Becoming a Priest

Prayer & Discernment

A vocation is not our will but a calling from God, we must listen to His voice so that we can hear His call. Prayer is how we primarily listen to the Lord’s voice. Be aware of anything that drowns out His voice. 

Sin and noise are the two major obstacles which get in the way of hearing His voice. In discernment, sin is like mud that gets in our spiritual eyes and ears, making us blind and deaf to the Lord. Do not fear being alone with your thoughts, for that is where the voice of God can be heard.

This page details the steps on the road of priestly discernment.

Meet With the 

Vocations Director

One of the best questions to ask ourselves when considering to take the next step is: “What is the next best step I can make right now to draw closer to the call God has for me?”  

Instead of asking the huge question: “Should I be a priest?” why not ask: “Should I talk to the vocations promoter or director to see if God wants me to be a priest?” 

Discussing your calling with the Vocations director is an important step in discerning your vocation. If you are called to be a priest, that calling must be discerned with the help Church.

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Seminary Formation

After talking to the Vocations Director, meeting the Bishop, and going through the Diocesan discernment process, those accepted for Priestly formation take up a place at a Seminary.

Seminary formation takes between six and seven years to priestly ordination, depending on where a student is asked to study.

We currently have students in a propaedeutic house at Sacred Heart Church in Fareham, at St John's Seminary at Wonersh, St Mary's College Oscott, Allen Hall in London, the Venerable English College in Rome, and the Pontifical Beda College in Rome.

Seminary is a place to study, but is (more importantly) where men test and formally discern their vocation to the priesthood, with the help of the Church.

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The Ministry of Lector

During formation for priesthood, Seminarians ask to be admitted to the lay ministries which serve as a preparation for ordination. The first such ministry, usually received during or after the second year of formation, is 'Lectorate'

The Ministry of Lector (or 'Reader') is instituted for three special purposes:

  1. To proclaim the word of God at Mass (Reading and reciting the Psalm)

  2. To give Catechesis for those preparing to receive the sacraments

  3. To direct the singing at Mass and prepare other lay people to read at Mass

Because the Lector's ministry is especially connected to the word of God, he is presented at his institution with a Bible, and called to fervently meditate on the Scriptures.

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The Ministry of Acolyte

The second lay ministry is the Acolytate. A seminarian is usually instituted as an Acolyte during or at the end of the third year of formation. The Acolyte is instituted to assist the Deacon and minister to the Priest in liturgical celebrations, especially at Mass. 

The Acolyte is entrusted with the following responsibilities:

  • Serving at the Altar during the Mass

  • Distributing Holy Communion as an extraordinary minister

  • Exposing the Blessed Sacrament for adoration

  • Instructing and directing the other Servers

The ministry of the Acolyte is closely connected to the celebration of Holy Mass. When he is instituted, an Acolyte is presented with a chalice and paten, and is called to receive nourishment from and deepen his knowledge of the Holy Eucharist.

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Candidacy for Holy Orders

After a seminarian has received both of the lay ministries, he is invited to petition his Bishop for 'Candidacy.' This usually happens at the end of the fourth or fifth year of formation. 

When a seminarian is admitted as a Candidate for Holy Orders, he declares his intention to proceed to ordination to the Diaconate and then to Priesthood through study in Seminary, and the Bishop (on behalf of the Church) accepts and affirms his intention.

It is normally after admission to candidacy that Seminarians begin to wear clerical dress as their daily clothing. It is a sign of and preparation for entry to the clerical state (which happens at ordination).

Ordination to the Diaconate

At the end of a Seminarian's fifth or sixth year of formation he will ask to be ordained to the Diaconate. The order of Deacons is ancient; it began with the early Church (Acts 6) when seven men were chosen and set aside as helpers for the Apostles. The modern deacons are ordained to serve the Bishop in the ministry of the Church. The Deacons are called upon to assist the Bishop and Priests by:​​

  • Distributing Holy Communion

  • Assisting at and blessing marriages

  • Proclaiming the Gospel and preaching

  • Presiding over funerals

  • Dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity

There are Permanent Deacons (generally married men, who are only ordained to the diaconate) but seminarians are ordained as 'Transitional Deacons' - Deacons who are preparing for priestly ordination.

The Diaconate is closely linked with the Gospel: proclaiming it at Mass, preaching it, and carrying out the works of charity it prescribes. This is why the Deacon is presented with the book of the Gospels at his ordination:

"Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practise what you teach."

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Ordination to the Priesthood

A year after his ordination, a transitional deacon will petition the Bishop for ordination to the Sacred Priesthood of Jesus Christ. A Priest has a share in the Apostolic succession of his Bishop, and serves as a spiritual Father for his people. He is called a 'priest' because he offers sacrifice: the one Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary for all mankind.

At his ordination, the Bishop confers the special character of the Priesthood by the laying on of hands. With this, the man becomes a priest for ever. The Priest is then presented with several important symbols of the priesthood:

  • The Stole, which represents his authority, and the Chasuble, representing the virtue​ of Charity. 

  • The Chalice and Paten, with the gifts of bread and wine for the sacrifice of the Mass.

  • The Holy Oil of Chrism, which anoints his hands, representing and effecting his conformity to the person of Christ

The Priesthood is a lifelong vocation, and the 'special character' that is imprinted on the soul of the Priest can never be set aside. The Church asks the men it ordains to the priesthood to make this lifelong commitment. 

Further Reading

The process of becoming a priest and the programme of priestly formation are governed by three important documents. The first is a 1992 Apostolic Exhortation written by Pope St John Paul II called 'Pastores dabo vobis' which forms the basis for Priestly formation even today. The Second is the Ratio Fundamentalis ('The Gift of the Priestly Vocation') produced by the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy and the Third is the 'Charter for Priestly Formation' produced by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales as a local application of the Ratio Fundamentalis.

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