Seminary formation is typically between six and seven years long. It is not simply a program of study but a formative process that is designed to help a person grow in their relationship with, and likeness to, Jesus Christ. It is meant to be a place where one might grow not just in knowledge of the faith but also in charity, self-awareness and prayer.
Life in the house
The seminary timetable varies from place to place but includes some core elements. A normal seminary timetable will include daily Mass and the communal celebration of at least some of the Liturgy of the Hours, usually Lauds and Vespers. The week will include lectures, pastoral placements and other meetings with a personal tutor, singing teacher and voice coach as well as regular meetings with a spiritual director. In the life of the seminary each seminarian will have a house job giving them a specific responsibility for some area of the life of the house, for example assisting in the refectory or the sacristy. Similarly the liturgical functions of the house are divided up amongst the students and over the course of the year you will serve Mass, read and cantor the liturgies.
No one week in seminary is the same as another and over the course of the year there will be retreats, spiritual conferences, ordinations, pilgrimages, liturgical celebrations, house trips and much more.
Four pillars of formation
The Church envisages formation as taking in four areas of a persons life – human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual. The seminary system is therefore designed to foster each of these elements of a person make up and help develop them to the best of the candidates ability so that they might more closely follow Christ and be the most effective vehicle for bearing him to others. Human development is aimed at helping a seminarian grow in awareness of himself, understanding his own personality, growing in emotional maturity and cultivating the virtues. Intellectual formation is twofold. Firstly the study of philosophy, so a seminarian can understand how we think and why, and so better speak into contemporary society. Secondly the study of theology, so as to better understand the faith, the scriptures, church history and the moral life. Pastoral life is very much experiential, with the seminarian undertaking various placements in differing settings so as to take in a broad view of the priestly life and begin to inhabit it – in short growing into the role of shepherd of a flock in all its various guises. The forth pillar, spiritual life, is about growing close to the Lord and learning to trust him. A large part of this is developing a rhythm of prayer in daily life and regular contact with a spiritual director throughout formation and beyond.
PASTORES DABO VOBIS (I will give you Shepherds)
“On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day”
Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II on 25th March, 1992