The priesthood is more than a vocation; it is a calling. The Catholic Church believes that God speaks to some men and asks that they dedicate their lives to his service. 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. If you have heard the call to the priesthood, read on for more information on how to become a priest.
What is the process of becoming a priest?
The path to diocesan priesthood includes many stages. These steps may vary from diocese to diocese, but follow a general formation program. Diocesan priesthood is different from religious order priesthood. Religious order priests live in religious communities and take vows of obedience, chastity and poverty. While religious order priests can be parish priests, the majority of priests worldwide are diocesan priests who oversee parishes and bring souls to Christ.
The contact stage is similar to a shadowing period. If a man feels he may have been called to the priesthood, he should contact his pastor. During this time, he will be allowed to enter into a discernment relationship with the diocese. This means he can talk regularly with his priest about a church vocation, research the priesthood and meet with seminarians who are already in formation. He will also be invited to attend retreats, discussion groups and other workshops. Throughout this stage, the man should engage in the life of his local parish and focus on his daily prayers.
A more formal relationship forms between a prospective priest and his parish when he declares his intentions and becomes a candidate to the priesthood. This is the beginning of the application period, when extensive interviews and meetings with the vocations office take place.
Once the interviews and meetings have concluded, a parish will sponsor the candidate. He will then enter a theological seminary to study toward the priesthood. At this point, the prospective priest is now called a seminarian. Some go the route of getting their online theology degree before going to seminary.
Once a seminarian has completed his theology studies, he is ordained as a transitional deacon. This role is different than that of a permanent deacon. Prospective priests serve for roughly a year in the diaconate and make promises of celibacy and obedience to his Bishop at this stage.
The process culminates in the rite of ordainment and the man enters the priesthood after much praying and hard work.
How long does it take?
The timeframe for ordainment can differ from diocese to diocese. Most require that a candidate earn his undergraduate college degree prior to candidacy. The Church requires that priests complete 20 to 24 credit hours in philosophy at the undergraduate level. The seminarian stage requires four years of study in theology at a seminary. After graduation from the seminary, the priest serves for roughly one year as a transitional deacon. It typically takes five years from college graduation to ordainment, provided the priest has studied philosophy at the undergraduate level. If the priest has not done so, an extra year is added to the process, as he would be required to complete a year of pre-theology studies at seminary.
What will I study?
Seminary priestly formation programs are designed to sculpt holy ministers in the studies of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development.
This area of study helps the priest to understand his strengths and weaknesses. Seminarians are encouraged to be self-aware individuals and engage in holistic hobbies and interests, such as the arts, reading and physical exercise. Through these endeavors, a priest will learn how to balance work, prayer and recreation in his life.
Of course, a seminarian will focus on enhancing his relationship with Christ. He will learn a variety of prayers and spiritual traditions, and will reflect on God’s teachings and the relationship between faith and personal spirituality.
While at seminary, priests take courses in sacred scripture, liturgical theology, moral theology, sacraments, canon law, philosophy and both ancient and modern languages.
Priests need to be well versed in scripture, but they must also hone the skills necessary to lead their flock. Seminarians are given ample opportunities to experience real-world ministerial duties to help them become familiar with the role they will play as priests. During the academic year, each seminarian is assigned to a specific ministry, such as teaching, visiting the sick or serving the poor. During each summer, every seminarian is assigned to a parish where he lives with a pastor and assists the pastor in ministerial duties.
The Rite of Ordination
Ordination to the priesthood is one of the oldest rites in the Catholic Church and fulfills the seventh sacrament. The ordination begins after the gospel. The candidate is called up by the deacon, and the candidate is then presented to the Bishop. The Bishop proclaims the election of the candidate and gives a homily. Afterward, the Bishop examines the candidate through a series of questions. The candidate makes a promise of chastity and obedience to the Bishop and then lies prostrate on the floor in a gesture of humility. Those in attendance kneel and sing the litany of the saints. Then, the laying on of hands, the most important step, takes place. The Bishop ordains each man by laying his hands on the candidate’s head. The consecration prayer follows these acts. The conclusion of the rite includes the anointing of hands, presentation of the gifts and kiss of peace.