Mention of The Gift of The Priestly Vocation in this section refers to the more user friendly title of the document produced by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome in 2016: Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis - The Fundamentals of Priestly Formation. In some places in this section it may simply be referred to as The Ratio.
Spiritual formation is directed at nourishing and sustaining communion with God and with our brothers and sisters, in the friendship of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and with an attitude of docility to the Holy Spirit. This intimate relationship forms the heart of the Seminarian in that generous and sacrificial love that marks the beginning of pastoral charity.
(The Gift of the Priestly Vocation 101)
...so too for every priest his spiritual formation is the core which unifies and gives
life to his being a priest and acting as a priest.
(Pope St John Paul II: Pastores Dabo Vobis 45)
It is recognised from the outset that all the experiences of everyday life contribute to the spiritual formation of the Seminarian, that he enters Seminary with some spiritual formation already, and this spiritual formation will be a lifelong process.
The Spiritual Formation programme operates at every level of formation, so that spirituality is understood to be an essential element in the life of a priest, both public and personal (the glue that holds everything else together). The programme is designed to help the Seminarian establish a mature spiritual life, and seeks to assist the Seminarian adding to develop his own relationship with Christ, and to firmly establish his own spiritual life. There is no attempt to impose a particular spirituality or to produce spiritual clones. The Seminarian is exposed to a variety of spiritual styles and modes of expression in preparation for priestly ministry. The Director of Spirituality works alongside the other Seminary departments and complements the formation offered by them. In this way Seminarians are encouraged to see spirituality as an integral part of priestly formation and priestly life.
Spiritual Formation Team
The Spiritual Formation programme is led and co-ordinated by the Director of Spirituality assisted by a team of part-time spiritual directors. Other speakers and lecturers are invited for occasional conferences, days of recollection and retreats.
Courses are timetabled in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth years, and follow a spiritual reading programme which seeks to immerse the Seminarian in the wealth of the Catholic spiritual tradition. Seminarians will be expected to undertake the necessary reading and be prepared to contribute to class discussions, and on occasion to prepare and deliver a presentation. Each spirituality class begins with a few minutes of reflection and prayer. Seminarians will be expected to lead this in turn; an essential part of priestly spiritual formation is not merely nourishing one's own spiritual life, but learning to feed spiritually those whom we are sent to serve. This reflection may be based on the daily liturgy or readings, or on a Seminarian’s personal spiritual reading or interests.
The aim of the foundation course is to give a broad introduction to the principles of spirituality, helping Seminarians to establish and deepen their spiritual life. It aims to help them develop the necessary habits to establish and maintain a rule of life from which to discern and deepen their commitment to Jesus Christ and his will in their lives. To this end, Part IV of The Catechism of The Catholic Church (Christian Prayer) and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation: ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’, is utilised as the foundation and impetus for discussion and reflection. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, St Athanasius’ ‘Life of St Anthony’ and CS Lewis': 'Screwtape Letters' are also included in this course.
This course aims to continue building on the Seminarians’ reading of spiritual classics started in year one. Seminarians will become more familiar with the key movements and themes in the history of the spiritual tradition; engaging with a variety of texts as a way of feeding their spiritual lives, and enabling them to help deepen the spiritual lives of those to whom they will minister. This assessed course commences with a consideration of the Spiritual Christology of Pope Benedict XVI, which provides an example of how we can objectively and fruitfully draw from the well of the spiritual tradition. Then we proceed to consider various themes in the spiritual tradition and their development. This will include: the foundations of Mystical Practice, aspects of Mystical Consciousness and implications of the Mystical Life. A broad cross-section of texts from across the centuries will be considered. This will be followed up in subsequent years by a more detailed consideration of certain key texts in the Franciscan, Ignatian and Carmelite traditions, as well as St Augustine’s Confessions and the English Mystics.
During year three, Seminarians continue the programme of spiritual reading along the lines established in year two. Some of the following texts will form the basis of our reflections: St Augustine of Hippo: 'Confessions'; The English Mystics (The Cloud of Unknowing / Walter Hilton: The Scale of Perfection / Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love), Spiritual writings of St Anselm and St Bernard of Clairvaux.
Extended Pastoral Placement (EPP)
Seminarians on EPP meet once a month for Seminars organised by the Pastoral Director. These sessions help the Seminarian to reflect on the spiritual challenges, needs and dynamics of the pastoral situation. They are encouraged to reflect on, and develop, their own spiritual lives in the light of pastoral ministry.
In year five Seminarians continue to explore the richness of the spiritual tradition, considering the writings of St Francis of Assisi, St Clare, St Bonaventure, and St Ignatius of Loyola (Spiritual Exercises), as well as various liturgical texts.
The year six course aims to deepen the Seminarian’s appreciation of the principles of spiritual theology, with a particular emphasis on understanding the critical thresholds and stages of spiritual development, with particular attention to the writings of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross.
The Year Six programme also includes a two-week Introductory Course to Spiritual Direction. This is designed as a taster course in giving spiritual direction. Its purpose is to ensure that Seminarians, as future priests, will be able to offer some basic help and support to those who come looking for spiritual guidance. It is hoped that those who participate in this course may gain sufficient insight into the theory and practice of spiritual direction to enable them to decide whether or not to undertake a longer and more thorough course offered elsewhere. The two-week Introductory Course of Spiritual Direction is also open to priests as part of their on-going formation.
Seminarians on Shorter Courses are assessed individually according to their experience and needs and provided with a Spiritual Formation programme accordingly.
All of these courses are not primarily academic, but aim to help each Seminarian to grow in understanding and practice of the life of prayer. We seek to foster the art of Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading) not only with the Scriptures, but with liturgical texts and writings of the spiritual tradition, so that the Seminarian may truly interiorise the Word of God and the Catholic Tradition they are called to proclaim, and to apply it to their daily living.
The Ratio clearly promotes and outlines this approach:
Seminarians need to be introduced gradually to the knowledge of the Word of God, through the method known
as Lectio Divina. A profound daily meditation, practised with fidelity and diligence, in which study and prayer
come together in a reciprocal fruitfulness.
(The Gift of the Priestly Vocation 103)
By prayer, listening to the Word, devout participation in the sacraments, in the liturgy and in community life, the Seminarian fortifies his personal union with God after the example of Christ, who had as his programme of life, to do the will of His Father. In the journey of formation, the liturgical year offers the pedagogical mystagogy of the Church, allowing its spirituality to be absorbed by interiorising the scriptural texts and liturgical prayers.
(The Gift of the Priestly Vocation 102)
Every Seminarian is expected to meet with a spiritual director (SD) every three or four weeks. It is their responsibility to make appointments with their SD. By the sixth year it is highly desirable that a Seminarian establish a link with a spiritual director in his home diocese (or an SD who will be accessible on a regular basis) to be a bridge and focus of continuity to support the newly ordained in the transition from the Seminary into the first years of ministry in the Diocese. Seminarians in their first year at the Seminary are required to meet the House Spiritual Director fortnightly, and thereafter they have the freedom, if they wish, to choose another SD from the approved list of Seminary spiritual directors. Members of staff who are involved in voting on a Seminarian's admission to ministries and Holy Orders are not available as spiritual directors or confessors
Seminarians are obviously at liberty to choose their own confessor, who may also be their spiritual director. The House Spiritual Director is available for confession at call. Priests leading days of recollection and retreats are usually also available for the celebration of the sacrament.
Days of Recollection
A variety of retreats and days of recollection for the Seminary community is a feature of the Seminary year, and plays an important part in the Seminarian’s formation. These provide an opportunity to foster their own spiritual development, to experience the variety of the Church’s spiritual tradition, and so take greater responsibility for their own spiritual growth and for helping others in their spiritual lives.
There are five or six days of recollection every year, which are usually led by the House SD or an invited priest or religious. This enables an exposure to a wealth of experience and a variety of spiritual styles and methods of prayer and reflection.
There is a House retreat given before Christmas and another at the end of the academic year for all Seminarians (including those on EPP) in preparation for receiving Ministries and Candidacy. Those who are preparing to be ordained as deacons take part in the House retreat. Those preparing to be ordained to the priesthood either take part i the House retreat with the rest of the community, or may make their retreat elsewhere with the agreement of the Seminary.
It is also hoped that Seminarians will take an active interest in pursuing, in their own free time, other opportunities for retreats and periods of recollection as befitting of life in Christ and the life of a priest.
In addition to the daily celebration of Mass and communal celebrations of The Liturgy of the Hours, the spiritual life of the Seminary is augmented by various corporate acts of worship and devotion. There are two regular periods of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament each week and daily holy hours are available during retreats. Stations of the Cross on Fridays in Lent; Novenas in preparation for Pentecost, the Solemnities of the Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart, St John and St Joseph; May and October devotions; and daily prayers for the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity are also a regular part of the Seminary year.