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Holy Orders

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that "Christ himself chose the apostles and gave them a share in his mission and authority. Raised to the Father's right hand, he has not forsaken his flock but he keeps it under his constant protection through the apostles, and guides it still through these same pastors who continue his work today.61 Thus, it is Christ whose gift it is that some be apostles, others pastors. He continues to act through the bishops.62"Since the sacrament of Holy Orders is the sacrament of the apostolic ministry, it is for the bishops as the successors of the apostles to hand on the "gift of the Spirit,"63 the "apostolic line."64 Validly ordained bishops, i.e., those who are in the line of apostolic succession validly confer the three degrees of the sacrament of Holy Orders.65"  Other words the 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, presbyterate, and diaconate.

Bishops (episcopoi) are those who have care of multiple congregations and have the task of appointing, ordaining, and disciplining priests and deacons. They are often called 'evangelists' in the New Testament. Examples of first century bishops include Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. 5:19-22, 2 Tim. 4:5, Titus 1:5).

Priests (presbuteroi) are also known as "presbyters" or "elders." In fact, the English term "priest" is simply a contraction of the Greek word "presbuteros." They have the responsibility of teaching, governing, and performing the sacraments in a given congregation (1 Tim. 5:17, Jas. 5:14-15).

Deacons (diakonoi) are the assistants of the bishops and have the task of teaching and administering certain church functions, such as the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-6).


If lay people are now called to minister, why do we need an ordained priesthood?


Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a greater emphasis on the priesthood of the faithful and the ministry of lay people. We now see Christians serving as readers, Communion ministers, spiritual directors, catechists, liturgists, ministers to the sick, directors of religious education and parish managers.

Today when Catholics talk about the role of the priest at Mass they are referring to more than the consecration: They are usually discussing the way he preaches and presides. Eucharist is a complex ritual action at which we gather, first, to hear the word of God proclaimed in Scriptures, prayers and homily. The priest's role is vital in all these actions.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders enables the priest to speak in the name of the whole community. Just as your hand can write a signature and it binds your whole body, or your mouth can give "your word" which binds your whole person, the priest can speak in the name of the whole Body. He is ordained to say prayers to which we can all respond "Amen." Because of Holy Orders the priest "possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself" (Catechism, #1548).

Each time we gather for the Eucharist, we hear the words "Do this in memory of me." By these words Jesus commands us not only to bless and share the bread as he did, but to "live as he lived." His mission is now our mission. Consequently, the Second Vatican Council taught that the first task of the priest is "to preach the gospel." Preaching the gospel has assumed an importance in the life and self-identity of a priest that it did not have in the years before Vatican II.

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