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Monday, May 14, 2018

So Ya Wanna Be a Married Priest?

In case you're wondering where the topic of this post came from, I got a tip-off from the Byzantine Catholic facebook group I am part of about a certain tweet put out by his excellency Bishop Tobin. For reference, I will display the tweet below.

This tweet started a firestorm of replies from those who know about the Eastern tradition of married men being ordained priests. Reintroducing married priests (without special exceptions) into the Latin church is an idea that has been thrown around in recent years, but nothing has happened yet. If you have been wondering how that could work out (or how it does work out in the East), let me give you some idea. For the record, I am single (and looking towards the celibate priesthood), but I have priests friends who are married priests (including my current pastor/spiritual father).

First, before anyone in the media attempts to twist my post, I will state how it works: married men can be ordained priests, but priests cannot marry. Why is this you may ask? Well, upon ordination to the subdiaconate (if you are a member of the Roman church who doesn't know what a subdeacon is, read up on Wikipedia), the man makes a promise of celibacy. What the status of the man is (at time of ordination) will influence how this promise is lived out. If a man is single at time of ordination, he cannot marry at any time for the rest of his life. If a man is married, however, he continues to live with his wife, but if his wife happens to die before he does, he is forbidden from marrying again. Because of this, there have been times where a man will delay ordination if he knows he will be married first. For the traddies and rad-trads out there, the priest's marriage status matters not sacramentally. A priest is a priest is a priest. The fact that he may be married does not change the fact that he can do anything that a celibate priest can do. The only exception is that married priests cannot be elevated to the episcopacy (while his wife is still alive).

The life of a married priest is one of sacrifice. As a married priest, he has the obligation of fulfilling his marriage vows (helping his wife and kids to get to heaven) and the obligation of his work as a priest of Jesus Christ (being the shepherd that the bishop has put in place to help the flock of sheeple he has been entrusted with get to heaven). This is no easy task.

As a married priest, there will be times where priestly duty will necessarily interfere with family life. Imagine, for a moment, the priest's wife has just finished making a delicious dinner for the whole family after a long day and everyone in the family has sat down and is ready to eat. Just as you've said grace and Father has given the blessing, the phone rings. A parishioner is in the hospital almost about to die and needs to be given the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Father lets his wife and kids know what is going on and heads out to take care of his parishioner. As we can see, the duties of being of a priest can interfere with events in family life. Are you prepared to deal with that? A side effect of this is that family events often get planned around what is happening in the parish and in the church calendar that week.

If you think the priest's wife has little part to play in this, think again. The priest's wife supports the priest in helping to run the parish. If the priest doesn't make enough money from his work as a priest to support his family, the wife will have to take a job. Even though this doesn't really happen in Eastern Catholic circles, I have heard of stories from Orthodox circles where the priest's pay wasn't enough to provide for his family, so the priest himself had to work a secular job just to make ends meet for his family. To me, no priest (Catholic or Orthodox) should ever have to worry about things getting that bad, but it happens sometimes (unfortunately).

For the married priest, priesthood formation involves the wife just as it involves the man. In order to even be ordained, the wife has to say "Yes" to her husband presenting himself for ordination. If the wife says "No" to the whole thing, the bishop will not ordain him. There is an important bit of information I got when I went to the Come And See Weekend last year at Saints Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. "As a married man, your first duty is to your family. If you have young children or newly married, it might be best if you wait a few years before you enter seminary". In other words, a married man thinking about ordination must have a stable household first. If you don't have a stable household, what makes you think you can manage both your own family and a parish family?

I suppose I should add this section for any Latins reading this post. Unless the current discipline on celibacy in the Latin church changes, the Eastern bishops are fully aware of the celibacy discipline of the Latin church and are on the lookout for men applying for seminary in their churches just because the Eastern churches allow married men to be ordained priests and the Latin church does not. If you are (currently) ascribed to the Latin church and you want to get ordained in one of the Eastern Catholic churches, there needs to be some other good reason why you want to be ordained in one of Eastern Catholic churches.

Even though the East has a history of ordaining married men as priests, celibacy still exists in the East and is still appreciated. All monastics are required to be celibate. In order to be elevated to the episcopate, a priest cannot be married. As a result, there are many times where the next bishop of an eparchy (eparchy <=> diocese, same thing) will come from among the monastics, but not always. In the East, a married priest must be free from sexual relations for about 24-48 hours before he is to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This is why you don't usually find daily Divine Liturgy in the East (the married priest is busy fulfilling the marital part of his life).

I think I have covered a good bit on the life of a married priest. If I am missing anything you think should be added to this, let me know in the comments and I will try for a part 2 with all the information I missed.

On the priest wife end, I have this as well.


  1. "In the East, a married priest must be free from sexual relations for about 24-48 hours before he is to celebrate the Divine Liturgy." This is equally true for married laity who want to receive Holy Eucharist. :-) It's part of the principles of asceticism and mysticism that govern our lives that whenever we fast from food we also abstain from marital relations, as during Lent, Advent, Apostles Fast, Dormition Fast, Wednesdays and Fridays. Even those who choose to disregard this at other times are still expected to abstain from sexual relations before receiving Holy Communion and throughout Holy Week.

  2. if the reason for not normally having daily Divine Liturgy is that a married priest must abstain from marital relations for 24 to 48 hours before DL- why do monks also not have the tradition of daily DLs?

    1. Do you mean as individual monks themselves or collectively as a community>

    2. If as individual monks, there is the rule of 1 Divine Liturgy per altar per day. If you mean as a community, I'm honestly not sure. The Divine Liturgy is supposed to happen as it's part of the daytime services.

  3. "If as individual monks, there is the rule of 1 Divine Liturgy per altar per day."
    Are you perhaps thinking of the _limitation_ that a priest may only celebrate the Divine Liturgy once in a day, and that the DL may only be celebrated on a given altar once in a day?

    An individual priest could not celebrate the Divine Liturgy alone. There must be at least one other person there, to respond to the prayers.

    In Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Monasteries most of the monks are neither priests, nor deacons, but simply monastic brothers. The monastery would ordain a priest or deacon when it finds it is in need of one.

    "The Divine Liturgy is supposed to happen as it's part of the daytime services." Someone else will need to address this since of the Orthodox, and the Eastern Catholic Monasteries I am familiar with, some celebrate a daily Divine Liturgy, while others pray the Hours but do not celebrate the DL.