17. At the service of the universal Church
He called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them: ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither staff nor haversack, nor bread nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it also be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town, shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere.
The Congregation of the Mission, according to the tradition set forth by Saint Vincent, carries on its own apostolate in close cooperation with the bishops and diocesan clergy. For this reason, Saint Vincent often said that the Congregation of the Mission is secular, although it enjoys autonomy which has been granted either by universal law or by exemption.
From its origins, the Congregation of the Mission has been conscious of its universal vocation. When it was still nothing more than a handful of missionaries, Saint Vincent obtained a canonical exemption from the Pope. This exemption transcends the usual juridical order and has power over the internal life, as well as the pastoral activity, of the Congregation.
1. To Provide More Adequately for the Needs of the Lord’s Flock
Our exemption does not give the Company the right to close itself off from the world. Instead, it enables the Congregation to open itself to the needs of the universal Church and allows us to take care of them. Lumen Gentium speaks of exemptions in the following way:
The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his primacy over the entire Church, in consideration of the common good, and in order to provide more adequately for the needs of the Lord’s flock, is able to grant an exemption to any Institute of perfection and all of its members. The members of these Institutes, in fulfillment of their duties in the Church, and according to their special form of life, ought to show bishops the reverence and obedience required by Canon Law. For bishops possess pastoral authority over individual churches, and apostolic work demands unity and harmony1.
2. To Preserve the Integrity of Our Spiritual and Apostolic Heritage
Another aspect of the exemption is autonomy, i.e., the Congregation can freely maintain its own identity, its special spiritual and apostolic heritage:
A true autonomy in its life, especially in governance, is recognized for each institute. This autonomy means that each institute keeps its own discipline within the Church and can maintain its heritage, whole and entire, i.e., observe with fidelity the intentions of its founders, all that the competent ecclesiastical authority has approved concerning the nature, purpose, spirit and character of the institute, and its sound tradition2.
3. Five Fundamental Rules of the Congregation of the Mission
A summary of Saint Vincent’s thinking about the Company’s exemption and its dependence on the Pope is contained in a letter which he wrote to Monsieur DuCoudray, who was charged with presenting the petition for the approval of the Congregation of the Mission in Rome:
To live in the Congregation, we must observe five fundamental rules: 1. let the bishop have the power to send missionaries to the part of the diocese he wishes; 2. during the time of the mission our confreres should be submissive to the local pastors; 3. we should take nothing from the poor—rather we should live at our own expense; 4. we should not preach or catechize in the cities, except to ordinands and those making retreats in our houses; 5. the Superior of the Company will direct our Institute3.
- Am I really a “catholic” priest, a member of the universal Church, or am I “provincial” in my work and thinking?
- How do other diocesan priests, religious and laity see me? Do they recognize me as a missionary of the Congregation of the Mission or as an “undefined” person?
God, our Father, you willed all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of your truth. Send workers into your great harvest so that the Gospel may be preached to every creature, and your people, gathered together by the word of life and strengthened by the power of the sacraments, may advance in the way of salvation and love. We pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen4.