The Sacrament of Holy Orders
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 is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate (the bishop, priest, and deacon).
The word order (Greek ordo) in Roman antiquity designated an established civil body, especially a governing body. Ordinatio means incorporation into an ordo. In the Church there are established bodies with Tradition, not without a basis of Sacred Scripture, which has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines. The liturgy speaks of these bodies: ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, and the ordo diaconorum.
Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordinatio, a religious and liturgical act which was a consecration, a blessing or a sacrament. Today the word ordination is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community. Ordination confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a" sacred power" which can come only from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is a consecration for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself to his church. The laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination.
The chosen people of the Old Testament was constituted by God as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation"; within the people of Israel, God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, and set it apart for liturgical services; god himself is its inheritance. A special rite consecrated the beginnings of the priesthood of the Old Covenant. The priests are "appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Heb 5:1, Ex 29: 1-30, Lev 8).
Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds it's fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men" (1 Tim 2:5). The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, each in it's own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ. 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. In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his body, shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis. Through the ordained ministry, especially that of bishops and priests, the presence of Christ as head of the Church is made visible in the midst of the community of believers. The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ, but also of acting in the name of the whole Church wen presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Bishop- Episcopal finds its root word in Greek, episkopos, and pertains to the office of bishop. Among the various offices which have been exercised in the Church from the earliest times, the chief place is held by the function of those who are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line, the bishop. Episcopal consecration convers the offices of teaching and ruling by the imposition of hands through the words of the consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is given in a eminent and visible manner, taking the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd, and priest, and act ash is representative. By virtue of the Holy sprit who has been given to them, bishops have been constituted true and authentic teachers of the faith and have been made pontiffs and pastors.
In our day, the lawful ordination of a bishop requires a special intervention of the Bishop of Rome, because he is the supreme visible bond of the communion of the particular Churches in the one Church and the guarantor of their freedom. Those each bishop is the lawful pastor only of the portion of the flock entrusted to his care, as a legitimate successor of the apostles he is, by divine institution and precept, responsible with the other bishops for the apostolic mission of the Church.
Priest- Christ, whom the Father hallowed, and sent into the world has made their successors, the bishops namely, sharers in his consecration and mission; and these, in their turn, duly entrusted in varying degrees various members of the Church with the office of their ministry. The function of the bishops' ministry was handed over in a subordinate degree to priests so that they might be appointed in the order of the priesthood and be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ. The priesthood of priests, while presupposing the sacraments of initiation, is 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.
Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, priests share in the universal dimensions of the mission that Christ entrusted to the apostles. The spiritual gift they received in ordination prepared them for the fullest universal mission of salvation "to the end of the earth" prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere (Acts 1:8). Priests exercise in a supreme degree their sacred office acting in the person of Christ they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ, and in the sacrifice of the Mass the 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 (1 Cor 11:26).
Deacon- At the lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands 'not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry'. At ordination to the diaconate, only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, signifying the deacon's special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his diakonia, his service. Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the 'deacon' or servant of all. Among others, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist.
This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, constitutes an important enrichment for the Church's mission. It is appropriate and useful that men who carry out a truly diaconal ministry in the Church, whether in its liturgical and pastoral life or whether in its social and charitable works, should be strengthened by the imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles.
No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. The Lord chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason only the ordination of baptized men is possible. Someone validly ordained cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.
The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. If you think the Lord is calling you to the priesthood or the permanent diaconate we strongly urge you to explore the possibility. Listen for the voice of God. Pray about it. Talk with a priest or deacon about the joys and challenges.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1536-1600)
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