What Does a Diocesan Priest Do?

Priestly Life: Identity and Mission

In general, a diocesan priest celebrates Mass each day, leads the community in prayer, administers the Sacraments, visits those in need, and provides for the spiritual, and temporal needs of the people.  He basically spends his time being God’s instrument in the world.  His activity revolves around the priestly identity that is given to him at ordination, and the three munera of the priest—to teach, to sanctify and to govern.  The three offices (munera) mentioned above are exercised in different ways depending upon the specific assignment of the priest.  The munera of teaching is expressed in a variety of ways including individual and group encounters with people throughout the day, like for example, preaching at Mass, or by teaching in a parish school. The munera of sanctifying is exercised first and foremost through the celebration of the sacraments, especially daily Mass, and through living a life of prayer.  The munera of governing is exercised through the daily administration of the parish, or specific ministry, and through providing for the human and spiritual needs of the people.  These three munera correspond to the three identifications of Christ as Priest (sanctifier), Prophet (teacher), and King (governor), and are integral to the identity and daily life of a parish priest.

The Daily Life of a Priest: Nothing Ordinary

In a practical way, one of the things that makes the life of a priest very interesting and joyful is that no two days seem to ever be the same.  Each day is an expression of the three munera, but in different ways. 

One can see that a priest’s daily life is extremely varied because those he serves have varying needs.  In general, each day includes daily celebration of Mass, prayer, meeting and counseling people, being available to visit the sick, attend to the dying, meet with staff, administer the parish, visit with children from the school or youth groups, or celebrate a funeral Mass or attend a wake, among many other things. Sometimes, a day might not seem to have a lot of scheduled events, but includes simply being present to the community in simple ways.  Other times, from the moment of getting up in the morning until going to bed, it is busy with one thing after the other.  Often times, a priest can say at the end of the day: “I am tired, but very happy!” because he has spent the day giving of himself.

Part of the daily life of a priest also includes free time for himself, exercise, entertainment and being with friends.  These things, just as is the case for all people, are interspersed in the everyday life of a priest, and help us to remember that a priest is “taken from among men and made their representative before God” (Hebrews 5:1), and is not lacking in the needs that that all people possess.

Daily Life Configured to Christ

The daily life of a priest in the parish is permeated by his configuration to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd and must necessarily manifest and give witness to the extraordinary and radical call of the Gospel. This means that priests are called to a way of life that gives evident and clear witness to the power of the Gospel at work in their personal and ministerial lives, which should not be looked at as completely separated from each other. The things of this way of life include: 

  • A way of life determined by and lived out of the three-fold munera given priests at ordination to teach, to sanctify, and to govern.
  • A life of serious prayer centered in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours.
  • A life of devotional prayer, especially expressed in devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary, and the Saints
  • A deep personal devotion to Jesus Christ, as Lord, Friend, and Brother
  • A daily dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit in priestly ministry
  • A life of obedience and love for the Church and Her Teachings
  • A life lived in communion with one’s bishop and the presbyterate, lived through sacramental, apostolic, and fraternal bonds
  • A life of celibate chastity, freely accepted, that serves as a sign and stimulus of love, and as a source of spiritual strength, that manifests his consecration to Christ as a new man
  • A life of gratitude for the material blessings of God’s creation, a simple and generous lifestyle in solidarity with the poor
  • A life of missionary zeal for the salvation of souls
  • A life that inspires and promotes all vocations in the Church

A Typical Day for a Priest:  Not So Typical 

No two days for a priest are the same, but here is a general outline of what one day may look like. 

6:00 am - Wake up, breakfast

  • 6:30 am - Holy Hour - Office of Readings and Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours
  • 8:00 am - Parish Mass - sometimes with children from the parish school
  • 9:00 am - Office work and returning calls/emails
  • 10:30 am - Anoint a person who is dying in the hospital, nursing home visits/ visit with parishioners/meet with people

12:00 pm - Lunch, Midday Prayer

  • 1:00 pm - Parish Staff meeting, or visit to parish school, meet parishioners, etc
  • 2:00 pm - Visit school classrooms, help with school dismissal, see people.
  • 3:00 pm - Office work - prepare for faith formation session, homily, meetings
  • 4:00 pm - Go to a wake
  • 4:30 pm - Take a little time free - go back to rectory, have a cup of coffee, exercise, go for walk or something
  • 5:00 pm - Take time to pray Evening Prayer/see people or return calls, hear some confessions

5:30 pm - Grab some dinner with other priests, friends, on own, etc

  • 6:30 pm - Receive appointments/ pray rosary/ prep for evening activity
  • 7:00 pm - Teach RCIA, Sacramental Preparation, Bible Study, hang out with Youth Group, lead time of prayer, have meetings with Engaged Couples, run parish meetings such as Pastoral Council, Finance Council, hear some confessions of people.
  • 9:00 pm - Finish up evening activities/ hang out with brother priests at rectory, get exercise, waste time, catch a Bruins Hockey game, etc.

10:30 pm-ish - Get to bed after Night Prayer


Priestly Fraternity: Brother Priest Unified by a Bishop

One integral part of the daily life of a Diocesan Priest is the community to which he belongs.  As it is said: “No man is an island.”  This is true for the Diocesan Priest also.  His life is filled with several different communities to which he belongs. 

Firstly, through his ordination, he becomes a member of the group of other diocesan priests who serve in his diocese understood as the Presbyterate.  The presbyterate of Boston, for example, consists of hundreds of priests serving in a whole host of different parishes, and specialized ministries, within and outside of the Archdiocese of Boston geographical area.  At the center of the presbyterate is the Archdiocesan Bishop, who unifies and gathers it together.  Each priest, naturally, has friendships in varying degrees with his brother priests, depending on personality, likes, dislikes, and all those things that determine friendships in general.  But there is a common bond of friendship which is created by virtue of the ordination that priests share, and which often creates friendships between brother priests that otherwise might not be so evident. 

Community Life: Son, Brother, and Father

In addition to the community of the presbyterate, and the community of personal friendships with brother priests, each diocesan priest also enjoys the community to whom he ministers.  For a Diocesan Priest, typically his community is the parish where he serves. 

He is engaged in the daily lives of his parishioners, as a friend, brother, and spiritual father.  Lastly, the basic community that a diocesan priest enjoys is his own family, including his parents, siblings, and extended family.  Regardless of whether or not he lives close or far from his natural family, he still enjoys these relationships and enters into their lives, very often in a profound way, as a priest, and as a son or brother, uncle, etc.

Specialized Ministry: A Unique Way of Being a Priest

Because a diocesan priest usually serves as a parish priest, caring for the people in his parish, his daily life revolves around the life of a parish.  Sometimes, a diocesan priest will be assigned to what is called “specialized ministry”, where he is not assigned primarily or at all to serve a particular parish but instead serves the church at the diocesan level. 

When this is the case, his daily life is determined by the ministry to which he is assigned.  Examples of specialized ministry include being a chaplain at a school, hospital, prison, or military facility; or working at the tribunal, as a canon lawyer; or at the Pastoral Center, in the administration of the diocese in some way, such as being responsible for a particular diocese-wide ministry, serving as director of an office such as Vocations, Youth, College, or Pro-Life ministries.  Other examples include being assigned as a seminary formator or faculty member, or serving as priest secretary to the bishop or Master of Ceremonies for the Archdiocese.  Regardless of the ministry to which a diocesan priest is assigned, he will live in a parish or seminary setting and celebrate Mass each day and administer the sacraments routinely.