Catholic Classroom: 3 Key Differences Between Diocesan & Religious Priests
Question: What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a priest in a religious order?
While many of us are familiar with our parish priests, there are actually two kinds of priests: diocesan priests and religious priests. Both kinds of priests are ordained and can administer the sacraments and celebrate Mass. They all have an essential role in the Body of Christ to carry out the ministries of his Church. But there are some significant differences between these types of priests. The differences account for the diverse duties of the priests all over the world, depending on how God has called them to serve him.
Here are the three key differences between diocesan priests and religious priests:
1. Where they live.
Diocesan priests serve in the particular geographical region of a diocese or archdiocese. Usually, the bishop assigns them to a parish, where they live independently and interact with the parishioners and broader community. Diocesan priests sometimes live with other priests who serve at their parish, but each can own his own property. The bishop can move a diocesan priest to another parish within the diocese.
Priests who are in a religious order are not assigned to a particular diocese. Instead, the superior of the order tells a religious priest where he will live to carry out his ministry. It could be in a different city, or even a different country. Religious priests live in community with one another. Communities vary in terms of rules and lifestyles. The religious priests in community own possessions communally.
2. What their mission is.
Every priest arguably has a different mission, depending on the particular circumstances of his life. But there are some generalizable differences between the missions of diocesan and religious priests. A diocesan priest is generally called to serve the needs of his parish. He celebrates Mass and administers sacraments to the parishioners, including Baptism and Reconciliation. At the same time, he runs the parish by making administrative and financial decisions. Additionally, a diocesan priest serves the particular pastoral needs of his parish, such as visiting the sick and spiritually accompanying parishioners.
In contrast, religious priests can work in a wide variety of ministries, though they also administer the sacraments and celebrate Mass. Their work depends on the charism of their religious order, which refers to the spirituality and particular focus for which the order was founded. Ministries can include teaching, working with the poor, assisting the elderly, leading a contemplative life of prayer, and much more. Rather than running parishes, a religious priest receives orders from his superior to do a particular job within the community’s charism.
3. The promises they make.
All priests make an important and unique commitment to the Church when they decide to enter seminary and when they are ordained. But there are some differences in the types of promises priests make, and when they make them. Diocesan priests make three promises to the bishop at their ordination:
- To recite daily the Liturgy of the Hours
- To obey the bishop
- To live a life of celibacy
Religious priests make temporary solemn vows before their ordination as part of their formation. After a certain number of years, depending on the order, they make final solemn vows. These vows, which are shared by religious brothers, sisters, and priests, are the three evangelical counsels:
Diocesan priests and religious priests are wonderful gifts that Christ has given us in his Church, and in their separate but complementary ways, they help the Church to flourish. We pray in a special way today for vocations to the diocesan and religious priesthood, and for all vocations to consecrated life.