It’s the million-dollar question: what do priests do all day? It’s a hard question to answer, because firstly priests vary, but also ministry situations differ. To give a definitive answer, you’d have to survey every priest in Ireland and feed the results into some massive computer to get an average for the whole country. (It would make an interesting read though.)
There was a time when priests were engaged in a wide variety of ministries, though this is less the case now. In the past, some taught in schools and colleges, or were involved in administrative roles. Now, most priests work from a parish base and have some kind of pastoral ministry. There are some constants in every priest’s life: grief and loss, birth and joy, friendship and commitment (which translates loosely to baptisms, marriages and funerals).
And what do these entail? Funerals take up much of priests’ time and attention. When news comes of a death, a priest will call to the bereaved family if he can. Arrangements are made and prayers said, often with the help of the parish funeral team; they plan the Funeral Mass, readings, singing etc. As well as that, the priest prepares his homily and selects prayers for the liturgy. Then there’s the Mass itself and the burial or cremation to attend. The priest attends the social occasion afterwards more as a carer than a socialiser, continuing to support grieving people. Then follow-up visits are made, with anniversaries marked and bereaved people supported.
If priests just ‘did funerals’, their lives would be simple. But they do more: marriages and baptisms are part of every parish package too, sometimes on the same day as funerals. As well, the priest has daily Mass most days, and we give time to personal prayer, as well as praying the Divine Office.
Sunday Mass always involves a homily: some spend hours preparing for those five minutes. Bigger feasts like Christmas and Holy Week take even more preparation. And then there are schools to be attended to. First Communion and Confirmation events are scheduled and arranged, as well as occasional visits to the other classes too.
Other pastoral involvements include home and hospital visitation, attending nursing homes and keeping in contact with parishioners in trouble or in jail.
Apart from all these opportunities for ministry, the priest also has to look after his own needs, taking a day off each week – at least one, and ideally a day and a night away from the parish. And priests need to keep up-to-date as every professional does, by reading, attending courses and conferences.
So what do priests do all day? They do pastoral priestly work, which takes very many forms. No two days are the same, and most days bring surprises as well as challenges. People are a joy, but they can be a pain too.
Ask your own priest what he did yesterday – you may be surprised at the variety presented each day of his life!
Saturday 17 March
Remember the real Patrick: an uneducated sinner — or so he wrote about himself. By the gift of God he succeeded, according to the Confession he wrote.
Patrick was first brought to Ireland as a slave, aged 16. In exile here, he discovered God’s deep love for him and found Faith.
After his escape, Patrick had a vision. He heard “the voice of the Irish”, imploring him to return. He did, as a missionary.
Patrick was not an instant success, having to cope with jealousy and in-fighting. But because his faith was as firm as a rock, he survived every obstacle.
He inspires us to do the same.
Busy but I just wouldn’t change
What do I do all day? Monday is my writing day— for the newsletter, parish correspondence etc. If the administration isn’t all completed one Monday, it waits till the next. Administration can overwhelm.
I am off on Tuesdays, then Wednesday to Friday are pastoral days: Wednesday for visitation; Thursday for school work and Friday for hospitas. On Saturday afternoon I meet couples preparing for marriage, or I have baptisms. Sunday is for Mass and for rest. Each weekday includes a half hour’s prayer, a half hour’s walk and about eight hours’ work in many guises. But I wouldn’t want it any other way!