THE MEANING OF THE CELIBACY OF PRIESTS
The attachment of the Latin Church to the rule of the priestly celibacy is often misunderstood. Why does the Church maintain this discipline? What is its foundation? How can young people prepare themselves for it today? Here are some elements of responses, taken from the Magistery and the practice of the Church.
The celibacy: an ecclesiastical law to call into question?
The affirmation that the practice of the celibacy “is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood” (Second Vatican Council, decree Presbyterorum Ordinis no. 16) has often been used in order to make of the celibacy nothing but a purely disciplinary question. The celibacy would thus only be a constraint imposed on the priests by the Latin Church, a constraint more and more incomprehensible in the view of the present mentality and of the lack of priests to celebrate the Eucharist. This way of presenting the facts, relayed by the media, does not take into account the true motivations of the Church when she speaks of the “many-faceted suitability” of the celibacy for the priesthood.
The celibacy: a charism freely chosen
It is one of the large richnesses of the Second Vatican Council and of the reflection of the last Popes to not only present the celibacy as a law, but foremost as a gift, a charism deeply connected to the grace of the call and of the ordination: “Preeminent among these counsels is that precious gift of divine grace given to some by the Father (cf. Mt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7) in order more easily to devote themselves to God alone with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34) in virginity or celibacy. This perfect continence for love of the kingdom of heaven has always been held in high esteem by the Church as a sign and stimulus of love, and as a singular source of spiritual fertility in the world.” (St. John Paul II, apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis no. 29).
This gift of the vocation to chastity in the celibacy requires consequently an adequate preparation: the seminarians are invited to progressively receive such a gift in order to live faithfully by it during all of their lives as priests. Given that the celibacy engages one’s whole being, it is the whole person with its different components which has to be taken into account in this formation to the celibacy. Thus, the celibacy requires es as much a human and psychological formation as a spiritual and theological one.