Different Vocations: Diocesan Priesthood and Consecrated Life
While many of us are familiar with our parish priests, there are actually two kinds of priests: diocesan priests and religious priests. Both kinds of priests are ordained and can administer the sacraments and celebrate Mass and have an essential role and share in the ministry of Jesus Christ the Great High Priest. All priests share in the one priesthood of Jesus. But there are some significant differences between the call to Religious Life and the call to Diocesan Priesthood. They are different not only in the way they live priesthood, but in the essence of their vocations. Those men called to Consecrated Life, who live the life of a “Religious Order” priest differ from those called to the Diocesan Priesthood.
A diocesan Priest is called to serve the local community of Christians, as a Spiritual Father, of a local parish in a geographical region called a Diocese. For the Diocesan Priest, his life revolves around providing for the spiritual needs, especially through the sacraments, for the Faithful in their everyday lives. At his ordination, a diocesan priest makes the three promises of a life of Prayer, respect and obedience to his bishop and successors, and of celibacy. These three promises are intended to allow the diocesan priest to serve the community and to grow in holiness, freed from anything that will not assist in accomplishing the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to his people. The Diocesan Priest enjoys two distinct communities: (1) the Presbyterate to which he belongs, and (2) the People for whom he serves. The Presbyterate is the group of diocesan priests of a local diocese who gather around the local bishop. Typically, the people that a diocesan priest serves are his parishioners, but sometimes a diocesan priest is asked to serve in a specialized ministry such as a chaplaincy, or diocese wide ministries with a broader immediate community. The overall mission of the Diocesan Priest is to stand in the presence of the local community as the “Icon of Christ”, serving the particular needs of the local community, and establishing the Gospel in a geographical location. Those called to Diocesan Priesthood are usually attracted to the vocation through a desire to serve the People of God in the local parish, especially in and through the Holy Eucharist and Sacraments.
Religious Order Priests
Religious Order priests are first called to be Religious Brothers in the Consecrated Life, where a man consecrates himself to Christ through the three Evangelical Counsels, through making the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Religious Order Priest’s first vocation is as a brother, living the Christian life in a radical way, through the vows in a particular community with other brothers doing precisely the same thing. For those called to Religious Life, some are also called to serve that community (and oftentimes other communities) as a priest. Those men are, in addition to being called to be Brothers, are called to be Ordained Priests through Ordination. The overall mission of the Religious Order priest is to live consecrated life well, in a particular community, following the particular charism (or holy activity) of the particular religious order. Those called to Religious Life are usually attracted to it through members of a particular congregation or through the inspiration of the founder of the particular Order. For example, one might feel a real attraction to the life of St. Francis, and want to follow the call to holiness in the way St Francis did, or meet a group of Franciscans and decide “Hey, I want to join them!”