What Does a Priest Do all Day?
Dear Father Joe, what does a priest’s day or week look like? What does a priest do? My priest always seems busy, and I’m not quite sure why.
Thank you for your question. I’ll try to give you some ideas of what priests do – and keep in mind that some of this looks a bit different during a pandemic!.
First, a priest prays. This has to be an absolutely non-negotiable part of his day. Prayer is oxygen for the soul. And when you get a priest who isn’t praying, it’s going to have negative effects all through the Church. So a priest prays privately. He also prays publicly. The priest prays Mass every day. That’s the reason we’re priests. Everything else is secondary to the Eucharist.
When you think about Sunday Mass, you may not realize how much preparation goes into it. For example, I spend between three to five hours a week on my Sunday homily. That’s really important. And if you’ve sat through bad homilies or incredibly long ones, you know exactly why I think it’s so critical to put in the time. The more preparation a priest puts into his homily, the less tempted he’ll be to get up and simply talk for 20 or 30 minutes. When we work on our homilies, we need to remember that we’re talking to a group of people who range in age from infants to 100-year-olds. We’re talking to people who are rich and people who are poor, people who are sick and people who are healthy. This is why homily prep takes so long, because you want to make sure you’re speaking to as many people as you can.
And then there are the sacraments. Every time you see a marriage, the priest has done about six to 10 hours of work with that couple to prepare them for the sacrament of matrimony. Whenever you see a funeral, a priest has spent time with the family to console them, to plan the funeral and to work on the homily for the Mass of Christian Burial. Whenever you see a baptism – you see some-one who needed instruction before receiving it or needed preparation to have their child baptized. For every sacrament, you see hours of time spent by a priest.
Of course, hours of time each week are also spent on the sacrament of reconciliation – hearing confessions and praying for those penitents.
A priest also does emergency calls, hospital visits and nursing home visits. We try to make sure we’re there when people are dying. We try to make sure that people who are alone get visits. This is a meaningful part of a priest’s life.
Priests also help people in crises besides illnesses. Someone going through a divorce often needs spiritual counsel, and sometimes assistance filing paperwork for a decree of nullity. A big part of a priest’s life is meeting with people who are hurting, meeting with people who need wisdom and comfort and prayer.
There are also a lot of administrative duties. There are usually staff members at a parish, and it can be tough sometimes to get everybody on the same page and pointed in the same direction. We’re meeting with employees and giving them guidance or comforting them or listening to them or listening to their ideas. We also have meetings – many, many meetings. There are the various councils: finance council, pastoral council, liturgy commission, etc. Whenever a council has a meeting, it’s more than likely that your priest has to be there. If they meet without him, he usually ends up with a to-do list. If the priest has more than one parish, you double or triple that.
Does the parish have a school? If so, there will always be a parent who is upset or hurt about something, and we need to talk to them. We go into classes and teach kids or walk through the halls. And then, of course, we have more meetings about the school – such as finance and tuition.
Also, your priest is probably serving on at least one (possibly as many as three) diocesan committees. There aren’t a lot of us to go around, so everybody gets tapped at some point.
Somewhere in there, a priest has to make time for his family. He has friends. And theoretically, he’s going to get to spend some time with his friends. Because time with the people whom we love is as important to us as to any person – we need that to keep us better able to serve our parishes.
Then there are the pop-ins. I don’t know what else to call them; they are all those parish events that we need to pop into. There might be a Bible study, which involves prep work. And then there’s the actual Bible study itself.
Once a year, there’s the convocation! That’s fun! That’s a great blessing to get together with your brother priests and pray.
Of course, in the midst of a pandemic, there are a whole host of other things – meetings again about how to handle social distancing and still have Mass. Facebook catechesis. Eucharistic processions through the neighborhoods. And figuring out how to sanitize a church between every Mass. We’re just figuring all of that stuff out as we go.
After all that, we do get, theoretically, vacation. That’s time to recharge the batteries and get ready to plunge into all of it again!
Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest.