The Catholic Church offers numerous avenues of service to Christ. Laymen might simply participate through their local parish. However, for those who feel called, service can involve taking on a more formal vocation -- that of becoming an ordained priest or, for laymen, joining a religious community as a brother. The differences between these vocations involve choices in income and lifestyle.
The name “diocesan” refers the geographic area of the community that this priest is committed to serve. This area is the diocese or parish where home the church of the diocesan priest is located. The diocesan priest’s first priority is his parishioners, his church’s congregation, but diocesan priests often serve their parish through involvement in local schools, hospitals and prisons. The priest must be ordained by the church, which grants him permission to perform ceremonies and conduct services in a Catholic church. A diocesan priest generally attends seminary for five or six years (after four years of college) before he is ordained.
A religious priest isn’t assigned to a parish or diocese. There is no geographic area that is assigned to him to serve. The religious priest is a member of a religious community of other men who have all vowed their dedicated service to a life of prayer, poverty, celibacy and obedience to God’s will. There are a number of such communities throughout the world that follow the guidelines set down by the communities’ founders centuries ago, such as Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits. These priests are also referred to as Fathers. Religious priest are ordained by the church and have the authority to conduct ceremonies and services.
For laymen who would like to commit themselves to a more dedicated walk with God than that experienced simply by participating in their parish church, joining a religious community as a brother through vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience is an option. These laymen are called brothers or friars and are not ordained as priests. Because these men are laymen, they might have any sort of occupation in addition to being a member of a religious community -- a teacher, artist, cook or gardener, for example. Each brother uses his skills and talents as his own particular form of ministry, with the goal of being a “brother” to others in mind.
Monks, Fathers and Friars
Within the monastic life, titles other than “brother” and “priest” are sometimes used. All men who live together in a religious community and make the vow of poverty, celibacy and obedience are considered to be monks -- laymen and priests alike. A man who is an ordained priest living in the community is referred to as Father, while brothers are also called friars. The term friar is Latin for “frater," which means brother. This term was first used by St. Francis of Assisi, who wished for the members of the religious community he founded to live together as brothers.
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