Priesthood and Religious Orders

While I will be at the Race for Seminarians this weekend, a Dominican priest Antoninus Niemiec, O.P.will be celebrating Masses and hearing confessions for the parish. He is a priest with the Dominican order,more formally called the Order of Preachers. And, as most of your know, my predecessors here were Third Order Regular Franciscans, which is a branch of the Franciscan order that developed from men and women who were more involved in the structures of the world, with such things as parish ministry, houses for the poor, and later schools, than other Franciscans tended to be. It is a good opportunity to discuss the distinction between dioceses and religious orders.

All priests share in the same sacrament of Holy Orders, and make promises of celibacy, obedience, prayer, reverent celebration of the liturgies, wise and faithful teaching, working with the bishop and other priests,and offering his life for the people of God in unity with Jesus Christ. Diocesan priests are ordained for a diocese, which is a generally geographic area of the Church. There are two diocese in Virginia and 178 American dioceses from the Latin tradition of the Church; there are also several American dioceses, or eparchies, from the eastern traditions of the Church. Diocesan priests promise obedience to their local bishop and his successors.

And we are typically assigned to parishes within our diocese, although some diocesan priests serve in other capacities, such as teaching or as school or military chaplains. A diocesan priest can keep personal property, and be connected to his family, but is called to live a life of noble simplicity and be willing to accept the assignments of his bishop.

As religious order priest makes the same basic promises, but is instead consecrated for a religious order, and make promises of obedience to his superiors in the order. The religious orders are based upon a common spiritual tradition, such as Dominican, Franciscan, Carmelite, Benedictine, or Ignatian. Religious brothers and sisters make promises of prayer, obedience, celibacy and poverty, which means that all things are owned by the order not by themselves individually. Religious orders can be contemplative, active or both, and can be open to men, women or both. In the contemplative branches, the men and women are usually at prayer about 6 or 7 hours a day, drawing the power of heaven to earth. In the active orders, the men and women are also prayerful, but also take on apostolates in the world. Among the men, many are ordained priests, and can be in many different types of ministry. Many of the orders, including Carmelites, Franciscan and Dominicans, also have third orders through which the laity in the world can participate more fully in their spiritual traditions. Dioceses and religious orders in the Church thus complement each other in bringing the Church more to people throughout
the world.