What Are The Steps To Becoming a Priest
The process of becoming a Catholic priest varies for everyone, and depends on a number of factors. Most men, however, can expect to spend at least four years, and more likely six to eight years in formation before being ordained a priest. The formation process includes studies, discernment with peers and mentors, and a period of time during which the discerning candidate can grow into and contemplate on his vocation.
For men who feel that they are being called to live a challenging and rewarding life of service to the Church and your community, then discernment helps to explore that call. The process of discernment considers questions like, “What does Jesus want for me?” and “What life will bring Jesus the greatest glory?”
Discernment is best completed when following several guidelines/steps:
- Attending Mass regularly and reflecting on scripture and Mass
- Daily prayer and honest questioning of your life
- Sincere conversations with respected friends and mentors
- Participation in your parish/school community
- Serving God by volunteering
- Starting a discussion with your priest or religious advisor
- Contacting your diocesan Vocation Director
Application for admission to the seminary can only be made after the individual obtains sponsorship from his diocese or religious community. A Vocations Director can assist with the application process, as it can be intensive. In addition to the application, additional documentation, including letters of recommendation, criminal background check, and psychological assessment. On average, the application process takes 6 months to a year to complete.
General Requirements of Priesthood
The Code of Canon Law outlines the general requirements for an individual to be considered for the priesthood:
- Freedom—No one should be compelled to the priesthood, nor should someone suitable be turned away.
- Formation—Aspirants should be formed by careful preparation in accordance with the law.
- Knowledge—A superior must ensure that he is properly instructed concerning the priesthood and its obligations.
- Faith & Morals—An aspirant must ensure he has sound faith, is motivated by the right intention, and endowed with the requisite knowledge. He must also have a good reputation, moral integrity, proven virtue, and the other physical and psychological qualities appropriate to exercise the priesthood.
- Age & Maturity—Candidates to be ordained priests must have completed their twenty-fifth year of age and possess a sufficient maturity.
The basic timeline for ordination is 6 to 8 years, depending on whether the aspirant has a college degree. If he does not have a college degree, he usually completes a 4-year degree, focusing heavily on philosophy. If the aspirant already holds a college degree, he may be able to complete a shorter program to complete the philosophy requirements of formation.
Theological studies are essential to the formation of a priest, and different schools offer a variety of theological degrees. However, the degrees offered may or may provide the necessary instruction in Catholic theology or training in pastoral care. It is up to the school to ensure the program of theological studies meets the requirements for ordination.
During the discernment process, men are called to serve as priests in different contexts. Whether as a diocesan priest or a member of religious order (i.e., Jesuits), the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the same. The vocation to one way of life or another, however, does impact the time a man will spend in priestly formation.
While there may be additional steps to formation for some orders, prior to ordination as a Catholic priest men must complete a period of ministry as a deacon. He may do this concurrent with his studies or as an additional year of formation. Canon Law does require, however, that he exercise the ministry of diaconate for at least 6 months. One a man has fulfilled the diaconate, and met all other requirements, he petitions for ordination to the priesthood.
Are you interested in learning more about pursuing a vocation in the priesthood? Contact the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus Director of Vocations, Fr. Paul Noble.