The Call to Ordained Priesthood
The whole church is a priestly people. Through baptism all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called the “common priesthood of the faithful.” Based on this common priesthood and ordered to its service, there exists another participation in the mission of Christ: the ministry conferred by the sacrament of holy orders, where the task is to serve in the name and in the person of Christ, the Head, in the midst of the community.
Holy orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the church until the end of time, thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry.
Ordained priesthood differs in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful in that it confers a sacred power for the service of the faithful. Ordained ministers exercise their service to the People of God by teaching, divine worship and pastoral governance.
Since the beginning, the ordained ministry has been conferred and exercised in three degrees: that of bishops, priests and deacons. The ministries conferred by ordination are irreplaceable for the organic structure of the church. As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “Without the bishop, presbyters and deacons, one cannot speak of the church.”
The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders, which integrates him into the episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole church under the authority of the Pope, successor of St. Peter.
Priests are united with the bishops in priestly dignity and at the same time depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions; they are called to be the bishops’ prudent co-workers. They form around their bishop the body of priests, which bears responsibility with him for the particular church. They receive from the bishop charge of a parish community or other ministry.
Deacons are ministers ordained for tasks of service in the church; they do not receive the ministerial priesthood. Ordination confers on them important functions in the ministry of the word, divine worship, pastoral governance and social-service tasks they must carry out under the pastoral authority of their bishop.
The ordained priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood. The ordained priesthood guarantees that it really is Christ who acts in the sacraments through the Holy Spirit for the church. The saving mission of Jesus was committed to the apostles and through them to their successors. They receive the Spirit of Jesus to act in his name and in his person. The ordained priest is the sacramental bond that ties the liturgical action to what the apostles said and did and, through them, to the words and actions of Christ, the source and foundation of the sacraments.
- What are the ways in which a priest makes Christ’s presence known in the church today?
- Name a priest you know. How do you see his ministry as being at the service of all the baptized?
What is the Difference Between Diocesan Priests and Religious Order Priests?
There are basically two ways to serve the church as a priest: either as a “diocesan” priest or as a “religious order” priest.
A diocesan priest usually serves his whole life in the boundaries of one particular geographical area, known as a diocese, under the leadership of a local bishop. A diocesan priest does not take vows or live in a community. The diocesan priest makes promises of obedience and celibacy to his bishop. Usually a diocesan priest is called to specialize in parish ministry or other forms of diocesan service. There were 190 diocesan priests in the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2001.
A religious order priest takes vows, serves, lives and prays in a community and follows the rule of the order of which he is a member. Each religious order was founded for a specific purpose. For example, Dominicans were founded to preach; Franciscans to work with the poor; Jesuits to teach; Trappists to pray; Glenmarians to specialize in home missionary work; Maryknolls to specialize in foreign mission work. Some religious order priests work in parishes like diocesan priests. While diocesan priests usually work within one diocese, religious order priests may be sent to other states or even other countries to work wherever their community needs them. There were 62 religious order priests working in the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2001.
Most diocesan priests serve as pastors of urban, suburban, rural, small city, inner city or mission parishes. Usually the newly ordained and retired priests serve as associates to these pastors, helping them with preaching and with sacramental and leadership duties.
Besides serving as pastors and associate pastors, some priests may serve as military chaplains, diocesan agency directors, home missionaries, high school and college teachers, hospital chaplains, prison chaplains, campus ministers, evangelists, counselors, social justice advocates, authors and chaplains to religious communities. Some diocesan priests may spend some time on loan to other dioceses for special ministries.
Most diocesan priests live in rectories provided by the parishes they serve. Others live in their own houses or apartments, and some live in houses with several priests. A few diocesan priests own their own vacation cabins, either individually or together as a group. Diocesan priests engage in a whole gamut of hobbies, including travel, sports, art, music, fishing, writing, gardening, photography, carpentry, computers and even auto racing.
Before ordination to the priesthood, priests are ordained deacons and normally serve in that capacity for six months to a year. In some dioceses, priests are given the honorary title of “Monsignor” for their outstanding work. This is no longer the practice in the Archdiocese of Louisville. The Pope may call certain priests to serve as bishops. Some bishops are given the honorary title of “cardinal.” Cardinals elect the new Pope.
- Name an order of religious priests. What is different about their lives as compared with the diocesan priests you know?
- Talk with your pastor or with another priest about his life. What is a typical day like for him? What are his hobbies or pastimes?
- Imagine that you are a diocesan priest. Where would you like to serve, in a rural area or in the city? Would you want to work in a parish or in some other capacity? What do you think would be your favorite part of being a priest? What would be the most difficult?
What Do Diocesan Priests Do?
Priests are sacramental representations of Jesus Christ, prolonging his presence, embodying his way of life and making him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care. Diocesan priests make Jesus Christ visible in the parishes entrusted to their care in three main ways: preaching, sacramental ministry and parish leadership.
The main task of the priest is to preach. Through the Word of God, the spark of faith is struck in the hearts of unbelievers and strengthened in the hearts of believers. Summoning all to conversion and holiness, priests do not teach their own wisdom, but God’s wisdom. God alone is holy and bestows holiness, but he has chosen certain people to dedicate themselves to the work of promoting holiness. Priests call people to holiness primarily through their preaching of God’s Word. In areas that are non-Christian, preaching the Gospel message draws people to the faith and the sacraments of salvation.
A priest’s preaching occurs most of the time when he leads the community in the celebration of the sacraments, especially baptism, Eucharist, reconciliation, anointing of the sick and marriage. The sacraments are sacraments of faith, and faith is born of the Word and nourished by it. When a priest pours the waters of baptism, the faithful are brought into the People of God. When a priest hears confessions, sinners are reconciled to God and the Church. When a priest anoints the sick, the ailing find relief. When a priest presides at the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ is offered sacramentally. When a priest witnesses a marriage, married couples enter an intimate communion of life and love.
A bishop is the ordinary minister of confirmation, but he may delegate a priest to lay hands on and anoint in confirmation those who have already been baptized, strengthening them for Christian service. Only a bishop can ordain deacons, priests or other bishops.
Because he represents Christ – the head, shepherd and spouse of the church – a priest is placed not only in the church but also in the forefront of the church.
Ordained priesthood does not signify a greater degree of holiness than the common priesthood of the laity, but a particular gift has been given to priests to help the people of God carry out their particular vocations faithfully and fully. Indeed, the more the lay apostolate develops, the more need there is to have well-formed and holy priests. The more the laity’s own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to priests stands out. Priests should discover and acknowledge with joy and foster with diligence the various gifts of the laity. Priests should encourage the laity in taking on duties in the service of the church, allowing them freedom and room for action.
The ministry of priests is not confined to the care of the faithful as individuals, but it is also extended to the formation of a genuine Christian community. Because a priest shares in the ministry of the apostles given to the bishops, he makes the bishop present in every gathering of the faithful. Priests, then, are, in the name of the bishop, defenders of the common good. It is their task to reconcile differences of mentality in such a way that no one feels like a stranger in the community of the faithful.
Priests, in the name of the bishop, are also defenders of the truth in the community of the faithful lest they be tossed about by every wind of opinion. As good shepherds, priests have a special obligation to seek out those who have fallen away from the use of the sacraments or perhaps even the faith. Priests need to remember those other Christians who are not in full communion with us as well as those who do not recognize Christ as their savior. Priests also pray the Liturgy of the Hours at different times of the day in the name of the church and on behalf of the whole people entrusted to them and, indeed, for the whole world.
- What are the elements of an effective homily? What enabled people to hear Jesus’ message when he preached?
- In what ways do the sacraments make God’s presence known and felt?
- What leadership qualities are needed in priests? Which of these do you also possess? How do you use these gifts?
What is the Archdiocese of Louisville?
A diocese is that part of the universal Church entrusted to a bishop to be shepherded by him with the cooperation of his priests. Individual bishops are chosen by, and are under the authority of, the Pope.
We were first established as the Diocese of Bardstown on April 8, 1808. The diocesan seat was later transferred to Louisville on February 13, 1841. On December 10, 1937, the diocese was elevated to an archdiocese with metropolitan status extending over the Owensboro, Covington, and Nashville dioceses. Since 1971, metropolitan status was extended over the diocese of Memphis, and since 1988, over the dioceses of Lexington and Knoxville.
An “arch” diocese is an honorary title given to the most prominent diocese in a small cluster of dioceses. The Archdiocese of Louisville is the prominent diocese of the seven dioceses of Kentucky and Tennessee. The bishop who shepherds an archdiocese is called an archbishop. Bishops in some large dioceses have an assistant bishop, called an auxiliary bishop. Priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville work with Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, O.P., and his successors. With the archbishop, they shepherd 196,929 Catholics in 124 parishes and missions in the 24 counties of central Kentucky. Our 190 diocesan priests are partners in ministry, as well, with 62 religious order priests, 101 permanent deacons, 1,026 sisters, 83 brothers and thousands of lay ministers.