Cure of Souls (Lat. cura animarum), technically, the exercise of a clerical office involving the instruction, by sermons and admonitions, and the sanctification, through the sacraments, of the faithful in a determined district, by a person legitimately appointed for the purpose. Those specially having cure of souls are the pope for the entire Church, the bishops in their dioceses, and the parish priests in their respective parishes. Others may likewise have part in the cure of souls in subordination to these. Thus in missionary countries where episcopal sees have not yet been erected, those who labor for the salvation of souls are in a special manner sharers of the particular responsibility of the Vicar of Christ for those regions. In like manner, a parish priest may have curates who attend to the wants of a particular portion of the parish, subordinate to himself. The object of the cure of souls is the salvation of men, and hence it is a continuation of Christ’s mission on earth. As the Redeemer established a church which was to govern, teach, and sanctify the world, it necessarily follows that those who are to assist in the work of the Church must obtain their mission from her alone. “How shall they preach, unless they be sent?” (Rom., x, 15).
The canonical mission of a priest is derived from the Apostolic succession in the Church. This succession is twofold: Holy orders and authority. The first is perpetuated by means of bishops; the latter by the living magistracy of the Church, of which the head is the pope, who is the source of jurisdiction. Both elements enter into the mission of him who has cure of souls: Holy orders, that he may offer sacrifice and administer the sacraments, which are the ordinary channels of sanctification employed by the Holy Ghost; and jurisdiction, that he may teach correct doctrine, free his subjects from sins and censures, and govern them in accordance with the canons of the Church. The power of Holy orders is radically common to all priests by virtue of their valid ordination. but the power of jurisdiction is ordinary only in pope, bishops, and parish priests, and extraordinary or delegated in others. It is plain, then, that while valid orders may exist outside the Catholic Church, jurisdiction cannot, as its source is the Vicar of Christ and it is possessed only so far as he confers it or does not limit it. The duties of those who have cure of souls are all carefully defined in the sacred canons. (See Pope; Bishop; Parish Priest.)
We have here touched only upon what is common to the idea of a pastor of the faithful. It is plain that the closer the bond existing between the subordinate members of the hierarchy and their superiors, and between pastors and their people, the more effective will be the work done for the salvation of souls. If the pastor be earnest in preaching and admonishing, unremitting in the tribunal of penance and visitation of the sick, charitable to the poor, kind yet firm in his dealings with all the members of his flock, observant of the regulations of the Church as to his office and particularly that of dwelling among his people (see Ecclesiastical Residence), that he may know them and bring them succor at all times; and if, on the other hand, the people be truly desirous for their own salvation, obedient towards their pastor, zealous to obtain and employ the means of sanctification, and mindful of their obligations as members of a parish to enable their pastor to institute and improve the parochial institutions necessary for the proper furtherance of the object of the Church, we shall have the true idea of the cure of souls as intended by Christ and as legislated for in the canons of His Church.
WILLIAM H. W. FANNING