The Gift of the Priestly Vocation – Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis

the gift
The gift of the priestly vocation, placed by God in the hearts of some men, obliges the Church to propose to them a serious journey of formation. As Pope Francis recalled on the occasion of his address to the Plenary of the Congregation for the Clergy (3 October 2014): “It means guarding and fostering vocations, that they may bear mature fruit. They are ‘uncut diamonds’, to be formed both patiently and carefully, respecting the conscience of the individual, so that they may shine among the People of God”[1].

It was years ago – on 19 March 1985 – that the Congregation for Catholic Education, then competent in this matter, proceeded to amend the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis promulgated on 6 January 1970[2], above all by updating the footnotes in light of the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law (25 January 1983).

Since then there have been numerous contributions on the theme of the formation of future priests, both on the part of the Universal Church and on the part of the Conferences of Bishops and individual particular Churches.

It is necessary above all to recall the Magisterium of the Pontiffs who have guided the Church in this time: Saint John Paul II, to whom we owe the ground-breaking Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (25 March 1992); Benedict XVI, author of the Apostolic Letter ‘motu proprio’ Ministrorum Institutio (16 January 2013); and Francis, whose encouragement and suggestions gave rise to the present document.

Pastores Dabo Vobis, in particular, explicitly sets out an integrated vision of the formation of future clerics, taking equal account of all four dimensions that involve the person of the seminarian: human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral. Ministrorum Institutio seeks to show how the formation of seminarians finds a natural continuation in the ongoing formation of priests, so that the two form one single reality. For this reason, Benedict XVI decided to entrust responsibility for initial formation in the Seminary to the Congregation for the Clergy, which was already competent for the ongoing formation of clergy. He amended, therefore, the relevant articles of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (28 June 1988), and transferred the Office for Seminaries to the Congregation for the Clergy. During his pontificate, Pope Francis has offered a rich Magisterium and a constant personal example regarding the ministry and life of priests, encouraging and supporting the work that has led to this present document.

[1] Francis, Address to the Plenary of the Congregation for Clergy (3 October 2014): L’Osservatore Romano, 226 (4 October 2014), 8.

[2] Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis (6 January 1970): AAS 62 (1970), 321-384.

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