The priesthood is first and foremost a call from the Lord. It is a gift which can never be earned and which a man is never entitled to. As with the Apostles, the men whom God calls to the priesthood are not always those most esteemed by the world. Though he can use the skills and qualifications of his priests for his purposes, these are not the reasons why particular men are called. The Lord calls whom he calls for reasons unknown to us, and he provides them abundant graces so that they may follow him faithfully.
The priesthood is not primarily about doing social work or offering psychological counsel, important as those professions are. The priesthood is a supernatural calling to serve as a mediator between God and his people. In priestly ordination the bishop calls down God’s power upon the man being ordained, imprinting upon his soul an indelible seal that can never be lost. The priest retains his frail humanity, and yet he is given the grace to participate in the sanctifying mission of Jesus Christ, the High Priest.
The Church speaks of her priests as acting “in persona Christi”, which means “in the person of Christ.” As Saint John Paul II wrote, “The priest offers his humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use him as an instrument of salvation, making him as it were into another Christ.” Those who receive this gift can only strive to respond with grateful humility.
All the baptised are called to imitate Jesus, yet his priests are asked to do so in a unique way, offering their whole lives as a sacrifice of praise to God and in service of his Church.
The Catechism speaks of priests as “co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfilment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ” (CCC 1562). In other words, a priest does not act on his own, but must constantly sacrifice his own will in obedience to Christ and to his bishop. In his ministry, the priest is called to represent Christ and his Church. He is not given a platform to spread his own ideas and preferences, but rather is tasked with faithfully handing on the doctrine and practices taught by Christ and passed down through the Church’s tradition.
It is essential for a priest to be a man of prayer, which always flows from his celebration of the Eucharist. Each day he re-presents the sacrifice of Jesus during Holy Mass, placing the needs of his people before the Lord in a sacrifice that is “holy and acceptable to God.” Priests also offer time each day in personal prayer, through the Liturgy of the Hours, devotion to Our Lady, and private meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. Such personal prayer is vital so that his daily ministry might be nourished and guided by his own relationship with Christ.
Priests are asked to sacrifice their time through their ready availability to meet the spiritual needs of their people. They must also sacrifice any worldly ambitions for prestige or material success, as well as the natural desire for a family. In short, a priest is called to follow Christ by offering his life and the trials he endures for the salvation of his people. Such a life of sacrifice is only possible if the priest’s identity is grounded in the God who calls him, and who is the source of all fulfilment and joy.
The priesthood is not about obtaining some level of status within the Church, but about having a heart of service for God’s people. Priests are called to follow the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost. The example of their lives should be such that they attract followers of Christ, so that by word and example they help to build up God’s Church.
The priest is not called to be influential or powerful in the worldly sense. He is there to support and guide the laity as they strive to witness to the Gospel in their families, neighbourhoods, and workplaces. By offering the sacraments and preaching the Gospel, the priest strives to draw his people deeper into the mystery of God by freeing them from all that might be holding them back.
The daily ministry of priests can be busy, challenging—and incredibly rewarding. They serve in a wide variety of ways, and are privileged to witness the Lord working powerfully in people’s lives. There are a number of specialised ministries that priests may carry out, but the majority of diocesan priests serve in parishes. The regular ministry of parish priests includes: