“The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life.”
– Pope Benedict XVI
The priest is first and foremost a man of prayer. The priest livesin persona Christi, so his most important prayer is to re-present the sacrifice of Jesus during Holy Mass. His parish relies on him to offer a sacrifice "holy and acceptable to God." Throughout the week, too, at parish meetings and community functions, he is often asked: "Father, will you lead us in prayer?" He is seen as a man who knows how to speak with God.
A priest spends each day in personal prayer through the Liturgy of the Hours and time in private meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. His private prayer is essential, for he must know Him of Whom he speaks, teaches and preaches; he must come to have an intimate relationship with Christ. The priest becomes "another Christ" for his people.
Since the beginning of Christianity, people have come to Jesus through the preaching of the Word. Today, this remains a primary ministry of a priest. Because the majority of Catholics encounter the faith and receive their inspiration to practice it from the preaching of their parish priest, men who can articulate their knowledge and excitement about their Faith are a great treasure to the Church. A priest's duty, then, is to teach his people how Christ's life is relevant to their own. He answers the question, "How can I live out my faith today?"
"The Church faces a particularly difficult task in her efforts to preach the word of God in all cultures in which the faithful are constantly challenged by consumerism and a pleasure-seeking mentality."
--St. John Paul II
A priest is not a priest for himself. The ordained priest shares in the mission of Jesus as Priest, Prophet, and Shepherd. As priest, he prays and celebrates the Eucharist. As prophet, he preaches and teaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as shepherd, he serves others.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gave the Eucharistic mandate to His apostles, "Do this in memory of Me," but not before the Lord had knelt down and washed their feet. Jesus said, "What I have done for you, you must do for one another."
A priest must be a servant to God's people. He brings the love and strength of Christ into the parish, the school, the hospital room, the prison, the inner city…wherever God's people are and especially wherever they suffer, the priest is there.
All priests are ordained to preach the Gospel and serve God’s people in the person of Christ. Most importantly, they administer the sacraments of the Church and help people get to heaven. There are two ways a man may be called to serve as a priest. He may be called serve as a Diocesan Priest or a Religious priest. What is the difference?
A diocesan priest lives and works in a certain geographical area – a diocese. A diocesan priest is assigned to a parish by the bishop, and he lives and works in that area. Usually, a priest remains in the same diocese his entire life. His main work is preaching the Gospel, offering Mass, anointing the sick and dying, baptizing, celebrating marriages, burying the dead, and consoling those who need his help. He is focused on the needs of those in his parish. He does not make a promise of poverty, and usually owns a car and other possessions in order to do his work and live in a similar manner as his parishioners.
The religious priest is called to become a member of a religious community based on its lifestyle and mission. Some communities live very private lives of prayer while others have very public charisms. Some serve as teachers in schools or evangelists in other countries. Others might be driven to serve the Lord in the same fashion as the one who established the community. Most often they live in community with each other instead of among people in a parish.
The differences are most easily seen by contrasting the vows made by religious priests and the promises made by diocesan priests.
A diocesan priest makes three promises at ordination:
To pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily
To obey his bishop
To live a celibate life
In contrast, a religious priest will have made three solemn vows, before he is ordained, to live:
Is one “better” or “holier” than another? Absolutely not. A vocation director is familiar with both types of priesthood and can be very helpful in guiding a man as he discerns what life God is calling him to.