Holy Orders

In the sacrament of Holy Orders, Jesus through the Church’s bishops, calls a man to be a bishop, presbyter (priest) or deacon to share in the priesthood of Christ.  Bishops and priest act in the person of Christ by offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist, hearing confessions, anointing the sick, teaching and preaching God’s word, and shepherding the baptized towards the kingdom of God and in their role of sanctifying the world. Therefore, Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry.  It includes three degrees: episcopate (bishop), presbyterate (priest), and diaconate (deacon) which we will discuss in more detail in our series on the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  (CCC 1533-1536)

The word order in Roman antiquity designated as established civil body, especially a governing body.  Ordinatio means incorporation into an ordo.  In the Church there are established bodies which Tradition, not without basis in Sacred Scripture, has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines.  And so the the liturgy speaks of the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, the ordo diaconorum.  Other groups also receive this name of ordo catechumens, virgins, spouses, widows, etc. BISHOPS: Are the successors of the apostles and can represent Christ in the ministry of all the sacraments.  Only bishops may administer the sacrament of Holy Orders, and they are normally the ministers of Confirmation. PRIESTS:  Priests are involved in the ministry of preaching and service to the community.  They may celebrate the Eucharist and the sacraments of penance, anointing of the sick, baptism, witness marriages and on occasion the sacrament of confirmation as part of the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist). DEACONS: Ordained by a bishop, deacons and baptize children (up to 7 years of age), distribute communion, witness marriages, preach and engage in works of service to the community of the faithful.  Vatican II restored the permanent diaconate that can include married as well as celibate men. (CCC 1537-1538)

St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the priesthood in the following way: “Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.” (Hebrews 5:1-3)  The priest is, therefore a mediator presenting offerings of love and surrender to God, in the person of Christ and in the name of the community of believers.  At the same time, he is chosen by God to communicate the Lord’s gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness to the community. The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially.  In what sense?  While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace–—a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit—, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. (CCC 1120, 1142, 1547)

The highest order of ordained ministry in Catholic teaching is that of bishop. Most bishops are diocesan bishops, the chief priests in their respective dioceses.  But some (auxiliary bishops) are the top assistants to their diocesan bishops, and some priests are made bishops because of special posts they hold in the church, such as certain Vatican jobs. Diocesan bishops and their auxiliaries are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. In some cases diocesan bishops are assigned a coadjutor bishop, who is like an auxiliary except that he automatically becomes the diocesan bishop when his predecessor resigns or dies. In addition to their diocesan responsibilities, all bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church. CARDINAL: This is essentially a honorary title conferred on bishops.  Cardinals usually head a large archdiocese or hold a chief administrative position in the Church.  In Eastern Catholic churches, an eparchy is equivalent to a diocese in the Latin Church, and eparch is equivalent to bishop.  The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses is archbishop.  The title “archbishop” is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials, notably Vatican ambassadors (apostolic nuncios), the secretaries of Vatican congregations and the presidents of pontifical councils.  The chief diocese of an Eastern Catholic ecclesiastical province is an archeparchy and is led by an archeparch, who is equivalent to an archbishop in the Latin Church.  There are only two Catholic archeparchies in the United States: the Byzantine Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. (http://www.usccb.org website)

The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ—Head of the Church—before the assembly of the faithful, but also of acting in the name of the whole Church when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice. “In the name of the whole Church” does not mean that priests are the delegates of the community. The prayer and offering of the Church are inseparable from the prayer and offering of Christ, her head; it is always the case that Christ worships in and through his Church. The whole Church, the Body of Christ, prays and offers herself “through him, with him, in him,” in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to God the Father. The whole Body, caput et membra, prays and offers itself, and therefore those who in the Body are especially his ministers are called ministers not only of Christ, but also of the Church. It is because the ministerial priesthood represents Christ that it can represent the Church.  “Because it is joined with the episcopal order (order of bishop) the office of priests shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up and sanctifies and rules his Body. Hence the priesthood of priests, while presupposing the sacraments of initiation, is nevertheless conferred by its own particular sacrament. Through that sacrament priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head.” (CCC 1562 – 1568)

In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came “to serve and not to be served.” The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church. All ordained ministers in the Church are called to functions of Word, Sacrament, and Charity, but bishops, presbyters and deacons exercise these functions in various ways.  As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church’s resources to meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. But no matter what specific functions a deacon performs, they flow from his sacramental identity. In other words, it is not only WHAT a deacon does, but WHO a deacon is, that is important. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, and single men may be ordained with a commitment to celibacy. (http://www.usccb.org website)

In the sacraments of Vocation, i.e., to build up the people of God, the sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders work in cooperation with each other.  “Christian revelation presents the two vocations to love: marriage and virginity. In some societies today, not only marriage and the family, but also vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, are often in a state of crisis. The two situations are inseparable: “When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the kingdom of heaven loses its meaning”. A lack of vocations follows from the breakdown of the family, yet where parents are generous in welcoming life, children will be more likely to be generous when it comes to the question of offering themselves to God: “Families must once again express a generous love for life and place themselves at its service above all by accepting the children which the Lord wants to give them with a sense of responsibility not detached from peaceful trust”, and they may bring this acceptance to fulfillment not only “through a continuing educational effort but also through an obligatory commitment, at times perhaps neglected, to help teenagers especially and young people to accept the vocational dimension of every living being, within God’s plan… Human life acquires fullness when it becomes a self-gift: a gift which can express itself in matrimony, in consecrated virginity, in self-dedication to one’s neighbor towards an ideal, or in the choice of priestly ministry. Parents will truly serve the life of their children if they help them make their own lives a gift, respecting their mature choices and fostering joyfully each vocation, including the religious and priestly one”. (Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family, Pontifical Council for the Family, 1995)  If you feel Christ is calling you to the vocation of priesthood, diaconate or religious life, please contact the Archdiocesan Office of Vocations:  http://www.houstonvocations.com/contact/