The Mission and Vocation of the Priest: According to St. Vincent de Paul. A Study by Raymond Facelina C.M. Province of ParisAmong those reformers of the clergy and formators of priests in France of the 17th century, St. Vincent has a foremost role. He is not a theoretician and he has not left any dogmatic expose. The work of St. Vincent consisted in activity in the service of the baptised and of those who were also ordained.

The Tuesday Conferences, retreats for ordinands, retreats for priests, seminaries, assistance given to the bishops and to the episcopacy these are clearly specific activities of his on behalf of the ministerial priesthood. But his action is just as outstanding in his other enterprises: confraternities of charity, missions, animation of the Daughters of Charity, etc.

St. Vincent does not develop a doctrine of the priesthood of the clergy, nor of the sacrament of Order. He concentrates on showing priests the practical demands of their priesthood and helping them to live these out. From the traditional doctrine of the Church he draws forth every possible consequence on the pastoral and missionary plan.

St. Vincent, through his involvement in mission and in charitable works, is a witness who speaks from experience: “this is my belief, this is my experience,” he readily affirms. Unlike de Bérulle and Olier, whose thoughts continually return to the eternal states of the Word incarnate, Monsiuer Vincent places particular stress on the “redeemer” aspect of the Incarnation and the priesthood. For him Jesus is above all the “Redeemer at work,” the “Saviour.”

It is under this last title that he invokes him spontaneously in the course of his conferences. Because he is at heart “a missioner,” it is not the virtue of religion which is in the forefront of his conception of priesthood. Rather it is charity, the zeal of the Good Shepherd. And the first task to which his love of God brings him and which is the soul of his activity is the salvation of his brothers and sisters. He therefore insists on the concrete and historical character of the mission of Jesus Christ. And he keeps coming back to the redemptive work of Jesus among people as to a living historical reality, an activity which is today prolonged through the priesthood.