Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clerical Decorum

The life-style and behavior of priests and deacons are sometimes a puzzle to some of our lay faithful. They behave and they dress not like any other mortals. Because of these they seem to be out of this world, irrelevant to the rhythm of the time. What is the reason for their different ways of life and behaving? Are they mere fanciful creation of the laws of the Church, an irrational sticking to tradition?

As the Sacrament of Sacred Orders makes a person a sacred minister; the Church law enacts an intricate complex of laws and guidelines that define the proper conduct of an ordained individual. The Sacrament of Orders endows spiritual powers to the sacred minister to carry out within the Community the office of priest, servant-leader, and teacher; the Church discipline comes out with norms of how he should licitly and validly fulfill this mission to the Community. The Sacrament of Order transforms a mere human being into a man of God; the law sets down obligations, rights, suggestions and even prohibitions in order that this man of God appears before the People of God and before civil society as a man that bears the mark of the divine.

The norms dealing with the juridical status of clerics have therefore the purpose of reflecting and canonically protecting the identity of clerics and give them the space to perform properly their ministry, the office received from Holy Orders.

Characteristics of the Clerical Status

1. It is not temporary. Furthermore, it should be noted that the Sacrament of sacred orders imprints an indelible character in the sacred minister, making this configuration with Christ as something perpetual. Herein follows the nature of the juridical status of the clerics: it too is not ad tempus. Henceforth, as a result of valid ordination the life of the sacred minister will be regulated by this set of special norms, determining his way of life, the obliging him to carry out the roles and the functions specifically laid down for him. These will apply through all his life, and even into retirement. Fr. Luis Navarro eloquently puts it this way: “From what has been said it can be concluded that the personal juridical status of clerics is with them always, day and night and wherever they are. Therefore it is not legitimate to consider that a cleric exercises his rights and fulfills the canonical norms only during the time in which he performs some ministry. This would reflect a functionalistic view of his identity and ministry” (“The Juridical Status of the Clergy”, Luis Navarro, Philippine Canonical Forum, CLSP, January-December 2001, vol. III, p. 43).

2. It is not optional. This juridical status of the clergy is not something optional. The norms are obligatory. After all it is established in close connection with the sacrament of holy orders, translating his sacramental identity into the area of his mission, wherein he has to function properly as demanded by law. Secondly, this sacramental reality has to influence, evolve and develop in his own personal life, his priestly decorum, his life-style, wherein he has to conduct himself properly before the Christian Community and to the world. The faithful has all the rights to see in their minister all the elements that make him genuine minister. Pope John Paul says it bluntly: “Thus, permanent formation is a requirement of the priest’s own faithfulness to his ministry, to his very being. It is love for Jesus Christ and fidelity to oneself. But it is also an act of love for the People of God, at whose service the priest is placed. Indeed, an act of true and proper justice. The priest owes it to God’s people, whose fundamental right to receive the word of God, the sacraments and the service of charity, the original and irreplaceable content of the priest’s own pastoral ministry, he is called to acknowledge and foster. Ongoing formation is necessary to ensure that the priest can properly respond to this right of the People of God” (Apost. Exhort. Pastores dabo vobis, n. 70).

For the priest therefore to be considered distinct from the lay faithful in his life-style and conduct is not at all intended to set up a new form of snobbery or elitism. It is the Church’s way of making her priest always and everywhere what he already is in the sacramental way: true and genuine minister of Christ.