The need for the major seminary — and by analogy for the religious house — for the formation of candidates for priesthood, was affirmed with authority by the Second Vatican Council and has been reaffirmed by the synod as follows: “The institution of the major seminary, as the best place for formation, is to be certainly reaffirmed as the normal place, in the material sense as well, for a community and hierarchical life, indeed as the proper home for the formation of candidates for the priesthood, with superiors who are truly dedicated to this service. This institution has produced many good results down the ages and continues to do so all over the world.” The seminary can be seen as a place and a period in life. But it is above all an educational community in progress: It is a community established by the bishop to offer to those called by the Lord to serve as apostles the possibility of re – living the experience of formation which our Lord provided for the Twelve. In fact, the Gospels present a prolonged and intimate sharing of life with Jesus as a necessary premise for the apostolic ministry. Such an experience demands of the Twelve the practice of detachment in a particularly clear and specific fashion, a detachment that in some way is demanded of all the disciples, a detachment from their roots, from their usual work, from their nearest and dearest (cf. Mk. 1:16-20; 10:28; Lk. 9:23, 57-62; 14:25-27). On several occasions we have referred to the Marcan tradition which stresses the deep link that unites the apostles to Christ and to one another: Before being sent out to preach and to heal, they are called “to be with him” (Mk. 3:14).
In its deepest identity the seminary is called to be, in its own way, a continuation in the Church of the apostolic community gathered about Jesus, listening to his word, proceeding toward the Easter experience, awaiting the gift of the Spirit for the mission. Such an identity constitutes the normative ideal which stimulates the seminary in the many diverse forms and varied aspects which it assumes historically as a human institution, to find a concrete realization, faithful to the Gospel values from which it takes its inspiration and able to respond to the situations and needs of the times.
The seminary is, in itself, an original experience of the Church’s life. In it the bishop is present through the ministry of the rector and the service of co – responsibility and communion fostered by him with the other teachers, for the sake of the pastoral and apostolic growth of the students. The various members of the seminary community, gathered by the Spirit into a single brotherhood, cooperate, each according to his own gift in the growth of all in faith and charity so that they may prepare suitably for the priesthood and so prolong in the Church and in history the saving presence of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd.
The human point of view, the major seminary should strive to become “a community built on deep friendship and charity so that it can be considered a true family living in joy.” As a Christian institution, the seminary should become — as the synod fathers continue — an “ecclesial community,” a “community of the disciples of the Lord in which the one same liturgy (which imbues life with a spirit of prayer) is celebrated; a community molded daily in the reading and meditation of the word of God and with the sacrament of the Eucharist, and in the practice of fraternal charity and justice; a community in which, as its life and the life each of its members progresses, there shine forth the Spirit of Christ and love for the Church.” This ecclesial aspect of the seminary is confirmed and concretized by the fathers when they add: “As an ecclesial community, be it diocesan or inter-diocesan, or even religious, the seminary should nourish the meaning of communion between the candidates and their bishop and presbyterate, in such a way that they share in their hopes and anxieties and learn to extend this openness to the needs of the universal Church.”
It is essential for the formation of candidates for the priesthood and the pastoral ministry, which by its very nature is ecclesial, that the seminary should be experienced not as something external and superficial, or simply a place in which to live and study, but in an interior and profound way. It should be experienced as a community, a specifically ecclesial community, a community that relives the experience of the group of Twelve who were united to Jesus.
– Pope John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis #60
*Cf. the Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1985), the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis of Saint John Paul II (1992), and the Program of Priestly Formation, Fifth Edition(2005), of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.