The Role of Clergy in Catholicism

by Jose Maldonado
Stained glass window depicting Jesus Christ, Catholicism's founder.

Stained glass window depicting Jesus Christ, Catholicism's founder.

Religion is a system of beliefs that people use to explain the world they inhabit while serving as a guide to God. To assist their followers on their path to God, most religions create a hierarchy of servants, or clergy, to act as a link between humans and the divine. Having been in existence for nearly 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has refined its hierarchy, creating positions that are clearly demarcated by the roles they fulfill.

Pope

The pope resides in Vatican City.

The Catholic Church was founded when Jesus Christ, believed to be the son of God, named Peter as head of the church when he said, "and I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." This position, originally known as Patriarch and later changed to Pope, is the highest in the church and thus carries the most responsibility. In addition to preaching daily, serving as Bishop of the City of Rome and acting as head of the church worldwide, the pope is also expected to bless pilgrims and preside over rituals held during major holy days while traveling around the world to spread God's Word to keep faith strong. The pope must also meet with the over 5,000 bishops from dioceses worldwide to discuss the state of the church and devise solutions for problems that may plague the church.

Cardinal

15th-century Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio of Italy.

The penultimate level in the Catholic Church belongs to the cardinals, whose job it is to advise the presiding pope and, when necessary, vote for a new one. The title of cardinal is an honorary one given to bishops who head large and vital dioceses. Cardinals can only vote for a pope until the age of 80 to avoid any errors that may be caused by infirmity. In essence, the cardinals hold numerous conferences to discuss issues that must be addressed so that new solutions and strategies can be offered when the time comes to meet with the pope.

Bishop

A bishop's main task is to serve as leader of the churches in a district known as an archdiocese. Bishops also strengthen their churches by offering prayer and spreading the gospel, as mentioned in Mark 16:15, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." As head of administrative concerns and offering a sense of organization, a bishop acts as a priest's superior and helps serve as a link between the local diocese and the broader church.

Priest

Priest giving a sermon.

This position involves the most direct interaction between the church and its followers and is the one with which Catholics are most familiar. A priest's duties are many and can be considered grassroots since they perform rituals on a local level in the form of sermons, counsel, baptisms, marriages, funerals, confession and many more. It is also a priest's job to set a tone and create a sense of acceptance and love for his followers. The priest works directly under the presiding bishop, who can decide to send the priest to different churches and even to different countries, depending on the need. A priest's office dictates that he take a vow of celibacy and poverty, renouncing all worldly possessions to focus on God's love as a way to better serve his church through spiritual purity.

About the Author

Jose Maldonado teaches literature at several colleges. He has contributed to various online publications and holds a master's degree in creative writing.

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