The Catholic University of America

Oct. 8, 2009

Hundreds Attend CUA Symposium on Mysteries of Priesthood


CUA's president, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., far left, with speakers on the first day of the symposium.

Approximately 300 priests, seminarians and students of theology gathered at The Catholic University of America this week to celebrate the priesthood in a one-of-a kind academic and pastoral symposium.

The event, held during the Year for Priests as declared by Pope Benedict XVI, was opened by CUA's president, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., who said he hoped the lectures and discussions of Oct. 6 and 7 would "renew in our mind and hearts our truest identity as priests and Catholics and our deepest appreciation for the gift of the priesthood."

The symposium - believed to be the only academic pastoral event organized in the United States to mark the Year for Priests - was described by Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington and chancellor of CUA, as a time for priests to refresh academically, pastorally and spiritually. "This is a time to reflect on who we are, what we do and, ultimately, for whom we do it," he said during a morning prayer service.

Titled "Ministerial Priesthood in the Third Millennium: 'Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests' " the symposium was co-sponsored by CUA's School of Theology and Religious Studies and Theological College, CUA's national seminary. The symposium coincided with Theological College's annual "Alumni Days" celebration.

Rev. Melvin Blanchette, rector of Theological College, introduces speakers on the second day of the symposium.

"When we first learned of Pope Benedict XVI's intention to proclaim a Year for Priests, we decided that we should do what a Catholic university does best - host a symposium to engage participants in discussion and dialogue with presenters and with each other," said Monsignor Kevin Irwin, CUA's dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies.

In the symposium's concluding address, Monsignor Irwin noted the importance of the liturgy as the center of a priest's spirituality. "We priests grow in holiness not in order to face our pastoral responsibilities but by engaging in our pastoral responsibilities that include direct pastoral care, presiding and preaching."

In his address, Rev. Michael Witczak, assistant professor of liturgical studies at CUA, called ordination a "sacrament that is rooted in what God has done, that is celebrated here and now and that projects us into the future.

"The celebration of this sacrament," Father Witczak said, "becomes a new chapter of God's revealing of who he is and how he works in our world. It springs us forth from this experience of God's grace, activity and presence into living out that reality in our world."

Monsignor Kevin Irwin explores spirituality and the apostolic, relational and liturgical lives of priests.

The symposium began with an examination of the influence of the Letter to the Hebrews on the theology of the priesthood by Very Rev. Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., superior general of the Society of St. Sulpice, an order of diocesan priests who operate Theological College. "One can scarcely imagine understanding the priesthood without Hebrews," he said.

"Priests are by definition intermediaries between God and humanity, the spiritual and the secular. They are by nature called to a special holiness, set apart for service, which allows them to perform their cultic rites, their sacral duties, as intermediaries," he said. "Priesthood is all about Christ."

Agreeing that Hebrews "is the great source for understanding Christ the priest," Monsignor Paul G. McPartlan, professor of systematic theology and ecumenism at CUA, spoke about "Priesthood, Priestliness and Priests" and bishops, priests and deacons.

"It is the task of priests, in closest collaboration with the bishops, to nurture the life of Christ in the people of God and to form Christ in them, so that those who then encounter the faithful in all sorts of different contexts will find themselves also in the company of Christ," he said.

Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, leads the group in morning prayers on the feast of Jesus Christ, eternal and sovereign priest.

Very Rev. Lawrence B. Terrien, S.S., former superior general of the Society of St. Sulpice and currently a professor at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, challenged the audience to consider "Three Different Paths to Holiness," examining the trinity along with marriage, consecrated life and the priesthood. "To love as God loved is to be holy," he proclaimed.

The two-day symposium also included a panel discussion of "Priest as Evangelizer" by Bishop Martin Holley, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington; Rev. Walter G. Lewis, pastor of St. Mary's Parish in the West End of Richmond, Va.; and Rev. Vincent O'Malley, C.M., pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Emmitsburg, Md.

The sessions on Oct. 6 were moderated by Father O'Connell. Rev. Melvin Blanchette, S.S., rector of Theological College, served as moderator on Oct. 7.

To view video of the symposium, click here.