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.
Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Training of Priests, Optatam Totuis, 8.
Each Christian stands in a unique relationship with God, and is called to further and deepen that relationship in his or her life through prayer and study, and expressed in the service and love of others. This of course also applies to the seminarian training for the priesthood, who above all seeks to discern the will of God in his life, and by answering the call echo the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am Lord. Send me” (Is 6.9).
Due to the call of the priest and the specific nature of the ministry of priests in the Church, the training in seminary places an extensive focus on the spiritual life, its development and formation. This is clearly outlined in the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, written by Pope St John Paul II in 1992 as the ‘manual’ for priestly training in the Church.
The document states that the spiritual formation given in seminary should provide “the core which unifies and gives life to his being a priest and his acting as a priest” (PDV, 45). For this reason, the spiritual formation given to students for the priesthood at Allen Hall encompasses the whole day and touches all areas of seminary life.
It is seen most clearly in the daily timetable; each day begins with Angelus, meditation and Morning Prayer; finds its centre in the celebration of Mass; and the official programme of the seminary day ends with Evening Prayer. In addition to this comes Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, private devotions (Rosary and the Stations of the Cross), monthly days of recollection and annual retreats and pilgrimages. Each lecture begins with a prayer, there are academic modules in Spiritual Theology, and apart from the students’ private rooms and some lecture rooms, no other part of the seminary is used as much as the Chapel.
Each seminary must, according to Church law, have a Spiritual Director, who has oversight of the spiritual life of the house and of the spiritual formation. The spiritual director at Allen Hall gives a spiritual conference to the house each week, teaches the module “The Mystery of Christ” in the First Year, serves as the individual spiritual director to many of the students, and ensures that all students have a spiritual director that they see every fortnight.
Although it does not have the objective results of academic exams, the pastoral impact of parish placements or the social nature of human development, the spiritual formation of the seminary is not only the very core of priestly formation, but also the element of seminary life that will follow and engulf the priest for the rest of his life.