“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,” reads the opening line of a new document released by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy on December 8. Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, or The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, provides revamped guidelines on the proper formation of seminarians, which are to be followed by seminaries throughout the world. The document incorporates insights from St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XV, and Pope Francis, and includes guidance from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Msgr. Todd Lajiness, Sacred Heart’s rector, discusses how the updated Ratio Fundamentalis, last revised in 1985, will inspire and direct how Sacred Hearts prepares its seminarians for priestly service.
WHAT ARE SOME NOTEWORTHY SECTIONS OF THE GIFT OF THE PRIESTLY VOCATION?
If you compare it to the last Ratio Fundamentalis from 1985, a new section reflects the way Pope Francis and the leadership of the Church is thinking now. It’s exciting to see how this section articulates the “four stages of discernment.”
There is an introductory “Propaedeutric Stage,” where we give attention to the foundational development of a seminarian’s spiritual life. The second “Discipleship Stage” says that even before you can become a priest, you need to become a disciple of Jesus first. A third stage called “Configuration” focuses on deepening the identity of the future priest as shepherd, leader, and teacher.
The final stage is “Vocational Synthesis,” where we form a seminarian to have a deeply compassionate, merciful, and pastoral heart as he moves into parish ministry as an ordained priest.
The Gift of the Priestly Vocation makes sure that the future priest is a man of virtue, of great integrity and strength, of courage and humility.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT THE NEW DOCUMENT APPLIES TO THE ENTIRE CHURCH?
Having a universal document provides consistency of formation around the world. Not every country might think of formation in the same way. This document provides that sort of global understanding: “What are the essential norms and expectations that a seminary formation program needs?” The new Ratio is really the fruit of the last twenty years or so of reflection on the part of the Church. It is not surprising we are in a position to update it.
HOW HAS THE LANGUAGE OF THE DOCUMENT CHANGED?
The Gift of the Priestly Vocation uses the word “dimensions.” The language we used to use was “pillars,” the four pillars of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. This new vocabulary is meaningful, as the word “pillar” implies some sort of separation. When we talk about the unity of the human person, it’s better to speak about the human dimension, the spiritual dimension, the intellectual dimension, and the pastoral dimension.
The main goal of The Gift of the Priestly Vocation is to form “missionary disciples.” That is great language that the new Ratio uses, forming future priests as missionary disciples. It’s language we’ve used here before—it’s really at the heart of our mission—and so I’m happy to see it.
HOW WILL THE GIFT OF THE PRIESTLY VOCATION BE ADAPTED FOR USE IN THE UNITED STATES AND, CONSEQUENTLY, BY SACRED HEART?
The Congregation for the Clergy started the process in 2014, so it’s taken two years of consultation with bishops’ conferences worldwide to arrive at this document. The next stage will be for the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops to do a Ratio Nationalis, “a national application.” That’s what we call the USCCB’s Program for Priestly Formation we use today, last updated in 2005.
The U.S. bishops will take a look at our program in the national context: “Do we need to change language? Do we need to change structures?” For Sacred Heart, it means we will take our direction directly from the next version of the Program for Priestly Formation, which might be a year or two out. So, as we study the Ratio Fundamentalis, I think we’ll find ways to make Sacred Heart’s program of formation even better. We’ll find ways to integrate certain aspects so that the seminarians who have exited our program are even better trained to be virtuous and loving priests.