When asked how long our formation for the priesthood is, a dropped jaw is usually the response we get after saying “14 years.” “Why does it take so long? You could become a doctor instead… twice.”
One response that I got from a young artist in St. Peter’s Square did not fit the normal mold though: “Well, I guess you do have to prepare to say every mass for the rest of your life.” I didn’t quite know what to say because I didn’t quite know what he meant, but I can tell you for sure what we are not doing in seminaries – we’re not writing homilies on every gospel passage that could possibly come up for Mass. So in that sense, no, we are not preparing for every Mass for the rest of our lives.
Thankfully, the brother next to me was able to understand a little bit quicker – “well, it’s more about praying over it, not just preparing to say Mass.” “It” referring to our formation, the liturgy, the gospel, etc.
To be a bit more specific about formation, St. Pope John Paul II defined it as “a path of gradual identification with the attitude of Christ towards the Father.” (Vita Consecrata 65) I’m not sure if you understand how difficult that is. Just consider what Jesus’ “attitude” towards his Father was: he woke up before dawn to climb mountains to pray to his father, told his closest disciples that he has no authority on his own (a considerable statement after all of his miracles) if not given to him by the Father, taught the common people to pray to God as a father, and lastly but not least died a death of shame in loving obedience to his Father. That makes “saying Mass” look easy if saying Mass is just literally saying the words and following the steps.
But we in the seminary are not studying just to say words and follow steps. We are “studying” or better said “being formed” into an imitation of Christ, so that we can help bring the people that we encounter to the Father just like Jesus did.
So, yes, our formation takes 14 years, which is a long and difficult path. We could use your prayers.