They say that real wisdom is knowing what questions to ask. If your question is not here, make us wise.
Jesus made it clear, both at the Last Supper and again after the Resurrection, that he wanted His work on earth to continue after He returned to the Father. All of us as baptised Christians, led by the Spirit of Jesus, are called to be His witnesses, both in what we say and in how we live. In that way, we literally re-present Him. Baptism is not just something that happens to us; it is about what we become. We become members of the body of Christ. To use the words sometimes attributed to St. Teresa of Avila: Christ has no body now, but yours.
There is an essential link between the priesthood and the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the primary purpose for which priests are ordained. Priests represent Christ in a particular way when they preside at the Eucharist. They also make him present when they preach the Gospel, and when they celebrate the other sacraments. In every aspect of his pastoral ministry, a priest is called to reflect in his own life the sacrifice of Jesus, who gave himself completely for his people.
Through the sacrament of Holy Orders a priest, inspite of his own human limitations, and even his personal sinfulness, “becomes Christ” for the people. This is not just a matter of imitating Christ or taking his place. We believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ himself who teaches, feeds, heals, and forgives His people, in the ministry of the priest. To use the language of theology a priest is configured to Christ, and all his ministry flows from his identity with Christ.
Diocesan priests look after the day to day spiritual needs of the people of a particular diocese. They work as part of a team led by the bishop who has overall responsibility for the diocese. This is a ministry which has been going on since the time of the Apostles.
A diocese is the Christian community of a particular area which is placed under the care of a bishop. There are twenty-six dioceses in Ireland, of which Dublin is the largest in terms of population. Most Irish dioceses were established around one of the old monastic settlements from the sixth century onwards. Some of the dioceses have double-barrelled names, which is usually an indication that there were originally two dioceses, but that these have been amalgamated in more recent times.
Each diocese is made up of a number of parishes. These are the local communities in which people live out their faith, supported by one another and by the priests who are sent by the bishop to minister among them. Most, but not all, diocesan priests are engaged in parish ministry.
At present the diocese of Dublin has 200 parishes, a mixture of urban, suburban, and rural communities. The bishop is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who succeeded Cardinal Desmond Connell in 2003. There are about 700 priests working in different ministries in the diocese. Some of these (just over a quarter) are Religious priests, who are on loan from their order or congregation.
There are many other elements in the ministry of a priest with which many people may be less familiar; things like visiting the sick at home and in hospital; helping young people to prepare for marriage; keeping in touch with the bereaved, and with those in prison. In many parishes the ministry of the priest includes school chaplaincy.
Most parishes have a variety of groups with which the priest would have some involvement, sometimes leading, but more often just being an encouraging presence. Building community is an essential aspect of developing faith.
Some Dublin priests are engaged in teaching at third level, or in the co-ordination of services to young people, to those preparing for marriage, or to those who are marginalised in our urban environment.
They each have their own particular charism, or gift, to offer to the Church. These include contemplative monastic orders like the Cistercians and Benedictines; apostolic orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans, and orders like the Carmelites who live a mixture of active and contemplative life.
The missionary societies were set up to provide for the needs of countries where the Church is relatively new, or where the Gospel is still not widely known. Many religious orders and missionary societies have houses in Dublin diocese, and priests from these congregations have made an enormous contribution to the development of the diocese over the past twenty-five years.
It is important to remember, however, that work in parishes is not the primary reason for the existence of religious congregations, and they may not always be available to work in the diocese.
The daily routine of a priest is somewhat unpredictable, and that can sometimes make free-time a bit unpredictable too. The annual holiday entitlement is “three Sundays,” which is usually taken to mean four weeks less one day. There is a certain give and take. We don’t clock in and out. In fact the biggest problem is priests not taking the time off that they should take, because there is always something to do. Rest and recreation are an important part of being ready to do a good day’s work.
The second collection (Share) is a solidarity fund, to enable the diocese to help developing parishes, or parishes which have major building projects going on. It has nothing to do with the income of the priests.
It is not all academic study. Men preparing for priesthood are also given practical pastoral training, and helped to deepen their relationship with God. They are also helped to come to a better understanding of themselves, to value their gifts, and to accept their limitations.
Many of those who opt to become priests these days already have some relevant third-level qualification. This is normally taken into account, and may slightly reduce the time of preparation. A more in-depth explanation of the formation process is available elsewhere on this site.
The ministry of a priest has a lot to do with communication, so a student for the priesthood would need to have a good standard of English (and Irish if in a Gaeltacht area). An interest in reading is a big help.
If you do have the necessary points for university entrance, you will probably be asked to do an Arts degree as part of your formation programme. In that case, application needs to be made to the CAO in the usual way. Applicants who have been some years out of secondary school should check to see if they can matriculate on grounds of mature age.
Diocesan priests also promise obedience to their bishop and to his successors. In practice this promise is not about obeying orders. The bishop is in charge, but there are very few occasions when the bishop actually tells a priest what to do. Obedience is really an attitude of generous service, and a willingness to let go of one’s own agenda. Obedience is probably experienced at its most difficult when the time comes to move from one appointment to another, for the good of the people and of the diocese.
Diocesan priests also promise to celebrate the liturgy of the hours (also known as the breviary, or the divine office) for the Church and for the world. It is part of the priest’s responsibility to pray for the people he serves.
Traditionally deacons were ordained to preach, to assist the bishop in the celebration of the liturgy, and to take responsibility for the Church’s ministry of Charity (the care of the poor and the marginalized). The first reference made to deacons in the Scriptures is found in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 6.
At one time diaconate and priesthood were quite separate and distinct. At a certain stage in the Church’s history, the ministry of deacons gradually became absorbed into the ministry of priests. From that time onwards, it became the practice that men were ordained as deacons on the way to priesthood. This is known as the transitional diaconate.
Since the second Vatican Council, the diaconate has been restored as a distinct ministry in many countries. So far this has not happened in Ireland, but a decision has been taken in principle that the permanent diaconate will soon be restored here.
It would generally be regarded as inappropriate for a diocesan priest to have a lavish lifestyle, or to be amassing possessions. Our whole ministry is about helping people to place the emphasis on spiritual rather than material wealth. If our lifestyle were to be very rooted in material things, it would be a contradiction in terms.
The other reason for moving a priest is that, after a certain time, most priests have given what they have to give to a particular appointment. A change, while it can be difficult, is often good for the priest and for the parish. When someone is moved (or dies or retires) that sets off a kind of chain reaction.
Trying to provide priests for all the different ministries in the diocese is quite demanding for a bishop. In Dublin the Cardinal has a team of priests who assists him in making these decisions.
There is a good deal more consultation these days than there used to be. Bishops recognize that it is important to try to match a priest’s appointment to his gifts. Priests are sometimes apprehensive when they get a new appointment, especially if it involves a kind of work they have not done before.
Unless there is a very good reason not to accept an appointment, the usual expectation is that a priest would give it his best shot. He can always go back to the bishop later and say “look, I’ve tried this and it’s just not working out.” In such a case, he would usually get a change within a few months.
In Dublin the Diocesan Vocations Centre is in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe. The Director of Vocations is Fr. John Gilligan. You can phone him at 01-8574198 or contact him by email.
Every diocese in Ireland has a director of vocations. If you want to find out who is responsible in any particular diocese, you can refer to the information on the website of the Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors.
During this period the Director of Vocations will help each candidate to arrive at a mature discernment of vocation, taking account of his personal faith journey, and his human experience. Click here for further information about discernment as a process. A programme of afternoons or evenings for the discernment group will also be arranged, during which some of the key areas of personal and spiritual growth will be explored (e.g. prayer, vocation, ministry, sexuality).
Once a formal application has been received, relevant documentation will be gathered, including:
- Baptism and Confirmation Certificates,
- Certification of state examination results,
- Transcripts of third level courses taken, and the relevant degrees or diplomas awarded.
References will also be sought from previous employers, and from at least two other independent referees.
A psychological assessment may be used as an element of the admissions process. This assessment would have the purpose of helping to identify the human gifts and limitations which an applicant may have. If he is accepted into the formation programme, he will be helped to develop these gifts, and to work around the limitations. Like every aspect of the admissions process, the report of any assessment is always treated as confidential, and would be seen only by those who are directly responsible for dealing with the application.
If the Archbishop considers it helpful to have a psychological assessment, arrangements are made for the assessment to be carried out by an experienced registered clinical psychologist, who has an appreciation of the Church’s understanding of vocation and priesthood. The results of an assessment are discussed openly but sensitively with the applicant prior to the final interview stage of the process.
Unless the applicant is clearly excluded for some obvious reason, the Director of Vocations will arrange for him to be interviewed by the admissions panel, appointed by the Archbishop. This panel will arrive at a decision as to whether the candidate should be accepted into formation, and their recommendation will be forwarded by the Director of Vocations to the Archbishop.
Before the candidate is nominated to the seminary he is normally asked to undergo a medical examination, the full results of which would be made available to him, and a synopsis of which is sent to the Director of Vocations
In Dublin diocese we routinely accept applications from men between the ages of eighteen and forty, to begin their formation for the priesthood. People over forty are not excluded of course, but we do need to establish that they continue to have the flexibility and the energy that are necessary to begin what is not just a new career, but a whole new way of life.
We are, however, open to enquiries from abroad. It usually takes a little longer to make a decision in relation to such applications, because the evaluation of the applicant as a potential seminarian can be quite complex, depending on where he happens to be. We are, of course, obliged to follow the procedures which currently apply in civil law with respect to immigration and residence.
As a general rule we would prefer that a prospective candidate would be living and working in Ireland for some time before he makes his formal application. In this way, while participating in our discernment programme, he can familiarise himself with the Irish church, and the Irish culture. This helps him to make a more realistic decision, and also allows the diocese the possibility of getting to know him and to assess his suitability for diocesan priesthood in Dublin.
Compassion and warmth will be found alongside a commitment to truth, as essential elements of his character. He has six or seven years to prepare, so readiness to learn is more important than having all the answers to life’s problems.
As basic conditions for acceptance into formation, an applicant should:
have been a regularly practising Catholic for at least two years have maintained, or re-established for some significant time the capacity to live the virtue of chastity (i.e., to live his sexuality as is appropriate for a single man),
have maintained or re-established for some significant time the capacity to live without dependence on alcohol or on the use of drugs,
have a track-record of working / living constructively with others,
have no record of ever having placed vulnerable people (especially children) at risk,
be emotionally stable,
be free from any major psychiatric illness be in good general health.
People sometimes think that the life of a priest is very lonely. Everyone experiences loneliness from time to time, sometimes even when they are surrounded by people. Priests are no different. But it is important to distinguish between loneliness and being alone.
Priests come from families. An important part of our ministry is the celebration of marriage. We wouldn’t be able to minister to young couples, and to families, if we didn’t value marriage and relationship. Celibacy is also meant to have a sign value. By giving up something which most people value very highly, the celibacy of a priest reminds us all that our ultimate fulfilment is not in this world.
A priest is not necessarily holier than other people. On the other hand, we are supposed to serve people by helping them in their relationship with God. We can’t expect to be much good at that if we don’t look after our own. Relationship is not static; it either grows deeper and stronger, or it fades away. A person thinking about priesthood would need to have at least the beginnings of a mature relationship with God.
Every relationship needs to be nourished by spending time together. In just the same way, time spent in prayer is an essential part of nourishing our relationship with God. Prayer is not always easy; it sometimes involves a struggle. Perhaps the most difficult part of it is actually setting aside time for it, in our busy world. But it is worthwhile.
Like all good conversations, prayer is about listening as well as talking. God has lots of things to say to us. He speaks to us especially through the Scriptures, which are his Word. It is important that we try to hear his word as something which is spoken to us, in the particular circumstances of our own lives, and not just as something that Jesus said or did two thousand years ago.
Praying is not just something we do with our heads (to understand), but also with our hearts (to be motivated and drawn, to love and to make commitments). One way of praying which helps to bring the Gospel to bear on our daily experience is Lectio Divina. It is actually a very ancient approach to prayer which has rediscovered its popularity in recent times.
Please contact us if you have any further queries.