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The Sacrament of Holy Orders

While each baptized person is given the three offices of Christ (Priest, Prophet, and King), there exists a hierarchical structure in the Church which was established by Christ. In this hierarchical structure exists deacons, priests, and bishops. The ministerial order is prefigured in the Old Covenant when the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi for liturgical service. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant priesthood because he “is the one mediator between God and men” (2 Timothy 2:5). Those who are ordained priests in Christ’s name become a “priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).  “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” (CCC 1552). Jesus himself is the source the Church’s mission. Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, says: “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” (18). Christ established ministerial orders for service to the common priesthood of the faithful. “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” (CCC 1547). When exercising and ecclesial or liturgical function, priests and bishops act in communion with Christ and in the manner of in persona Christi capitis, which means “in the person of Christ the head.” A minister does not act on his own and he has no power to do anything except from Christ.

The bishop has the fullness of Holy Orders and is a successor to the apostles. He has the offices of sanctifying, teaching, and governing. A priest is a co-worker in the ministry of the bishop and shares in many of the functions of the bishop’s office if given the faculties. A deacon is ordained to serve the bishop and priests in the liturgy, to assist and bless marriages, to proclaim and preach the Gospel, preside at funerals, and dedicating themselves to works of charity. (CCC 155-1570).

Who can receive this sacrament?: Only a validly baptized man (CIC 1024). “The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry” (CCC 1577). Ordained ministers in the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are men who are celibate and will remain celibate. In the Eastern Churches, married priests are permitted, however, many choose to remain celibate. Once a man has received Holy Orders in either the Eastern or Western Churches, he may no longer marry.

The effects of the sacrament: When ordained, an indelible mark is made on the man’s soul, just like the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation confer. He is forever configured to Christ. Even if discharged from his office (laicized), he still retains the character on his soul. Because the priesthood is at the service of the faithful, even priests who have been laicized may still validly hear a confession and absolve sins when one is in danger of death.

Form, Matter, and Minister

Form: the bishop's specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained (CCC 1573)

Matter: the laying on of hands by the bishop with the consecratory prayer (CCC 1538)

Minister: a validly ordained bishop—one who is in the line of apostolic succession (CCC 1576)



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