World Day of Prayer for Vocations was observed last weekend. For that reason in last week’s Bulletin I pointed out that two kinds of seminaries exist: college and graduate school. I also noted that college seminaries provide an in-depth introduction to the disciplined priestly lifestyle of faith and prayer, accompanied by the study of philosophy.
In the graduate-level seminary, the principal focus of study is theology. The word “theology” comes from the Greek terms meaning “word of God.” The subject-matter for a theologian is two-fold: the “divine words” which God Himself has spoken, especially in the very person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; and the “human words” which we human beings speak about God.
Thus in theology the seminarian studies Sacred Scripture first and foremost. The Bible and its correct interpretation must be at the center of the priest’s prayer and study. Church history and courses in dogmatic theology are also important, for when we go back in time we discover how other disciples have heard God’s Word and put it into practice.
More practical courses are moral theology and pastoral theology courses, where the subject matter deals with how we behave in response to what God has said. Liturgy, too is a basic human response to the Lord. And this is also where canon law fits in, for it is the Church’s self-description of its own life and limitations in light of God’s will.
A graduate-level seminarian aims towards becoming a true “general practitioner” of theology. In this country the usual degree he earns is a “Master of Divinity” degree, which is a professional degree that attests a broad competence in religious studies. For those who are more academically-inclined, there are also the possibilities of pursuing a “Master of Arts” degree in Sacred Theology, or even higher degrees still, such as the pontifical licentiate or the doctoral rank.
By the time a man is ordained to the priesthood he has spent a minimum of four years in graduate-level seminary, concentrating on learning about the Lord and preparing himself to serve God and His People for the rest of his life. Yes, it’s a challenging course of life and study B and yes, it’s worth every minute of it!