In many ways all Catholic priests are the same. Each priest has gone through years of education and preparation at a seminary before his ordination. All priests are ordained to preach the Gospel and serve God’s people in the person of Christ. Most importantly, they administer the sacraments of the Church and help people get to heaven.
The differences are most easily seen by contrasting the vows made by religious priests and the promises made by diocesan priests. A diocesan priest makes three promises at ordination:
- To pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily
- To obey his bishop
- To live a celibate life
The diocesan priest lives and works in a certain geographical area – the diocese. Most often, a diocesan priest is assigned to a parish by the bishop, and he lives and works in that area. He does not make a promise of poverty, and usually owns a car and other possessions in order to do his work and live independently. His main work is preaching the Gospel, offering Mass, anointing the sick and dying, baptizing, celebrating marriages, burying the dead, and consoling those who need his help. He is focused on the needs of those in his parish.
In contrast, a religious priest will have made three solemn vows, before he is ordained, to live:
These three ways of living are called the Evangelical Counsels because they are recommended to Christians by our Lord as part of His Gospel. Interestingly, the Catechism teaches that every Christian is called to live the Evangelical Counsels according to his state of life, though religious priests live them in a “more intimate” way (CCC #916).
The religious priest chooses a religious community based on its lifestyle and mission. Some communities live very austerely while others do not. Some have missions with the elderly, youth, or the poor. Some serve as teachers in schools or evangelists in other countries. Most often they live in community with each other instead of among people in a parish.
Is one “better” or “holier” than another? Absolutely not. A vocation director is familiar with both types of priesthood and can be very helpful in guiding a man as he discerns what life God is calling him to.