‘God has created me to do some definite service’, said St John Henry Newman, who was canonised in Rome during 2019. We might think of a vocation as something we are called to do, something we are good at or drawn to, and many professions could be defined as a great service to society. However, vocation to the priesthood is more than an invitation for pursue a particular career or profession: rather it a call to lay down one’s life wholeheartedly in service of Lord for the Church and God’s people. Instead of considering what we want to do with our lives, priesthood requires the question ‘what is God asking me to do?’.
A call be a priest is also an invitation to grow, in the first instance, into a deep friendship with Christ, and through that bond to follow him, and go out to be ‘another Christ’, just as his Apostles did. Catholic Priests forgo a relationship with one person in order to be a spiritual father to many and through Mass, the sacraments, teaching, prayer and by their very presence, they become living witnesses to Jesus, bring His light into the world.
A man may be called to be a diocesan priest, leading him to fulfil his vocation in diocese, most often as a parish priest, or he may choose to serve with a particular order, for example, the Jesuits, Salesians or Dominicans. In serving Christ within a particular Order, a priest may be asked to carry out the mission of the Order anywhere in the world.
Whichever route is chosen, a priest is asked to make promises during his Ordination: for secular priests, these are celibacy and obedience to the bishop. Priests serving within specific Orders are required to take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to their Superior.
We are all called to holiness and ongoing conversion by virtue of our baptism, that is, entering into the promise of new life by becoming a member of God’s family. A priest’s path is to follow this call in a special way by embracing Christ as the centre of his life.
The word ‘Deacon’ comes from the Greek word 'diakonos' which translates as ‘servant”. Deacons are called to help their bishop in caring for the well-being of the people. In particular, they may be called to work with the poor, be active in social justice, and lead on parish initiatives to serve those in need. They may also preach at Mass, baptise and officiate at weddings. In addition, they may also distribute Holy Communion, visit the sick and lead in the catechetical and pastoral life of the parish and associated schools, for example by supporting prayer, gospel study groups or leading assemblies.
Men who are studying for the priesthood are ordained as a transitory deacon as part of their route towards becoming a priest.
A married man may serve as a permanent rather than a transitory deacon, but those who enter the diaconate in a single state are required to remain celibate. Similarly, a widowed deacon may not re-marry. Through their support of people, especially the most vulnerable, deacons bring Christ’s loving presence to others.
Further information about the Permanent Diaconate may be found here: http://www.diaconate.org.uk/
Religious Life has changed enormously in recent years, but the motivation of men and women to enter into consecrated life remains the same: to give their lives in service, of the Lord as expressed through the mission of their religious order.
One of the main differences in orders is whether they live within a convent or monastery as an enclosed contemplative order, thereby largely separating themselves from the world, or whether they serve in the wider world, for example in healthcare or education.
In most religious congregations, interim vows will be taken at the end of a period of training, known as the ‘noviciate’. This training can take place over a period of between 3- 9 years before final solemn vows are made This thorough discernment period ensures that the individual making the commitment and the congregation are certain that this path is God’s will.
Men and women wishing to follow this path may be attracted to the life and work of a particular religious order. A comprehensive list of religious brothers and sisters may be found here: https://www.ukvocation.org/religious