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What are the steps to priesthood?


Step One: Internal Discernment

This part may involve many years. Some people think about priesthood for a long time ~ even from youth. Some, after discovering the call, act on it right away. Others discover this call only later in life (for some, much later). A good portion of internal discernment involves reflection, prayer, and listening to God. Being involved in one's parish, going to Mass regularly, receiving the sacraments, attempting some type of Christian or community service, and trying to live a good Christian moral life are just some of the ways that often help to bring one's call into focus. Our diocese offers various programs to help the individual discern his call from God. Some of these include Explorer Day and Saturday Mass & Breakfast. If the person, after prayer and thought, decides that he wants to proceed, he can then begin the application process.

Step Two: Application Process

For an individual to apply, he must first meet several "external" criteria. The applicant must be a baptized and confirmed Catholic male. He must have at least completed high school or be within a year of completing high school (e.g. High School Senior). The person must be in good health, under fifty years old and not bound by marital obligations. He also should have lived in the Diocese of San Diego for at least three years. The candidate would then fill out the appropriate application forms, submit sacramental certificates and academic transcripts, and provide references. The candidate would also have several interviews as well as undergo the necessary psychological testing and screening. After the completion of the above, the Bishop and the formation staff evaluate the candidate's application and then decide to accept the candidate, reject the application, or defer it until some point in the future.

Step Three: Formation

Our program of priestly formation is flexible, depending the needs and situation of a particular candidate. If a person comes straight from high school or with some college without finishing a degree, he would normally live at the St. Francis de Sales Center of Priestly Formation and attend either the University of San Diego or a local public college. He would work towards a B.A. in philosophy. It is also possible for a man to participate in our program while attending college outside of San Diego and even while continuing to work for a period of time. Those who already have undergraduate degrees normally live at the St. Francis Center and take a one to two year philosophy curriculum at USD.

Once the requisite undergraduate courses have been completed, the candidate studies graduate level theology at a major seminary, also called a theologate. In general, formation includes academic studies (including studies of scripture, theology, philosophy, Church history, pastoral studies, etc.), spiritual direction (to help one grow in prayer), pastoral field work (hands-on experience in parishes or other ministries), and communal activities (including many things from prayer services to sports). Seminarians

The seminary staffs are responsible for not just educating the seminarians but for helping them and guiding them to become responsible and mature men who are ready to embrace the life of joyful service that is priesthood.

Step Four: Ordination

After years of education, training, and preparation, the seminarian may be called to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He is first ordained a "transitional" deacon and then later, surrounded by family, friends, the priests of the diocese, and other religious and lay leaders, the bishop ordains the candidate to the priesthood. The ceremony, which is held within a Mass, includes a testimony of his worthiness and an affirmation by the assembly.

The candidate then makes several solemn promises before God to the bishop. After that, the lies prostrate on the floor as the Litany of Saints is sung. Then, in an ancient gesture, the bishop lays hands on the candidate's head, and then so do all the priests who are present. The bishop prays the prayer of consecration. The new priest is vested in the priestly Mass garments. His hands, which will offer the sacrifice of the Mass, are then anointed with Sacred Chrism for their sacred duty. The bishop presents him with bread and wine and offers him a greeting of peace as the other priests welcome him into the Sacred Priesthood.

Now the person is able to celebrate the sacraments, and the new priest is sent to a parish to begin his life of service to the people of God.