Holy Orders

Holy Orders is the sacrament which continues Christ's mission through the grace and power given to men to carry out the sacred duties of deacons, priests or bishops.

 

The Sacrament of Holy Orders is one of the two sacraments of vocation. The other is the Sacrament of Matrimony.

 

The sacrament by which, through the authority of the Church, the imposition of a bishop’s hands confers on a man the grace and spiritual power to celebrate the Church’s sacraments.

 

There are three forms of this sacrament: diaconate (deacon), presbyterate (priest) and episcopate (bishop). One sacrament, celebrated three times with successively higher sacramental effects.

 

Every man in Holy Orders is either a deacon, priest or bishop. A monsignor, for instance, is a priest who has special recognition as a member of the papal household. An archbishop is a bishop in charge of a large or important diocese called an archdiocese. A cardinal is a special member of the papal household. Nearly all cardinals are bishops, but there are one or two cardinals who are priests, such as Avery Cardinal Dulles, are priests. The pope is the Bishop of Rome.

 

Only men can be ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The reasons are set forth in Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. It concludes, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

 

But only a special few among men. Deacons, priests, and bishops are called by Jesus, who told His apostles, Jn 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you.” The apostles hastened after Jesus when He called, Mk 1:16, 2:13 “Follow Me.” No man on earth has a right to be ordained. Those who sense a call from God to Holy Orders humbly submit to Church authority.

 

The Sacrament of Holy Orders imparts a special indelible character, a mark that God can see, on the human soul. Like the Holy Eucharist itself, the character of Holy Orders ontologically transforms a man interiorly while leaving his outer appearance unchanged. That character remains on his soul for all eternity, identifying him as one of God’s ordained servants. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation also impart indelible characters to the human soul that remain for all eternity.

 

Bishops (episcopoi) are those who have care of multiple congregations and have the task of appointing, ordaining, and disciplining priests and deacons. They are often called 'evangelists' in the New Testament. Examples of first century bishops include Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. 5:19-22, 2 Tim. 4:5, Titus 1:5).

 

Priests (presbuteroi) are also known as "presbyters" or "elders." In fact, the English term "priest" is simply a contraction of the Greek word "presbuteros." They have the responsibility of teaching, governing, and performing the sacraments in a given congregation (1 Tim. 5:17, Jas. 5:14-15).

 

Deacons (diakonoi) are the assistants of the bishops and have the task of teaching and administering certain church functions, such as the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-6).


Episcopate

The episcopate is the highest form of the sacrament of Orders. Thus the Council of Trent defined that bishops are superior to priests.

 

This pre-eminence of the bishops refers both to their exercise of authority and to their power of consecration. But their authority depends on their own consecration. Thus only bishops have the power of ordaining bishops, priests, or deacons. The common teaching is that the difference between bishops and priests (presbyters) existed from the beginning of the Church through a direct institution by Christ.

 

“No bishop is permitted to consecrate anyone as bishop unless it is first established that a pontifical mandate has been issued” (Canon 1013). This means that a priest may not be consecrated a bishop unless it is clearly proved that the one to be consecrated has been officially approved by the Holy See for episcopal consecration.

 

As understood by Christ, the divine mission which He first entrusted to the apostles was to last until the end of time. That is why the apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchical society.

 

By the laying on of hands these men were ordained to the episcopate so that by the year 100 A. D., there were over one hundred dioceses in existence around the Mediterranean world.

 

In every case, the ordination to the episcopate began with the apostles ordained by Christ at the Last Supper, so that the episcopal succession of bishops can be literally called the apostolic succession. Every validly ordained bishop in the world today can trace his ordination historically to that first ordination on Holy Thursday night.

 

What needs to be emphasized is that the power of episcopal orders is also the foundation of episcopal authority. The Second Vatican Council could not be clearer:


That divine mission, which was committed by Christ to the apostles, is destined to last until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20), since the gospel which they are charged to hand on, is for the Church, the principle of all its life until the end of time. For that very reason, the apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchically constituted society….


They accordingly designated such men and made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry….


Thus according to the testimony of St. Irenaeus, the apostolic tradition is manifested and preserved in the whole world by those who were made bishops by the apostles and by their successors down to our own time (Constitution on the Church, III, 20).

 

The apostolic succession of the bishops is reflected in the prayer of consecration by which priests are ordained to the episcopate. The ordaining prelate, after laying hands on the one to be made bishop, prays: “Now pour out upon this chosen one that power which flows from you, that perfect Spirit which He gave to the apostles, who established the Church in every place as the sanctuary where your name would always be praised and glorified.”

 

In virtue of their ordination, bishops receive the fullness of the sacrament of Order. Only they can confer this sacrament on others. But, as we have seen, their power to teach and rule the People of God depends on their approval by the Bishop of Rome.


Priesthood

In the new Testament, only bishops and priests possess priestly powers. In the Church’s language, bishops have the fullness of the priesthood, “the highest priest of the first order.” Presbyters (priests) are “simple priests of the second order.”

 

Challenged on the priesthood, the Catholic Church has more than once defended her teaching as revealed by God and therefore the irreversible truth. The most explicit doctrine was taught by the Council of Trent.

 

   1. There is a visible and external priesthood in the New Testament. It consists in the power of consecrating and offering the Body and Blood of the Lord, and of remitting and of retaining sins. The priesthood, therefore, is not only an office and simple ministry of preaching.

 

   2. Orders, or holy ordination, is truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ our Lord.

 

   3. There is a divinely instituted hierarchy consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers.

 

   4. Bishops are superior to priests and have power to confirm and ordain. The power they have is not common to both them and to priests. Moreover, the orders conferred by them do not depend on the call or consent of the people, nor of the secular power (Council of Trent, July 15, 1563).

 

Building on these principles of doctrine, the Second Vatican Council stressed the need for priests to cooperate with the bishops. Together with their bishop, priests form a unique priestly community, although dedicated to a variety of different duties. In each local assembly of the faithful, priests may be said to represent the bishop with whom they are to be associated in all trust and generosity (Constitution of the Church, III, 28).

 

By now, there must be as many definitions of the priesthood as there are dictionaries in print. But in the Catholic Church, the priest exists for one main purpose: to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass.

 

So true is this that, without the priesthood, there would not only be no Sacrifice of the Mass. There would be no Catholic Church. This may sound strange, even exotic. But the fact of life is that God became man in order to sacrifice Himself on the Cross by dying for the salvation of the world. Having died once on Calvary, He continues offering Himself in every Mass so totally that He would be willing to die every time that Mass is offered.

 

It is impossible to exaggerate this identification. The Catholic Church exists mainly that the Sacrifice of the Mass may continue to be offered from thousands of altars every day, even until the end of time. True, Jesus died only once physically. But every time that Mass is offered, He is ready and willing to die and offer His life for the salvation of the world.

 

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of identifying Christianity with the Cross. The human race began to sin from the time of our first parents. It has continued sinning over the centuries in every part of the world. We can safely say that God would long ago have destroyed the world because of its sin, except that the Sacrifice of the Mass had been offered by now on thousands of altars through- out the world.

 

People may wonder why the Catholic Church so emphasizes the importance of the Mass, or why Catholics are encouraged to assist at the Mass, not only once a week, but even every day. For those who have the faith, the reason is obvious.

 

To begin to appreciate the importance of the Catholic priesthood, we must first understand the tragedy of sin from our first parents to the present day.

 

The world has been spared the penalty it deserves because God became man, dying on the Cross on Calvary to redeem a sinful mankind. But His death on Calvary has been repeated, and is being repeated every time that Mass is being offered.

 

But then we ask the most important question: what makes the Mass possible? The Mass is possible only because Christ's death on Calvary is literally repeated in every Mass offered on Catholic altars throughout the world. This is not indulging in rhetoric. This is the literal truth! Except for the Mass, the justified anger of God would long ago have wiped out the human race because of its multitude of sins.

 

How we need the Mass! But there is no Mass without the priesthood. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the priesthood, to ensure that His sacrifice on Calvary would be renewed and repeated in every Mass until the end of time. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Mass being offered on thousands of altars every day. Except for the Mass, I repeat, the world would long ago have been destroyed because of its sins.

 

That is the fundamental meaning of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Its daily oblation throughout the world ensures the appeasement of God in the face of a sin-laden world.


Diaconate

The name deacon means “servant” or “minister” and it is used in this sense in the Scriptures. Yet the constant tradition of the Catholic Church recognizes the office of deacon as a divine institution. The narrative of the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 6:1-6) describes the first beginnings of this office.

 

Among the duties of deacons in the first centuries of the Church, the following stand out. They were stewards of the Church’s funds, and of the alms collected for widows and orphans; they were to help with the care of the poor and the aged; their special duty was to read the gospel; they would also preach to the people; they were especially to bring the Holy Eucharist to the sick in their homes; confer the sacrament of Baptism, and assist the bishop or priest in the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy.

 

The exercise of the diaconate enabled those who were to become priests to prepare themselves for their priestly life. But as time went on, there was a gradual decrease in the number of those who wished to remain deacons all their lives, without going on to the priesthood. As a result, the permanent diaconate almost entirely disappeared in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

 

The Council of Trent proposed the idea of restoring the permanent diaconate. Gradually this idea matured, and the Second Vatican Council officially supported the desire of those bishops who wanted permanent deacons to be ordained “where such would lead to the good of souls.”

 

One provision of the Code of Canon Law recognizes that married men may become permanent deacons: “A candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married may be admitted to the diaconate only when he has completed at least his twenty-fifth year. If he is married, not until he has completed at least his thirty-fifth year, and then with the consent of his wife” (Canon 1031, 2). According to the Church’s tradition, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage (Pope Paul VI, Norms for the Order of Diaconate, 6).

 

However, “A candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married, and likewise a candidate for the priesthood, is not to be admitted to the order of diaconate unless he has, in the prescribed rite, publicly before God and the Church undertaken the obligation of celibacy, or unless he has taken perpetual vows in a religious institute” (Canon 1037).

 

Those who are called to be priests are ordained through the Rite of Ordination. In celebrating this Rite, men receive a permanent spiritual mark, called a character, signifying that they represent Jesus' presence in the Church.

 

There are three levels of participation in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: as bishop, as priest (from presbyter, which is Greek for “elder”), and as deacon.

 

A bishop receives the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He is the head or Ordinary of the local church. The local area entrusted to him is called a diocese. A bishop is also a member of the episcopal college: this is all the bishops who, with the pope, guide the Church.

 

Priests serve the community in various ways. They may be called to serve in their dioceses or as religious order priests, carrying out the mission of a particular religious community. They preside at liturgies, preach, administer the sacraments, counsel people, serve as pastors, and teach.

 

Deacons help and serve bishops by serving the needs of the Church, proclaiming the gospel, teaching and preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages, and assisting the priest celebrant at liturgies.

 

Deacons are ordained for service in the Church. There are deacons who are studying to become priests. There are deacons that include married men who are called to remain deacons for life and to serve the Church in this capacity.

 

Priests receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Rite of Ordination. The bishop lays his hands on the head of the candidate and says a prayer asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In one part of the rite, the candidate lies in front of the altar while the Litany of the Saints is sung or recited. In another part of the rite, a priest's hands are anointed with chrism. In the rite for a bishop, the new bishop's head is anointed.

 

"Those among the faithful who have received holy Orders are appointed to nourish the church with the word and grace of God in the name of Christ" (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church, 11).


Holy Orders-The Episcopate (Bishop)

 

The Holy Orders are at the service of the common priesthood and is directed at unfolding the baptismal grace of all Christians (CCC 1547). Holy Orders is the Sacrament Christ instituted at the Last Supper: “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19).

 

Those who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in Christ’s name

(CCC 1539) to feed the Church by the Word (Bible and Eucharist) and grace of God. Holy

Orders is the sacrament through which the mission Christ entrusted to His apostles continues

to be exercised in the Church until the end of time (CCC 1536).

 

There are three degrees of Holy Orders in the apostolic ministry: episcopate (bishops),

presbytrate (priests) and diaconate (deacon) (CCC 1554). Ordination to Holy Orders is a

religious and liturgical act of consecration (CCC 1538) which integrates a man into the order of

episcopate, presbytrate or diaconate. (CCC 1538). Holy Orders confers the gift of the Holy

Spirit and permits exercise of a sacred power which can some only from Christ Himself

through His Church through the laying on of hands by the bishop (CCC 1538).

 

This pre-eminence of the bishops refers both to their exercise of authority and to their power of consecration. But their authority depends on their own consecration. Thus only bishops have the power of ordaining bishops, priests, or deacons. The common teaching is that the difference between bishops and priests (presbyters) existed from the beginning of the Church through a direct institution by Christ.

 

The ordination to the episcopate began with the apostles ordained by Christ at the Last Supper, so that the episcopal succession of bishops can be literally called the apostolic succession. Every validly ordained bishop in the world today can trace his ordination historically to that first ordination on Holy Thursday night.

 

The Bishops and their priests, sanctify the Church through their prayers and work, by

ministry of word, sacraments and example. This is symbolized by the Book of the Gospels

(the word of God), the ring (authority), mitre and crosier (pastor or shepherd) he receives at his

ordination.

 

In virtue of their ordination, bishops receive the fullness of the sacrament of Order. Only they can confer this sacrament on others. Their power to teach and rule the People of God depends on their approval by the Bishop of Rome.


Every man in Holy Orders is either a deacon, priest or bishop. The pope is the Bishop of Rome. Pope, Cardinal, Monsignor, Archbishop, are not sacramental orders. These are simply offices and titles and thus, though they are usually imparted with a blessing of some sort, their reception is not an instance of the sacrament of holy orders. An archbishop is a bishop in charge of a large or important diocese called an archdiocese. A cardinal is a special member of the papal household. Nearly all cardinals are bishops, but there are one or two cardinals who are priests.

 

Holy Orders - Presbyters (priests)

 

In the new Testament, only bishops and priests possess priestly powers. In the Church’s language, bishops have the fullness of the priesthood, “the highest priest of the first order.” Presbyters (priests) are priests of the second order.”

 

Challenged on the priesthood, the Catholic Church has more than once defended her teaching as revealed by God and therefore the irreversible truth. The most explicit doctrine was taught by the Council of Trent.

 

There is a visible and external priesthood in the New Testament. It consists in the power of consecrating and offering the Body and Blood of the Lord, and of remitting and of retaining sins. The priesthood, therefore, is not only an office and simple ministry of preaching.

 

Orders, or holy ordination, is truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ our Lord.

 

Priest are consecrated to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful as well as celebrate Divine Worship (Mass ) and the Sacrament of Penance (CCC 1564). His supreme dignity is in celebrating the Mass, where he makes present the Body and Blood of Christ in the person of Christ (In person Christi) (CCC 1566). This is symbolized in the reception of the chalice and patten at his ordination (CCC 1574). A priest takes promises of obedience to his Bishops (CCC 1567).

 

All parishes call for the same fundamental ministry of the priest, but each in its own distinctive way. The priest needs to be very flexible and adaptable in the way he lives and works.

 

In any parish, the priest’s ministry is to build a community of faith, of truly faith-filled people. It is there that they encounter the living Jesus in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in the whole prayer-life of the community, and in their fellow parishioners. Parish unity is to be a communion of faith and witness. The parish is supposed to be a servant community, a community for others. In other words, it is meant to be a small-scale version of all that the Church is called to be.

 

 For the parish the priest is their shepherd, bringing them the care of the Good Shepherd. His ministry tries to create an atmosphere of prayer and of loving care, a community where people feel they belong, where they are valued and accepted.

 

On the other hand, a priest cannot do everything. He has his limitations, like anyone else. Jesus himself did not heal all the sick, feed all the hungry or touch the lives of everyone who came to him. Nor can the priest. He has to learn to leave some things undone. When Jesus chose to visit Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 19. 1-10), he decided that this man needed him there and then. The others were left disappointed. In his pastoral care, the priest will have to make such decisions, and his priorities should be the same as those of Jesus. He cannot possibly do this alone, nor should he, but the little he does manage to achieve will often bear more fruit than he could possibly imagine.

 

It is often difficult for the priest to be at home in the presbytery long enough to be available for callers. He has so much else to do. He visits the sick in their homes and in hospital, bringing them the healing touch of the Lord. He cares for the dying, leads the funeral Liturgy and comforts the bereaved; this is often a difficult ministry.

 

In a parish, the sacraments will provide the key moments in the weekly ministry of any priest. He celebrates Mass every day in the Church, as well as the occasional Mass in another parish. Every Sunday is centered on several celebrations of the Eucharist, the high point of the life of the Catholic community. Often on a Sunday there are also infants to be baptized. During the week he is called upon to anoint the sick in a hospital or at home. Usually on a Saturday he is available at set times for the sacrament of reconciliation, but he is always ready to celebrate this great sacrament whenever asked. On Saturdays too there are often weddings, and Quinceañera celebrations. Many of these sacraments require a lot of preparation, for the priest himself and the catechists who work with him, and for those who are to receive them.

 

In the Eucharist he is the living icon or image of Jesus as our great High Priest offering himself to the Father, as our Head uniting his body to himself in his sacrifice, and as our Good Shepherd nourishing his flock with the sacrificial gift of himself. The Eucharist is the heart of the life and ministry of the priest and of the community he serves. Everything else he does flows from it and leads back to it, and it is there above all that we see the parish priest’s role most clearly. 


Holy Orders - Diakonia (Deacons)

 

The Deacon is ordained to the order of service, but not to the priesthood. He is ordained by the laying on of hands to the diakonia. The Deacon assists bishops and priests in the Divine Mysteries, at the Eucharist He may proclaim the Gospel and assist with the liturgy. This is symbolized by the Gospels he receives at his ordination (CCC 1574).

 

The name deacon means “servant” or “minister” and it is used in this sense in the Scriptures. Yet the constant tradition of the Catholic Church recognizes the office of deacon as a divine institution. The narrative of the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 6:1-6) describes the first beginnings of this office.

 

 Among the duties of deacons in the first centuries of the Church, the following stand out. They were stewards of the Church’s funds, and of the alms collected for widows and orphans; they were to help with the care of the poor and the aged; their special duty was to read the gospel; they would also preach to the people; they were especially to bring the Holy Eucharist to the sick in their homes; confer the sacrament of Baptism, and assist the bishop or priest in the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy.

 

The exercise of the diaconate enabled those who were to become priests to prepare themselves for their priestly life. But as time went on, there was a gradual decrease in the number of those who wished to remain deacons all their lives, without going on to the priesthood. As a result, the permanent diaconate almost entirely disappeared in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

 

The Council of Trent proposed the idea of restoring the permanent diaconate. Gradually this idea matured, and the Second Vatican Council officially supported the desire of those bishops who wanted permanent deacons to be ordained “where such would lead to the good of souls.”

 

One provision of the Code of Canon Law recognizes that married men may become permanent deacons: “A candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married may be admitted to the diaconate only when he has completed at least his twenty-fifth year. If he is married, not until he has completed at least his thirty-fifth year, and then with the consent of his wife” (Canon 1031, 2). According to the Church’s tradition, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage (Pope Paul VI, Norms for the Order of Diaconate).

 

However, “A candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married, and likewise a candidate for the priesthood, is not to be admitted to the order of diaconate unless he has, in the prescribed rite, publicly before God and the Church undertaken the obligation of celibacy, or unless he has taken perpetual vows in a religious institute” (Canon 1037).

 

Deacons help and serve bishops by serving the needs of the Church, proclaiming the gospel, teaching and preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages, and assisting the priest celebrant at liturgies.

 

Deacons are ordained for service in the Church. There are deacons who are studying to become priests. There are deacons that include married men who are called to remain deacons for life and to serve the Church in this capacity.