Guard yourselves and the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, so that you can feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood.
Parishes are to be included among the apostolic works of the Congregation of the Mission provided that the apostolate of the confreres is in accord with the end and the nature of our institute and provided also that there is a lack of priests in the area which justifies it. These parishes of the Congregation for the most part should consist of the really poor or should be attached to seminaries where confreres carry on the work of pastoral formation.
On one occasion Saint Vincent said: “Why restrict ourselves to a particular place and limit ourselves to one parish, if the circumference of the whole world is ours?”1 And “the Missionary has no limits in his labor other than the whole world.” Saint Vincent was not attached to parishes; he saw many inconveniences with them2 but neither did he absolutely exclude them3. He placed conditions for accepting them4. Today, many missionaries are engaged as pastors of parishes. Statute #10 accepts parish ministry as a way to fulfill the ends of the Congregation of the Mission if the situation meets the required conditions.
1. Suitable Pastors of a Congregation
The Church describes the person of a parish priest who is the pastor of a local Christian community:
The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ’s faithful, in accordance with the law5.
2. All Parish Priests Ought to Act with a Missionary Spirit
The Decree Christus Dominus exhorts parish priests in their pastoral activity: “The care of God’s people ought to be animated by a missionary spirit, in a way that reaches out to all those who live in the territorial parish.”6 Current law of the Church broadens this idea:
A parish priest has the obligation of ensuring that the Word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish. Therefore, he should see to it that the lay members of Christ’s faithful are instructed in the truths of faith, especially by means of the homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by catechetical formation. He should foster works which promote the spirit of the gospel, including its relevance to social justice. He should have a special care for the Catholic education of children and young people. With the collaboration of the faithful, he should make very effort to bring the Gospel message to those who have given up religious practice or who do not profess the true faith7.
3. The Missionary as Parish Priest
Those confreres entrusted with the pastoral care of parishes must never forget their duties as missionaries nor should they pass lightly over the words cited in our Constitutions concerning authentic Vincentian parish ministry. The Declaration of the General Assembly of 1974 points out to us the characteristics of a truly Vincentian parish:
The Assembly includes parishes among our Congregation’s apostolic activities, as long as our apostolate in them is consonant with the end and nature of our Institute. We wish, therefore, to recommend certain principles for the establishment of provincial criteria: our parishes should, for the most part, be de facto made up of poor persons, or annexed as a necessary pastoral ministry to colleges and seminaries directed by the confreres; a temporary contract, subject to constant review, should protect each confrere’s basic availability; community life should be possible for confreres engaged in parish work; we should strive to establish a ‘continual mission’ in our parishes for the building up of small Christian communities8.
- If through obedience I have agreed to work as a parish priest, do I use this ministry to fulfill the missionary demands of my vocation?
- Does the parish ministry help or hinder my missionary spirit?
- Are our parishes really in a state of “continual mission”, i.e., are our parishes reaching out to the many?
Lord, you renew your servants with food and drink from heaven. Keep us faithful as ministers of Word and Sacrament, working for your glory and for the salvation of those who believe in you. Grant this, Lord Jesus Christ, you who live and reign with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen9.
- Counsels and Maxims of Vincent de Paul, O.C., xi, 828-829.
- O.C., ii, 209.
- Letter to Toussaint Bourdaise, February 19, 1657, O.C., vi, 220.
- Letter to Charles Ozenne, October 16, 1654, O.C., v, 179-183.
- Code of Canon Law, 519.
- Christus Dominus, October 28, 1965, 30.
- Code of Canon Law, 528, 1.
- Acta of the General Assembly of 1974, 37.
- Votive Mass for Ministers of the Church.