If you are interested in the priesthood, talk with your parish priest and others involved in the pastoral work of the church to get a clearer idea of the rewards and responsibilities. Your priest or diocesan vocations office can put you in touch with a religious order if that is where you would like to serve. Aspiring priests may wish to volunteer at a church or other religious institution to become better acquainted with the type of responsibilities a priest has. Those interested in becoming a religious priest may choose to spend time in a monastery; many monasteries are open to the public for weekend or even weeklong retreats.
In both exploring the priesthood and preparing for it, you should be conscientious about living the Catholic faith as fully as you can—that is the essence of the vocation. Attend Mass and other services frequently; read about church history and doctrine; take part in parish activities. Finally, those with experience in religious ministries will tell you that the very best way to prepare for a vocation and to discern it is to pray.
All priests have the same powers bestowed on them through ordination by a bishop, but their way of life, the type of work they do, and the authority to whom they report depends on whether they are members of a religious order or working in a diocese. Diocesan priests generally work in parishes to which they are assigned by their bishop. Religious priests, such as Dominicans, Jesuits, or Franciscans, work as members of a religious community and teach, doing missionary work, or engage in other specialized activities as assigned by their superiors. Both categories of priests teach and hold administrative positions in Catholic seminaries and educational institutions.
Diocesan priests are the spiritual leaders of their congregations. They are responsible for leading liturgical celebrations, especially the Mass. They also provide pastoral care for their parishioners in times of sickness, death, or personal crisis. Diocesan priests oversee the religious education of everyone in their congregation and take care of administrative duties. Some work in parochial schools attached to parish churches or in diocesan high schools. Religious priests perform similar duties but usually in monastic or missionary settings, or in such institutions as boarding schools, medical facilities, and residential homes.
All priests take time each day to nurture their own spiritual lives through Mass, private prayer, and recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours (the offices of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, etc.). They also devote time to studying the Bible, church history, and the doctrines and practices of the faith. All of this gives them the spiritual strength necessary to carry out their ministries.
Catholic clergy do not choose their own work assignments; this is done in collaboration with their religious superiors. Work assignments, however, are always made with the interests and abilities of the individual priest in mind. Every effort is made to place a priest in the type of ministry he prepares for. Priests may serve in a wide range of ministries, from counseling full-time and working in social services to being chaplains in the armed forces, prisons, or hospitals.
In response to the shortage of Catholic priests in the United States, there has been strong increase in the number of permanent deacons. Their numbers grew from 898 in 1975 to 18,193 in 2019. Deacons are ordained ministers who perform liturgical functions such as baptisms, marriages, funerals, and to provide various services to the community. Deacons do not take the same vows as priests and thus may hold other jobs, marry, and have families. Deacons are not permitted to perform the sacraments of reconciliation or anointing of the sick. Although they perform many important duties and are of great help in a parish, deacons cannot take the place of ordained priests.