Frequently Asked Questions – Vocations

Frequently Asked Questions about the Priesthood

1. What is ordination?

Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or
bishop and enabled to minister in Christ’s name and that of the
Church. There are three ordinations in the Sacrament of Holy
deaconate; priesthood; and Episcopal. The ordination
ceremony includes various
rituals, rich in meaning and history, E.G., the
prostration, laying on of hands, anointing of hands, giving of
the chalice and
paten sign of peace.

2. When does the ordination actually take place?

The essential rite of the sacrament is the laying on of hands
and prayer of consecration, which occurs during the Mass of
Ordination. This is an ancient tradition in the
Church, mentioned in the Bible.

3. Who can ordain priests?

Only a bishop can ordain a priest because he shares in the
ministry of Jesus passed down through the apostles.

4. What is the meaning of the laying on of hands?

By this ritual the ordaining bishop and the other priests invoke
the Holy Spirit to come down upon the one to be ordained, giving
him a sacred character and setting him apart for the designated

5. Why does the ordained lie prostrate during the

It symbolizes his unworthiness for the office to be assumed and
his dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian

6. What is the meaning of the newly ordained priest
receiving the stole and chasuble?

These are vestments which pertain to his office and have
symbolic meaning. The stole symbolizes the authority and
responsibility to serve in imitation of Christ. It reflects the
line from Scripture: “For my yoke is easy and my burden light”
(Mt11:30). The chasuble is the principal garment of the priest
celebrating the Eucharist and is the outermost vestment.

7. What does the anointing of the hands signify?

Anointing with oil stems from the Old Testament and indicates
that someone or something is being set apart for a sacred task
or duty. The anointing of the hands signifies that the hands of
the newly ordained priest are being prepared for the sacred
duties and vessels which will be part of the priestly ministry,
for example, offering the bread and the wine, anointing the sick
and blessing people. The bishop says as he anoints the hands:
“The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of
the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the
Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.”

8. Why does the ordaining bishop hand the
ordinand a chalice and paten?

The Eucharist is at the heart of the priesthood and this ritual
highlights the importance of celebrating the Eucharist in the
life of the priest and its meaning, as seen in the words which
are spoken by the bishop: “Accept from the holy people of God
that gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and
imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the
mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

9. How does one prepare for ordination to the priesthood?

A man has to engage in a challenging program of priestly
formation which lasts from five to thirteen years, depending
upon his background and the seminary he attends. There are three
levels of seminary: high school; college or
and theology.

Seminaries address four types of formation: human; spiritual,
academic(intellectual); and pastoral. In addition to the
academic course work, seminarians participate in a full schedule
of spiritual activities, e.g., daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer),
and spiritual direction and retreats. At each level of seminary
training, the seminarians prepares for the future pastoral
ministry in various settings, such as schools, religious
education programs, hospitals and parishes. All of the formation
takes into consideration the human person; human growth and
development is fostered by community living workshops and other
programs. The formation of future priests includes practical
learning, too, for example, preaching, saying Mass, and pastoral
For recent statistics on seminaries and seminary students,
please call the
Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation at the
United Sates
Conference of Catholic Bishops.