Holy Orders

The other Sacrament of Service of Communion is Holy Orders. This Sacrament “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, presbyterate, and diaconate” (CCC 1536). Established at the Last Supper by Christ himself, the Sacrament of Holy Orders has been handed on by the Apostles, down through their successors the Bishops, throughout time. 

Accordingly, “Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal: In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body. The holders of office, who are invested with a sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren, so that all who belong to the People of God . . . may attain to salvation” (CCC 874).

While everyone, by their baptism, serves in the Common Priesthood of Christ, Jesus himself Selected 12 Apostles to serve a special role in the Ministerial Priesthood. It is important to note, “the ministerial priesthood differs in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful because it confers a sacred power for the service of the faithful. The ordained ministers exercise their service for the People of God by teaching, divine worship and pastoral governance” (CCC 1592).

In essence, the purpose of the Ministerial Priesthood is to be at the service of the Common Priesthood and is the means by which Christ builds and leads his Church.  The Ministerial Priesthood serves in the name and person of Christ within the community.

3 LEVELS OF THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS

1. Bishops: As true successors of the Apostles, Bishops participate in the full priesthood of Christ.  In addition, to the power that priests have been given, bishops have the ability to ordain men to the role of deacon, priest and other bishops.  Together, with all bishops around the world they form the college of bishops, which the Pope in his role as the successor of St. Peter, serves as head. In addition,  “Episcopal consecration confers, together with the office of sanctifying, also the offices of teaching and ruling” (CCC 1558). Bishops often serve as the head of a local church known as a diocese, although bishops can also serve in other roles in the Church (e.g. assistant bishops, heads of congregations, ambassadors).

2. Priests: Have the role of assisting and obeying their bishop. They are joined with the order of Bishops (in a lesser degree) in sharing the authority which Christ himself builds, sanctifies and rules his Church. At their ordination, priests are given a special character, which configures them to Christ the high priest. This character allows them to act in the person of Christ. 

In essence, priests are co-workers with Bishops and help them to fulfill the apostolic mission given by Christ.  Priests depend on bishops in the exercise of their power.  Priests often care for small communities (local parishes) and have the ability to administer the sacraments, although certain sacraments require authorization from the Bishop to administer outside the danger of death e.g. penance and confirmation.  Priests do not have the power or authority to ordain.

Of note: “It is in the Eucharistic cult or in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful that [priests] exercise in a supreme degree their sacred office; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father. From this unique sacrifice, their whole priestly ministry draws its strength” (CCC 1566).

3. Deacons: They are ordained “in order to serve.” While given a special character at their ordination, this character is for ministry and not for priesthood.  Deacons assist the bishop and priests at Mass with the distribution of Holy Communion, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching. Deacons also may assist at the blessing of marriages, in presiding over funerals and in helping with various parish and community functions. Deacons cannot celebrate mass, hear confessions or administer the Sacrament of the Sick as such functions require priestly ordination.

In essence, “Deacons are ministers ordained for tasks of service of the Church; they do not receive the ministerial priesthood, but ordination confers on them important functions in the ministry of the word, divine worship, pastoral governance, and the service of charity, tasks which they must carry out under the pastoral authority of their bishop” (CCC 1596).

Remember: In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, it is always Christ Himself who acts through the Bishops, Priests and Deacons and this is no more evident then in the administration of the Sacraments. Like the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the Sacrament of Holy Orders imparts a special character and thus cannot be repeated.

For more information on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, please see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1536 - 1600.

If you are interested in becoming a Priest, please contact one of the Parish Priests, or the Office of Vocations at http://www.vocationstoronto.ca

Should you be interested in joining the permanent diaconate, we encourage you to contact the Office of Clergy Personnel at the Archdiocese of Toronto at diaconate@archtoronto.org.