The “Munus Regendi” of the Priest and the Vocation of the Laity

…the priesthood as a whole, but especially in its exercise of the office of governance, is exercised with the full flowering of the vocation of the laity in mind. The goal of the priesthood is a mature and well-formed laity that embraces its own vocation.

Calling of the Apostles by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

The ultimate end of all New Testament liturgy and of all priestly ministry is to make the world as a whole a temple and a sacrificial offering to God. This is to bring about the inclusion of the whole world into the Body of Christ, so that God may be all in all. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.1

The Second Vatican Council highlighted and clarified a truth that had perhaps been obscured in the Catholic imagination for many centuries, that all the faithful are called to a life of holiness, a life that manifests the perfection of charity (Lumen Gentium §32). The Council thus rejected a two-tiered image of the Christian life—one which is still somewhat entrenched—in which those who aspired to Christian perfection joined the clergy or the religious life. The rest of the faithful were called to a sort of Christian mediocrity, a less-than-perfect state of living with a heart divided in the midst of the distractions of the world. Furthermore, the Council clearly taught that all the faithful participate in the mission of the Church (Apostolicam Actuositatem §1), which is Christ’s own evangelizing mission, the Church’s deepest identity (Evangelii Nuntiandi §14). This mission stems from baptism, and therefore all are called to the apostolate, to carrying out this mission in the concrete circumstances of their life in the world (Apostolicam Actuositatem §2- 3). Finally, the Council emphasized that the lay vocation, that is the lay path to holiness, has a properly secular character, which is oriented to a proper love for this world, and to life in the world; indeed the laity are to consecrate the entire world to Christ, as part of the divine plan for the redemption of all things (Lumen Gentium §30).

What is the role of the priest in relation to this lofty vocation of the Christifideles, the Christian faithful? How are the two vocations related? This paper will focus on the office of pastoral governance (the munus regendi) of the priest, and attempt to draw out the role of the priest in fostering and promoting the vocation of the laity.2

Christ has made the entire Church a priestly people (Lumen Gentium §10; Rev. 1:6). Through baptism, each member of the faithful participates in his own way in “Christ’s mission as priest, prophet and king.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1546; Christifideles Laici §14). The priesthood of all the faithful, and the ministerial priesthood, are both participations in the one priesthood of Christ, though they differ from one another in essence, and not just degree (Lumen Gentium §10). The latter is, in fact, ordered to the former, and has as its goal the “unfolding of the baptismal grace” of the priesthood of the faithful (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1547). The ministerial priesthood does not exist for its own sake; it is not an end in itself, but an instrument, a means, for the building up of the Church. It exists for the sake of the priesthood of all the faithful; this office (munus) is “in the strict sense of the term, a service (servitium), which is called very expressively in sacred scripture a diakonia or ministry” (Lumen Gentium §24).3

The relationship of the ministerial and common priesthood is best discussed in the context of an ecclesiology of communion, which is the main self-understanding of the Church highlighted by the Council (Christifideles Laici §19). Ecclesial communion is an “organic” communion, analogous to that of a “living and functioning body,” which is characterized by a “diversity and complementarity” of vocations, ministries, states of life, charisms and responsibilities (Christifideles Laici §20).

The office of governance flows from the intimate unity of the ministerial priesthood with Christ, the Head, and is an empowerment in order to act in the person of Christ, the Head (Presbyterorum Ordinis §2), which manifests itself in a concern with the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ. The Council teaches that the office of pastoral governance of bishops is oriented to the “spiritual development of their flock in truth and holiness” (Lumen Gentium §27). It links this with the image of the good shepherd (Latin, pastor bonus), as well as a true father, who unites and molds his flock “into one family” (Christus Dominus §16). The priest shares in the authority of the bishop (Presbyterorum Ordinis §6), and are leaders and guides, who lead the family of God “in Christ, through the Spirit, to God the Father” (Presbyterorum Ordinis §6; cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis §26). This identification of the governing office with the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, requires priests to have a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice, and a human personality that is not authoritarian, but attractive, acting as a bridge for others to meet Jesus Christ.4 Pastoral governance is not simply administration of the Church’s goods (whether temporal or spiritual), or of an institution, or simply an attention to the maintenance of the structures of the parish.5 It is for the sake of the unity of, and the building up of, community. It is oriented to the full flowering of the vocation of the laity.6 Presbyterorum Ordinis describes this orientation eloquently:

For this reason, it is the priests’ part as instructors of the people in the faith to see to it, either personally or through others, that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with the Gospel teaching, and to sincere and active charity and the liberty with which Christ has set us free. Very little good will be achieved by ceremonies, however beautiful, or societies, however flourishing, if they are not directed towards educating people to reach Christian maturity (Presbyterorum Ordinis §6; emphases added).

Moreover, the pastor’s task is oriented not just to the growth and maturity of the individual Christian, but the formation of a “genuine Christian community,” which is a community that should be “imbued with the missionary spirit, and smooth the path to Christ for all men” (Presbyterorum Ordinis §6). Blessed John Paul II summarizes the nature of pastoral governance succinctly:

The exercise of the “munus regendi” is directed both to gathering the flock in the visible unity of a single profession of faith, lived in the sacramental communion of the Church, and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Every act of ecclesiastical governance, consequently, must be aimed at fostering communion and mission.7

The Pope also spells out the various tasks involved in governance: attention to a variety of persons and their vocations, the ability to coordinate all the gifts and charisms inspired in the community by the Spirit, and to discern these, and orient these, to the building up of the Church, always in communion with the bishops.

After this brief survey of magisterial teaching on the munus regendi, we focus on the exercise of this office with respect to three aspects of the vocation of the laity: the universal call to holiness, the secularity of the lay vocation, and the discernment of charisms.

The Council emphasized the universal call to holiness as the foundational vocation of each and every Christian. Promoting a culture of vocation, and vocational discernment, is an urgent pastoral need. Too often, the term “vocation” is understood as only pertaining to the discernment of a priestly, or a religious, vocation, and thus is understood to be the task only of a few.8 “It is inconceivable that an ordinary Christian be resigned to, or content with, mediocrity if he/she has not discovered a specific calling from God.”9 Discernment of God’s will is the task of every Catholic. What is needed is an emphasis on the universal call to holiness, precisely in the ordinary circumstances of life, and of seeing the entire field of one’s life as the arena for the exercise of one’s baptismal vocation. This does not, of course, preclude that there are “special vocations” within the over-arching vocation to holiness (Christifideles Laici §56). The exercise of pastoral ministry includes the promotion of a culture of discernment for all the lay faithful to discover their vocation, and be formed to fulfill it (Christifideles Laici §57).

The Council teaches that a “secular character is proper and peculiar to the laity.” This secularity is to be understood not simply as accidental or circumstantial, but as the divinely ordained way for the sanctification of the overwhelming majority of the people of God, the lay faithful.10 The Council signals as much when it says that “all that goes to make up the temporal order,” is not merely a help, or a means to man’s last end, but “possess a value of their own, placed in them by God” (Apostolicam Actuositatem §7; cf., Christifideles Laici §15). The renewal of the temporal order, affected by sin, is the proper task of the lay faithful. They are to be formed in a way that helps them live out their properly secular vocation, and not an imitation of monastic or religious spirituality, in a spirit of fuga mundi. Furthermore, the confusion regarding the roles of the laity in the Church, which has led to a certain clericalization of the laity, should be avoided (Christifidels Laici §27). While there is a legitimate role for the laity within the structures of the Church, the proper arena for the exercise of their vocation, for the vast majority of the faithful, is in their own secular professions and work.11 The exercise of pastoral governance, which has as its aim the flowering of the vocation of the faithful, will keep this always in mind.

Finally, the Council brought to the fore again the reality—for a long time eclipsed, or institutionalized in religious orders—of the charismata, the charisms bestowed upon the faithful by the Holy Spirit, for the building up of the body, and the fulfillment of the mission of the Church. The charisms are given to the faithful of every rank, which are to be received with thanksgiving (Lumen Gentium, 12). These are to be recognized by the shepherds (Lumen Gentium §30). The bestowal of the charisms comes with the right and duty of exercising them, always in communion with the pastors of the Church (Apostolicam Actuositatem §3). The task of the priest with respect to the charisms is clearly spelled out:

While trying the spirits if they be of God, they must discover with faith, recognize with joy, and foster with diligence the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or more exalted kind (Presbyterorum Ordinis §9).

The Council’s teaching suggests that charisms are not peripheral to the life of the Church, but are “like the yeast that makes the Church the Church.”12 Theologically, the charisms highlight the complete priority and freedom of the Holy Spirit in its guiding of the life of the Church.13 Charism and hierarchy are obviously related, and not to be opposed.14 The retrieval of the charisms that the Council envisioned has clearly not come about.15 Other than those influenced by the Charismatic Renewal, and a few other groups,16 the charisms are not a regular feature of pastoral ministry, or of priestly formation, and are often regarded with suspicion. Much still needs to be done to understand and rehabilitate the discernment of charisms as an important and indispensible feature of the exercise of the office of pastoral governance.

The exercise of the munus regendi is, of course, tied closely to the exercise of the other two offices of the priestly ministry.17 Governance goes hand-in-hand with the prophetic office, which establishes the very community of believers (Presbyterorum Ordinis §4), and the sanctifying office, with the celebration of the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of the Church’s life (Sacrosanctum Concilium §10), at its very heart. Yet, the tendency still exists to let the sanctifying office eclipse the other two. This office was identified almost exclusively as that most proper to the priesthood in the medieval and post-Tridentine period.18 Yet, this view discounts the fact that the sacraments are not ends of their own, but are oriented to the full nourishment of the people, and have their ultimate destiny always in view.

This brief survey of Magisterial teaching on the munus regendi underscores that the priesthood as a whole, but especially in its exercise of the office of governance, is exercised with the full flowering of the vocation of the laity in mind. The goal of the priesthood is a mature and well-formed laity that embraces its own vocation. The formation of the laity, thus, is the unifying aim of pastoral governance,19 one that ought to be among the top priorities of a diocese, according to Pope John Paul II (cf., Christifideles Laici §57). The parish has the essential task for a more “personal and immediate” formation of the laity (Christifideles Laici §61).20 While the Holy Father identifies other areas of formation (schools and institutions, movements, groups, families, etc.), the local parish is the only place where 98 percent of Catholics have regular contact with the Church.21 Any serious attempt to form the laity has to start in the parish.

The orientation of the munus regendi to the flourishing of the vocation of the faithful finds an echo in the idea of the spiritual paternity and spousal nature of the ministerial priesthood.22 The two vocations, that of the priest and of the laity, “are never to be separated or set against each other in any way.”23 In fact, a fully mature laity, with a strong and vibrant witness in the secular world, is a sign of the fruitfulness of priestly ministry, of the “fruit of the Spirit that flows through his own sacramental ministry,” without which, he might be tempted to think of his own ministry as lacking “spiritual power, purpose, and fecundity.”24 Both vocations are complementary, and both are oriented to manifesting the presence of Christ in the world.25 A priest ought never to be threatened by a mature and capable laity, but ought to be “fascinated by lay holiness.”26 “A father finds only fulfillment in the successes of his sons and daughters.”27 A priest must think of his self-gift always as being oriented to the service of, and flourishing of, his bride, the Church, and specifically the full maturity of the laity among whom he is pastor, spiritual father, as well as servant. This cannot be understood purely in terms of being ministers of the sacraments to an essentially passive laity, who are only recipients of his ministry. The sacraments are sacraments of faith, and are geared towards the full flourishing of the universal call to holiness of all the faithful. Without proper preparation, and the correct disposition on the part of the recipient, the sacraments are not entirely effective, and the sacramental graces are “hindered,”28 until the proper disposition, the necessary conversion, or genuine repentance, is supplied.29 So much of our pastoral practice, focused as it is on what often turns out to be hasty and inadequate sacramental preparation, seems to have little impact on the vast numbers of baptized and confirmed faithful, who simply abandon the practice of their faith, or seek discipleship and spiritual maturity in other ecclesial communities. This ought to call for serious reflection. Priests need to recover a broader and deeper understanding of their own spiritual fatherhood, and their exercise of the “munus regendi,” which sees as its aim the true flourishing of mature and faithful lay disciples.

Furthermore, with the Council’s emphasis on the secular nature of the vocation of the laity, the task of pastoral governance needs to have a positive view of the secularity of lay life, and of the lay path to holiness. The universal call to holiness is still too rarely preached. The idea that Christian maturity is found in imitating priestly or religious spirituality, or is found solely in increased activity within institutional structures, or in cooperation with the functions of the ministry, is still very prevalent. The proper role of the laity in the secular arena is rarely emphasized, and the unity of life, the overcoming of the split between faith and life,30 is seen more in its absence than its presence. The spiritual fatherhood of the priest finds its greatest expression in the raising up of mature spiritual sons and daughters, well formed in the faith, who take seriously their own task to sanctify the world, and thus redeem the temporal order in Christ, orienting it to the eschatological horizon of the coming Kingdom of God, “so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). It is clear that this requires rethinking, both in priestly formation, as well as in pastoral ministry. It is also clear that forty years after the Council, not discounting the numerous signs of hope scattered across the landscape, we have barely scratched the surface.

  1. Joseph Ratzinger, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 127–128.
  2. What is said here applies to the priesthood in general, and most especially to diocesan priests, but may be applied, mutatis mutandis, to religious priests as well. In many cases, the magisterial documents will refer specifically to the office of the bishop; what is said about the priesthood of bishops often applies to priests (presbyters), since the latter are co-workers in the Apostolic office of the bishops (Presbyterorum Ordinis §2).
  3. Munus autem illud quod Dominus pastoribus populi sui commisit, verum est servitium quod in sacris Litteris “diaconia” seu ministerium significanter nuncupatur.”
  4. David Bohr, The Diocesan Priest: Consecrated and Sent (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2009), 113. Cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis §43.
  5. Michael Sweeney and Sherry Anne Weddell, The Parish: Mission or Maintenance? (Colorado Springs: Catherine of Siena Institute, 2000), under “Clergy and Laity: Apostles Together,” (accessed November 18, 2011).
  6. Ibid.
  7. John Paul II, Address to Bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey (Vatican City: September 12, 2004),
  8. See Jorge Miras, Christ’s Faithful in the World: The Secular Character of the Laity (Montreal: Wilson & Lafleur, 2008), 12–13, for a clear articulation of the prevalent mentality.
  9. Ibid., 21.
  10. See Miras, op. cit., 42-47.
  11. Russell Shaw has done tremendous work in studying and clarifying the role of the laity, as well as shedding light on the confusion that arose in the post-Conciliar era, about the proper vocation of the laity. See Russell Shaw, Ministry or Apostolate: What Should the Catholic Laity Be Doing? (Huntington In.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2002).
  12. John Haughey, “Charisms: An Ecclesiological Exploration,” in Retrieving Charisms For the Twenty-First Century, ed. Doris Donnelly (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999), 5.
  13. Ibid. The author later makes some unfortunate speculations concerning the ordination of women, suggesting that the freedom of the Holy Spirit is opposed to an “a priori” limitation of the charism of office by gender, even as he suggests being careful not to oppose office and charism! (Ibid. 6.)
  14. Avery Dulles, “The Charism of the New Evangelizer,” in Retrieving Charisms For the Twenty First Century, ed. Doris Donnelly (Collegeville Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999), 34.
  15. Haughey suggests this is because of an underdeveloped theology of the charisms. (Haughey, op. cit., 16).
  16. For instance, the Catherine of Siena Institute, related to the Western Province of the Dominicans, has a goal to promote the lay apostolate in parish life, and provide formation for the laity. See:
  17. Benedict XVI, Address to Newly Ordained Bishops (Vatican City: September 21, 2006),
  18. Dulles, The Priestly Office, 45.
  19. Sweeney and Weddell, loc. cit.
  20. The Apostolic exhortation goes on to list various areas of formation, including spiritual, doctrinal, that related to human values and culture (Christifideles Laici §60). See also James Keating, “The Parish as a School of Prayer,” Seminary Journal (Winter 2008) 83–89.
  21. Sweeney and Weddell, loc. cit.
  22. José Granados has explored the theology of the paternity of the priest, and its relationship to the fatherhood of Christ, as well as of the Father, in a brilliant and penetrating study, which is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this paper. José Granados, “Priesthood: A Sacrament of the Father,” Communio 36 (Summer 2009): 187–218.
  23. James Keating, Resting On the Heart of Christ (Omaha: Institute for Priestly Formation, 2009), 189.
  24. Ibid., 193.
  25. Ibid., 194.
  26. Ibid.,187.
  27. Scott Hahn, “The Paternal Order of Priests,” Lay Witness (May/June 2003),
  28. See Summa Theologiae III.69.9, “Whether insincerity hinders the effects of Baptism?”
  29. A forthcoming book by Sherry Weddell explores the area of pastoral ministry and the role of disposition in the reception and administration of the Sacraments, more fully. Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path of Knowing and Following Jesus (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).
  30. This is the overriding concern for Pope John Paul II in Christifideles Laici.
Rev. Mr. Gaurav Shroff About Rev. Mr. Gaurav Shroff

Rev. Mr. Gaurav Shroff is a candidate for priestly formation for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia, attending Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He was ordained to the transitional diaconate on May 26, 2012. He holds a BS in geology from the University of Mumbai, India, and an MA in religious studies from the University of South Carolina. God willing, he will be ordained to the holy priesthood in June of 2013.


  1. “The goal of the priesthood is a mature and well-formed laity that embraces its own vocation.”

    Praised be to God! I can hardly believe what I am reading, but here it is. I’m reading it, and this is only the third time in my life (a long one, at this point) that I have heard it from clergy. My wife and I are rejoicing together this moment, sir, that God has led you to discover this very beautiful and urgently needed truth in our Catholic Faith: the lay vocation to fruitful holiness, and the role and duty of the clergy to enable it. How we need priests and bishops to see this, to know and believe it, and live it! The laity need right formation, and without serious and earnest effort on the part of clergy, such right formation is very very difficult to provide.

    Please keep advocating for this, Rev. Mr. Shroff. It seems that many priests and bishops missed it in their formation, and as a result many in the laity have missed it their entire lives. And we need it.

  2. Avatar Deborah Mary says:

    Dear Rev. Mr. Shroff,

    Thank you so much for writing this article! As a Catholic laywoman it was a blessing to read your understanding of the ordained priesthood as it relates to the laity and the universal call to holiness.

    How truly your words touch on the experience in most parishes:
    “The universal call to holiness is still too rarely preached. The idea that Christian maturity is found in imitating priestly or religious spirituality, or is found solely in increased activity within institutional structures, or in cooperation with the functions of the ministry, is still very prevalent. The proper role of the laity in the secular arena is rarely emphasized, and the unity of life, the overcoming of the split between faith and life, is seen more in its absence than its presence. ”

    I have recommended your article to others, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in you for the building up of the Body of Christ. May Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose Feast we celebrate today, be for all of us the “Star of the New Evangelization”, showing us all how she faithfully received and gave Jesus to the world so in need of Him.

  3. Hallelujah! I think I almost broke into tongues of praise reading your article, and I’m not really that charismatic. Thank you for writing this and God richly bless your ministry!

  4. Avatar Deacon Shroff says:

    Thank you for the kind words, and I pray the conversation continues!

  5. Avatar Deacon Bill says:

    This is a pleasing article and a well presented survey of some very complex topics, I was convinced that the soon to be priest conveys a sincere desire to be a good and holy shepherd in the footsteps of Christ.

    None the less I found the thesis missed the mark by setting out on a journey with the wrong supplies and quite possibly in the wrong direction. Articles that continue to explore the bipolarity of priest/laity dialogues without even the slightest mention of the diaconate strike many as a sign of poor priestly formation. The article clearly falters by the omissions that It is not only the priest that exercises the munus regendi, and, it is not only the laity that participate in toils of secularity.

    The munus regendi when exercised by the deacon, is no longer a paternalistic rampart from which the priest prepares the gifts they bestow upon the laity. Instead we see the munera exercised more fully with the inclusion of the deacon that opens the servants entrance and invites the disciple into their call to holiness through charity.

    This was secret of the earliest days, and obviously the Holy Spirit intends the servant to be a significant witness in the new evangelisation in the call to holiness for all. The super abundant grace being unleashed by the ordination of tens of thousands of deacons speak plainly to the charisma of the Holy Spirit and direction of the post Vatican church.

    So when the deacon/author asks the question in his article, How are the two vocations of priest and laity related? The answer provided by the Holy Spirit in no small part if found in the imitation of Christ the Deacon.

    It is paradigm shift that causes the Church to open its eyes and recognize the graces we are receiving are far more than mere scattered islands of hope. The Holy Spirit has unshackled vast new continents in the call to holiness and many in the clergy and among the laity just aren’t noticing it. A mature priesthood and a mature laity have no problem expressing or embracing the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch when he says respect the deacon as you would respect Jesus. Maturity and respect emerge only through acknowledgement.

    Thank you again deacon for your examination of the munus regendi and the call of holiness of the laity. Your article has provided me with many hours of thought and reflection.

  6. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    Thank you Deacon Shroff your article shows your devotion to the priesthood. As an example I hold up to you and others Venerable Fathe Michael McGivney the founder of the Knights of Columbus of which I am a member here in Dallas. Father McGivney practiced his priestly ministry at St. Mary’s parish in New Haven. Ct and St. Thomas in Thomaston Ct. He convinced 24 men in New Haven to organizethe Knights of Columbus in 1882 with Father McGivney as Founder. Due to his zeal and instructions the Knights of Columbus is a strong moral force of the Catholic Church.

  7. Avatar Deacon Shroff says:

    Deacon Bill — thought provoking comments. This article started out as a paper for a class on Ecclesiology. The requirements included, for whatever topic selected, to summarize church teaching from the Council onwards. In my research on the munus of pastoral governance, I found little or no mention of the diaconate, and nothing that would see the diaconate as a bridge between the vocations of the laity and the priest. I wanted to emphasize this dimension of the priesthood, the centrality of the priesthood being at the service of the vocation of the laity — it’s goal, as I say, is a mature, fully-formed, holy, laity. You bring up a very good point, however, regarding the general silence surrounding the diaconate. I am intrigued and hope to read some more in this area (… at some point!). If you have any suggestions as to places to start, I would be grateful. And clearly, there needs to be a lot more theological work on the nature and role of the diaconate as a distinct Order with the Sacrament of Holy Orders.


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