FAQ - Priesthood

What is a vocation?
The word vocation comes from the latin word “vocare” which means to call. Through our baptism as Christians, we are all called to be followers of Christ and to live the Christian values that are found in the Gospels in our daily lives. Some people choose to live this fundamental baptismal call in a special way in priesthood or religious life.
Some people respond to God’s call by working as accountants, bricklayers, nurses, teachers etc. The reality is that our career becomes our vocation when we follow it in God’s name. It may be worth reflecting on the words of Cardinal Newman:

“God has created me to do some definite service, he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission  - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I have a part in a great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.”

To be a priest, either diocesan or missionary, is to be a spiritual leader in a community of faith. A priest gathers the people around the table of God. He opens the Word of God to his people. He is called upon and sometimes on the same day, to comfort the dying and to share in the joy of the newly married. It is a varied and challenging way of life. There are times when it can be difficult but as he works with people, a priest if often touched by the mystery and the presence of God.
What do priests do all day?
One of the characteristics of diocesan priesthood is the variety of ministry. Most priests are in parish ministry. This includes the obvious things like celebrating Masses, celebrating funerals and marriages and hearing confessions. There are many other elements in the ministry of a priest with which people may be less familiar; things like visiting the sick at home and in hospital; helping people to prepare for marriage; keeping in touch with the bereaved and with those in prison. In many parishes, the ministry of the priest includes school chaplaincy. Most parishes have a variety of groups with which the priest would have some involvement, sometimes leading, but more often just being an encouraging presence. Building community is an essential aspect of developing faith.
Are there other kinds of priests?
Apart from diocesan priests, there are others who belong to religious orders or missionary societies. The religious orders (both men and women) mostly came into existence at a particular time in history, because of the vision of a particular person or group of people, who saw a particular need. They each have their own particular charism, or gift, to offer to the Church.

These include contemplative monastic orders like the Cistercians or Benedictines, apostolic orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans, and orders like the Carmelites who live a mixture of active and contemplative life. The missionary societies were set up to provide for the needs of countries where the Church is relatively new, or where the Gospel is still not widely known. Many religious orders and religious societies have houses in different dioceses, and priests from these congregations have made a great contribution to parish ministry over many years.

It is important to remember that that work in parishes is not the primary reason for the existence of religious congregations, and they may not always be available to work in that ministry.
How are priests paid?
This varies quite a bit from one diocese to another, but as a general principle, the income of the priests comes directly from the contributions of the parishioners. In some dioceses, the first collection at every Sunday Mass is for the support of the priests. The income from this collection is put together with the Christmas and Easter offerings, and the offerings that are given on the occasion of weddings, baptisms and funerals. In many dioceses there is some structure put in place to ensure that a priest is not at a disadvantage because he works in a poorer parish, or in some form of non parochial ministry which doesn’t  have its own direct source of income. The emphasis we find in the teaching of Jesus is on making sure that those who preach the gospel have what they need to live, and to carry out their ministry effectively. Nobody is meant to become rich by being a priest, but in general, priests are adequately and even generously provided for by their parishioners.

What are diocesan priests?
Diocesan priests look after the day to spiritual needs of the people of a particular diocese. They work as part of a team led by the bishop who has overall responsibility for the diocese. This is a ministry which has been going on since the time of the Apostles. A diocese is the Christian community of a particular area which is placed under the care of a bishop There are 26 dioceses in Ireland. Most Irish dioceses were established around one of the old monastic settlements from the sixth century onwards. Some of the dioceses have double-barrelled names, which is usually an indication that there were two dioceses, but that these have been amalgamated in more recent times. Each diocese is made up of a number of parishes. These are the local communities in which people live out their faith supported by one another and by the priests who are sent by the bishop to minister among them. Most, but not all diocesan priests are engaged in parish ministry.