Discernment Dictionary

As you discern your vocation, you may come across terms that are unfamiliar. Here are some helpful definitions.

Bishop

DSC_0098As the pope is the successor of Saint Peter, the bishops are the successors of the apostles. As the pope is the vicar (or Representative) of Christ for the whole Church, each diocesan bishop is a vicar of Christ for his diocese. A bishop receives the fullest degree of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Only a bishop has the power to ordain deacons, priests or bishops.

Celibacy

Celibacy is the free choice to remain unmarried for the whole of one’s life for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The tradition in the Roman or Latin-Rite of the Catholic Church has been for priests and bishops to take promises of celibacy, a rule that has been firmly in place since the early Middle Ages. It is understood as a gift that is not granted to all or to even most people, but is granted to some.

Deacon

A deacon is a man who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and is engaged in ordained ministry, most often in a designated parish community. Deacons normally assist priests by means of preaching, celebrating the sacraments of baptism and marriage, and parochial administration. A transitional deacon is an unmarried man who ultimately will be ordained a priest.  A permanent deacon is often a married man who will serve in his parish, but does not normally go on to be ordained a priest. 

Discernment

The ongoing prayerful reflection about the circumstances of our daily lives by which we seek to discover God’s unique call is known as the process of discernment. It is the way of listening to the voice of God in personal experience, Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments and throughout the life of the Church.

Formation

The process of theological education and spiritual development that takes place during the initial stages of joining a religious order is known as formation. The seminary training that men who are preparing for ordained ministry as priests receive is similarly referred to as formation.

Holy Orders

The Sacrament by which, through the authority of the Church, the imposition of a bishop’s hands confers on a man the grace and spiritual power to celebrate the Church’s sacraments. Although there is only one sacrament of Holy Orders, there are three forms (or degrees) of the sacrament that are celebrated: diaconate (deacon), presbyterate (priest) and episcopate (bishop). Therefore, every man who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a deacon, priest or bishop.

Ministry

The word ministry literally means “service.” In the Christian life, it refers to specific roles, tasks and works of service designated by the Church.

Obedience

From the Latin word meaning “to listen,” obedience is the virtue of entrusting oneself to proper authority in the life of the Church. Men and women in religious orders take a vow of obedience. One of the evangelical counsels, obedience is understood as the commitment by those in consecrated life to obey their religious superiors or leaders. Diocesan priests promise obedience to their bishop and all his successors and, as such, entrust themselves to his paternal care and direction.

Ordination

DSC_0034Ordination confers the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through ordination a man becomes a deacon, priest or bishop.

Priest

The ordained priesthood is conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through it priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit they receive in the sacrament, are signed with a special character and are conformed to Christ in such a way that they act in the person of Christ (in persona Christi). Priests, while engaging in prayer and adoration, or preaching God’s Word, or offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice and administering the other sacraments, or performing other works of ministry for people, devote their energy to the increase of the glory of God and to humanity’s progress in the divine life.

Sacraments

God encounters us in the sacraments and we encounter God. From the Latin sacramentum meaning “oath”, sacraments are those sacred events instituted by Jesus Christ where divine grace is lavished upon us so that we might be sanctified and strengthened on our journey across the earthly stage. The seven Sacraments of the Church are often organized in terms of initiation, healing and vocation. The sacraments of initiation provide the sources of Christian life: Baptism gives us rebirth in Christ, Confirmation seals and strengthens the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, and Holy Eucharist nourishes our soul. The sacraments of healing restore our soul’s health: Reconciliation (also called Penance and Confession) forgives our sins, and Anointing of the Sick prepares us for eternity. The sacraments of vocation aid the salvation of others: in Matrimony we work for salvation for our spouse and the children to come, and in Holy Orders we work for the salvation of all. Each of the seven sacraments gives sanctifying grace as well as actual grace.

Seminary

The institution where men engage in theological studies and spiritual development for the purpose of preparing for ordained priesthood is called a seminary. A college or “minor” seminary is a priestly formation program whereby a man (who is a seminarian) earns a BA in a liberal arts major and prepares himself for acceptance into a graduate program. A theologate or “major” seminary is a priestly formation program whereby a man (who is a seminarian) earns a masters level degree and is ordained to the priesthood upon the successful completion of the program and with permission of his bishop.

Seminarian

A seminarian is a man who has been accepted by a bishop to prepare formally for priestly life and ministry in a diocese.

Vocation/Call

Every person is created by God out of love and is called to live in relationship with God by loving God, self, others, and all creation. Through Baptism and Confirmation all Christians are called to follow Jesus Christ. This call to follow Jesus leads people to one of the four paths in life: single life, married life, the consecrated life, or ordination to the diaconate or priesthood.