We are reminded in the Rite of Ordination that, “priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the People of God.” Meaning that the priest does not standalone ministerially and certainly not sacramentally. The priest at all times is entering into the ministerial obligations of his bishop, by preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith, celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ, especially the Sacrifice of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and by leading those faithful entrusted to him, by the bishop, to grow in their spiritual life and awareness of God’s mercy.
The Four Obligations of the Priesthood
Promise of Celibacy
Celibacy proclaims to the world that the priest belongs completely to God, and this frees him for ministerial service. The Church has highlighted some of the practical benefits the celibate man possesses in his relationship to Jesus Christ: “they adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ” (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16).
…But above all, celibacy is a life given to Christ and lived in radical imitation of him—“an answer of love to the love which Christ has shown us so sublimely,” as Pope St. Paul VI described it. It is a life dedicated “not to any human ideal, no matter how noble, but to Christ and to His work to bring about a new form of humanity in all places and for all generations” (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 24). The beauty of this gift of celibacy is most clearly and brilliantly seen through the examples of so many of those same saints who are to be invoked in the litany of the saints during the ordination ceremony. Through them, it is evident that when “accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1579).
To Pray without Ceasing
Priests are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people. In order to be able to pursue this perfection priests are to nourish their spiritual life from the two-fold table of sacred scripture and the Eucharist; therefore, priests are earnestly invited to offer the eucharistic sacrifice daily, priests are also obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours daily, and are also urged to engage in mental prayer regularly, to approach the sacrament of penance frequently, to honor the Virgin Mother of God with particular veneration, and to use other common and particular means of sanctification. “In this way, let the holiness of your lives be a delightful fragrance to Christ’s faithful, so that by word and example you may build up the house which God’s Church” (Rite of Ordination).
Promise of Obedience
Priests are bound by a special obligation to show reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and their own Bishop (Can. 273). Therefore, at the time of ordination the candidate kneels before his own bishop and commits himself to a life of humble, active obedience.
Obedience guarantees that the one body of Christ is united in one mind and heart. It is not a repression of one’s desires or opinions, but a fruitful directing of them to a common goal. Obedience in the Church resembles that which is within any family—in fact, in speaking of priestly obedience, the Catechism states that “the promise of obedience they make to the bishop at the moment of ordination and the kiss of peace from him at the end of the ordination liturgy mean that the bishop considers them his co-workers, his sons, his brothers and his friends, and that they in return owe him love and obedience” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1567).
To Live Simply
The Church wants her priests to be spiritual fathers, not spiritual bachelors, so she also gives this guidance: “Clerics are to foster simplicity of life and are to refrain from all things that have a semblance of vanity” (Can. 282 §1). Should a diocesan priest have a well-functioning and reliable car for ministry? Yes. Should a diocesan priest be driving around in a luxury vehicle? Probably not. The cardinal virtue of prudence plays a pivotal role in guiding the stewardship of a diocesan priest.
The Second Vatican Council states that “Priests are invited to embrace voluntary poverty and are to use money acquired in the exercise of their ecclesiastical office primarily for their own decent support and the fulfillment of the duties of their state. They should be willing to devote whatever is left over to the good of the Church or to works of charity.” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, #17)