Priests must guard against becoming limited to sacramental ministry and must help lay Catholics take up their duty to try to solve "the massive problems we are facing," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said in a talk at the University of Notre Dame.
"As a leader of a faith community of co-responsibility, the ordained priest best serves his people by promoting their royal priesthood at a moment of world crisis," he said.
The cardinal's Sept. 18 address stressed the importance of the baptismal priesthood -- the role of every Catholic in the church's ministry -- during the Year for Priests, which Pope Benedict XVI opened June 19.
"The priest's ministry is not focused solely on the celebration of the Eucharist and other sacraments," Cardinal Mahony said. "He, too, is called to work toward integral human development at the heart of a renewed social order.
"But his part in this mission lies primarily in teaching and in guiding those who are intimately and integrally involved in the various spheres and disciplines that must interact with one another in finding solutions in response to the needs and exigencies of our age," he added.
Cardinal Mahony said the understanding of ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles "has been guided by several important documents," beginning with "As I Have Done for You," a 2000 pastoral letter co-written by the priests of the archdiocese and himself. Other documents on ministry built on that foundation later in the decade, he said, and the documents of the 2003 archdiocesan synod set six pastoral initiatives to direct the life of the church for years to come.
Those documents and others produced at the Second Vatican Council have brought about "a better understanding that the priestly ministry is not only for the purpose of celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick and dying, and officiating at marriages," the cardinal said.
"The priest is ordained to be a leader within a community of co-responsibility, all of whose members are given gifts in baptism, strengthened in confirmation and nourished week by week or day by day in the celebration of the Eucharist," he added.
Cardinal Mahony warned that the current U.S. church trend toward the merger, twinning or clustering of parishes that are then sometimes headed by a lay or religious parish life director could lead to a view of the priest "as a sacramental provider who enters and exits the parish or parishes to provide for their sacramental life and then moves on."
But such a view shortchanges the priest's role as "what we might call a 'traditioning agent,'" who passes on the tradition and teachings of the church, "communicating them effectively so that others might live and pass them on to the next generation," he said.
"Such an understanding of the priest ... calls for a deeper commitment in both initial and ongoing formation of priests to a deeper appreciation of the need to be soaked and saturated in Scripture, tradition and the church's teachings as they bear upon the pressing needs and exigencies of the people of our age," the cardinal said.
With Pope Benedict's recent encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"), "the church has given moral authority to efforts to work out a solution to the massive problems we are facing, particularly as these affect the poor of the earth, who are not to be considered a burden, but a resource," Cardinal Mahony said.
But the priest's role in helping the laity to solve those problems does not mean telling people what to do, he said.
"Rather, he must 'learn the tricks,' or develop a savoir-faire for working in a community of co-responsibility for the life and mission of the church," the cardinal said.
"The priest's teaching efforts are to be directed not only to the life of the church, but must offer encouragement, guidance and support for the baptismal priesthood as the lay faithful seek to establish a community of nations more in keeping with the vision we find in 'Caritas in Veritate' and in the church's teaching on social and other matters," he added.
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