Last week’s article discussed in general the sacrament of Holy Orders, through which men become deacons, priests or bishops. This article will describe some distinctions with regard to Holy Orders and religious orders.
To begin with, a priest can be a diocesan priest or a religious order priest. Diocesan priests, such as myself, are consecrated for a diocese, a geographic area of the church. They make vows of obedience to the bishop of that diocese, and their ministry would typically be in that diocese. Diocesan priests usually serve in parishes, although some diocesan priests have other roles, such as high school and college chaplains, seminary teachers, military chaplains, and chancery officials. Other priests are consecrated for religious orders, such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, or Jesuits. A man would decide before entering seminary whether he senses a call to diocesan or religious life, and then to which diocese or religious order he is called. He would then apply for admittance into formation for that diocese or religious order. And, if they accept the application, he would begin formation as a seminarian for the diocese or begin preparation for joining the order, usually as a postulant and then a novice. For a diocesan seminarian, formation is typically six or seven years if he had graduated college before entering, and eight or nine years if he begins formation with a high school degree. Formation is typically somewhat longer for religious order priests and leads to consecration to the order and to the priesthood.
Religious orders can, and usually do, include both men and women religious in different sides of the order. The men can prepare for the priesthood or life as a religious brother. The women prepare for life as a religious sister. Religious orders may have many apostolates, but they join together the brothers and sisters throughout time and space in a common spiritual tradition. For example, the Franciscan tradition emphasizes a life of evangelical poverty in order to be more open to the Holy Spirit and the ability to sense Christ’s presence in the poor and the Eucharist and the glory of God reflected in nature. And Benedictines emphasize the peace that comes from ordering the day in accordance with prayer (often chanted), the careful study of Sacred Scriptures, and humble labor.
Next week’s article will describe further some of these religious orders and traditions. The two articles after that will discuss the vocation of married life.