Could a Monk Become a Priest?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Monks and priests have overlapping but distinct roles and vocations in the Catholic Church.
  • While not all monks are ordained as priests, monks can choose to become priests through ordination by a bishop.
  • Monk priests have the same sacramental powers and duties as diocesan priests but still live under their monastic vows.
  • Discerning a vocation as a priest versus remaining a brother in a monastery is an important decision in a monk’s spiritual journey.
  • Although monk priests are not as common today, they historically played a vital role in the life of the Church.

Entering religious life as a monk or friar represents a radical commitment to grow closer to God through prayer, asceticism, and service. But does becoming a monk preclude also serving as an ordained priest? Can a monk additionally embrace the vocation of the priesthood?

This article will comprehensively evaluate whether and how a monk can become a priest. It will analyze the relationship between the monastic and priestly vocations, examine the process for monks to be ordained, and explore the historical significance of monk priests. Understanding the intersection between monks and priests illuminates an important dimension of Catholic religious life.

With in-depth research into Church tradition and canon law, this article provides valuable insights for those discerning religious vocations. It reveals the rich spiritual possibilities of blending monastic and priestly service. The content offers knowledge that both Catholics and non-Catholics will find intriguing and enlightening.

Continuing to read offers a detailed look at how monks can become priests and what their duties entail. It provides a deep understanding of this lesser-known facet of Catholic life and vocation.

Can Monks Be Ordained As Catholic Priests?

Yes, Catholic monks and friars can become ordained priests in addition to their monastic vocation. Their formation and spiritual life remains anchored in their religious community and its charism. But they can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders from a bishop to serve the Church through the ministry of the priesthood.

What Is the Difference Between a Monk and a Priest?

Monks and priests have overlapping but distinct roles in the Catholic Church. Here are the key differences:

  • Monks: Men who commit to live in a monastery under the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They seek God through communal prayer, work, study, and ascetic practices.
  • Priests: Men ordained by a bishop to preach, teach, sanctify, and govern in service to the broader Church and the faithful. Priests administer the sacraments and serve as spiritual fathers through pastoral ministry.

All Catholic priests make promises of celibacy and obedience to their bishop upon ordination. But monks embrace these evangelical counsels more comprehensively through their religious vows in community life.

So monk and priest are not synonymous terms. Monks are defined by religious vows, whereas priests are defined by Holy Orders. However, a man can choose to become both over the course of his vocation.

What Is the Process for a Monk to Be Ordained?

For a monk to be ordained a priest, his superiors must approve him to study for Holy Orders after proper discernment. He then undergoes the same seminarian formation as diocesan priesthood candidates. This includes philosophical and theological education.

Upon completion of formation, the monk receives the sacrament of Holy Orders from a bishop. He is then a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6). As a celibate religious, his service to the Church universal takes priority over the local church.

So monk priests undergo the same training and ordination as diocesan priests. But they remain bound by their monastic vows and community life.

How Do Monk Priests Differ From Diocesan Priests?

Once ordained, a monk priest has the same sacramental powers and responsibilities as diocesan priests. Like all Catholic priests, monk priests:

  • Preside at Mass and consecrate the Eucharist
  • Hear confessions and grant absolution
  • Administer other sacraments like baptism, anointing of the sick, and matrimony
  • Conduct spiritual direction and pastoral care
  • Preach homilies and educate others in the faith

However, unlike diocesan priests who serve in parishes or other local ministries, monks exercise their priestly ministry under the authority of their abbot and monastic community:

  • They are not incardinated into a diocese under a local bishop.
  • Their religious vows take precedence over priestly duties.
  • They carry out priestly functions as needed within or through their monastery.

So in their daily life and spiritual outlook, monk priests retain their distinct monastic character despite their priestly role.

Why Would a Monk Become a Priest?

If monk and priest serve different (though interrelated) roles, why would a monk feel called to also seek ordination? There are several motivations:

  • To fulfill a lifelong discernment of having both vocations. Some men sense an early desire to embrace religious life and priesthood. Ordination allows them to fully live out their integrated vocation.
  • To meet a practical need in their monastery. Having priest-monks allows religious communities to celebrate daily Mass, hear confessions, and perform other sacraments without relying on outside clergy.
  • To preach, teach, and counsel more effectively. As priests, monks can use their theological training and pastoral gifts to evangelize and minister more broadly through writing, education, missions, and spiritual direction.
  • To follow the example of their order’s founder. In orders like the Dominicans and Franciscans, becoming a priest aligns with their charism of active ministry alongside contemplation.

Ultimately, monk priests feel God calling them to sanctify and serve the Church in an expanded spiritual capacity alongside their monastic vocation.

What Discernment Is Required to Become a Monk Priest?

Given their distinct vocations, monks considering priesthood must discern carefully whether to seek ordination. Key discernment questions include:

  • Do I sense God calling me to fulfill this desire to become a priest for the right reasons?
  • Am I willing to embrace the additional Church responsibilities of the priesthood while remaining faithful to my religious vows?
  • Does my monastic community support my priestly vocation as beneficial to its mission?
  • Am I humble and prayerful in accepting my superiors’ guidance in this decision?
  • Is becoming a priest rooted in a genuine desire to serve God and the Church more fully?

Properly discerning if and when to pursue ordination requires deep prayer, prudence, and spiritual direction. Monks must be open to embracing either vocation with joy and peace.

How Significant Were Monk Priests Historically?

For many centuries, monk priests played a vital role in the life of the Church. In the early medieval period, monasteries were centers of evangelization, education, artistic culture, and theological development in Europe. Monks were essential in establishing the Church and spreading Christian civilization.

Later, influential monk priests like St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure made major contributions to theology, philosophy and Church renewal through their writings and leadership. Mendicant friars traveled widely to preach, teach, and minister among the people.

Until recently in Church history, most priests were celibate religious rather than diocesan clergy. Their monastic communities were powerhouses of pastoral, intellectual and cultural advancement.

So historically, monk priests were not a fringe phenomenon. They were integral in establishing Christianity, preserving knowledge, serving the faithful, and guiding the Church’s progress through challenging times over centuries. They had a profound global impact.

Are There Still Monk Priests Today?

Monk priests are less common today than in the medieval, monastic heyday of the Church. But most men’s religious orders and congregations do have priests among their members. Two factors explain the lower numbers:

  • In 1917, Church law decreed that dioceses must ordinarily be led by residential bishops. This meant fewer monk priests could serve in such leadership roles.
  • After Vatican II, the number of men entering religious life declined significantly. This resulted in fewer monks overall, including fewer priests.

However, monk priests still serve in vital roles:

  • Dominicans and Franciscans continue to embrace the priesthood as part of their evangelical vocation.
  • Monasteries rely on their monk priests to celebrate Mass and administer sacraments for their communities.
  • Monk priests from various orders minister in schools, parishes, missions, retreat centers and other apostolates.
  • Contemplative monks like Carthusians and Camaldolese provide spiritual nourishment to the broader Church through their prayers and sacrifices.

So even as their numbers are smaller, contemporary monk priests remain integral to the vibrancy of Catholic religious life today.

Can Monks Become Priests in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches?

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, which share similar traditions with Eastern Orthodoxy, monks can also be ordained priests. However, Eastern monks are typically ordained directly to the priesthood without preceding ordination to the diaconate:

  • In Eastern Orthodoxy, celibate priest-monks (hieromonks) have always been very common, far more than married parish priests (secular clergy).
  • Eastern Catholic monks also often become priests, whether of the Byzantine, Armenian, Syriac, or other rites.
  • Yet as in the Latin Church, not all Eastern monks are called to the priesthood. Many simply remain as monastics or “brothers”.

So Eastern monk priests follow a similar (though distinct) pattern of embracing both religious and priestly vocations.


In conclusion, Catholic monks can indeed become ordained as priests through proper education, formation, and the same Holy Orders sacrament as diocesan clergy. This allows them to exercise priestly ministry while still remaining true to their monastic vows and way of life.

Although monk priests are less prevalent today, they still contribute significantly through their service and spiritual fatherhood grounded in community prayer. Their vocations reveal the diverse paths by which God calls men to holiness and service in the Church.

Understanding how monks can become priests illuminates the relationship between religious and priestly life. While distinct, they complement each other in fruitful ways for serving Christ and the faithful. Monk priests offer a valuable witness of profound commitment to contemplation and active ministry for the Gospel.

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