Spiritual formation…..should be conducted in such a way that the students may learn to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Those who are to take on the likeness of Christ the priest by sacred ordination should form the habit of drawing close to him as friends in every detail of their lives.
[Vatican Council II, Optatam Totius. On the Training of Priests #8]
The spiritual formation programme strives to enable the student “to take on the likeness of Christ” the Good Shepherd. The journey into God, of which seminary formation is a stage, has its beginnings in baptism, is life- long, under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual formation encourages a student in a way of Christian living that involves interior discipline and self- sacrifice. This leaves him free and willing to undertake obedience, celibacy and simplicity of life-style, understanding their value and importance in the life of the priest.
“The spiritual life is, indeed, an interior life, a life of intimacy with God, a life of prayer and contemplation. But this very meeting with God, and with his fatherly love for everyone, brings us face to face with the need to
meet our neighbour, to give ourselves to others….following the example which Jesus has proposed to everyone as a programme of life when he washed the feet of the apostles : ‘I have given you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you'”. [PDV #49]
Elements of the Spiritual Formation Programme
During his time in the seminary the spiritual formation of the student is helped and supported in various ways. The daily timetable is structured to give special emphasis to community prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours is
celebrated communally morning and evening (and at the end of the day for Junior students) in each of the oratories in the seminary. The Eucharist, ‘the essential moment of the day’ [PDV#48], is celebrated daily in the oratories, except on Sundays and major feast days when the whole community gathers around the Lord’s table in the College Chapel. The oratories and the College Chapel also provide the quiet space the student is encouraged to seek each day for personal prayer. Each morning there is a period of meditation following morning prayer. Students are encouraged to avail regularly of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Penitential Services during the year help to deepen a student’s understanding and appreciation of the sacrament.
To facilitate his own spiritual growth, each student is required to meet regularly on an individual basis with his Spiritual Director. Spiritual direction is a key element in the student’s spiritual formation at every stage, and the special task of the Spiritual Director is the formation of the student in prayer. Prayer and spiritual direction allow the student to connect and bring together the different strands of life – human, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual, and relate them to his own personal journey to God. Through it he is helped and encouraged to recognise and articulate for himself how the Spirit of God continues to challenge him in his daily life. This enables him to discern his way forward and draw close to Christ in order to put on his likeness, always keeping in mind the leadership role of the diocesan priest in the Christian community. In his mission the priest ‘continues Christ’s work as Teacher, Priest and Shepherd’…..and ‘his ministry …..is to make Christ’s body, the Church, grow into the people of God….’. [Rite of Ordination of Priests].
Through talks, conferences, group meetings and courses conducted over the year by resident Spiritual Directors, members of staff and visiting lecturers, the student’s knowledge of the spiritual life is enriched and deepened. A student’s studies, particularly in such areas as Sacred Scripture, liturgy and the theology of spirituality, also help in nurturing his spiritual life.
Retreats and Days of Recollection, in-house and at selected retreat centres, spread over the seminary year, allow the student more prolonged periods of prayer and reflection. In his first and second theology years a student is introduced to the directed retreat. Three three-day retreats and four days of recollection spread over the seminary year create the space and the silence, which are necessary for prayer, reflection and growth in the spiritual life. The retreats take place at the beginning of the seminary year in September, after the Christmas holidays and over the last days of Holy Week. The four days of recollection are at the beginning of November, the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of Lent and coming up to the end-of-year examinations.
Through his active participation in the liturgy over the seasons of the Church’s year, and through a comprehensive course in Liturgy and Sacramental Theology, a student deepens his awareness of ‘the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ who died and rose again and is present and active in the Church’s sacraments’ [PDV #48]. In this way he is helped to prepare for the role of the priest in the liturgical assembly.
The Ministries of Reader and of Acolyte and Admission to Candidacy for Ordination as Deacon and Priest mark significant stages in a student’s time in the seminary. The Ministry of Reader (normally conferred during a student’s second year) appoints him to read the Word of God in the liturgical assembly. The Ministry of Acolyte (normally conferred during the first theology year) calls him to a special service of the altar and of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Admission to Candidacy for Ordination as Deacon and Priest is both a public declaration of a student’s intention to give himself for the service of Christ and of his Church and the Church’s call to him to prepare himself for this ministry. This personal response to the call to service culminates in his ordination to the Diaconate (which usually takes place in the College Chapel at Easter of his third theology year) and in his Ordination to the priesthood (which normally takes place in the diocese in which he will serve).