How to Become a Priest – Matthew F. Sheehan
If you’re thinking about joining the priesthood, you’ve probably got a lot of questions. Even if you’re not contemplating becoming a man of the cloth, you may just be curious how to become a priest. Wondering how God’s servants are chosen and what path they took to find their way to the altar is a common one. Fortunately, the path to priesthood is fairly well established, so the answer to the question is rather straightforward.
Should You Become a Priest?
Once an individual receives a calling to the priesthood from God, they need to ask themselves whether or not they should become a priest. Catholic priests report to their dioceses, orders or local parishes. Their duties include celebrating Mass, performing certain rites including marriages and funerals, counseling others, guiding the faithful in spiral growth and more.
However, the job is not without its downsides. Priests are unable to marry, unable to have children and they are responsible for hearing the confessions of their parishioners. This can cause stress as well as an emotional burden because confessions must remain confidential. There’s also a vow of celibacy involved in taking the cloth, which can be particularly difficult for young men who enter the priesthood.
In addition to accepting your calling, you’ll also need to be Catholic. Eligible men must meet several spiritual and educational requirements and the specific requirements to enter the priesthood may vary between the different branches of the Catholic faith.
Meet Educational Requirements
Priests are known for their educational achievements. They are some of the most educated clergy members on the planet and before you can enter the priesthood, you’ll need to have at least a bachelor’s degree under your belt. While you can’t necessarily major in priestly duties, you can major in something related that will help you during your journey. Though there is no official field of study for priests, it may be helpful to study English, philosophy, religion, communications, history or a similar field.
A young man interested in becoming a priest should expect to also attend a seminary. A seminary is a school that formally educates priests and prepares them for their duties. Some seminaries may require that your undergraduate studies be in a particular field such as philosophy or religious studies. It’s a good idea to consider your seminary of choice’s requirements before declaring a major.
If you’re not sure which seminary you want to attend, which major you want to pursue or any of the other details, obtain guidance from your church’s leadership. Those in a leadership position, including your own priest, can give you more detailed information about denomination-specific requirements. They can also provide counsel and help you decide if becoming a priest is right for you.
Become a Candidate for Priesthood
The steps required to become a candidate for priesthood will depend on your particular denomination and the leaders in your church. In some churches, all that is required is a solid relationship between the priests and church leaders. In others, candidacy requires a period of reflection and discernment for the candidate to decide whether or not the lifestyle is right for them. During this period, the prospective candidate may be asked to become more involved with services or the religious community.
Attend Seminary School
Once established as a candidate, it’s time to go to seminary school. Seminary for the Roman Catholic Church lasts for four years. The program involves completing graduate-level coursework in religious subjects such as Biblical studies, litury, ethics and more. An aspiring priest may receive a Master of Divinity or another similar degree. While not all churches require their priests to receive seminary training, most do. Some churches simply ask that candidates pursue a graduate degree in the field of their choosing or in a field related to theology or religious studies. The knowledge acquired during this time will help guide you in the future.
The final step is to become ordained. Once seminary training is complete, the candidate can be ordained. Ordination is also known as receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders. There is a ceremony and a Mass celebration. The newly ordained priest will then receive an assignment where they will either lead their own church or work along with a fellow member of their order.
Becoming a priest typically takes close to 10 years. Breaks between educational endeavors or additional time for contemplation and reflection before pledging to the lifestyle required of a priest may add more time to the process. While an individual is required to accept the calling of the priesthood before becoming ordained, they do consciously choose to become a man of the cloth. Priests are called upon by God and are allowed the free will to choose whether or not to join the order. Through education, contemplation and example, future priests are matured into reliable, steady leaders that can successfully guide their parishes and spread the Word.