Through our baptism, each of us is anointed to share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ. We are all called to offer a worthy sacrifice of our lives, to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and to build the kingdom of heaven.
Priests are men set apart, called by Christ and conformed to Christ by the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders to make Christ present in the world and to extend the mission of Christ in an extraordinary way through an extraordinary calling. Priests proclaim the gospel through preaching and teaching. They make Christ present through the celebration of the sacraments. Finally priests govern the Church and build up the kingdom of God by leading and guiding parishes and institutions.
The mission and life of a priest is most visible when he offers Mass. A priest celebrated Mass often, following the Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). Just as the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life and unity so also everything a priest does either prepares the people of God to receive Christ more intimately and worthily in the Eucharist or flows out as the fruit of the command to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”(dismissal at Mass).
Diocesan priests are the original form of the Catholic priesthood. A diocesan priest makes promises (not vows) of celibacy, prayer and obedience. These priestly promises do not make a man a priest. The laying on of hands by the bishop and the prayer of consecration makes a man a priest. The promises serve to configure the priest more closely to Christ and to God’s holy people. Diocesan priests are the “right hand men” of the bishop who is the successor of the apostles in a particular diocese. As such, diocesan priests share most intimately in the apostolic mission of the Church entrusted to the bishops. Diocesan priests tend not to specialize in one apostolate but are able to respond to pastoral needs and opportunities in their dioceses.
What is consecrated life?
Consecrated life is a gift given by Christ who chooses a person individually to respond to His great love in a special relationship. Christ asks that individual to leave some aspects of the world, such as marriage) to put him/herself at the service of his/her brothers and sisters.
Consecrated life is a vocation just as marriage and diocesan priesthood are. Both men and women can choose to respond to the call of Christ to consecrated life. These men and women life the truth that only Christ can satisfy the deepest longing in a person’s heart and witness that this union provides a deeper joy than the secular world can give. In effect, they are previewing the way we will relate to Christ in heaven.
Those in consecrated life generally join a religious order or community. There are many of religious orders or communities – some founded centuries ago and some found more recently to fulfill a particular need. Consecrated life is most often shared in a community which is united to live out their common mission together.
Some religious orders or communities are “contemplative” which means that prayer is central to their day. There are variations with a few orders or communities living mostly in silence and removed from society which others pray frequently but also work in secular society.
Apostolic communities are more active in society and the world. Their focus may be teaching, ministering to the sick or missionary work in the United States or oversees.
Some women’s orders or communities wear a “habit” which identifies them as a woman religious. Other women’s orders or communities choose to wear regular clothes to blend in more with the society in which they work and wear a cross or pin or ring to identify themselves as women religious. All women religious are called “sister”.
Some male religious live in a single community while others are dispersed and live in a house. In some orders or communities the men wear a habit which others wear clerical clothing. Their leader is called an abbot or superior and they are obedient to the abbot or superior and their communities’ rule of life, unlike a diocesan priest who serves the people of the diocese and is obedient to his bishop.
The Vows of Religious
Most men and women religious make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience while some ancient orders make a “monastic profession” which includes these vows. They do this to live more simply and not be attached to the things of early life which create stress, possessiveness and distractions. In this way they can more easily give themselves to God and depend more on Christ for their needs.
Vow of Poverty
Just as Jesus chose to be poor out of love for us, religious men and women choose a similar life in imitation of Christ. Poverty does not mean living a destitute life. Rather it means detaching from the lure of material good and learning to share things in common with the community, such as living quarters, vehicles and food.
Vow of Chastity
Chastity means giving oneself completely to Christ – body, mind and soul. This actually allows one great freedom to love and serve all God’s people without the obligations of a family. In return one discovers love through ad deep relationship with Jesus, the love and support of others in the community and the joy in experiencing in doing God’s will.
Vow of Obedience
Those in consecrated life surrender their will in obedience to Christ and their superior to more closely imitate Christ who came to do the will of His Father (Jn. 6:38). This includes listening to the Holy Spirit and being open to how the Lord and the community believes one’s gifts and talents can best be used. They respond in faith by generously offering themselves for the common good of their religious order or community.