Last time I spoke about how the Capuchins lived and worked as people in religious life. Today, I wanted to go deeper in-depth about the difference between becoming a diocesan priest and a religious priest. I find it relevant since the name of my blog, The Long Road to Priesthood, says less about my life as a Capuchin Franciscan and brings to mind the image of a seminarian who is studying to be a diocesan life. So to help with any confusion about the difference, I wanted to take a little more time to discuss one from the next.
When a bishop of the diocese feels someone is truly discerning the priesthood and has made his life available to that vocation, the bishop will have the person begin training for the job. Most often this is done at a seminary, where they must first complete the required philosophy credits towards an undergrad degree. Depending on the diocese, there may be more requirements, such as social work, business management, specific languages (Spanish, French, American Sign Language), etc. After having the proper philosophy base, the seminarian will spend the next 3-4 years working on their Theology degree.
The theology degree, also known as the Masters of Divinity (MDiv) is required of all people who wish to pursue the priesthood. Today the program is open to people who are working in pastoral ministry as a way to better understand their careers. Even women take classes at some seminaries, an act disallowed at one point (and still at some seminaries across the world) because it was thought that they may be endorsing the idea of female ordination...a completely different topic worthy of it's own long post.
After finishing their studies, the individual must spend a certain length of time as a temporary deacon, a title that distinguishes them from the permanent deacon that people are more familiar with. This period may last 1-2 years, with an evaluation done at the end of each year to assess the person's readiness to become an ordained priest.
After finishing their diaconate, the individual makes a promise to the bishop of the diocese and becomes an ordained priest.
Obviously there are more details involved with the process, however this is the main journey that must be made by those joining the diocese. This is the prescribed way, as stated in Canon Law, by which priests are to become ordained. Therefore Orders like mine follow this same process when people like me consider becoming a priest.
In joining an Order, you pursuing a different vocation than a diocesan priesthood. Not better, not "more holy," but a different vocation.
In fact, many religious vocation directors will probably tell you to not focus on priesthood in your discernment right away, rather focus on living in that Order's community. Could you live a cloistered life, spending most of your day in prayer or work? Do you have the desire to pursue a number of doctorates that you may be a learned scholar like others in that Order? Could you live a life in perpetual community, owning nothing of your own? Could you work with the poor and homeless? Could you live as a missionary?
All of these are important questions, especially when looking at different religious Orders, and the same question won't always apply to each Order (someone looking at the Franciscan OFMs will have different desires and questions than someone looking at the Third Order Secular Franciscans). It is important to have a spiritual director to help understand your strengths, identify areas of concern, and use those when looking for an Order.
Should someone decide to become interested in living a religious life, a process of formation begins. The formation process can last from 6-13 years, depending on the order. This process is often times separate from the time needed to pursue priestly ordination. This time is used to focus on one's vocation towards religious life.
Terms such as Postulant, Novice, Temporary Professed, and Post Novice come in to play at this point. Again, the specific process varies greatly from Order to Order, however there are some basic rules, as laid out by Canon Law, that an Order must adhere to:
1. There must be a period of initiation, where a prospect becomes acclimated to the order, and is given proper tools, time, and space to further discern their call to the vocation. For a period of no less than one year, a person is often times cloistered from the world, as to empty the person of distraction so they can better discern their call. This is referred to as the novitiate.
2. If a candidate is not suitable at the end of the novitiate time, they are to be dismissed. Those that shown themselves suitable to religious life will take temporary vows.
3. These temporary vows are yearly vows made by the individual, giving them time to live according to the rule and vow of those in their order. The spent in temporary vows ranges on average 3-6 years. While the vows are only temporary, they must be made publicly, without outside pressure, and must be made to the superior of the Order.
4. After that time which a temporarily professed religious has completed a certain number of years, they may take solemn (sometimes called perpetual) vows. These vows are not renewed, but are life long. (see Canons 646-661 for more information)
During that time of temporary vows, many are completing college studies or education required by each Order. Again, the type of study depends heavily on the specific Order. A Carthusian will have a different focus than a Jesuit. It is during this time where, if one also feels called to be a priest, that they will look at their life and start to see what ministry they feel most called to. The option to pursue priestly ordination, once again, depends on the Order. There are some Orders that are strictly clerical (ordination is part of the formation process, you must be ordained to be part of the Order), and in others it is less of a focus (cloistered communities where few people leave the grounds of the abbey).
I hope this gives you a clearer picture of how the process for becoming a diocesan priest and becoming a religious are quite different.