The new programme for the formation of presbyters (3)

Ronald D. Witherup PSS

Two previous articles addressed the content and nuances of the revised programme of priestly (presbyteral) formation that was issued on 8 December 2016 under the title, 'The Gift of the Priestly Vocation'1. This article carries the analysis further by exploring some of the vocabulary of this key Roman document. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is superior general of the Society of the Priests of Sulpice.

What's in a word?

The vocabulary of
'The Gift of the Vocation'
At the outset, two underlying assumptions should be acknowledged. The first concerns the nature of this document. It is not merely juridical; rather, it is spiritual, offering a vision for what priesthood can and should be. While it is not a theological document as such, and does not present a total theology of the priesthood, nevertheless it roots priestly formation in a theological perspective.

A second assumption is my belief that words really matter. They communicate messages, sometimes far beyond the intention of their author. This is certainly true of ancient texts, such as the Bible, but also applies to modern texts. For instance, when scholars carefully examine the documents of Vatican Council II, some note that the precise vocabulary used in many of the documents subtly indicates a shift in theological perspective2.

In this article, I propose to analyse aspects of the new Ratio from a similar angle. I believe the subtle employment of certain key words orients the programme of priestly formation in a nuanced way. To that end, I identify seven key words in the document that bear further reflection. Four will be presented here, and the final three in the last article in this series.

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