FAQ about Priesthood
What kind of work do priests do?
Most diocesan priests are parish priests. They celebrate Mass on Sundays and during the week with their people, hear their confessions, anoint them when they are sick, baptize and marry them, and pray for the dead. Priests preach the Word of God from the pulpit and teach it in classrooms and discussion groups. They listen to their people’s joys and sorrows and promote works of charity. They may work with groups of the elderly, with teen or young adult groups, and with parents.
A diocesan priest may also work full-time with the patients and staff of a hospital or with students in a high school or college as chaplain or teacher. He may be asked to work with inmates and staff in a jail or prison. Some priests are released from service in the Archdiocese in order to be chaplains to our men and women in the armed forces.
Basic to the ministry of any priest is preaching the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and being available to God’s people. It's a busy, rewarding life that demands stamina and spiritual maturity.
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious order priest?
A religious order priest belongs to a community of men bound together by faith and the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Poverty means that they do not own things individually but rather as a group; chastity means that they refrain from sexual activity and do not marry; obedience means that, after appropriate consultation, they do what their superiors ask them to do. It is not necessary to be a priest to be a member of a religious order; those who are not priests are called brothers. The priests and brothers of a religious community may engage in any kind of work for the Church and the good of humanity; they often specialize in certain kinds of work such as education, work with the sick or poor, and service in the foreign missions.
A diocesan priest does not make the solemn vows that religious priests (and religious brothers and sisters) make but he does make promises that are discussed in subsequent questions. Perhaps the most striking difference between him and a religious order priest is that the diocesan priest lives a life more like that of his people: he buys his own clothes and car, he pays taxes, he may own personal property. That is why a diocesan priest is sometimes called a secular priest (from the Latin saeculum, a word that means roughly “this world of time and space in which we live”).
A diocesan priest belongs to the body of priests (called the presbyterate) of a local diocese, which is a particular territory within a state or country. The Archdiocese of Washington comprises the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties: Montgomery, Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s. A diocesan priest normally serves within the boundaries of his diocese under the authority of his bishop.
Are priests happy?
The overwhelming majority of priests are extremely happy in their vocations! Why? Because they are doing what the Lord intended for their lives…for their vocation. Most priests will cite administering the Sacraments, preaching the Word, and helping people and their families as great sources of satisfaction. Ultimately, the source of happiness for any child of God is his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and the priest is given the privilege of acting in the person of Christ at key moments in the life of the Church. Studies consistently show that priests are very happy in their ministry, in far higher percentages than those studied in virtually any other life work. One recent and exhaustive study of the priesthood was done by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, who published his findings in the very readable Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke about finding true happiness to a group of young people on pilgrimage. “Our 'yes' to God makes the font of true happiness gush forth,” the Pope observed. “It frees the 'I' from everything that closes it in on itself. It brings the poverty of our lives into the richness and power of God’s plan, without restricting our freedom and our responsibility. [...] It conforms our lives to Christ’s own life.”
This pilgrimage, the Pontiff concluded, “is also a good time to allow yourselves to be asked by Christ: ‘What do you want to do with your lives?’ May those among you who feel the call to follow him in the priesthood or in consecrated life – as have so many young participants in these pilgrimages – reply to the Lord’s call and put yourselves totally at the service of the Church, with a life completely dedicated to the Kingdom of Heaven. You will never be disappointed.”
Do you have to pray a lot as a priest?
You’d better or your well will run dry! You cannot be a faithful priest, useful to the Lord, if you try to go it alone. You need the help and support of brother priests and other people but most of all you need God’s grace. You dispose yourself to receive His help by turning to Him frequently in prayer. The priests who are truly happy and effective among God’s people are the priests who are faithful to prayer.
Surprisingly, a diocesan priest must often fight for the time for personal prayer. He is often called upon to lead others in public prayer, especially the Mass and the other sacraments of the Church. These are genuine times of prayer for him as well as them — but like every Christian, the priest needs some time each day to spend alone with the Lord. His busy ministry sometimes makes this very difficult but it is something he must strive to keep fresh in his life, lest he lose sight of the One who called him to be a priest in the first place and the One who alone can sustain him.
Do you lose your freedom as a priest?Yes and no. No sensible person tries to live free of all responsibilities and obligations to others. Why has Christ set us free from sin and death? Certainly not to live a self-centered life. We have to make choices about how we will use the freedom we have.
In addition, because they want to serve God within the Church, diocesan priests make a formal promise of obedience to their bishop. Their personal integrity is on the line in this promise. It binds them to do what needs to be done, as seen through the eyes of the bishop who is responsible for the entire diocese; they renounce the exaggerated freedom to do always and everywhere what they like or want to do.
On the other hand, diocesan priests can testify that there is great freedom to be creative in the priesthood. Bishops rely on priests along with the laity to suggest necessary pastoral initiatives. A bishop also tries to match his priests with the work that needs to be done. Ordinarily, a priests ends up doing work for which he is well enough suited. The bottom line, however, is service, not pleasing oneself.
Why don’t Catholic priests marry?
Priests in the Latin Rite forgo their natural right to marry “for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” as Jesus taught his disciples (Mt 19:12). It is a gift from God which opens a man’s heart so that he can embrace all of God’s children in a very powerful way. His healthy and holy inclination to be married and have a family is transformed into a supernatural fatherhood that renders his ministry, if he is faithful, fruitful beyond all expectations.
Imitating the celibacy of Jesus, whose entire earthly life was devoted to His priestly mission, Catholic priests represent Jesus in a unique way while celebrating the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and even in their ordinary pastoral work. Celibacy is a declaration that the greatest joys of humanity are not to be found in earthly goods but in union with God in this life and in the next. It is also a statement to the Catholic people that their priest is available to them and at their service in a way that would be precluded by the responsibilities of marriage.
Celibacy does not do away with a priest’s sexuality, but with the help of grace and his own growth in virtue, it can become part of a tremendously joyful and fulfilled human life. Like marriage, it is not always easy to live, but a solid prayer life, healthy lifestyle, good friends, and prudent judgment about persons and situations contribute to a beautiful expression of celibate generosity by the priest for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for his brothers and sisters, and for the Church.
Why can’t women be priests?
Catholics believe that Christ was not bound to the limitations of His surrounding culture, and that therefore His commission of the twelve Apostles – all men – was a free and deliberate choice. The Church has therefore taught through the centuries that she has no right to ordain women as priests. Bishops, successors of the Apostles, and the priests who are their cooperators, stand in the place of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church and share in His fatherhood in the order of grace. These are roles of supernatural spousality and fatherhood that are every bit as real as natural male spousality and fatherhood – arguably more so – and therefore in the case of a priest can only be filled by a man.
In no way, however, is this exclusion of the priesthood to men to be understood as a sign of masculine superiority, especially since the greatest human creature, the masterpiece of divine grace, is the Blessed Virgin Mary – who was never a priest. From the beginning of the Church, women have played significant roles in its life: Mary, the Mother of the Lord, Mary Magdalene, the first proclaimer of His resurrection, the women martyrs like Cecilia, Agnes and Edith Stein who witnessed to their faith with their blood, the women like Monica who witnessed to their pagan husbands of their faith in Christ, the innumerable women who raised their children in the faith, the women like Scholastica and Clare who entered or founded monastic communities, the brilliant and holy women like Catherine, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux who taught the Church about following Jesus. Without these women and countless others, the Church would be immeasurably poorer.
The Church’s understanding about the priesthood is not easy for some to accept. It is important to keep in mind, though, that Jesus at the Last Supper washed the feet of His disciples – the first priests – and explicitly instructed them to do the same. The authority exercised by priests should never be one of power and domination, but always one of humble service. That is the light in which the male Catholic priesthood should be evaluated.
Do you earn any money as a diocesan priest?
Yes, diocesan priests receive a modest salary from the parish or other institution they serve. Since priests are ordinarily provided with room and board and a limited expense account as well, their salary (which is taxable) is sufficient for their personal expenses. Out of it they buy their clothes, automobile, pay for personal expenses and contribute to the charities of their choice. While diocesan priests do not take the vow of poverty that religious order priests take, they are encouraged to live a simple lifestyle and to be generous to the poor. The black clerical clothes typical of priests constitute an outward sign of this modest life.
What does a priest do all day?
Ask ten different priests about their schedule, and you will receive ten different answers! Like most professionals, how a priest spends his day ‘at work’ is not necessarily a standard answer. Because priests are individuals with distinct talents and interests, a day can look different for any priest, even those that live in the same rectory!
That being said, there are also some similarities and a ‘typical’ schedule to a parish priest's day. For most priests ministering in a parish, the average day might look something like this:
Monday - Friday (a priest will have a day off during the week)
Rise and prepare for the celebration of morning Mass. Many priests will include in their morning preparation their time of personal prayer, which becomes the foundation for their day.
Typically a priest will celebrate Mass between these morning hours. There are also some parishes that celebrate an evening daily Mass one or two days of the week.
10 am-12 noon
If there is a funeral, this would be the usual time to celebrate the Mass for the deceased and their grieving family. A priest might also utilize this time for office work or preparation for his bulletin article, homily preparation, staff development, building issues, visiting the parish school, visit parishioners or perform other ministries within the parish.
12 noon-1 pm
Everyone needs to eat, so this also true for the parish priest! A little fuel for the body will give him the energy he needs for the remainder of his day. This might also be a time for rest, exercise, or prayer.
Many people look to their parish priest for assistance and spiritual guidance. During this time, a priest may have several appointments from members of his parish, for reasons ranging from spiritual direction, staff issues, building issues, school issues, Archdiocesan issues, marriage counseling…if you can think of a need, a priest will be called upon to offer his help.
It can be rather difficult to work on a homily while in the office, so many priests will take advantage of this time to return to the rectory to work on those areas of his ministry which require more privacy and fewer interruptions. He may also use this as a time for prayer, meetings, exercise, or rest. Dinner will be on his agenda as well!
Depending on the day, this is the time when a priest in a parish meets with his parishioners for the many scheduled meetings which take place. Examples of a parishes monthly meetings would be Parish Council, Worship/Education/Christian Service/Administration Commissions, School Committee, and any variety of parish organization meetings as well. This would also be a very busy time for a priest to again meet with parishioners, engaged couples, and others.
After a long day of working ‘in the vineyard’, a priest will find his way back to his rectory for some personal time and then to bed for a night of hopefully restful sleep.
One of his last prayers before his evening comes to a close, comes from Night Prayer in the Liturgy of Hours: “Protect us Lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in his peace.” Amen!
Do priests get any time off?
The Lord took his apostles apart for some rest after they had worked very hard preaching and healing (Mark 6: 31-32). Diocesan priests work hard, too, and the Lord takes them apart from time to time to rest. In the Archdiocese of Washington, priests get one day off each week and have up to a month for an annual vacation. It is also wise for them to have special interests to turn to for relaxation in the course of a normal day of priestly work, just as they should find time for prayer.
Just as importantly, diocesan priests are asked to make an annual retreat in order to experience, in the calm and quiet of the retreat atmosphere, the loving presence of their Lord. These times of retreat are blessed times of spiritual renewal for the priest, just as they are for other believers.