The Sacrament of Holy Orders - A Sacrament of Service
A Charism of Service
After the resurrection Jesus commissions the disciples.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Matt 28:18-20
Pope Francis refers to this passage which concludes Matthew’s Gospel in Evangelii Gaudium to remind us that every Christian by virtue of the sacrament of baptism are ‘missionary disciples’ and therefore “agents of evangelisation” EG 120, CCC 1241, CCC 1268.
Pope Francis envisages a church where all members participate fully in its mission. “The laity can proclaim God’s word, teach, organize communities, celebrate certain sacraments, seek different ways to express popular devotion and develop the multitude of gifts that the Spirit pours out in their midst.” Querida Amazonia 89
Holy Orders, he reminds us is a specific charism of the Spirit.
88. The priest is a sign of that head and wellspring of grace above all when he celebrates the Eucharist, the source and summit of the entire Christian life. That is his great power, a power that can only be received in the sacrament of Holy Orders. For this reason, only the priest can say: “This is my body”. There are other words too, that he alone can speak: “I absolve you from your sins”: Because sacramental forgiveness is at the service of a worthy celebration of the Eucharist. These two sacraments lie at the heart of the priest’s exclusive identity. QA
Jesus called many to follow and participate in his ministry, however, he identified 12 as disciples (learners) becoming apostles (sent forth) with authority to preach and heal CCC 1577.Holy Orders is the sacrament of apostolic ministry; the bishops being the successors of the apostles CCC 1576. Priests are the co-workers of the bishop and deacons assist both the bishop and the priests CCC 1562, CCC 1570. It is Christ acting through the bishop who confers the Sacrament of Ordination CCC 1575.
There are 3 sacramental orders,
CCC 1536 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.
Bishop – episcopate
Priest – presbyterate
Deacon – diaconate
Although brothers and sisters of Religious Orders take vows these are considered sacramental but not a sacrament. A sacramental intercession is a blessing or holy act e.g. receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, its origin is in the Church and not in the life of Christ. A religious brother or sister leads a life consecrated to God dedicated to the charism of their Order. A priest can belong to a Diocese or a Religious Order.
CCC 944: The life consecrated to God is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church.
The Catechism reminds us that although Holy Orders although open to a baptised man it is not a right and individuals submit themselves to the authority of the Church for testing and preparation CCC 1578. Like the sacrament of marriage, the acceptance of Holy Orders must be discerned and freely accepted.
The bishop as heir of the apostles and Christ’s Vicar is responsible for the pastoral care of his church CCC 1560. By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders the bishop and priest stand ‘in persona Christi’ CCC 1548 with particular regard to the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (St John Paul II: Reconciliatio et Paenitentia)
29. The Latin Church restored the office of the permanent diaconate for married men at the Second Vatican Council.
Deacons support the work of the bishop and priests. CCC 1570 Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way.55 The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint ("character") which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the "deacon" or servant of all.56 Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.
Holy orders are conferred by the laying on of hands and words of consecration. CCC 1597 The sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by the laying on of hands followed by a solemn prayer of consecration asking God to grant the ordinand the graces of the Holy Spirit required for his ministry. Ordination imprints an indelible sacramental character.
History of Holy Orders
In the Old Testament we find of the 12 tribes of Israel the Levite tribe is distinguished by its priestly status and duties. Unlike the other 11 tribes they inherited no land, Moses and Aaron being of Levite descent. They are interspersed among the other tribes to undertake liturgical duties and offer gifts in thanks and sacrifices for sins to God. They prefigure the ordained ministry of the New Covenant CCC 1539.
Over the first 2-3 centuries a bishop (supervisor) emerged in each town or city to oversee the liturgical and theological life of the church. As deacons, men and women assisted the bishop. As the church grew and the bishop was unable to be present regularly, priests presided at the Eucharist.
Emperor Constantine by establishing Christianity as the religion of the empire gave bishops and priests judicial and administrative powers as they were now servants of the state. In the patriarchal Roman culture, the role played by women disappeared and the council of Laodicea 352 C.E. legislation was passed forbidding the ordination of women even as deacons. By the end of the 5th century the role of the deacon had diminished, and the role of the priest and bishop increased.
The Early Church expected Jesus’ return and so marriage was less of a priority than proclaiming the gospel. Although some of the apostles were married, the councils of Elvira 306 C.E. and Carthage 309 C.E. sought to make celibacy mandatory but this met resistance and it wasn’t until the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. that priests were no longer allowed to marry after ordination. In 1020 Pope Benedict VIII reinforced the decree of Elvira denying inheritance right to the children of clergy and in 1095 Pope Urban II sold the wives of priests as slaves and their children were abandoned. In 1123 the First Lateran Council decreed that all clerical marriages were invalid. In recent years, however, Pope John XXIII declared that both marriage and celibacy were both equal paths to great holiness.
Questions for Reflection
- In what way does Pope Francis call for us to work together as missionary disciples challenge how we view Holy Orders?
- How can we best support our ordained clergy facing the challenges of the 21st century?
- What has surprised, comforted or been thought provoking?