Theological Notes on Priests
Priests are “consecrated in order to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament”. Their ministry finds its climax in, and draws all its strength from, the celebration of the Eucharist.
The ministerial priesthood is one of the central ways in which Christ is actively present in His Church as Head and Shepherd. When the priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass, proclaims the Gospel and forgives sins he acts in the person of Christ the Head. This means that the power he exercises is not his own personal power but that of Christ Himself. Through the ministry of priests the prayers and offerings of the faithful are united to the sacrifice of Christ. Of its very nature the ordained ministry has the character of service to the Church and the world, since those who are ordained are sacramentally conformed to Christ who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)
Whilst the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by episcopal consecration, the bishops’ ministry is handed over in a subordinate degree to priests as their co-workers. Thus in a certain sense priests represent the bishop in each locality.
Together with their bishop, the priests of the diocese form a college or presbyterium, which should be characterised by mutual help, concern and prayer.
The Diocesan Bishop is the person who appoints Parish Priests, doing so freely but ideally after prior consultation with the Consultors, the Dean and, if appropriate, other priests and members of the Christian faithful. When the see has been vacant or impeded for a year, the Diocesan Administrator may appoint Parish Priests, subject to the ratification of the new bishop.
A Parish Priest is to have parochial care of only one parish. This is the general principle, though due to a shortage of priests or some other circumstance, the care of several neighbouring parishes may be entrusted to the care of the same Parish Priest. A Parish Priest who has the care of several parishes is obliged to apply only one mass for all the people entrusted to him on a Sunday or Holy Day.
The Parish Priest ought to posses stability in office - for his own sake and the sake of the faithful of the parish entrusted to him. Unless the Conference of Bishops has decreed otherwise, he may only be named for an indefinite period of time. Appointment for an indefinite period does not mean that he is appointed ad nutum episcopi, and that he can be removed whenever the Bishop decides. A Parish Priest with an appointment for an indefinite period can be transferred or removed only for a canonical reason and the procedures for the removal and transfer of Parish Priests is contained in Book VII, part V, section II of the Code of Canon Law.
A Parish Priest ceases from office by means of removal or transfer by the Diocesan Bishop, carried out in accord with the norm of law (see above), by resignation of the Parish Priest submitted for a just case and accepted by the Diocesan Bishop and by lapse of time if the Parish priest has been appointed for a specific period of time (see above). When a Parish Priest has reached his seventy-fifth year of age he is asked to submit his resignation from office to the Diocesan Bishop who may, after considering circumstances, accept of defer the resignation. Taking into account norms determined by the Conference of Bishops, the Diocesan Bishop is to provide suitable support and housing for the retired priest.
The Parish Priest has the duty to be the teacher, sanctifier and, through his pastoral care, governor of the Christian faithful entrusted to his care. He is to carry out these duties while acknowledging the proper role of the lay members of the Christian faithful and in co-operation with the Bishop and presbyterate of the Diocese, promoting communion within the local and universal Church.
Each parish is to posses a set of parish books including baptismal, marriage and death registers. The Parish Priest should see to it that these registers are accurately inscribed and carefully preserved. Each parish should have its own archive containing parish books, episcopal letters and all other documents which ought to be preserved due to necessity or usefulness; all these are to be inspected by the Diocesan Bishop or his delegate during his visitation.
If the Diocesan Bishop judges it opportune, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish. In the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton the Bishop has not made this Diocesan Law a requirement.
The Parish Priest presides over the council, though another person may chair its meetings. The purpose of the council is to assist in fostering pastoral activity. Since there must be a finance council in the parish, advice and consent concerning financial matters or other matters of temporal administration are matters for that council and not the pastoral council. It is the Bishop’s right to establish the norms governing the pastoral council or to approve the norms submitted to him. The parish council is not a decision making body since it possesses only a consultative vote and not a deliberative one. It can be said that the authority of the pastoral council is similar to that of the council of priests at a diocesan level. When a decision is made to do something in a parish it is juridically the Parish Priest’s decision, and not that of the pastoral council. The Parish Priest decides or agrees that some course of action is to be followed after hearing the advice of the pastoral council. The pastoral council cannot insist that a Parish Priest follow a particular course of action. This does not mean that the Parish Priest is free to reject arbitrarily the advice given by the council. A pastoral council is not a mere formality, it is an apt means of promoting the welfare of the parish community through the cooperation of the parish workers and representatives of the people with their priest.
Universal law requires the existence of a finance council in every parish. The council is composed of members of the Christian faithful and its activity and competence is governed by laws established in the Code of Canon Law and by the norms issued by the Diocesan Bishop. These norms should include such matters as, the number of members, the term of office, personal qualifications required or desired, frequency of meetings, quorum for meetings, discussion and approval of the annual financial plan, examination of annual financial returns, hiring of parish employees, matters on which the Parish priest must seek advice before he can act, matters concerning which the Parish Priest must obtain consent before he can act, matters which require the Bishop’s approval.