Although there is only one priesthood, that of Jesus Christ, there are two ways of living the priestly ministry in the Church. Some priests belong to Religious Orders. They have received a vocation to Religious Life and they have been called to priesthood to serve the needs of their religious community and its apostolates. Other men are called to the “secular priesthood”, they do not have a religious vocation and are called to live their priesthood in the middle of the world in which they live.
A religious priest belongs to a specific community and takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Poverty means they do not own things individually but rather as a group. Chastity means that they commit themselves to remaining single and to refrain from sexual activity for the rest of their lives. Obedience means that they accept what their superiors reasonably ask of them as the will of God.
The spirituality, life and ministry of a secular priest are very close to ordinary men and women because they too are secular, people living in the world. A secular priest is not set apart from the world by making solemn vows although he does promise obedience to his bishop, to live a celibate life and to be a man of prayer. A secular priest buys his own clothes and car and pays taxes just like ordinary lay people.
Most secular priests belong to a diocese and are called to collaborate closely with their bishop. For this reason they are often called “diocesan priests”. A diocesan priest usually serves within the geographical location of their diocese, typically in parish ministry but also often in schools, colleges and universities. Sometimes they may work as hospital or military chaplains.
Priests of the Archdiocese of Southwark usually work in London, south of the Thames, and throughout the county of Kent. Most of our priests work in parishes but we also have priests working in diocesan offices, as military chaplains, in seminaries, on the Missions and in the Roman Curia. Diocesan priests working in parishes celebrate Mass on Sundays and throughout the week for the people entrusted to their care. They hear confessions and anoint the sick. They baptise, officiate at weddings and bury the dead. They preach the Word of God at Mass and teach it in a variety of different settings. They listen to people’s joys and sorrows, help them discover their gifts and charisms and promote works of charity. They may work with groups of the elderly, with parents, with schools and with teen and young adult groups. Some priests work full time with the patients or staff of hospitals or with inmates and staff in prisons. Others work at least part-time with schools or university chaplaincies and some have special ministries to those with particular needs in the Church.
Basic to the ministry of any priest is preaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments and being available to God’s people. A diocesan priest lives this call with great freedom, applying his own initiative, talents and insights so as to be as effective as possible. It is a busy, rewarding life that demands mental and physical stamina as well as spiritual and emotional maturity.