WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT THE NEW
DOCUMENT APPLIES TO THE ENTIRE CHURCH?
on Priestly Formation
Will Make Sacred
Heart “Even Better”
Having a universal document provides consistency of forma-
tion around the world. Not every country might think of for-
mation in the same way. This document provides that sort of
global understanding: “What are the essential norms and ex-
pectations that a seminary formation program needs?”
The new Ratio is really the fruit of the last twenty years or so
of reflection on the part of the Church. It is not surprising we
are in a position to update it.
HOW HAS THE LANGUAGE OF THE DOCUMENT
“The gift of the priestly vocation, placed by God in the hearts
of some men, obliges the Church to propose to them a serious
journey of formation,” reads the opening line of a new document
released by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy on Decem-
ber 8. Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, or The Gift of
the Priestly Vocation, provides revamped guidelines on the proper
formation of seminarians, which are to be followed by seminar-
ies throughout the world. The document incorporates insights
from St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XV, and Pope Francis, and
includes guidance from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Msgr. Todd Lajiness, Sacred Heart’s rector, discuss-
es how the updated Ratio Fundamentalis, last revised in
1985, will inspire and direct how Sacred Hearts prepares
its seminarians for priestly service.
WHAT ARE SOME NOTEWORTHY SECTIONS OF
THE GIFT OF THE PRIESTLY VOCATION?
If you compare it to the last Ratio Fundamentalis from 1985, a
new section reflects the way Pope Francis and the leadership of
the Church is thinking now. It’s exciting to see how this sec-
tion articulates the “four stages of discernment.”
There is an introductory “Propaedeutric Stage,” where we give at-
tention to the foundational development of a seminarian’s spiri-
tual life. The second “Discipleship Stage” says that even before
you can become a priest, you need to become a disciple of Jesus
first. A third stage called “Configuration” focuses on deepening
the identity of the future priest as shepherd, leader, and teacher.
The final stage is “Vocational Synthesis,” where we form a
seminarian to have a deeply compassionate, merciful, and pastoral
heart as he moves into parish ministry as an ordained priest.
The Gift of the Priestly Vocation makes sure that the future
priest is a man of virtue, of great integrity and strength, of cour-
age and humility.
The Gift of the Priestly Vocation uses the word “dimensions.” The
language we used to use was “pillars,” the four pillars of for-
mation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. This new
vocabulary is meaningful, as the word “pillar” implies some
sort of separation. When we talk about the unity of the hu-
man person, it’s better to speak about the human dimension,
the spiritual dimension, the intellectual dimension, and the
The main goal of The Gift of the Priestly Vocation is to form
“missionary disciples.” That is great language that the new
Ratio uses, forming future priests as missionary disciples. It’s
language we’ve used here before—it’s really at the heart of our
mission—and so I’m happy to see it.
HOW WILL THE GIFT OF THE PRIESTLY VOCATION
BE ADAPTED FOR USE IN THE UNITED STATES
AND, CONSEQUENTLY, BY SACRED HEART?
The Congregation for the Clergy started the process in 2014, so
it’s taken two years of consultation with bishops’ conferences
worldwide to arrive at this document. The next stage will be
for the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops to do a
Ratio Nationalis, “a national application.” That’s what we call
the USCCB’s Program for Priestly Formation we use today, last
updated in 2005.
The U.S. bishops will take a look at our program in the na-
tional context: “Do we need to change language? Do we need
to change structures?” For Sacred Heart, it means we will take
our direction directly from the next version of the Program for
Priestly Formation, which might be a year or two out.
So, as we study the Ratio Fundamentalis, I think we’ll find
ways to make Sacred Heart’s program of formation even better.
We’ll find ways to integrate certain aspects so that the seminar-
ians who have exited our program are even better trained to be
virtuous and loving priests.