The Church is, in its entirety, a priestly people. Thanks to our Baptism, all the faithful participate in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called “the common priesthood of the faithful”. On the basis of this priesthood and at its service, there is another participation in Christ’s mission: that of the ministry conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders, whose mission is to serve in the name and person of Christ the Head in the midst of the community.
The ministerial priesthood differs, essentially, from the common priesthood of the faithful because it confers sacred power for the service of the faithful themselves. Ordained ministers exercise their service to the people of God through teaching, divine worship and pastoral governance.
Since the beginning, the ordained ministry was conferred and has been exercised in three degrees: that of bishops, of presbyters, and of deacons. The ministries conferred by ordination are irreplaceable in the organic structure of the Church: without a bishop, priests and deacons, one cannot speak of the Church.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1591-1593
Holy Orders, in its three grades of bishop, priest and deacon, is the Sacrament that enables a man to exercise the ministry which the Lord Jesus entrusted to the Apostles, to shepherd his flock, in the power of his Spirit and according to his Heart. Tending Jesus’ flock not by the power of human strength or by one’s own power, but by the Spirit’s and according to his Heart, the Heart of Jesus which is a heart of love. The priest, the bishop, the deacon must shepherd the Lord’s flock with love. It is useless if it is not done with love. And in this sense, the ministers who are chosen and consecrated for this service extend Jesus’ presence in time, if they do so by the power of the Holy Spirit, in God’s name and with love.
A first aspect. Those who are ordained are placed at the head of the community. They are “at the head”, yes, but for Jesus this means placing ones authority at the service [of the community], as Jesus himself showed and taught his disciples with these words: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25-28/Mk 10:42-45). A bishop who is not at the service of the community fails to perform his duty; a priest who is not at the service of his community fails to perform his duty, he errs.
Another characteristic which also derives from this sacramental union with Christ is a passionate love for the Church. Let us think of that passage from the Letter to the Ephesians in which St Paul states that Christ “loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (5:25-27). Through Holy Orders the minister dedicates himself entirely to his community and loves it with all his heart: it is his family. The bishop and the priest love the Church in their own community, they love it greatly. How? As Christ loves the Church. St Paul will say the same of marriage: the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church. It is a great mystery of love: this of priestly ministry and that of matrimony are two Sacraments, pathways which people normally take to go to the Lord.
A final aspect. The Apostle Paul recommends to the disciple Timothy that he not neglect, indeed, that he always rekindle the gift that is within him. The gift that he has been given through the laying on of hands (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). When the ministry is not fostered — the ministry of the bishop, the ministry of the priest — through prayer, through listening to the Word of God, through the daily celebration of the Eucharist and also through regularly going to the Sacrament of Penance, he inevitably ends up losing sight of the authentic meaning of his own service and the joy which comes from a profound communion with Jesus.
The bishop who does not pray, the bishop who does not listen to the Word of God, who does not celebrate every day, who does not regularly confess — and the same is true for the priest who does not do these things — in the long run lose their union with Jesus and become so mediocre that they do not benefit the Church. That is why we must help bishops and priests to pray, to listen to the Word of God which is one’s daily nourishment, to celebrate the Eucharist each day and to confess regularly. This is so important precisely because it concerns the sanctification of bishops and priests.
I would like to conclude with something which comes to mind: how does one become a priest, where is access to the priesthood sold? No. It is not sold. This is an initiative which the Lord takes. The Lord calls. He calls each of those whom he wills to become priests. Perhaps there are some young men present here who have heard this call in their hearts, the aspiration to become a priest, the desire to serve others in the things of God, the desire to spend one’s entire life in service in order to catechize, baptize, forgive, celebrate the Eucharist, heal the sick… the whole of one’s life in this way. If some of you have heard this call in your heart, it is Jesus who has placed it there. Pay attention to this invitation and pray that it might grow and bear fruit for the whole Church.
Only the baptized male can validly receive it if he presents himself as such and is considered fit for the ministry by the authority of the church. They must always be celibate. Married candidates can be accepted for the Permanent Diaconate only.
Through the anointing of the Spirit the priest is marked with an indelible spiritual character. He becomes aligned with Christ the priest and is, thus, able to act in the name of Christ the Head. As a colaborator with the Episcopal Order, he is consecrated to preach the Gospel, to celebrate divine worship, especially the Eucharist from which his ministry draws strength, and to be the pastor of the faithful.
The deacon, configured to Christ the servant of all, is ordained to the service of the Church under the authority of the Bishop, in relation to the ministry of the Word, divine worship, pastoral leadership and charity.
Vocational discernment is always done by oneself in an intimate dialogue with God in prayer. The church is also an irreplaceable instrument in this process of discernment. Anyone wondering about their vocation can first talk to a priest in their community. Subsequently, you may be accompanied/welcomed by the Lisbon Seminary in its various stages.
The Seminary of Lisbon has several houses which receive those who come to discern their vocation, according to their stage/age:
Pre-Seminary – Year/Grade 7 to University Students. The Pre-Seminary has monthly meetings (as well as other activities) organised by age.
Minor Seminary – From Year/Grade 10 to Year/Grade. They live in the Penafirm Seminary and study at the neighboring school.
Preparatory Seminary – For adults (who have completed their secondary education) and are presented to the Seminary.
Major Seminary – For the priestly training of those presented by the Preparatory Seminary.
Any questions or requests for information should preferably be submitted to the parish registry office, in order to obtain the most appropriate response.
Click hereto learn about the rules in force in the Patriarchate of Lisbon regarding the celebration of the Sacraments.