Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, is one of the documents produced by the Second Vatican Council. On December 7, 1965, the document was promulgated by Pope Paul VI, after an approval vote of 2,390 to 4 among the assembled bishops. The title means "Order of Priests" in Latin. As is customary for such documents in the Catholic Church, it is taken from the first line of the decree (its incipit).
- Preface (1)
- The Priesthood in the Ministry of the Church (2-3)
- The Ministry of Priests (4-11)
- Priests' Functions (4-6)
- Priests' Relationships with Others (7-9)
- The Distribution of Priests, and Vocations to the Priesthood (10-11)
- The Life of Priests (12-21)
- The Vocation of Priests to the Life of Perfection (12-14)
- Special Spiritual Requirements in the Life of a Priest (15-17)
- Aids to the Life of Priests (18-21)
- Conclusion and Exhortation (22)
Priests are sacraments of faith, prefigured in the person of Melchizedek; they do not seek to please men but rather must follow Christian doctrine, living a Christian life, always striving for holiness, and voluntary poverty. They dispense a life other than an earthly life. Deriving authority from Christ within the hierarchical church, priests provide ministry: to perfect a union with the sacrifice of Christ and the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful. Thus, their own spiritual sacrifice is key, including: the celebration of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist — the greatest task of priests — and the recitation of the Divine office (see Breviary), the voice of the Church, together with Christ, making intercession. To illustrate, prayer, and penance, foster a true motherhood toward all souls led to Christ, irrespective of nationality, blood, or time. Priests aim to help the faithful to know and love the liturgy, while striving to perfect their knowledge of divine and secular affairs. Perfect and perpetual continence is suitable for the priesthood in many ways, and prefigures the world to come, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives. As a priest dispenses the mysteries of God, he can see himself in the man who sowed his field, of whom the Lord said: "then sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should sprout without his knowing" (Mk 4:27).
The period that followed the promulgation of Presbyterorum Ordinis was marked by a severe drop in the number of priestly vocations in the Western World. Church leaders argued age-old secularization was to blame and that it was not directly related to the documents of the Council. Historians also pointed to the damage caused in 1968, by the sexual revolution, and the strong backlash over Humanae vitae. Yet, other authors asserted the drop in vocations was at least partly deliberate as part of an attempt to de-clericalize the Church and allow for a more pluralistic clergy.
There was a related exodus from the priesthood, which began under Paul VI and continued during the papacy of John Paul II. In 2007, "La Civilta Cattolica" reported 69,063 priests left the ministry between 1964 and 2004; 11,213 later returned.
-  The full text in English is available at the Vatican website.
- COZZENS, Donald B., The Changing Face of the Priesthood, 2000
- Laicizing priests now easier for clergy congregation