The following questions and answers were adapted from Priest, Sister, Brother, Deacon and You, a publication of the National Catholic Vocation Council and information from the Committees on Vocations and Priestly Formation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

What is ordination?

Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest or bishop and enabled to minister in Christ’s name and that of the church. There are three ordinations in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: diaconate, priesthood and episcopal. The ordination ceremony includes various rituals, rich in meaning and history, e.g., the prostration, laying on of hands, anointing of hands, giving of the chalice and paten, sign of peace.

When does the ordination actually take place?

The essential rite of the sacrament, i.e., when it takes place, is the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration. This is an ancient tradition in the church, mentioned in the Bible.

Who can ordain priests?

Only a bishop can ordain a priest because he shares in the ministry of Jesus passed down through the apostles.

What are the stages of becoming a priest?

Becoming a priest involves several stages. While these vary slightly from diocese to diocese in length of time and format, the following outline is offered as a general view of formation programs:

Contact – A man who is interested in the priesthood but still searching for the answer to the question “What does God want of me?” could join a program of “contact” with the diocese. This is usually done through his pastor or by contacting the vocations director. It is a very flexible program whereby the man meets with a priest and or a group of others interested in the priesthood on a regular basis and shares in experiences of prayer and community.

Candidate – A more formal relationship with the diocese occurs when the man becomes a candidate. At this time he begins the process of interviews and meetings with members of the Diocesan Vocations Committee under the direction of the vocations director.

Seminarian – The candidate, sponsored by the diocese, now enters a seminary to begin his priestly formation and theological studies. At this point he is called a seminarian.

Transitional Diaconate – About six months to a year before ordination to the priesthood, the seminarian is ordained to the transitional diaconate (so named because the seminarian is in transition to the priesthood, and to differentiate from the permanent diaconate). The man makes promises of celibacy and obedience to his bishop.

Priesthood – After much work, and a lot of prayers, the man is ordained to the priesthood by receiving the sacrament of holy orders.

How does one prepare for ordination to the priesthood?

A man has to engage in a challenging program of priestly formation, which lasts from five to 13 years, depending upon his background and the seminary he attends. There are three levels of seminary: high school, college or pre-theology and theology.

Seminaries address four types of formation: human, spiritual, academic (intellectual) and pastoral. In addition to the academic course work, seminarians participate in a full schedule of spiritual activities, e.g., daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer) and spiritual direction and retreats. At each level of seminary training, the seminarian prepares for future pastoral ministry in various settings, such as in schools, religious education programs, hospitals and parishes. All of the formation takes into consideration the human person, community living, workshops and other programs that foster human growth and development. The formation of future priests includes practical learning, too, such as, preaching, saying Mass and pastoral counseling.

Is seminary life hard?

Seminary life is not any harder than college or graduate work at another university, but it is different. Seminarians have the added responsibilities of developing as men of prayer, and as a bearer of the Good News. Friendships are encouraged with both men and women, but dating is not part of the seminarian’s life since he is preparing for celibacy, not marriage. They have the responsibility like any student to fulfill the responsibilities that are part of their preparation for the life they’ve chosen.

What is the difference between a religious order priest and a diocesan priest?

A religious order priest belongs to a religious community, such as the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, etc., who strive to live out the charism of their founder and often have a particular type of ministry, e.g., education, health care.

They usually live in community and they take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Diocesan priests, also called secular priests, are ordained for a local church or diocese and generally serve in parishes, although they also assist in schools, hospitals, prisons, etc., depending on the local needs. Although they do not take the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, diocesan priests do promise: to lead a celibate life; to respect and obey their diocesan bishop and to live a simple lifestyle.

Do priests take a vow of chastity?

Religious order priests take a vow of chastity and diocesan priests promise celibacy.

What does a priest do all day?

What a priest does with his day is so varied and complex that only a sampling can be given here. Prayer, work and leisure are all necessary for a healthy life. Clergy try to make sure they have a balance of all these – but don’t always succeed.

In the area of work (ministry), many priests have one main occupation such as teaching, parish ministry, social work or hospital work, all of which have somewhat regular hours and somewhat predictable demands.

The demands that aren’t so predictable are also interesting and challenging. They focus on meeting the needs of people: the sick, dying, elderly, angry, hurt, hungry, imprisoned, excited and happy. They share with them their understanding, encouragement and support. They rejoice, cry and identify with their particular emotions. Such events are painful and rewarding, fatiguing and moving.

Do priests get time off and what do they do in that time?

Priests have approximately the same amount of leisure time as most adults. In this time, they are free to do whatever is legal, moral and reasonable for adults in their situation. Obviously, because priests are unique individuals, they don’t all choose the same types of recreational activities. Some of the more common choices are sports, movies, TV, reading, sharing with friends and enjoying the outdoors.

What happens to the money a diocesan priest makes?

Since a diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty, he receives a personal salary. Priests receive a salary commensurate with the local standard of living enabling him to pay for expenses he has: medical, car, books, entertainment, vacation and charitable contributions. The parish where he serves provides for his basic necessities.

The amount of money made by a priest is not really important. Priests have chosen to live simply, without accumulating a lot of material possessions, in order to enable them to focus their lives more easily on Jesus, and to serve His people.

Can priests date?

No, because dating is meant to lead one to marriage and as celibates they plan not to marry. However, priests can and do have friends of the opposite sex.

Do you have to be a virgin to become a priest?

No. A person’s past life is not the main concern. The question is: Am I willing and able to live and love as a celibate person in the service of others?