered in an exclusively temporal dimension, it is becoming an urgent necessity to proclaim the reality of the living God, in an age which more and more denies God's rights vis-a-vis man, it is necessary to proclaim this reality. Present-day secularism needs a prophet, an "advocate of the rights of God".

But someone who proclaims the rights of God vis-a-vis man will not be called upon just to commit himself totally. He will also become, in a surprising and unimaginable way, God's partner: God is absent until the believer makes him present; he is mute until the witness speaks in his name. Since God lets us share in his life, it is given to us, his representatives, to hand on his love to other men by our words and actions. The moment in which we live offers the ecclesiastical assistant, more forcibly than in many previous ages, the grace and the possibility of arousing amongst the greatest possible number of the laity enthusiasm for this task of sharing in God's work of salvation.

Rome, on the Feast of St. John Vianney, Cure d'Ars.

OPILIO Card. ROSSI President



Texts of Vatican Council II

Sacrosanctum Concilium (S.C.). Constitution on the liturgy.

Lumen Gentium (L.G.). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

Apostolicam Actuositatem (A.A.) Decree on the apostolate of the laity.

Presbyterorum Ordinis (P.O.). Decree on the ministry and life of priests.

Papal Documents

Evangelii Nuntiandi (E.N.). Apostolic Exhortation of His Holiness Pope Paul VI... on evangelization in the modern world, 8 December 1975 (AAS LXVIII, 1976, p. 5-76).

Redemptor Hominis (R.H.) Encyclical letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, 4 March 1979 (AAS LXXI, 1979, p. 257-324).

John Paul II, Letter to an the priests of the Church on the occasion of Holy Thursday 1979, 8 April 1979 (AAS LXXI, 1979, p. 389417).

Catechesi Tradendae (C.T.). Apostolic Exhortation of His Holiness Pope John Paul II... on contemporary catechesis, 16 October 1979 (AAS LXXI, 1979, p. 12771340).

John Paul II, Address to the ecclesiastical assistants of Catholic International Organizations, 13 December 1979 (O.R. English Ed., 7 January 1980).


1) the term "ecclesiastical assistant" is used throughout the document to refer to the priests working within the associations of the faithful. This term will,-of course, have different translations in different countries and/or types of associations. Terms such as "spiritual advisor" or "chaplain" may be more common in some instances.

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