When I was in the seminary, a professor of mine pointed out something very striking concerning the priestly ministry for which I was preparing: the Fathers of Vatican II, in formulating the mission of priests in the church, placed preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as first and foremost, To quote the bishops: “Since no one can be saved who does not first believe (Mk 16:16), priests, as coworkers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4).
This was striking to me because while I associated preaching the Gospel as a duty of priests, I never realized that proclamation of the Good News was the “primary duty” of priests. I would have placed the Eucharist and sacramental ministry before preaching. But as I read Presbyterorum Ordinis more carefully, and doing so in light of the other texts of Vatican II, I came to understand how important the preaching ministry is in the life of the priest. Lived experience in sacred ministry also helped.
In reflecting on this primary duty for priests of preaching, I have a better appreciation for why, in her wisdom, the church teaches us that “the most important form of preaching is the homily, which is part of the liturgy, and is reserved to a priest or deacon. In the course of the liturgical year, the mysteries of faith and the rules of Christian living are to be expounded in the homily from the sacred text” (canon 767 §1). Lay preaching does have its place, just not in the sacred liturgy. Lay preaching is best when the words attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi are followed: “Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words.” The best preaching ― both lay and cleric ― comes from a life of integrity. Proclaiming the Gospel is the primary duty of priests, and it is awesome task to break open God’s word.
We thank Father Anthony as the author and Emmanuel Magazine as the publisher. Subscription information is available online at www.emmanuelpublishing.org or by calling or writing: Emmanuel, 5384 Wilson Mills Road, Cleveland, OH 44143; Telephone 440.449.2103. The material is © 2015, Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament
Anthony J. Marshall, SSS, MA