There are four main areas of study and development in preparing for the priesthood: human, spiritual, pastoral (the ability to minister) and intellectual. Spirituality, the study of prayer and the development of one’s relationship with God, is covered mostly on an individual basis, with each man meeting with a priest-advisor, and the ability to minister is developed in supervised programs. If a man goes to a college seminary, he has the same classes as a regular liberal arts college, with the addition of classes on philosophy, the Church and God. After college, he enters theology, where his time is spent studying the Bible, the teachings of the Church, and the skills he will need to be a priest.
It is very important for a priest to have a well-balanced liberal arts education as well as a deep grasp of theology and the spiritual life. Priests must be at least as well educated as the people they serve; otherwise, they will not be respected when they speak of spiritual things. Every soul is precious to God and, therefore, to the priest. A priest is called to help the most as well as the least educated to find Jesus and to attain salvation.
A seminarian should be an average or above average student. A priest need not be a “brain,” but on the other hand a priest must have the ability to pass the courses the seminary requires to serve the Catholic community well.
Generally, it takes four years after college or eight years after high school to become a diocesan priest, the same as for many professions. For men entering the seminary who already have a college degree, two years of philosophy (called the pre-theology program) are usually required before he may enter the theology program.
Busy. Because the demands of priesthood are great, formation of future priests is rigorous. In addition to masters-level academics, seminarians pray together at least twice a day, go to daily Mass, meet with their spiritual directors and go to pastoral assignments at local parishes. Additionally, there are meetings, workshops and homework. Click here to see what a day in the life of a seminarian looks like.
The seminary is the place where a man is formed — mind, body and soul — into the image of Jesus Christ. Seminaries are not places where men walk around in silence all day chanting in Latin. Rather, they are places of joy, camaraderie, and deep learning.
Today’s seminarians experience the best formation the Church offers, and the seminary comes in three levels:
College Seminary: Men who obtain a normal college degree, while at the same time undergoing the formation required to enter major seminary.
Pre-Theology: Men who already have a college degree, but who need to satisfy the requirements of two years of formation and study of philosophy before entering major seminary.
Major seminary (Theology): Men who have attended either college seminary or pre-theology, who now begin the final four years of priestly formation.
Seminarians progress through several formal steps on their way to priesthood, typically in the timeframe presented below (with some variations, depending on the seminary). Note that the first two ministries are also held by lay people throughout the Church.
Ministry of Lector (First Theology): Proclaim the word of God in a liturgical assembly.
Ministry of Acolyte (Second Theology): Assist the deacon and priest during Mass.
Admission to Candidacy (Third Theology): The bishop formally calls a man to be ordained.
Ordination to Diaconate (Summer after Third Theology): A man is ordained to proclaim the gospel at mass, preach, baptize, witness marriages, and assist the priest in bringing Jesus to people in need.
Ordination to Priesthood (Summer after Fourth Theology): A man is ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Four Pillars of Priestly Formation
Being a priest is not a job. It is a taking on a new identity; it is becoming alter Christus, another Christ. To this end, the Church requires rigorous formation in four key areas:
Human formation: Forming future priests to be bridges to Christ and teaching how to be an effective public spokesperson for the Church.
Spiritual formation: Developing a deep and mature relationship with Christ through prayer and virtuous living.
Intellectual formation: Understanding the truths of the Faith and cultivating the skills to teach the Faith to others.
Pastoral formation: Learning how to be a “shepherd of souls,” helping parishioners through the joys and trials of life.
Possibly, but not necessarily. A man must pray a great deal, listening with both heart and soul to know what God wants him to do. But if you feel some attraction at this point, continue to pray, go to Mass and live a Christian life. If you are living a Christian life, Jesus will let you know when the time comes. Talk with your parish priest or with the vocation director. Try to come to the diocesan-sponsored retreats and discernment events. The vocation director can help you determine if God is calling you to the priesthood.
In no way. In fact, most vocation directors agree that the only way to really know that you have a vocation to the priesthood is to go to the seminary and try. It will become more and more clear to you once you are in an environment where everyone is trying to discern that same question. Many men go to the seminary, stay a year or two, and then leave. They are much better Catholics afterwards for the experience.
Every vocation is a gift from God, and given the importance and dignity of every vocation that God gives to the Church, every diocese and religious community has in place some policy to address such concerns. No one is turned away from studying for the priesthood or from religious formation for lack of financial resources.
Celibacy is a normal requirement for priesthood in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, for several reasons. Practical reasons are often cited — for example, that an unmarried man can more easily dedicate himself to the work of the Church. While this is a valid reason that has roots in scripture (1 Cor 7:32-35), it is not the most important reason. More important are the spiritual realities signified by celibacy:
Celibacy marks the priest as a man consecrated to the service of Christ and the Church. It shows in a concrete way that he is not merely someone who exercises a set of functions or who holds a certain office but that he has been changed on an ontological level by his reception of the sacrament of Orders.
Celibacy configures the priest more closely to Christ, the great High Priest, who forsook earthly marriage for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of uniting himself more perfectly to his heavenly Bride, the Church.
It is fitting that the priest who offers this same Jesus in sacrifice to the Father, show in his own person (albeit to an imperfect degree) the purity and holiness of his unspotted Victim.
Celibacy reminds us of heaven, pointing to the coming of the Kingdom when marriage will no longer exist.
Celibacy is a supernatural call to a radical lifestyle, celibacy is always a top concern for men thinking about the priesthood: “I like girls too much to become a priest.” But rest assured every priest had the same thought before he went to seminary. Even Pope Francis himself admitted to having to discern celibacy very carefully as a young seminarian.
Celibacy isn’t about repressing your sexuality. Rather, it’s about giving up a single woman — a wife — to serve all people. Don’t let a concern about celibacy prevent you from considering the priesthood.
The seminary is like an engagement period for a couple: you do not date others if you desire to create a true relationship. Likewise, to truly prepare for and discern the calling to priesthood in the seminary, you should not be dating.
No. But, you must now be in the process of embracing chastity. St. Augustine led a wild life as a young man, but he gave up these ways when he decided to live a fully Catholic life.
If you ask God, He gives abundant graces to live a chaste life. You, of course, must respond to those graces by using them to make chaste choices. As you grow in chastity, as it becomes a habit of your life, you will experience a strengthening, and an ease to being and remaining chaste. Celibacy is a serious undertaking that must be at the forefront of your discernment; it is not for everyone, but it is possible for those who are called.
When a man reaches a certain point in his discernment, if he wants to discover if priesthood is his true vocation, he has to go to seminary. It should be stressed that entering seminary is a stage of discernment, not a decision to definitely become a priest.
Many men find the application process to be a healthy exercise in self-knowledge and a helpful part of overall discernment. To take the first steps, contact:
Fr. Timothy Monahan