by Peter Stanford
To become a Catholic priest, you have to be male and willing to live a celibate life after ordination. Study for the priesthood is undertaken in a seminary, either in the local diocese, under the control of the local bishop, or elsewhere. Some candidates, especially those considered to have great academic potential, are sent to study in Rome. The basic training takes six years and includes time spent in parishes and learning by working alongside older priests.
For more than half of Catholicism’s history, its priests were allowed to marry. Married men of proven virtue – viri probati – were prominent amongst the priests of the early Church. It was only in 1139, at the Second Lateran Council, that celibacy became mandatory.
Modern Catholicism teaches of priesthood in relation to both laity and clergy. All are seen as having a vocation, because all are called to be Christians. In that sense, all believers are priests. But the Church makes a crucial distinction, that some are called to be ordained priests. ‘The ministerial priesthood differs in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful,’ states the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘because it confers a sacred power for the service of the faithful. The ordained ministers exercise their service for the People of God by teaching, divine worship and pastoral governance.’ Catholicism believes that the priest stands in the place of Jesus during the Mass when, at the consecration, he turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, as Jesus did at the Last Supper.
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