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Be First!
by October 30, 2018 Seminar Papers


Benedict Ejeh

NCCF Seminar:  October 2018


  1. Introduction

The late 19th century and much of the 20th century witnessed a profuse theological debate on the subject of vocation with regard to its essential constitution. This was prompted by the controversial thesis of L. Brancherau titled La vocation sacerdotale (1896) in which the author expounded the so-called ‘attraction theory’ of vocation which placed the criterion for the authenticity of vocation in the strong subjective desire of the candidate for the priesthood. J. Lahitton responded to this thesis with a number of publications in which he substantially identified vocation as a divine call made through the instrumentality of the Bishop (La vocation sacerdotale, 1909) and through the Church (Deux conceptions divergentes de la vocation sacerdotale, 1910), while attributing to the candidate the merely passive state of being vocation worthy (vocabilité), that is, suitable for the priestly ministry in the diocese. Lahitton’s position, however, seemed to ignore both the indispensable role of divine call and the individual’s personal response. Though it did not necessarily preclude these elements, the emphasis on the ecclesial dimension of the call to the priesthood led to criticisms[1] in which his views were viewed as lopsided and inadequate. The controversy generated by these views among scholars prompted Pope Pius X to set up a special commission of Cardinals to study the issue. The report of this commission was a terse endorsement of the key elements of Canon Lahitton’s thesis to the extent that it corresponded with the Church’s teaching on vocation, namely: 1. No one has the right to priestly ordination prior to being elected by the Bishop. 2. The condition that must exist in the candidate, which is called priestly vocation, does not – at least not necessarily or ordinarily – consist in a subjective interior attraction or invitation by the Holy Spirit to the priesthood. 3. In order to be called by the Bishop the candidate only requires to have the right intention and the requisite suitability which is based on the gifts of grace and nature and manifested through a life of integrity and sufficient knowledge, such that there is assurance that he is capable of the duties of priestly ministry and a holy priestly life[2].

The value of this statement lies in the fact that it identifies, from a juridical perspective, the elements of priestly vocation as it manifests itself externally and discernibly, in other words, the criteria of its valid or licit conferment by the Church. It will be wrong, therefore, to regard this as a definition of the entire reality of vocation according to the Church’s understanding of it, since it did not set out to address the spiritual (supernatural) dimension of vocation and the resonance of this in the subject; it only presupposes these implicitly.  As John Paul II succinctly puts it, echoing the perennial teaching of the Church on the subject, “Each Christian vocation comes from God and is God’s gift. However, it is never bestowed outside of or independently of the Church. Instead it always comes about in the Church and through the Church…. Hence we can say that every priest receives his vocation from our Lord through the Church as a gracious gift, a grace gratis data (charisma)”.[3] The reality of vocation therefore hinges on the tripod of the divine, personal and ecclesial dimensions. In what follows, we intend to examine the influence of these dimensions in canonical legislation on vocation to the priesthood.


  1. The Divine Dimension of Vocation

Many passages of the Bible bear witness to the fact that it is God who calls His ministers according to His free choice[4]. Accordingly, the Church teaches that vocation is grace, that is, a divine gratuitous gift. Pope Paul VI says in Summi Dei Verbum, referring to the Christ’s discourse on vocation in Matthew 9, 37-38: “It is clearly indicated in these words of our divine Redeemer that the primary source of priestly vocation is God himself in His free and merciful will”[5]. This intervention of the divine will in the election of His ministers is what Pope John Paul II has called “the absolute primacy of grace in vocation”[6]. It is God who by His free initiative chooses those whom He wills (Mk. 3,13; Jn. 15,16). This supernatural dimension of vocation ordinarily highlights the unworthiness and inadequacy of the one who is elected, in the face of the unmerited divine choice and its corresponding mission. Von Balthasar likens the accomplishment of this vocation to a new creation by God[7], to underscore its character as grace by means of which one is endowed with a new status and capacity out of the absolute free will and gracious design of God.

Grace is a supernatural reality, and as such cannot be subjected to positive human legislation. Thus the priestly vocation in its essence as grace can neither be juridically determined nor subjected to canonical legislation. Consequently, ecclesiastical legislation on the divine aspect of vocation to the priesthood is generally limited to declarative statements that affirm its divine origin while exhorting the faithful to foster and nurture it. It is in this spirit that the 1917 Code of Canon Law exhorts pastors to foster “the seed of divine vocation”[8] in young seminarians aspiring for the priesthood; a formulation that was equally echoed by the legislator in the 1983 Code[9] and in the CCEO 1990[10]. This ‘fostering’ of vocation involves collaboration with God’s plan through such means as prayers, creating awareness, encouragement, Christian education, spiritual direction, vocational accompaniment and formation “in response to the action of divine Providence, which endows with appropriate qualities and helps with divine grace those who have been chosen by God to share in the hierarchical priesthood of Christ”[11]. Therefore, though vocation is divine grace, it manifests itself through discernible signs that indicate God’s choice of a person to serve as a priest in his Church.  These signs do not have to be any extraordinary experience believed to be a revelation of God’s calling but involve ordinary signs by which any prudent Christian may come to know God’s will[12]. However, the interpretation and confirmation of these signs is the responsibility of the Church on whose behalf the priestly ministry is exercised.


  1. The Personal Aspect of Vocation

In between the call of God and its confirmation by the Church, the personal response of the one who is called must intervene, such that without this the divine call can neither be effective nor can its canonical realisation have a point of reference[13]. This response consists in the free, spontaneous, generous and conscious self-offering of a human person by which he disposes himself totally to the will of the one who calls[14]. Biblical examples of this response include Isaiah’s “Here I am. Send me” (Is. 6, 8); Samuel’s “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (I Sam. 3, 9-10); the apostles leaving their fishing nets to follow the Lord (Mt. 4, 19-20; Mk. 1, 17-18); Levi abandoning his tax collector profession to follow Jesus (Mt. 2, 14; Lk. 5, 27-28), Saul’s “What shall I do, Lord” (Acts 22, 10), to mention but a few.

Though this response is indispensable in the making of a vocation, it does not cause a vocation to exist, but is only a recognition and acceptance of the call which has already been made by God. This way of accepting the divine vocation is the only one that is worthy of the nature of the human person as a being endowed by the creator with the powers of intellect and will for the accomplishment of acts that typically distinguish his being and essence. In its celebrated tribute to human freedom, the Second Vatican Council declared unequivocally that: “Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness…. (and) authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain ‘under the control of his own decisions’ so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man’s dignity demands that he acts according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure[15].

Therefore, the choice of the priesthood cannot be legitimately imposed or supplied by a third party, not even by the Church. It can only be aided by the Church through activities aimed at fostering vocations and more especially through priestly formation meant to help the candidate discern and responsibly choose the priestly vocation. It is also the responsibility of the Church to effect the divine election by conferring the priesthood on the candidate whose vocation has been discerned and nurtured to maturity.

The personal choice of a vocation falls within the juridical category of the choice of a state of life in the Church, (cf. c. 219). It is a juridical act that must be performed by a capable person, observing all the necessary requirements of content and form for its validity as necessitated by the nature of the act itself and by law (cf. c. 124 §1)[16]. This choice or response is manifested in a number of ways, and it is in its manifestations that it finds juridical resonance. Thus, among the requirements demanded from candidates at different moments in the iter of vocation there are such personal elements as freedom, right intention, co-operation with the process of formation, etc.

Response to God’s call to the priesthood begins ordinarily with seeking admission into the seminary or house of formation. The present code of Canon Law recognises this “response” already in the minor seminarians whom it regards as “young men who have the intention of becoming priests” (iuvenes quibus animus est ad sacerdotium ascendere c. 234 §2). The same is true of the major seminarians (c. 235). The latter, however, have to make a written request[17] and possess the right intention[18] (in addition to other requirements) before being admitted into the seminary. According to Pope Pius XII, this concept of “right intention” “may be described as the clear and determined desire to dedicate oneself completely to the service of the Lord”[19]. The rectitude of this intention or the lack of it depends on the true origin of the intention, that is, whether it is truly of God or the pursuit of purely personal and selfish interests. This will show in the kind of ‘response’ that the candidate makes to the perceived vocation during the period of its gestation (priestly formation) and also through the possession or lack of those gifts of grace and nature with which God endows those whom he has chosen for this special ministry. It will also be verified at the different stages of the iter of the vocation, especially at those vocationally significant moments when the candidate on the way to the priesthood would be called to receive any of the ecclesiastical ministries or the sacrament of orders itself. A hand-written request, freely and personally composed will be demanded of each candidate and properly documented as part of the requirements before installation as lector or acolyte.[20] And before promotion to Holy Orders, the candidate, among other things, has to show evidence of being “motivated by the right intention”(can. 1029) and possess the “requisite freedom” since the legislator categorically declared it “absolutely unlawful to compel anyone, in any way or for any reason whatsoever to receive orders, or to turn away from orders anyone who is canonically suitable” (c. 1026; cf. CCEO 756). This is in recognition of the nature of vocation as a divine gift which, though given to the Church, is entrusted to a human person chosen by God without violating his essence as a personal (rational and free) being; a gift towards which the Church has to adopt a nurturing and fostering disposition and avoid both a lax and a stifling posture towards its eventual realization, which would present her in the false guise of the ‘author’ rather than the faithful recipient of the priestly vocation.


  1. Vocation in its Ecclesial Dimension

Each Christian vocation comes from God and is God’s gift. However, it is never bestowed outside of or independently of the Church. Instead it always comes about in the Church and through the Church[21]. As the mystical body of Christ the Church is endowed with various vocations to different kinds of services which are distributed among her members for the edification of the whole body, the work of redemption and the glorification of God. Thus, Pope John Paul II describes the Church as “a mystery of vocation” which embraces in herself all the vocations which God gives her along the path of salvation, a “begetter and educator of vocations”, “a ‘sacrament’, a ‘sign’ and ‘instrument’ in which the vocation of every Christian is reflected and lived out”[22]. This constitutive ecclesial dimension of the Christian vocation, according to John Paul II, derives from the fact that it is mediated through the Church, comes to be known and finds fulfilment in the Church and, while remaining fundamentally a service that is rendered to God, it occurs in the form of service to the Church[23].

The ecclesial aspect of the Christian vocation is even more characteristic of the priestly vocation. By means of this vocation, the special anointing of the Spirit with which Christ himself is anointed and which the Lord has given his Mystical Body a share in, is conferred through sacred orders to the members of the faithful who have been called to exercise the priesthood of Christ in the Church and for the Church[24]. In the words of John Paul II the priestly vocation is “a call, by the sacrament of holy orders received in the Church, to place oneself at the service of the People of God with a particular belonging and configuration to Jesus Christ and with the authority of acting ‘in the name and in the person’ of him who is head and shepherd of the Church”[25]. It is a call in which the Church’s ministerial character as the Mystical Body of Christ is so profoundly involved that her objective official verification and ratification of the vocation assumes a more special importance[26].

Thus, since the time of the Apostles the Church has exercised the role of the mediator of the priestly vocation. Over the centuries she has elaborated sets of rules detailing the criteria of judgement for the suitability of aspirants to the sacred ministries and modalities for discerning the rectitude of their intention. Originally the whole community of believers made the choice of its sacred ministers, however under the direction of the Apostles who defined the criteria of choice.[27] The immediate post-Apostolic Church carried on the tradition as we read from the Didaché: “…costituite igitur vobis episcopos et diaconos dignos domino, viros mites, non pecuniae cupidos, veraces et probatos….”[28]. The requirements were initially simple and generally centred on maturity, moral and human virtues, pastoral qualities, and adequate knowledge of the faith. Some are to feature over and over again in the course of the life of the Church with more or less emphasis on one or more aspects according to the needs of each epoch.

The Council of Trent (1534 – 1549) is particularly remembered for its historic introduction of the seminary as a compulsory ecclesiastical institution for every diocese or ecclesiastical region[29]. The seminary was meant to address the situation of gross failure on the part of priests to live up to the obligations of their state of life, a situation that was prevalent at the time. It became also an important ground for the nurturing of vocation and therefore an avenue for the exercise of the Church’s role of mediating the priestly vocation. Trent established canonical requirements not only for priestly ordination but also for all the minor and major orders and even for admission into the seminary. Among the requirements for promotion to Holy Orders featured mature age, utility to the diocese, ability to administer the sacraments, piety, etc.[30]

The first codification of canon law in 1917 made a systematic revision of existing canonical legislation on the priestly vocation but also introduced some important new laws. For the first time a clear distinction was drawn between ad validitatem and ad liceitatem requirements: the judgement of the competent ecclesiastical authority on the suitability of candidates was part of the ad liceitatem conditions  of ordination while only the condition of being a baptised male was required for validity [31]. In canons 984 and 985 it lists the conditions of irregularity for ordination ex defectu and ex delicto respectively. The ex defectu irregularities were illegitimacy of birth, physical handicap, epilepsy, mental illness and diabolical possession, bigamy, infamy of law, infliction of death sentence and execution of capital punishment. The ex delicto irregularities were apostasy, heresy, schism, non-Catholic baptism, attempted marriage, voluntary homicide and abortion, mutilation of self or of others, attempted suicide, exercise of medicine forbidden to clerics causing death in the process, and exercise of Orders not yet received. Rules were made also regarding simple impediments (can.987). Candidates were to be examined on these requirements for validity and licitness and also on their freedom from irregularities and impediments and, as the case may be, they could also be required to present documents to prove their suitability. The fact that one was coerced into Orders was not considered an invalidating factor. It was however prohibited to force someone to receive ordination (cann. 971; 973§2).

Many official Church documents following the promulgation of the Code of 1917 also manifested the Church’s concern about the promotion of the suitable candidates to the sacred ministries. They generally tended to underscore the grave responsibility of Bishops in the choice of candidates for Orders. Two of these documents are worthy of mention, namely Quam ingens [32]and the Sedes sapientiae.[33] The former was dedicated to the conduct of the so-called “scrutinies” before ordination. It was divided into three parts: 1) The duty of Ordinaries to test carefully the morals of candidates before their ordination; 2) The test to be made before conferring the first tonsure and of minor orders; 3) The test to be made before clerics receive major orders. Sedes sapientiae recalled the Church’s teaching on the divine origin of vocation but emphasised the role played by the ecclesiastical authority in the confirmation of vocation. Quoting the Catechismus Romanus it affirmed that “they are called by God who are called by the lawful ministers of the Church”.[34]

The second Vatican Council had two documents devoted to the theme of priestly vocation and ministry, namely Optatam Totius (Decree on the Training of Priests, 28 October 1965) and Presbyterorum Ordinis (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 7 December 1965). The predominant pastoral interest of the Council is born out in the concern of these documents for a priestly ministry that is modelled “after the example of Jesus Christ, the Teacher, Priest and Shepherd.”[35] To be able to achieve this, seminarians are to undergo a more thorough and comprehensive examination before they are ordained: “Each candidate should be subjected to vigilant and careful enquiry, keeping in mind his age and development, concerning his right intention and freedom of choice, his spiritual, moral and intellectual fitness, adequate physical and mental health, and possible hereditary traits. Account should be taken of the candidate’s capacity for understanding the obligations of the priesthood and carrying out his pastoral duties”[36]. This examination is not to be omitted or mitigated because of the scarcity of priests.[37]

While the Council was already in session but before the promulgation of Optatam Totius in October 1965, the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI had, in the Apostolic Constitution, Summi Dei Verbum (4 November 1963), emphasised that Bishops and superiors of the candidates should be morally certain of their fitness for the sacred ministries before promoting them to Orders.[38] On them, (the Ordinaries) lies the grave responsibility of calling candidates to the Holy Orders in the name of the Church and in this way “set the Church’s seal on a divine call that has gradually grown to maturity.[39] This does not negate the active co-operation of the entire people of God, and more especially seminary formators, in the fostering of vocations.[40]

The current CIC 1983 and CCEO 1990 continue in the legislative tradition on the priestly vocation with emphasis on the role of seminaries and houses of formation in nurturing vocations, while also providing norms for the discernment of suitability of candidates. They accord juridical canonical recognition to both minor and major seminaries as institutions for clerical formation, but not to the same degree. Minor seminaries are regarded merely as institutions that “promote vocations by providing a special religious formation, allied to human and scientific education”, which are worth preserving where they exist and ought to be established where expedient. They are not indispensable for clerical formation and so they can be replaced with “institutions of a similar nature” (c. 234 § 1). Hence, they are to impart the same form of human and scientific formation required for higher studies in the area where they exist (c. 234 §2; CCEO 344). Major seminaries, on the other hand, are the privileged and ordinary setting for actual training of “young men who intend to become priests” (c. 235 §1; cf. CCEO 345). Consequently, each diocese should own a major seminary where possible (c. 237 §1).

In keeping with the prescriptions of Optatam totius n. 6, c. 241 §1 establishes that “only those whose human, moral, spiritual and intellectual gifts, as well as physical and psychological health and right intention, show that they are capable of dedicating themselves permanently to the sacred ministries” are eligible for admission into the major seminary by the Bishop.

Emphasis is placed on the pastoral orientation of seminary formation as prescribed in the second Vatican Council (c. 255). Within this scope, however, the spiritual, human, doctrinal or intellectual and strictly pastoral aspects of priestly formation are to be harmoniously blended, for a balanced preparation for mission in today’s world[41].

With regard to priestly ordination, the legislator laid down the following ad liceitatem condition: 1) Completion of the prescribed probation, including proper formation (c. 1027); 2) Possession of the requisite qualities namely: freedom from coercion (can. 1026), adequate knowledge about the Order to be received and its obligations (can. 1028), sound faith, right intention, requisite knowledge, good reputation, moral probity, proven virtues and other physical and psychological qualities appropriate to the Order to be received (can. 1029), prescribed age and sufficient maturity (can. 1031); 3) Freedom from irregularities (namely, insanity and other psychic defects, apostasy, heresy and schism, attempted marriage, wilful homicide or abortion, deliberate mutilation of self or another and attempted suicide, and the exercise of Order not received or from which one has been prohibited by canonical penalty[42]) and from other impediments (namely, marriage, offices prohibited to clerics and being a neophyte[43]); 4) Fulfilment of the following prerequisites for ordination (cann. 1033-1039): confirmation, admission to candidacy for Orders, reception and exercise of the ecclesiastical ministries of lector and acolyte before diaconate ordination, written declaration of a voluntary choice of the clerical life and ministry with petition for admission to Orders, public undertaking of the obligation of celibacy, and a minimum of five days retreat in preparation for ordination; 5) Presentation of the following documents (can. 1050): certificate of studies, certificate of diaconate ordination (for priestly ordination) and, for candidates for the diaconate, testimonials of baptism, confirmation and the ecclesiastical ministries, as well as proof of declaration of freedom and intention; and 6) The preordination investigation of candidates’ suitability (the scrutinies) for Orders, including his physical and psychological fitness, to be attested to by a corresponding testimonial of suitability from the competent authority (can. 1051).


  1. The Influence of Historical Factors on Canonical Legislation on the Priestly Vocation

Laws have an intrinsic historical character because they are enacted to regulate the lives of persons and societies that exist in concrete spatio-temporal contexts. Canon law shares this property of historicity, even when its norms merely declare principles and ordinances of divine law. Therefore, canonical legislation on the priestly vocation cannot but bear the mark of historicity in its content and emphases. This characteristic becomes glaring when obsolete norms are eliminated and when new ones are emanated to respond to new exigencies, as well as when a new interpretation or emphasis is placed on already existing norms to bring to light some hidden or ignored aspect of the law. Thus, for instance, A. Lendakadavil notes that “The reign of Pope St. Leo 1 (440-461) is marked by some definite legislation concerning the clergy, and this was prompted by the air of honour and ambition that had entered in the clerical ranks. He decreed that candidates should be examined diligently and subjected to a long period of ecclesiastical discipline. In particular he insisted on the age of maturity, a period of examination, the quality of obedience, and proof of discipline characteristic of the priestly life…he reproposed the impediments of the earlier centuries, and added the precept of perfect continence”[44].

Similarly, in the Middle Ages, the increasing demand for clerical services, due largely to the massive spread of Christianity among the rural peoples, coupled with the prestige, privileges and powers accorded the clergy, made more and more persons to seek the clerical status for its own sake, with the result that clerics became too many to be effectively controlled or coordinated. The situation was so worrisome that a council had to decree in favour of keeping the number of admissions and ordinations under control[45]. This situation also necessitated the practice of having aspirants to the priesthood trained in formation houses (the precursors of seminaries) in Bishops’ courts under the watchful eyes of the Bishops. Likewise to combat the wide spread ignorance among the clergy and get them adequately prepared doctrinally, the Councils of Paris (1212) and Lateran (1215) insisted that candidates be properly trained by competent teachers and also be examined before ordination. The task of performing the “scrutinies”, as the process of examining the suitability of candidates came to be called, became obligatory for Bishops under pain of punishment[46]. Its omission was considered rather grave and could lead to deposition from the clerical state[47].

The dangers posed by the anti-clerical spirit of modernism was so dreaded that, in order to avoid its influence on candidates for the priesthood, rules were made to limit seminarians’ contact with the outside world, even with their families, to the barest minimum. To this effect bishops were advised to establish holiday camps for seminarians where they could recreate themselves becomingly, away from contact with the profane society[48].

During the period preceding and following the second Vatican Council, the incidence of massive defection from the priesthood led to a serious examination of the causes of this development. The blame for the phenomenon was put on the lack of genuine priestly vocation and superficial clerical formation and hasty promotion to the priesthood. Consequently, various norms concerning the priestly vocation and formation stressed the need for proper discernment and thorough scrutiny of candidates to ensure that only suitable persons capable of assuming clerical obligations are admitted to priestly training and holy orders[49]. Some documents also emphasized the necessity of the capacity for celibacy as an essential sign of vocation and the need to adequately train future priests on the nature and obligations of celibacy while calling for the dismissal of candidates found incapable of keeping this discipline[50].

Today, the scandal and outcry caused by the highly publicized cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the blight of homosexuality in seminaries and among clerics have also occasioned canonical legislation aimed at curbing these ills through the use preventive measures in the seminaries and houses of formation. It is to this end that the Congregation for Catholic Education recently issued a document stating clearly that homosexual acts “are intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law” and that “deep-seated homosexual tendencies… are objectively disordered”, therefore, “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”[51]. This document also further emphasized that in order to admit a candidate for ordination to the diaconate, the Church must verify, among other things, that the candidate has reached affective maturity[52].

These and many more instances demonstrate how ecclesiastical norms concerning vocation to the priesthood have tried to respond to actual historical circumstances, mindful of the essential and inviolable characteristics of this call. In fact, it is only to the extent that these norms respect the nature of this call that they qualify as just, it is also only to the extent that they are just in this sense that they render true service to the priesthood and the Church by aiding and promoting genuine vocations.


  1. Concluding Remarks

The priestly vocation is undoubtedly in crisis today. A clear testimony to this fact is the steady decline in the number of vocations leading to a critical shortage of priests for the Church’s pastoral and missionary duties in many parts of the world, a situation that constitutes a very serious challenge especially in those parts of the world where the priestly vocation used to flourish but is presently in acute shortage. The repercussion of this development is not only visible in these territories where the priestly ministry previously thrived but also on the missionary vocation of the Church which is severely hampered by the shortage of missionaries who used to come from these territories. Another side of the crisis is the recent surge in the cases of sexual scandals involving priests which today’s instant and globalized means of communication have made even more devastating. These scandals have not only done enormous disservice to the gospel message which the priest bears and represents, but they have helped to undermine the trust that society used to repose on the Catholic priesthood, ridiculed and questioned priestly celibacy and discouraged young people from listening to a possible call to the priestly life. In some sporadic instances, however, there is evident boost in the priestly vocations especially in former mission territories, but not without concern about the underlying motivations and the quality of formation.

These circumstances seriously determine the vocation policies and norms for priestly formation in the respective territories. These norms and policies have generally tended, in recent times, to emphasize integral human formation (also an evident concern for the universal Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis) as a solution to the problem of affective immaturity, which blamed for most of the problems of the priesthood today. They seem to endorse the application of psychological methods of discernment and formation and psychological standards of judgement in the context of the priestly vocation. It is, however, necessary to constantly keep in mind that the reality of vocation to the priesthood as a gift of divine grace is not completely amenable to the empirical methods of psychology. The methods and principles of psychology have to be cautiously applied to avoid abuses against the dignity of the persons involved and without undermining the supernatural role of divine grace in the priestly vocation. A situation where these methods are relied upon completely in priestly discernment and vocational judgement is, to say the least, misleading, if not outrightly dysfunctional and counterproductive.

There is, also, the possible and real danger to relax the rules of vocational discernment, formation and judgement in the face of acute shortage of vocations or to artificially restrict admissions when inundated with applications of those desirous to become priests. While the explosion of scandals is a clear testimony to the inherent danger in lax formation programmes, the crisis of priestly shortage and the palpable difficulties this has created for the Church, cautions against arbitrary restriction of recruitments and deliberate stifling of vocations. It is an unacceptable situation if vocation policies and formation programmes are deliberately used to frustrate rather than to nurture vocations. This situation, as well as that of deliberate laxity in policy and programme of formation, usually point to the more serious and fundamental problem of the inadequacy (both numerical and qualitative) of those entrusted with the delicate task of formation as well as to the failure of the entire vocational policy and programme of the local Church. Moreover, as we have earlier pointed out, both deliberate laxity and arbitrary strictness effectively change the Church’s relationship with priestly vocations from the status of a recipient, a nurturer and a mediator, to that of the ‘author’ of vocations, a position which belongs only to God himself.

The foregoing examination of the essential elements of the priestly vocation provides the basis for the articulation of proper vocational policies and programmes as well as just legislations in this regard. The priestly vocation in its divine dimension necessitates an approach in which prayerful supplication, care of vocations and a life of apostolic witnessing are emphasized. In its personal aspect, it calls for integral formation and respect for the dignity of the person. Finally, in its ecclesial dimension it demands constant attention by the Church’s hierarchy to ensure that only suitable candidates, whose vocations have been properly ascertained and who have been well prepared for the ministry and responsibility of the priesthood, receive priestly ordination. As we have seen above, ecclesiastical legislation on the priestly vocation is meant of fulfil these goals.

[1] Cf. H. U. Von Balthasar, Christlicher Stand, Einsiedeln 1977, p. 362.

[2] “Opus praestantis viri Josephi canonici Lahitton, cui titulus La vocation sacerdotale, nullo modo reprobandum esse; immo, qua parte adstruit: 1° Neminem habere unquam ius ullum ad ordinationem antecedenter ad liberam electionem episcopi. – 2° Conditionem, quae ex parte ordinandi debet attendi, quaequae vocatio sacerdotalis appellatur, nequaquam consistere, saltem necessario et de lege ordinaria, in interna quadquam adspiratione subiecti, sed invita mentis Spiritus Sancti, ad sacerdotium ineundum. – 3° Se e contra, nihil plus in ordinando, u trite vocetur ab episcopo, requiri quam rectam intentionem simul cum idonei tate in iis gratiae et naturae dotibus reposita, et per eam vitae probitate ac doctrinae sufficientiam comprovata, quae spem fondata faciant fore ut sacerdotii munera recte obire eiusdemque obligationes sanctae servare queat…” (Secretaria Status, Epistola, En raison, 12-07-1912, AAS, IV (1912) 485.

[3] John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo Vobis, 25 March 1992,  n. 35.

[4] See, for example, the call of Jeremiah (Jer. 1,4-5), the call of the Twelve (Mk.3,13); etc.

[5] Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution, Summi Dei Verbum, Nov. 4, 1963, Boston, St. Paul’s Publication, 1963, p. 12.

[6] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, n.36.

[7] „(Gott) wählt, wen er will, und der Gewählte ist, wen er die Sendung übernimmt, wie eine neue Schöpfung des Herrn aus dem Nichts“. H. U. Von Balthasar, Christlicher Stand, p. 323.

[8] CIC, 1917, can. 1353. The same idea is repeated in Vatican II, Optatam Totius n.3 with reference to the minor seminary which is described as nurturing ground for “the seeds of vocation”.

[9] “fovendarum vocationem” Cann. 233 §1, 234§1 (cf. Can. 385); “vocationes promovendis” Can. 256 §2, (cf. Can. 791,1°)

[10] CCEO 329 §1, 1; §2.

[11] Vatican II, Decree on the Training of Priests, (Optatam Totius), n.2

[12] Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, n.11

[13] „Je ausgezeichneter ein Berufener durch Gottes Ruf ist, un so notwendiger ist seine Zustimmung zur Berufung. Gott braucht auf das Ja seiner Wahl hin das antwortende Ja des die Wahl Gottes wählenden Menschen…. Die Sendung erfordert das Jawort des Menschen; einen nicht minder wichtigen Akt als der Akt Gottes, der den Gewählten ruft. Ein Jawort, das eine ebenso rückhaltlose Hingabe an den Ruf verlangt, wie der Ruf sich rückhaltlos und zwingend an den Berufenen wendet“. H. U. Von Balthasar, Christlicher Stand, pp. 323&324.

[14] John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis n. 36.

[15] Vatican II, G.S. 17.

[16] “The reception of the sacrament of Orders is a juridical act because from it derive rights and obligations determined by law. These rights, and especially the obligations, cannot be imposed on any one against his will, and therefore, the conferment of the sacrament must not be the result purely of another’s will”. A. Lendakadavil, Candidates for the Priesthood, Shillong, 1989, p. 201.

[17] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Circular letter, Scrutinies regarding the Suitability of Candidates for Orders, in Notitiae, 10 November, 1997, p.512.

[18]CIC, 1983, can. 241.

[19] Paul VI, Apostolic Letter, Summi Dei Verbum, op. cit. p.14

[20] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Scrutinies… , in Notitiae p. 513.

[21] John Paul II, Pastores dabo Vobis,  n. 35.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid

[24] Cf. P.O. n. 2, Pastores dabo vobis, n. 35.

[25] Pastores dabo vobis, n. 35.

[26] Cf. H. A. Von Balthasar, Chrislicher Stand, pp. 359-360.

[27] See the election of Matthias [Acts. 1,15-26] and of the seven deacons [Acts. 6,1-7]; cf. Also 1Tim.3,2-8.

[28] Didaché 15:1.

[29] Council of Trent, Session XXIII, 15 July 1563, c. 18, in N. P. Tanner ,SJ (ed), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. II, Gerogetown University Press, 1990, p. 750.

[30] Ibid. c.14.

[31] “Sacram ordinationem valide recipit solus vir baptizatus; licite autem, qui ad normam sacrorum canonum debitis qualitatibus, iudicio proprii Ordinarii, praeditus sit, neque ulla detineatur irregularitate aliove impedimento.”

[32] Sacra Congregatio de Sacramentis , Quam ingens, Instructio, Ad Reverendissimos Locorum Ordinarios Alumnorum Peragendo antequam ad Ordines Promoveatur, AAS 23(1931) 120-129 (The Canon Law Digest, vol. 1, pp. 463-471).

[33] Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution, Sedes Sapientiae, On the Principles and General Statutes by which should be Inspired and Governed Those who are called to Embrace a State for Acquiring Religious Perfection, and their Educators, AAS (1956) 48-354, in The Canon Law Digest, vol. 4, pp. 169-183.

[34] Ibid. p.173.

[35] Vatican II, Optatam Totius, Decree on the Training of Priests, n.4, Cf. Also, Presbyterorum Ordinis, n.1.

[36]  Optatam Totius n. 6.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Paul VI, Summi Dei Verbum, op. cit. pp.14-15.

[39] Ibid. p.15.

[40] Optatam Totius, nn.2-4.

[41] Cf. cc. 244, 245 §1, 248; CCEO 345.

[42] Can. 1041

[43] Can. 1042

[44] A. Lendakadavil, op. cit. p.42.

[45] Council of Rome (826): “Ut clerici non plus quam sufficiant ordinetur. Itaque in congergandis clericis modus discretionis teneatur, videlicet ne plus admittantur, quam facultas rerum eis canonice adtributa sufficere possit.”

[46] The Decretum Gratiani has a legislation which dates back to the Council of Carthage (397 AD) testifying to the obligatory force of this exercise: c.2, D.24  (“Nullus ordinetur clericus, nisi probatur vel a episcoporum examine, vel populi testimonio”).

[47] c.7 D.24

[48] Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Consistories , Le visite Apostoliche (1912),  in C.I.C. Fontes 5, 54; Enchiridion Clericorum, 1305.

[49] Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments, Instruction, Quam ingens, 27 Dec.,1930, AAS 23 (1931) 120-129. English translation in  Canon Law Digest, vol. 1 (1917-1933), pp. 463-471; Circular letter, Magna equidem, Dec. 27, 1955, in OCHOA, X., Leges Ecclesiae, vol. 2, 3435. English translation in Canon Law Digest, vol. IV, 1953-1957, pp. 303-315; Sacred Congregation for Religious, Instruction Quantum religiones, AAS 24 (1932) 74-81. English version in Canon Law Digest, vol.1, pp.473-482.

[50] Cf. SACRED CONGREGATION FOR RELIGIOUS, Instruction, Religiosorum institutio, Feb. 2, 1961, n. 29; Paul VI, Encyclical letter, Sacerdotalis caelibatus, June 24, 1967, in AAS (1967) 657-697.

[51] Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, 31 August 2005, n. 2.

[52] Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations…, n. 3.


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