ASK FATHER: Should a priest have a day off?

From a reader…


I have worked for the Catholic church for over 30 years in various capacities. I taught Religion and worked as a Parish Secretary, as I do now. I have worked for some pretty fabulous “Old School” priests who did not seem to mind that were in the confessional 5- 6 days a week, providing the Sacrament of Penance or that on some days they might say 2 or 3 Masses and maybe more on Holy Days or when needed to say a funeral Mass or wedding Mass. They offered Baptism every Sunday in the parish. Now I see the younger generation of priests always making sure that they have their days off each week…which I do not begrudge them, but if they are called on to maybe meet with a struggling family, then they will take a half day somewhere else. I don’t understand today’s call to vocation! ! In addition to my call to be a wife and mother – from which one does not get a day off. I am on duty to be a wife and mother all the time. What has changed that todays’ priest sees his vocation as a apart-time job? It bothers me greatly.

Wow.  Lot’s of issues here.

Before anything else, I wonder how many people who are against time off for priests also tithe.   Just an initial thought.

That said, yes, there are some priests who should do more priest stuff.  There are also priests who have taken on too much and who burn out.

The individual situation of each priest must be considered.

Priests are not assembled from spare parts, or cut out of homogeneous dough with a shaped cutter.   They have different talents, backgrounds, capabilities.   Some are super high energy and really smart.  Some are not very smart and are more lethargic.  Some were formed by really great priests and seminaries, others not so much.  Some have come to the priesthood later in life, some earlier.

Priests are also men of their age and environment.  They, too, are influenced by society around them.

Priests are human beings.  To be at their best, they too should by allowed their interests and their rest.  We want our priests to be at their best, right?  Right? I am making an assumption that you wish the best for priests.

Priesthood is primarily oriented to sacrifice.  They are ontologically alter Christus (who occasionally went apart from people).  They are not mainly administrators or office sitters.

Priesthood is an ontological, not utilitarian reality.    And yet people want to “use” priests.

That’s both fair and not fair.

Priests are ordained so that people can have teaching, governance and, above all, sanctification.    People are right to expect these things from priests.  Hence, a priest’s main activities should be people oriented.  However, priests are also ordained for themselves, because God wants them to be priests for the sake of their own souls.  Back in the 5th c. Augustine of Hippo wrote about his struggle to find otium in negotio, “time free from busy work in the midst of daily tasks”.  He didn’t want “time off”, but rather time for deeper things, such as refreshing meditation on Scripture, etc.  There’s a tension present in all of our lives.

If people treat priests as if they were any other service providing professional, like their dentist, then they probably shouldn’t gripe if the priest has a day off.

If people treat priests as if they are, spiritually, ontologically, “Father”, then one will have different expectations.

Moreover, Father will begin also to have different expectations of himself.

Should priests be allowed a day off?  Should priests be allowed to retire at 65?

It seems to me that Catholic life, including how priests live, how they interact with other priests and lay people, is an immensely complex Gesamtkunstwerk.  And the Enemy is also working relentlessly to interfere in this totality.

Finally, this made me think of an old chestnut, chain letter:

The Perfect Priest

The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect priest preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.

The perfect priest smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.

If your priest does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their priest, too. Then bundle up your priest and send him to the church on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 priests and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.

One parish broke the chain and got its old priest back in less than three weeks.

By the way… it might be a good idea, when you find yourself thinking about a priest – either positively or negatively – to stop yourself and PRAY for him.

Do you pray for priests?  Do you pray for your particular priests?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Antonin says:

    I completely agree with the writer! As one raised by a very strict Catholic father (traditional mass, etc.), I was raised with strong work ethic, service mentality, and as a father I am always “on”. As an employer the millennial generation’s lack of work ethic stuns me. I remember our parish priest also old school and traditional growing up who I never remember taking a vacation and he was always visiting people and would have beer at our house with my dad and a few other families. Fished with us too but I remember was always available to go to the hospital or an accident. He let the parish know where he was and this was in the day before cell phones and I remember our house being called and he had to go. I always remember that and that was just part of the generation and how we thought.

    Now with millennials there is such an entitlement mentality that it makes me reel. This you tube clip of millenial interview nails it. LOL

    I hope seminaries drill the millenialism out of young people

    [Do you pray for your priests?]

  2. dbf223 says:

    Cardinal Sarah was bishop of Conkary in Guinea, and established a regimen of three-day retreats every couple of months (in which he completely fasted from food and water). He claimed that it was the principal discipline that allowed him to continue serving as bishop under the constant terror of the dictatorship at that time.

    If he can justify putting aside his responsibilities for three days at a time, a typical parish priest should be able to get away for a single day.

  3. Gripen says:

    I also have to agree with the writer. I don’t begrudge priests taking a day off, or even a couple weeks straight once a year. It’s priests that think that on their time off think they don’t have to do “priest things” that are the problem. That priest who was completely unreachable when my grandparents were in a car accident because it happened after 5pm on a weekday? Problem. That priest who took two weeks off to go to Lourdes (or the one who took a week to go learn the TLM from the FFSP) but is reachable 24/7 the rest of the time in case of emergency, like, dare I say it, a father? Not the problem. A priest’s job is to be a priest the entirety of the remainder of his life, not just during business hours. No father has that liberty – neither priests nor husbands. Unfortunately, it seems that most fathers these days (and I’m including all of them here, priest and otherwise) think they’re owed personal time. They aren’t.

    And to answer your questions: yes, I pray for priests. I also tithe 10% or more every paycheck.

  4. Ellen says:

    We have two priests and they take a day off and cover for each other. Retire at 65? I haven’t and most priests I know don’t. They may cut back but I know some in their 80’s who still serve.

  5. John Grammaticus says:

    1stly I thank Antonin for lumping all us millennials in the same box.

    Secondly I don’t mind that my Parish Priest has a day off, in addition to being Priest of the Parish he is the university chaplain ( probably one of the most difficult ministries there is) who spends 6 days a week on campus dealing with the most vulnerable catholic group there is.

    If he wants to skedaddle off after the 6pm Mass on Sunday to spend a few nights with friends, then all the best to him. There are other Masses I can go to even if they’re not quite as reverent.

    BTW Father is in his early 30s and is was entrusted with the care of souls at a very young age.

  6. APX says:

    FWIW: vacation time for priests doesn’t seem to be a new concept. I’m reading a biography of Fr. Peter de Smet, the missionary priest who came to America and Canada (I think) to convert the people, particularly the aboriginals. Anyways, it does make mention of the missionaries taking vacation time. That being said, sometimes it feels like some priests get a lot of vacation time. One of our priests is up to almost 8 weeks in less than a year. I haven even had half that in the past four years, and I’m legally entitled to two weeks/year (but it’s a fight to be allowed to take it).

  7. Alice says:

    Priests have had days off as long as I can remember and the parish secretaries know who to call in case of an emergency. Since priests have very busy weekends, it seems really stingy to begrudge them a day through the week to rest or run errands or visit their families or whatever else they may want to do. When there were more priests, it was less obvious that Father So-and-so was out, so if it bothers you that your parish priest is gone for a day, pray for vocations!

  8. YoungPriest says:

    I suppose to answer your question, we have to define what ‘day off’ actually means. As a priest ordained in the past few years, my experience (and that of priest friends from my generation) is that our day off is a day away from the office and administrative work. It’s a day to refresh ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually so that we may be at our best for all of the pastoral and ministerial responsibilities we have. It’s a day spent with more time in prayer, or visiting friends or family members that we otherwise don’t see, or spending time in priestly fraternity supporting each other.

    The reality of parish priesthood today is that there are fewer priests doing more work, and much of it is not ministry but rather business, administration, HR, financial, etc. And that’s not to speak about all of the councils, commissions, and committees that each parish has. Much of these tasks did not exist until the past few decades. Father could spend hours hearing confessions and visiting parishioners because he did not have dozens of employees to manage, nor did he have all of these committee meetings. At my previous assignment, I sat on two dozen of those groups, each meeting monthly. Everyone deserves at least a day away from that.

    Outside of situations that are particular to parishes with multiple priests that can cover for each other (and acknowledging that there are some lazy priests in every generation), I do not know any young priest who does not take emergency calls on their day off, or who does not change their day off to accommodate funerals or other important events. For most of us, this is the work that we want to do; this is why we became priests. If I could give up all of the administration and committees and unnecessary meetings, I would do it without hesitation and focus full time on priestly service.

  9. rtjl says:

    I may be wrong about this but it seems to me there are two considerations. First a priest is a priest is a priest, always and everywhere. And from that they don’t get days off or vacations – just as with being a parent. But priests also have jobs. They may be a parish pastor, or a hospital chaplain or university professor, or any number of professions for in it is reasonable for a priest to serve. And for this it also seems reasonable that they should have days off and vacations – giving consideration for the need for them to be available for emergencies. But one of the ways they can provide for that is by arranging for another priest to cover for them is such situations. I am grateful for our priests and I don’t begrudge them time for R & R.

  10. Cafea Fruor says:

    I’m OK with them having a day off. The bow that remains always taught will end up snapping, and they need time for prayer and rest like we have on Sundays.

    To those who say, “But I’m a mother/father and am always on!” I’d have to point out that yes, you’re always on, but you’re doing that at that level only until the kids are grown, when they leave the house and move on. Priests don’t ever get an empty nest. It’s like they’re parents of minors the entire time they’re priests.

    The other thing I’d like to point out is that families, as far as I’ve witnessed, have gotten WAY too busy since I was a kid (I’m 37 now). When I was a kid, Sundays were relaxed, quiet, and a time for my parents to rest. Sure, there was dinner to cook and kids to get dressed and to Church, but my parents used Sunday for rest, reading, etc. They were technically “on”, but we knew not to bother them unless necessary. We kids knew that The Great Sunday Nap was sacrosanct and that we should entertain ourselves quietly. Of course, in the 80s, there was never anything interesting on TV on Sundays, so that helped the quiet. Our friends’ families did the same. Now, however, the majority of kids are over-committed to sports, clubs, etc. (and homework has gotten out of control), and even if there are no activities going on on Sunday per se, people are too wired to use Sunday well. I don’t know the writer’s situation, but as the saying goes, usually when something bothers you about someone else, it’s a clue there’s something lurking under the surface in your own life that needs to be addressed, perhaps she might do well to take stock on how well she and her family make use of Sunday. Is it really a restful, prayerful day, and if not, why not?

    I’m a GenX-er myself, but I wish people would stop knocking on millennials. Sure, they have their flaws like we all do, but it’s a logical fallacy to think that the fact that millennial priests do something different than those of older generations equates to their being wrong. I think they’re right to insist on having time to pray and rest, and their insistence on that can be a witness to us who don’t do well in that department. After all, I’ve seen older priests not put a priority on deeper prayer, and they work, work, work – but they have absolutely no substance in their homilies or can’t help you when you needed some serious direction on the interior life because their own interior life is (apparently) not so hot. The millennial priests I’ve known, on the other hand, have all had homilies that make you realize they’re very prayerful men and that they preach from what they’ve experienced, and their priestly work is all the better for that deeper prayer life.

  11. dbf223 says:

    Also, an anecdotal item: the friars serving at the Dominican-run parish in our diocese (Columbus, OH) are trying to start an initiative they are calling the “St. Barnabas ministry”. There are six Dominicans serving at this parish, and they want to have one priest cover parishes for diocesan priests on a full-time basis. The Domincan priest would cover the liturgical responsibilities and any emergency needs for the priest at that parish for a week, for the explicit purpose of allowing the parish priest to take time off. They see priest burn out as a very real thing that negatively effects both the priests and congregants (who sometimes, after a bad experience with an overworked and burned out priest, leave not only the parish but the Church as a whole).


  13. TomG says:

    My major concern for my FSSP pastor is that he get enough rest. I pray daily for his physical strength (which is considerable) as he labors almost unto exhaustion. Thankfully, he (and we) will have a newly-ordained assistant priest shortly after the General Chapter concludes.

  14. ALL: I received this SMS on my phone from a priest:

    That “letter” from the wife and mother essentially accusing priests of being lazy kind of pisses me off. We work hard, we strive to fulfill our responsibilities and duties as best we can given the lack of resources because people don’t give and the shortage of priests. When the time comes for a day off to rest and recharge, or vacation for the same, and even retreat, far too many complain. They don’t encourage priestly vocations, many discourage them in their own families, and they have astronomically high expectations of the men who have answered the call. Many of us don’t believe or feel particularly appreciated by the laity we serve. Some of us do feel used not loved, while we strive our best to love them. This lady can not walk a single step much less a mile in any priests shoes. The perfect priest chain letter really sums it up well. I for my part have resigned myself that I will never measure up to unrealistic expectations. I am who I am. God created me with my gifts and talents and weaknesses. I bring them all to the table in my ministry. It is never enough but I can’t be someone I am not. I’m not Fr. So and so who was here 20 years ago.

    I know it’s a rant. And the time off thing is a hot button.

    He added that, right now, he is on a 10 day vacation. He hasn’t had a vacation in 3 years.

  15. Charivari Rob says:

    “Priests are not assembled from spare parts, or cut out of homogeneous dough with a shaped cutter. “

    They’re not? Darn! I thought the Founders grew you guys in tanks, like they do with the Vorta and the JemHadar.

    Seriously, though…

    Priests need their “down time”, too. They can’t always be on the schedule – that will eventually lead to ruin of physical, emotional, or mental health. I don’t begrudge them their time in the slightest.

    ..and if they have to deal with some emergency situation or funeral or what-have-you on their day off – then Yes they Should make up the time to themselves on some other day!

  16. richiedel says:

    I have gotten to know many priests personally throughout the past 20 or so years, ranging from what would consider “young” to middle-aged. Without going into specifics, they need their days off, and that’s all there is to it. What they did during their days off – extra time to pray, read, catch their breath – was of extreme spiritual benefit to their flocks and their vocations. Some of them burned out and one even “broke down” even with their days off.

    Much breaks apart in comparing the vocation of a priest as a “spiritual father” with that of being a mom. For example, they are different vocations, etc., etc. etc. Moms get more days off than they would like once they get an empty nest. The same can’t be said for a priest.

  17. The Egyptian says:

    Good holy heavens, a MAN needs time to himself, if only a few hours, and no sleep does not count. Men were designed by god to use their hands, I’m sure Jesus picked up a few pointers from St Joseph,
    I have the acquaintance of two very good priests, one of them after a stint as a military Chaplin does exceptional woodwork, when he came to our parish the members remodeled a building on the grounds for his equipment, saws, planers and a large lathe, his grandfather clock still stands in our rectory hallway, it was too large for him to take to the CPPS retirement home. If he was needed all he did was turn off the power, shake off the sawdust and go. said he did some of his best praying there.
    The second took one afternoon a week and built model ships, not kits but from the ground up, made each piece by hand and assembled it, one of his battleships sets in Annapolis navel academy and one other was destroyed when the plane hit the Pentagon on 911. He is no slouch. Some complained about him “wasting time” and I always responded “what would you have him do” He told me that the church secretary knows how to “close my glue and paint bottles” if I’m called out.
    Yes prayer is good but sometimes a MAN needs to use his hands, to create, to build, to bring a dream to life, it too is good for the soul, as a farmer I know this to be true.

  18. rhhenry says:

    I have no problem with priests having a day off, for the reasons mentioned above. I just ask that someone be available in case of a spiritual emergency (and I imagine many priests would be available in such a case, even on their day(s) off).

    It seems parallel to my own vocation as a father. Once all the kids are asleep (around 10 p.m., on a good day), I’m done being a father (functionally, at least) until we’re all up again (around 6 a.m., on a good day). Unless, of course, someone wakes up with a bad dream, vomiting, etc.

  19. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    A good manager is able to arrange for a day of coverage for his duties, no matter what his job may be. It is assumed that when a priest takes a day off, arrangements have been made to cover the bare minimum duties at his parish.

    Having said that, I would hope that priests still wear their collar/habit on their day off. Dressing like a priest, even on day-off-Tuesdays, means he has a better chance of acting like a priest during free time. There is a reason why Fraternity of Saint Peter / Institute of Christ the King / Society of Saint Pius X, etc., etc. priests always wear the cassock and collar — even while traveling or during times of public recreation.

  20. Emilio says:

    Growing up, my Mom and Dad befriended all of our parish priests, and even others from our Archdiocese and beyond. My Mom made it a point to ask what a priest’s favorite meal was, and then invited them over for a family dinner with us and a home-cooked meal featuring his favorite dish. It was rare for a month to go by in our home without some priest from somewhere at our table. Some would even get emotional because they enjoyed the meal so much, and had some fun with us that evening. This was almost a kind of apostolate for my Mom and Dad, along with the work they did with Worldwide Marriage Encounter and Pre-Cana at the service of other couples. Seeing how much they loved and supported our priests taught ME to love and endeavor to support my priests. Reading some of the comments, I perceive more than a few unfair expectations of our priests, especially the comment that seems to want every priest to measure up to his childhood priest…and then being critical of them for taking a day off a week? Do some of you realize that they need to go to the cleaners, to the bank, to the doctor or dentist…to take the car for an oil change? You do know that priests don’t usually have personal assistants right? I’ve done all sorts of chancery and parish work, and that has further allowed me to see the kind of stress that priests today are especially under. We should be GLAD if our priests can get a day off or take a vacation…and maybe that four week vacation was just the kind of experience he needed at that point in his life to SAVE his priesthood? Do we prefer rested, healthy priests…or priests on the brink of despair from stress? Maybe instead of complaining about what little time off priests can actually take, maybe just maybe, we’ll get them a gift certificate to this place or that place…so that they can ENJOY their own time all the more!

  21. fishonthehill says:

    Thank you Madam/Sir Secretary for your service to the Church.
    I’m a priest in my 18th year, and 43 years old (I guess a gen.Xer).
    It’s funny my parish secretary always says when she comes back in another life she wants to come back as a priest. I tell her just be sure its some time in the 1950s!
    I’m the pastor of a parish with just about 3000 registered parishioners the “work” is attainable between the two of us who are assigned to the parish. But no day off? Are you joking? Even God rested on the seventh day! As for vacation, I think its in Canon Law… and I am one of those ossified whatever you-call-its, and I follow the law quite strictly.
    Just a thought… in the time of your “old school” priests, the rectory was filled priests who covered each other and an army of nuns in the nearby convent. All working together like a well oiled machine. Today, I can’t call upon any priest to “cover” and… nuns?
    I never complain about the “workload”, but let me give you an insight to the greatest complaint I do hear… its from my friends and family. “We never see you” “when can you see us?” “you are going to miss another family event again?” “I miss you”.
    My family has become my parish, they call me Father and I see myself as their spiritual Father. I love them as I love my God who called me to His priesthood. But a day off doesn’t mean I don’t love them or serve them, but that I am human.
    Might I suggest in these summer months as things are quiet, read the gospel of Mark and count the number of times the crowds are pressing in on Jesus and how often He is maneuvering away from them. Our Lord had to find time to get away!
    As for my day off I take it when I can. As an “old school” priest once told me, “Give it everything you got, but for Gods-sake and your own sake, take your day off… no one will give it back to you if you don’t!

  22. Egad_Trad_Dad says:

    “Presbyterorum ordinis,” no. 20, leaves me with the impression that anyone who says priests shouldn’t have a vacation HATES VATICAN II!!1!

  23. tamranthor says:

    Everybody needs down time. However, for moms, there is hardly any, either. When we vacation, we do so with kids in tow, and still make dinner for them and dad. Our down time usually consists of an hour or so in the evening, when the kids are finally in bed (assuming they stay there), the dishes are done, the clothes are folded and put away, and the clogged sink is free flowing again. That assumes that DH doesn’t have a crisis that needs attention, and we don’t have to work overtime at the office or in the field.

    Yes, I know, the kids are only there for 20 some years, and when they are older they might even help out, but housework, cooking, cleaning, mending, gardening, etc. are for a lifetime and most of us work out of the house as well.

    A priest’s parish doesn’t go away, just like the kids don’t. It is tough, and demanding, and sometimes awful, but that is part of the calling.

    That said, I would never begin to criticize a priest for his workload or his time off. If he is given the blessing of free time, he should certainly take advantage, just as I would as a mom. Priests give up a lot more than their time and their sanity, and that is something everyone can respect.

    The perfect priest? He’s the one who brings me Jesus, every day, on the altar. Beyond that, it is truly not for me to judge.

  24. Ave Crux says:

    This letter broke my heart, and I am shocked at some of the comments made in the comment section about Priests, as though they are our slaves, not our revered and treasured Fathers to whom we owe the very life of our souls — moreover, Alter Christus. Shame on you!

    Even Christ took days off!!! He would go out to the desert to pray, and even told his Apostles to come away and rest from the crowds. He spent 30 years in solitude and only 3 in public ministry.

    Whereas, Priests must give decades to the exhausting, draining demands of public ministry to the hundreds and thousands of souls in their parishes.

    Chautard’s Soul of the Apostolate said that the more active a soul, the more it needs time alone. Are Priests robots or some kind of grace-filled ATM machines that never wind down?

    I don’t know how priests were years ago, but did that mean it was compulsory or ideal — just because you expect that kind of constant availability? Well, that’s a mindless expectation.

    The writer claims she is a mother who never gets a day off…well, she doesn’t have 500 children clawing at her from all directions. If she has 5 or 6 or even 12 children– that doesn’t compare to the number of children a Priest has.

    I have never ceased to marvel at the moral and human fortitude of Priests who must live unrelentingly public lives — almost never alone by themselves, constantly available for every phone call, every tragic need, ever emotional and spiritual wound presented to them. Try it!

    How would you like to be morally and spiritually present for several dying parishioners and funerals a week, comforting the families, feeling their pain; hearing Confessions with heartbreaking sins and broken lives; counseling struggling couples and abandoned spouses; guiding parents of children struggling with drug abuse and sexual addiction or deviancy, seeking your support from all sides.

    And then to deal with such blameworthy things as murmuring in the parish, personality clashes, undue and disrespectful criticisms, gossip and destructive infighting, ingratitude for all these souls receive from their Priests? It goes on all the time.

    Life was simpler “years ago” — Now it proceeds at breakneck speed and Priests have to deal with far more weighty moral and spiritual problems with a dizzyingly higher rate of frequency and prevalence.

    To the writer: I am sure you like to see your husband, the father of your children, come home and rest at night — his day of work done, a warm meal on the table, someone to screen his calls, a few hours of rest before another day. And it’s a comfort to him as well to look forward to the weekend for additional recovery.

    Well, Priests — OUR Fathers — don’t have that luxury, and to begrudge them one day for themselves is so unthinkingly self-centered that I am astounded.

    Such complaints seem totally out of touch with the reality of the enormity of the burden which each Priest carries. Ungrateful for it too. And I think Father Z was very judicious not to say so.

  25. AB says:

    Let me shift attention from the priests to the rest of us for a moment.

    In the slow-moving days of an agricultural economy, people had the Biblical Day of Rest. In the late 19th century, as machines and clocks started to drive people, society started to realize that was not enough, that two days a week off would , in truth, be needed in an industrial economy. As they were coming to this realization, electric light became common and allowed clocks and machines to drive us late into the night.

    I don’t think anybody would argue that Americans need two days a week off.

    Looking at priests, they are not serving in a slow-moving agricultural economy. They are in the same machine and clock driven world we are in. In stead of asking, “Why does Father need a day off,” we should turn that around. Assume he needs two days off each week–like the rest of us–and then justify why he should put his nose harder to the grindstone than we do.

  26. hwriggles4 says:

    These are good comments and observations. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago I realized that quite a few priests arise at 0500 hours to spend an hour in prayer (my old pastor would often do his morning prayers while getting some exercise, like a walk around the parish grounds) and then get ready for the 0625 Mass. After Mass, it’s a quick breakfast like cereal or oatmeal with juice and then the day begins.

    Many priests today do not have housekeepers at the rectory (I heard it was common 60 years ago the rectory would have a housekeeper a few days a week), so a priest has to do his own laundry, sweep up, and cook (unless a parishioner invites them for dinner or drops off a meal or leftovers are left from the Saturday night Potluck dinner or the Knights of Columbus breakfast). Our Knights of Columbus council raised money to make some repairs to the 50 year old rectory this summer. If a priest has a late meeting or a sick call, he may have to wash some clerics at 0100 or wear a clerical shirt the third day in a row.

    As far as time off, some priests lead retreats or pilgrimages, and some give talks at conferences. A priest has to prepare in advance of he is out for ministry. For example, I was at a conference and a buddy of mine drove the priest to the airport Saturday afternoon (he spoke first) so he could make his flight home so he could celebrate Mass at his parish on Sunday. I have been at a retreat where our priest celebrated the Saturday night Vigil Mass because his parish needed him for Sunday Mass. Being away from the parish for outside ministry (like praying outside an abortuary) is work, not vacation

    Years ago, I often worked 70 hours a week, and a day off was often used for domestic duties. I am sure quite a few priests on their day off still say daily Mass for the congregation, and it is nice to have a Tuesday afternoon for a nap, a movie, to visit family, build a model, or play golf.

  27. MrsMacD says:

    fishonthehill; I’ve been a little like the lady in the note but your comment really made me think. Maybe even change my mind… Yeah definitely changed my mind. (although I also don’t believe priests should be administrators, ever.)

    I know a mom who heard that a priest takes a day off and decided to book her own ‘day off.’ I was a little bit shocked but granted her that not everyone’s needs are the same.

    I don’t get a day off, unless I go on retreat. Something I’ve been longing for. Not for the day off but to reestablish some kind of working relationship with God, I’m becoming lukewarm.

    Parents of big families often say that three children is the hardest because for those first three children you’re looking for some time off, some me time, someone to take care of me, after that you’ve become resigned and even happy to be constantly wearing yourself out, pouring yourself out, dying to your own will. But if you don’t rest the body takes it’s own rest. It says, I quit, and then you hit burnout, or depression or I can’t go anymore, or you fall asleep at the wheel or at the desk or wherever, not that you can’t recover on the job just that you need a little succoring to get back up.

    We expect our priests to practice a greater heroic virtue than we do. Somewhere we’re longing for Jesus and the priest does actually give us Jesus but not in the way we think he should. We all have our own little millennial inside us that we need to reign in, or as the gentle Francis de Sales once said,”self love dies with the body.”

    God love and bless our priests! And a big THANK YOU!!! for all you are and do!

  28. hwriggles4 says:

    For what it’s worth, I get upset when I hear Catholics criticize “second career vocation” priests saying they do “half a job”. I have also defended a few Pastoral Provision priests when congregants criticized them for doing “half a job”. Many of the priests I have met from these backgrounds are hard workers, true to the magisterium, and even if they have a living spouse, many take a hospital run at 2230 hours, and mine hears confessions for at least 2 hours every Thursday evening.

  29. Joy65 says:

    We need Priests and they need our UNCEASING prayers. Without Priests we have no Sacraments, no Mass and No Eucharist.

    I have made it a particular special mission of mine to pray DAILY in specific ways for ALL Priests, Religious Brothers & Sisters, Deacons, Seminarians, our Pope, Bishops, Cardinals and all discerning vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life.

  30. maternalView says:

    Seriously? There are people who think priests shouldn’t have a day off? And think about what those days consist of as some already mentioned- errands or appointments or some other commitments. Not the sort of thing I want to do on a day off. Plus I’m guessing some of those days off are doing things for the church they just can’t get to normally.

    Yes! Pray for priests! If you can’t remember to do that at least prayer for the priest celebrating the Mass you’re attending!

  31. Argument Clinician says:

    I think there are a couple different questions at play here.

    1. “Priest” is not a job. “Priest” is a vocation, and a conformity with Christ crucified. So, a priest who would refuse to do the priestly things, even when he is supposed to be having some time off, seems to be missing something essential about his calling.

    2. On the other hand, a priest is a human being and needs down time just like any other human being. This is why even moms and dads hire a babysitter, or bring the kids to Grandma’s house on occasion, so that they can recuperate from the demands of being “on” all the time. “It takes a village” is very old wisdom…

    3. However, seminarians and priests have been increasingly encouraged to “guard” their weekly day off, presumably to ward off burn-out in a presbyterate that is increasingly stretched thin in many places. This may have led to an increase in the number of priests who are less flexible with time off.

    4. Finally, as for the comparisons of a priest with a family: They are useful analogies, but I think the biggest thing to remember is that there will ALWAYS be more work to do at a parish. In a family, there are only so many dishes to wash, walls to repaint, windows to fix, and kids to discipline. This is not to diminish the great requirements of time that good parents submit themselves to. But in a parish, there are literally more tasks than could ever be accomplished by the priest. If he does not say to himself at some point, firmly, that “I am not going to busy myself with any of those tasks for twenty-four hours each week”, then he can literally work 168 hours a week. And the tasks will still clamor for his attention.

    In the end, it calls for prudence. Do men need time away from the office? Yes. Do they need as much as they take? Maybe not. Do they need more? Maybe so. Can Father challenge himself to give more of his energy to even the administrative tasks of the parish? Maybe he should. But there are both temptations to laziness and temptations to hyper-busy-ness. The virtuous mean is somewhere in the middle, and it’s governed by prudence, which differs in each man’s situation. Pray for them!

  32. APX says:

    Everybody needs down time. However, for moms, there is hardly any, either. When we vacation, we do so with kids in tow, and still make dinner for them and dad.

    Where are the husbands taking up the reins for a weekend or so and telling their wives to go away and take some time away for themselves? I was disgusted to see on Mother’s Day, all the mothers at church serving and cleaning up after the men in the parish. We used to have a priest who made all the men serve the women on Mothers Day and do all the clean up afterwards. Unfortunately, things changed with a new pastor.

  33. uptoncp says:

    The commandment to observe a weekly day of rest, “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thou hast to do,” does not continue “except thou be a priest.”

  34. dwengerpriest says:

    By the way, Canon Law gives clerics the right to vacation. Can. 283 §2. “[Clerics] are entitled, however, to a fitting and sufficient time of vacation each year as determined by universal or particular law.”

    Also, nothing is more discouraging than, after working 60-80 hours a week, week after week, hearing a parishioner say (even if in jest) “Father, you’re going on vacation AGAIN?” Sigh.

  35. Imrahil says:

    As a layman, I am perhaps entitled to use rather more harsh language in defense of priests than our reverend host did in his admirable answer.

    So, there goes: I am simply stunned by the impertinence of the writeress.

    There, I said it.

    Note that she didn’t complain that the pastor wasn’t there for her, or for anyone else. Note that she didn’t complain that the Breviary was left unprayed. Note that she didn’t say that the priest left his great gift, the ability to say Mass, unused (we are talking about one free day, and then perhaps with the exception of Mass, or he says a private Mass unknown to the parish).
    Note that she didn’t say that anybody had everything to complain – except that he did not, in her own view, work as much as, in her own view, herself.

    This is the kind of complaint that, if justified, a superior can do towards his subordinate. But the priest is not the layman’s subordinate. He is (perhaps simplifyingly said) the layman’s superior.

    And here we are wondering why so few people want to be priests today, and noone seems to get the idea that the image of the priest as a sort-of domestic of the self-acclaimed decent hard-working (and, somewhere along the way, also believing Catholic) and perhaps-a-bit-too-proud-of-it populace is rather not helpful in making vocations attractive.

    So, to put the story short:

    I am simply stunned by the impertinence of the writeress.

  36. mitdub says:

    I admit to having similar sentiments as the original poster, but I also have sentiments along with almost everyone who posted. One thing that strikes me is that everyone seems to generalize their experience to everyone, with a few exceptions. A few thoughts, having worked for the church a couple of times, and being close with both diocesan and religious priests:

    We’re all in this together. The societal changes that impact us also impact the others; priests, laity, married, single.
    We’re in a post Christian society, and in the US, we probably never quite reached a truly Catholic society (although, how much has that helped western Europe?)
    Cardinal Sarah’s 3 days every other month is substantially less than once (or especially twice) a week, though I don’t know any priest that takes two days a week; are there any?
    Priestly Sacramental duties are very different from administrative duties. While having been part of the Catholic “professional class,” I don’t think it’s good. We need more brothers and sisters, and if someone feels called to serve the church, for the most part, they should serve as a brother or sister. That said, there are plenty of apostolates for laity to be involved in.
    Most of the “lazy” priests I know came of age in the period after the council, not “millenials.” However, the millenials have been taught to jealously guard their day off from all that I’ve been told and read in communiques.
    Comments about the scandals in the priesthood and the episcopate talk about the lack of discipline. If you have a day off, including laity, you have to use it in Holy pursuits; we have to jealously guard our alone time to make sure it stays holy.
    There are overachievers and underachievers in EVERY walk of life. There are lazy moms, lazy dads, lazy singles and lazy priests. And I think our current society encourages laziness. More and more, it becomes the exceptional (and yes, disciplined) person who is able to overcome that.
    Back to the daily routine, I’ve been stunned in both directions, by the people (including priests) who work all the time and have no time to run personal errands, and those who manage to weave it into everything they do. Not necessarily bad, but sometimes it becomes easier to “goof off” that way.
    We need to form strong communities that are oriented to holy things. Spend our recreational time together praying and doing little pilgrimmages instead of going to the latest hip restaurant. Someone opined in another post that a fat priest was a sign of sickness. Well, yes, but also they are generally alone. There are no housekeepers anymore (sometimes the parish custodian does some or all of that though), and there are no cooks. But we all want to take Father to dinner. Well, he can only invite so many lunch and dinner invitations before he begins to resemble Friar Tuck. The religious priests generally have it better, as they have community; but not always.
    I could go on, but there are mitigating circumstances in all things. For me, the big question is, geographically I live in a remote area, and my closest parishes have a lackluster Mass/devotional schedule. Do I stick it out because it’s my canonical parish (I’d like to), or do I just throw in the towel and go to the nearest parish that has a healthier sacramental life (30 miles for NO, 80 miles for EF).
    And in terms of vocations, we must ALL pray for them. Priests must talk up the life from the pulpit and in their interactions. Parents have to encourage it in their children. And singles must generously pray for and support it in any way they can.

  37. Antonin says:

    @ Imrahil He is (perhaps simplifyingly said) the layman’s superior.

    That is not what Jesus said. “So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those regarded as rulers of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.…”

    I guess you could argue that Jesus was speaking to Bishops (the fullness of the priesthood) but there is an argument that this applies to priest who are also called to vocation.

    Fact remains, Jesus set out very high expectations. No whiners. [So?]

  38. Fr Richard Duncan CO says:

    This conversation puts me in mind of Betjeman’s immortal poem “Blame the Vicar”

    When things go wrong it’s rather tame
    To find we are ourselves to blame,
    It gets the trouble over quicker
    To go and blame things on the Vicar.

    The Vicar, after all, is paid
    To keep us bright and undismayed.
    The Vicar is more virtuous too
    Than lay folks such as me and you.
    He never swears, he never drinks,
    He never should say what he thinks.
    His collar is the wrong way round,
    And that is why he’s simply bound
    To be the sort of person who
    Has nothing very much to do
    But take the blame for what goes wrong
    And sing in tune at Evensong.

    For what’s a Vicar really for
    Except to cheer us up? What’s more,
    He shouldn’t ever, ever tell
    If there is such a place as Hell,
    For if there is it’s certain he
    Will go to it as well as we.
    The Vicar should be all pretence
    And never, never give offence.
    To preach on Sunday is his task
    And lend his mower when we ask
    And organize our village fetes
    And sing at Christmas with the waits
    And in his car to give us lifts
    And when we quarrel, heal the rifts.

    To keep his family alive
    He should industriously strive
    In that enormous house he gets,
    And he should always pay his debts,
    For he has quite six pounds a week,
    And when we’re rude he should be meek
    And always turn the other cheek.
    He should be neat and nicely dressed
    With polished shoes and trousers pressed,
    For we look up to him as higher
    Than anyone, except the Squire.

    Dear People, who have read so far,
    I know how really kind you are,
    I hope that you are always seeing
    Your Vicar as a human being,
    Making allowances when he
    Does things with which you don’t agree.
    But there are lots of people who
    Are not so kind to him as you.
    So in conclusion you shall hear
    About a parish somewhat near,
    Perhaps your own or maybe not,
    And of the Vicars that it got.

    One parson came and people said,
    Alas! Our former Vicar’s dead!
    And this new man is far more ‘Low’
    Than dear old Reverend so-and-so,
    And far too earnest in his preaching,
    We do not really like his teaching,
    He seems to think we’re simply fools
    Who’ve never been to Sunday Schools.”
    That Vicar left, and by and by

    A new one came, “He’s much too ‘High’,”
    The people said, “too like a saint,
    His incense makes our Mavis faint.”
    So now he’s left and they’re alone
    Without a Vicar of their own.
    The living’s been amalgamated
    With one next door they’ve always hated.

    Dear readers, from this rhyme take warning,
    And if you heard the bell this morning
    Your Vicar went to pray for you,
    A task the Prayer Book bids him do.
    “Highness” or “Lowness” do not matter,
    You are the Church and must not scatter,
    Cling to the Sacraments and pray
    And God be with you every day.

  39. sistermartha says:

    I feel as though I either was not clear enough in my initial letter or I am being misunderstood. I do not at all in any way begrudge a priest a day off EVER. But the cutting back on offering the sacraments of Confession and Baptism and the availability to parish and staff, especially in times of urgent care is what has be baffled. Our previous pastor offered opportunity for Confession every morning before Mass for half hour and on Saturday afternoons. Now we get it two times a week for fifteen minutes and an hour on Saturday afternoon. Baptisms were every Sunday, now only one Sunday a month, we might change to two. For me, it is mostly about the sacraments….or lack there of. Our Mass schedule has also changed but not but such a huge degree that it is such a bother. Why, in a time when we need the sacraments more than ever, when our young people seem to be more interested in the “old school” traditions of our Church, the opportunity for the sacraments seems to have slipped in its importance. … and YES, I do pray for priests, not only for the priests that we already have but for an increase in vocations! Thank you!

  40. William says:

    Father, I think this must be an Anglican chestnut. A Catholic one would demand that it be published 3 times (typically in the diocesean newsletter) and would end with the declaration, “NEVER BEEN KNOWN TO FAIL.”

  41. Imrahil says:

    Dear sistermartha,

    in which case, you might blame me for reading your letter wrongly; but anyway the way I did read it, you mixed up this with a lot of “hard-work – leisurely is at the least next to sinful” and “look at what mothers do (or shall I say: what I do) ideology so as to leave your actual purpose barely recognizable.

    This actual purpose is, of course, in itself quite legitimate.

    Of course priests, at least such priests as have the cure of souls over a parish, should give decent Confessions opportunities, and – this is a German speaking – of course one specific Baptism ceremony, outside from Mass, for each child born to a Catholic parent. Once-a-month Baptism is a very strange thing which I had never heard of before. And though I am a layman, I am not under the impression that celebrating Baptisms is among the stressfullest occupations of a priest. Preparing them, talking with the parents whether they know what they are doing, might be a different matter, but that is to be done anyway.

    All such things are, or should be, quite compatible with a one-day-per-week-off scheme (perhaps minus Mass) and decent vacations. And I did understand you in such a sense that while you illustrated these problems (which you raise legitimately), for you the one-day-off was at the core of the problems, and in itself a problem, a sign of a bad priest, etc. This is not the case.

  42. Joy65 says:

    I’ve told our Priest when he takes leave for medically necessary rests that I’m glad he’s doing so. We want him back for as long as he is able to be with us in the best possible health.

    People who don’t want Priests to have a day(s) off are SELFISH! They devote their whole lives to God, Church and us their parishioners and we can’t be able to let them take one or more days of rest, that’s a sin and a shame.

    Like it was said here many are QUICK to complain about Priests but not many are GRATEFUL for the ones they have and the time they devote to the Church.

  43. bilop says:

    It is absolutely shocking that anyone would begrudge their Priest a day off. They should have two. One is barely sufficient.
    Aside from death bed confession, the laity can go one day with their Priest’s attention. Daily Mass does not need to be available every day.

  44. MaryM096 says:

    I understand the need for time off, but the priest of my parish has 2-3 days off each week, and never is available to the majority of parishioners over the phone. Nor does he return calls when a message is left. The one time I asked him to bless a rosary he became upset with me, as though I was wasting his time. Now he is in charge of 3 parishes, but he has 6 other priests who might be new priests who hold masses on the weekends. There is an evening mass on Saturdays, and an early and mid morning mass on Sundays. An early morning mass on weekdays. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of demands on a priest, but there are little of volunteers at the church. When I was growing up, we saw our parish priest every day in the neighborhood, and it was common for people to approach him to bless rosaries etc.. he lived in the rectory. Our parish priest doesn’t live in the rectory, there is no listed phone number for him. only the parish office. So many people would benefit from calling to request his counsel but can’t. Under Cardinal Sean O’Malley even active well attended parishes are stripped of their priests and the parish is put under the care of not particularly good priests who run several parishes. O’Malley stole the church property of a large thriving well attended parish I. A coastal community because he wanted to sell the land for millions to fund his junkets to Rome and the Virgin Islands. Parishioners need a priest, and under Francis they are being deprived of them

  45. MaryM096 says:

    We have confession only Saurday afternoon at 3pm, the priest isn’t in the church waiting to hear confession unless someone tells him (usually the organist who arrives before 3:30 to prepare for the mass at 4pm) There have been requests by many seniors who don’t drive or live outside of walking distance for there to be early confession and an earlier Saturday mass for those dependent on bus service (the bus stops running in our small town at 4pm and there is no bus service on Sundays) but nothing has been done.

  46. Ranger01 says:

    I do pray for priests, but not enough.
    Of course priests should have days off for resting.
    What I don’t get is the term “retired priest”. Is there such a thing as a “retired husband”? No.
    Being that the Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony are both sacraments, where does it say that priests can retire? This is not to be confused with being relieved of duties as a parish pastor due to age of health. But a “retired priest”, no, I don’t buy that because there is no such thing as a “retired husband”. Priests have responsibilities which continue to their last breath, just as I do as a husband and father. Our different vows demand it.

  47. Fr Richard Duncan CO says:

    I agree that the term “retired priest” is confusing. It would be better to speak of a priest who has retired from active ministry, and/or administration, but who is still available for pastoral and sacramental duties.

    A propos of this whole discussion, my eye alighted on Our Lord’s words to the Apostles in next week’s (OF) Gospel: “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while”.

  48. tzabiega says:

    A day off is not a problem. The problem is if a priest is lazy or not. A priest who is lazy may not be given any day off and he will still not hear confessions or do anything more than the minimum. I remember a young priest telling me how his pastor spent every weekday in his parish… chatting with the parish secretary and other people while his vicar did all the work. The pastor might as well have taken the whole week off and just celebrated Mass on Sunday and have been as useless as he was “working” every day. Meanwhile, I know of a young associate pastor who was annoyed that his pastor never gave him more than a day off more than once a month. Why was he annoyed? Because on his days off he was helping a group of contemplative nuns refurbish their convent, or he was helping a poor elderly parishioner fix her broken boiler or he was spiritually counseling a men’s group meeting or he was visiting patients at a local hospital or he was helping another parish priest in hearing confessions or he was teaching the Catholic faith to a Hindu doctor who was thinking about converting to Catholicism, etc. The point was not that he wanted a day off to sit on his behind and watch soap operas, but that he wanted time for himself to decide what to do. That way he could mentally and spiritually reboot away from his home parish. So it is not a matter of days off, but rather priests needing to have a work ethic, and that, unfortunately, has more to do with how priests were raised from childhood on. This is actually not an issue of conservative vs. liberal. I have seen liberal priests do more for their parishes because of having a good work ethic than lazy conservative priests who celebrated beautiful masses and preached wonderful homilies, but did little for their parish the rest of the week.

  49. KateD says:

    My initial reaction to days off for priests is in keeping with the questioner’s sentiment…..

    However, one of the holiest priests I know, and it makes me feel gut kicked to even think about it, left the priesthood. He was over extended and it simply broke him. He puts on a brave face now in his new life…and remains faithfully Catholic, but my gosh! What a great loss for the whole Church. He was a living saint.

    I’m glad to hear of young priests taking care of their vocation. The bishops should protect their priests…and I also think this is where a good parish secretary comes in handy. She keeps her priests from being maxed out by scheduling them wisely, providing for emergencies, down time and running interference for the priests with push parishioners, being the bad guy when necessary…the “no” man.

  50. KateD says:


  51. e.e. says:

    I left a comment on yesterday’s post about Sunday homilies, but will leave it here as well: Our hardworking pastor just returned from a week retreat. I don’t think it’s any surprise that he gave an amazing homily Sunday! He looked so much less tired and so much more enthusiastic. It was a good reminder to me to pray for him (and all priests) more often. Priests are human too! And they do need some rest.

  52. Bunky says:

    What about foreign priests living and working in the USA? I think that for them, having the opportunity to visit friends and family in the old country is important to their mental health. Much was made by some people by the fact that the late Mother Theresa very often suffered anguish and despair. (I’m more concerned about the allegations-if true-that she and her sisters administered damp-cloth baptisms to suffering and dying adults without consent or giving them proper grounding in the Catholic faith.) I recently a read a biography of her which explained that for much of her life, she was unable to see her mother and other family members because they lived behind the Iron Curtain and when Communism held power, they would not allow her to visit or for them to engage in foreign travel to visit her. I know a foreign-born priest who was put in charge of a largish combined parish in my area, at which he was often the only priest. Since I was taking a Latin class when he started at that parish, he showed me his dispensation from Rome, which allowed him (among other things) to celebrate Mass seven times on a Sunday (he did!) He was also granted “extended territory” and put in charge of “funding and building public works, including water and sewer systems” (I later found out that meant toilets, as one of the churches in the parish lacked these and other modern conveiniences). He told me “you think of a dispensation from Rome as a means of releasing someone from priestly duties, but in this case, it’s clearly piling them on!” I’ve been told by another priest that these days, the Vatican is handing out dispensations for saying multiple masses like candy mints because of the priest shortage (don’t know about the brief to build bathrooms and other “public works”). Anyway, a friend of mine started going to his parish, and one day, in no small amount of alarm, she told me that he was not there, but that there was a different priest. Since I had known this to have happened before, I explained to her that if he were to be going anywhere else permanently, he would have announced it from the pulpit. I told her that every summer he takes a few weeks’ vacation to allow for foreign travel. He either goes back to spend some time in his home country, or goes on some sort of excursion one could justify as “recharging spiritual batteries” such as a pilgrimmage in a foreign country. (He sometimes talks about the pilgrimmages and things that occurred on some of them, in his sermons.) He went from going on pilgrimmages to leading them, and led several pilgrimmages in the Holy Land. He is retired, however, he is anything but retired: he still says at least 3 or 4 masses most Sundays, driving from church to church in the area, and acting as a substitute priest for other priests who need time off. Did I mention that he is over 80?

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