PRIESTHOOD & RELIGIOUS LIFE
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!’ Isaiah 6:1-13
What is the Priesthood?
A sacred ministry to God’s people
“The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
The priesthood is a calling.
Christ asks of some men the sacrifice of their lives in following him as his more intimate companions. From all eternity, certain men are called to the priesthood. It is a call inscribed in their nature and because of this, is a call that will bring them fulfillment.
A priest acts In Persona Christi.
Priests act in persona Christi capitas, which means “in the person of Christ, head of the Church.” That’s why the priest speaks in the first person at Mass, “This is my body, given up for you.” As Pope John Paul II wrote: “The priest offers his humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use him as an instrument of salvation, making him as it were into another Christ.”
A priest wields a Sacred Power.
When a priest makes the sacraments present, he wields a sacred power from God, in Latin, sacra potestas.
A priest’s soul changes forever.
At ordination, a man’s soul undergoes an ontological change—a change of being—which indelibly marks his soul forever. Once a priest, always a priest
Diocesan or Religious Priesthood?
What are the differences between diocesan priests and religious priests?
In many ways all Catholic priests are the same. Each priest has gone through years of education and preparation at a seminary before his ordination. All priests are ordained to preach the Gospel and serve God’s people in the person of Christ. Most importantly, they administer the sacraments of the Church and help people get to heaven.
The differences are most easily seen by contrasting the vows made by religious priests and the promises made by diocesan priests. A diocesan priest makes three promises at ordination:
To pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily
To obey and respect his bishop
To live a celibate life
The diocesan priest lives and works in a certain geographical area – the diocese. Most often, a diocesan priest is assigned to a parish by the bishop, and he lives and works in that area. He does not make a promise of poverty, and usually owns a car and other possessions in order to do his work and live independently. His main work is preaching the Gospel, offering Mass, anointing the sick and dying, baptizing, celebrating marriages, burying the dead, and consoling those who need his help. He is focused on the needs of those in his parish.
In contrast, a religious priest will have made three solemn vows, before he is ordained, to live:
These three ways of living are called the Evangelical Counsels because they are recommended to Christians by our Lord as part of His Gospel. Interestingly, the Catechism teaches that every Christian is called to live the Evangelical Counsels according to his state of life, though religious priests live them in a “more intimate” way (CCC #916).
The religious priest chooses a religious community based on its lifestyle and mission. Some communities live very austerely while others do not. Some have missions with the elderly, youth, or the poor. Some serve as teachers in schools or evangelists in other countries. Most often they live in community with each other instead of among people in a parish.
Is one “better” or “holier” than another? Absolutely not. A vocation director is familiar with both types of priesthood and can be very helpful in guiding a man as he discerns what life God is calling him to.
Vocations (Religious Life) for Women & Men
Espoused to Christ the Lord
Often it is said that a person has a calling or vocation to religious life. This expression brings to mind scenes in Scripture in which Jesus asks others to “come and follow” him. Following Jesus then and now requires being in the world but not of the world while offering a total giving of oneself to the imitation of the life of Jesus. For this reason, the Church calls some to consecrated life, meaning dedicated to the sacred or to God alone. Consecrated life includes members of religious orders, Societies of Apostolic Life, secular institutes, consecrated virgins living in the world, hermits, and those who take private vows. Here we offer resources on the variety of ways in which women and men can embrace the consecrated life.
Modern day religious life evolved from the practice in the early Church by Christians of removing themselves from populated areas to desert areas in order to seek more time for prayer and to adopt a simpler lifestyle indicated by the Gospels. In time, individuals began to come together in groups for mutual support and encouragement. Religious life has evolved with vitality and a great deal of diversity through the centuries, and it continues to do so.
There are groups or congregations of contemplative female and male religious, whose main work is prayer, and also institutes of women and men engaged in active apostolates.
A woman (sister, nun) or a man (brother/monk) commits herself/himself to Christ and to the Church by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, modeling the evangelical counsels which Jesus practiced in his own life. Sometimes they may take another vow, such as stability (living in one place). A religious belongs to a religious community which follows a tradition, patterned on the life and teaching of the founder/foundress. The foremost goal of a religious sister or brother is to live a life of holiness and develop the interior life through prayer and study. Any additional work a religious does manifests her/his consecration and complements the ministries of the community in response to the needs of the Church and its people; for example, teaching, social work, administration, technical skills and nursing. Various works of religious have expanded with the challenges of changing times.
We have heard the call of the Lord Jesus to fully consecrate our lives to God in order to be fully available for the apostolate. The pillars of the vocation are the commitments which we profess: obedience, celibacy, and communication of goods. We see each commitment as a gift of God and a means in order to live with an undivided heart and to gain greater freedom to love all the people God places in our path. Community life is the first place we strive to live the mystery of Divine Love. Friendships formed in community are treasures which help us to be faithful and generous in our response to God’s plan. Our five main apostolic “accents” are working with the youth, families, the poor, evangelization of culture, and the support of life.
Office of Vocations for Religious Life
171 Clifton Avenue
PO Box 9500
Newark, NJ 07104-0500
Sr. Patricia Wormann, O.P.
Delegate for Religious
Women who are consecrated according to the Rite of the ancient Order of Virgins have dedicated their entire being to Christ and resolved to live in perfect continence for the sake of His Church. As a “Bride of Christ” living in the world, the consecrated virgin lives her vocation individually while providing for her own material needs. Since the Rite of Consecration is reserved to the diocesan bishop, the consecrated virgin has a close spiritual bond with her bishop, praying for his intentions as well as the needs of the diocese. She is free to choose her own way of serving the Church and is committed to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, receiving the sacraments regularly, and being faithful to private prayer. Consecrated virginity flourished in the early centuries of the Church and was the earliest form of consecrated life; it led to the formation of a solemn rite that was restored by the Second Vatican Council for women living in the world. The United States Association of Consecrated Virgins provides opportunities for friendship and mutual support among consecrated virgins, as well as resources for the discernment process for the vocation to consecrated virginity for women living in the world.
For more information, you may contact:
U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins
300 West Ottawa Street
Lansing, Michigan 48933