Holy Orders

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1533-1600:

  • When Christ endowed the apostles with authority, and commanded them to go forth and make disciples, He gave the Church an ongoing mission until He comes again; hence the apostolic ministry also continues over time, bestowed through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
  • Its name comes from the Latin ordo, “order,” referring to an established civil body, with a special connotation of governance; by ordination, one is incorporated into such an order.
  • There are three degrees of Holy Orders, each deriving from a Greek term in the New Testament: bishops, from episkopos (“overseer”); priests, from presbyteros (“elder”); and deacons, from diakonos (“servant”).
  • Christ is the supreme Priest, the one mediator between God and humankind, Who is prefigured by the priests offering sacrifice in the Old Testament: from Melchizedek and Aaron to those consecrated for worship in the Temple.
  • While this one priesthood of Christ is shared by all the baptized, the ordained priest is configured to Him in a profoundly different way; this sacrament confers a gift of the Holy Spirit, indelibly marking the soul, so that the priest receives the sacred power to act in the person of Christ, the Head of His Body, the Church.
  • The ministerial priesthood exists to serve the faithful by teaching the faith, exercising pastoral governance, and celebrating the sacraments, above all the Eucharist; by promising celibacy (in the Latin Rite, not in the Eastern Churches) the priest expresses his single-hearted commitment to shepherd his flock.
  • Priests who are consecrated as bishops receive the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders; as successors of the apostles, bishops are responsible for their own flocks, while also caring for the universal Church; they form the apostolic college in our day, in communion with the head of the college, the Bishop of Rome.
  • Bishops have the authority to celebrate this sacrament, ordaining through the laying on of hands and continuing the apostolic line; the priest is ordained as the bishop’s co-worker in apostolic mission, and so exercises his ministry in communion with, and obedience to, the bishop.
  • The ordination of deacons configures them in a special way to Christ, not as Priest, but as Servant; aside from performing some liturgical roles to assist bishops and priests, deacons are dedicated to charitable works and other ministries of service.
  • Holy Orders have been integral to the Church’s life since its inception; St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early 100s, urged reverence for bishops, priests, and deacons, “For without them, one cannot speak of the Church.”

Live Your Faith

“If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love….The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” So wrote St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.

Only through the ministry of His priests does Jesus give Himself to us in the Eucharist. No priest, no Eucharist – a reality that our persecuted brothers and sisters, and those in remote mission territories, know too well.

Let us be ever mindful of praying for our bishops and priests, that the Lord may protect and sustain them, and ask Him to keep raising up good and holy priests for His Church.  

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