What is Seminary Like?

The seminary is the place where a man is formed mind, body, and soul into the image of Jesus Christ. 

Seminaries are not places where men walk around in silence all day chanting in Latin. Rather, they are places of joy, camaraderie, and deep learning!  

Today’s seminarians experience the best formation the Church offers!

In order to become a Catholic priest, a man must fulfill three basic requirements: a college degree, 2 years of Philosophy study, and 4 years of Theology study. 

Some men enter seminary while still in college and so they attend College Seminary.  Once they get a degree, they can transfer to Major Seminary. What is daily life like for a typical seminarian? In a word: busy.

Because the demands of priesthood are so great, formation of future priests is rigorous.  In addition to master’s-level academics, seminarians pray together at least twice a day, go to daily Mass, meet with their spiritual directors, and go to pastoral assignments at local parishes.

Plus there are special meetings, workshops, and homework.    

Three Levels of Seminary

    Formation for the priesthood begins with a focus on the seminarian’s relationship with Jesus Christ. After becoming a disciple of Christ at his Baptism, formation allows a man to grow as a disciple who is discerning and preparing for ordained ministry. The gradual development of the future priest has holiness as its
    goal, to become configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd, Servant and Spouse.

    While the 5th edition of the Program of Priestly Formation spoke of college seminary, pre-theology, and major seminary, the 6th edition, following the Ratio, speaks of stages. There are four stages of initial formation: Propaedeutic, Discipleship, Configuration, and Vocational Synthesis.

     

    1. Since formation is a lifelong journey, it is important to lay a solid foundation for this journey in the Propaedeutic Stage, especially in the human and spiritual dimensions. Thus “the Propaedeutic Stage is an indispensable phase of formation with its own specific character” (Ratio Fundamentalis, no. 59) This stage allows the seminarian to lay a foundation for a new way of life through prayer, study, fraternity, and appropriate docility to formation.
    2. In the Discipleship Stage, which must not last less than two years, there is a systematic and rigorous formation that has at its core the goal of growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the life of meditation, contemplation, philosophical study, and the training of one’s character in Christian virtue.
    3. In the Configuration Stage, the seminarian models his life on the self-donation of Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Servant, as he prepares more immediately for Holy Orders. “This configuration demands that the seminarian enter profoundly into the contemplation of the person of Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, sent as Shepherd of the People of God. It will make the relationship with Christ more intimate and personal and, at the same time, will lead to an awareness and an assumption of priestly identity” (Ratio Fundamentalis, no. 88). Reception of Candidacy, and conferral of the ministries of lector and acolyte occurs during this stage, marking the progressive deepening of this selfconfiguration to Christ both liturgically and in catechesis,  vangelization, and active service to the poor.
    4. The Vocational Synthesis Stage is the period of formation between diaconal and priestly ordinations. Since formal seminary formation has been completed, it is intended primarily as a time not of evaluation, but of integration and transition into one’s diocese or ecclesiastical entity in which the deacon is preparing to serve. This stage is a gradual realization of the cleric’s responsibility for the care of souls while he resides full-time in a pastoral setting.

    Installation of Ministries

    Seminarians progress through several formal steps on their way to priesthood, typically in the timeframe presented below (with some variations, depending on the seminary).  Note that the first two ministries are also held by lay people throughout the Church.

    • Admission to Candidacy: The bishop formally calls a man to be ordained.
    • Ministry of Lector (First Theology): Proclaim the word of God in a liturgical assembly.
    • Ministry of Acolyte (Second Theology): Assist the deacon and priest during Mass.
    • Ordination to Diaconate (Summer after Third Theology): A man is ordained to proclaim the gospel at mass, preach, baptize, witness marriages, and assist the priest in bringing Jesus to people in need.
    • Ordination to Priesthood (Summer after Fourth Theology): A man is ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

     

    Four dimensions of Priestly Formation

    Formation for the priesthood begins with a focus on the seminarian’s relationship with Jesus Christ. After becoming a disciple of Christ at his Baptism, formation allows a man to grow as a disciple who is discerning and preparing for ordained ministry. The gradual development of the future priest has holiness as its goal, to become configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd, Servant and Spouse.

    There are four stages of initial formation: Propaedeutic, Discipleship, Configuration, and Vocational Synthesis.

    The Propaedeutic Stage (1-3 Years)

    Since formation is a lifelong journey, it is important to lay a solid foundation for this journey in the Propaedeutic Stage, especially in the human and spiritual dimensions. This is a non-academic stage which allows the seminarian to lay a foundation for a new way of life through prayer, study, fraternity, and appropriate docility to formation.

    The Discipleship Stage (2 Years) – Philosophical Studies

    In the Discipleship Stage there is a systematic and rigorous formation that has at its core the goal of growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the life of meditation, contemplation, philosophical study, and the training of one’s character in Christian virtue.

    The Configuration Stage (4 Years) – Theological Studies

    In the Configuration Stage, the seminarian models his life on the self-donation of Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Servant, as he prepares more immediately for Holy Orders. “This configuration demands that the seminarian enter profoundly into the contemplation of the person of Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, sent as Shepherd of the People of God. It will make the relationship with Christ more intimate and personal and, at the same time, will lead to an awareness and an assumption of priestly identity” (Ratio Fundamentalis, no. 88). Reception of Candidacy, and conferral of the ministries of lector and acolyte occurs during this stage, marking the progressive deepening of this self-configuration to Christ both liturgically and in catechesis, evangelization, and active service to the poor.

    The Vocational Synthesis Stage (6 months – 1 Year)

    The Vocational Synthesis Stage is the period of formation between diaconal and priestly ordinations. Occurring upon the completion of formal seminary formation, it is intended as a time of integration and transition into one’s diocese. This stage is a gradual realization of the cleric’s responsibility for the care of souls while he resides full-time in a parish.

    Next: What is Discernment?