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The Catechism of the Catholic Church Today on the Sacrament of Holy Orders or the Priesthood.


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This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states on this issue:


What is Holy Orders?

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.


On the institution and mission of the apostolic ministry by Christ, see CCC paragraph 874 ff.

Here only the sacramental means by which this ministry is handed on will be treated.


I. Why Is This Sacrament Called "Orders"?


1537 The word order 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 which Tradition, not without a basis in Sacred Scripture, (cf. Hebrews 5:6; 7:11; Psalm 110:4) has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines. And so the liturgy speaks of the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, the ordo diaconorum. Other groups also receive this name of ordo: catechumens, virgins, spouses, widows,. . . .


1538 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, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a "sacred power" (sacra potestas) (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 10) which can come only from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is also called consecratio, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his Church. The laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination.


II. The Sacrament Of Holy Orders In The Economy Of Salvation


The priesthood of the Old Covenant


1539 The chosen people was constituted by God as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6; cf. Isaiah 61:6) But within the people of Israel, God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, and set it apart for liturgical service; God himself is its inheritance. (cf. Numbers 1:48-53; Joshua 13:33) 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." (Hebrews 5:1; cf. Exodus 29:1-30; Leviticus 8)


1540 Instituted to proclaim the Word of God and to restore communion with God by sacrifices and prayer, (cf. Malachi 2:7-9) this priesthood nevertheless remains powerless to bring about salvation, needing to repeat its sacrifices ceaselessly and being unable to achieve a definitive sanctification, which only the sacrifice of Christ would accomplish. (cf. Hebrews 5:3; 7:27; 10:1-4)


1541 The liturgy of the Church, however, sees in the priesthood of Aaron and the service of the Levites, as in the institution of the seventy elders, (cf. Numbers 11:24-25) a prefiguring of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant. Thus in the Latin Rite the Church prays in the consecratory preface of the ordination of bishops:


God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .
by your gracious word
you have established the plan of your Church.
From the beginning,
you chose the descendants of Abraham to be your holy nation.
You established rulers and priests
and did not leave your sanctuary without ministers to serve you. . . .


Roman Pontifical, Ordination of Bishops 26, Prayer of Consecration


1542 At the ordination of priests, the Church prays:


Lord, holy Father, . . .
when you had appointed high priests to rule your people,
you chose other men next to them in rank and dignity
to be with them and to help them in their task. . . .
you extended the spirit of Moses to seventy wise men. . . .
You shared among the sons of Aaron
the fullness of their father's power.


Roman Pontifical, Ordination of Priests 22, Prayer of Consecration


1543 In the consecratory prayer for ordination of deacons, the Church confesses:


Almighty God . . .,
You make the Church, Christ's body,
grow to its full stature as a new and greater temple.
You enrich it with every kind of grace
and perfect it with a diversity of members
to serve the whole body in a wonderful pattern of unity.
You established a threefold ministry of worship and service,
for the glory of your name.
As ministers of your tabernacle you chose the sons of Levi
and gave them your blessing as their everlasting inheritance.


Roman Pontifical, Ordination of Deacons 21, Prayer of Consecration


The one priesthood of Christ


1544 Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men." (2 Timothy 2:5) The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, "priest of God Most High," as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique "high priest after the order of Melchizedek"; (Hebrews 5:10; cf. 6:20; Genesis 14:18) "holy, blameless, unstained," (Hebrews 7:26) "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," (Hebrews 10:14) that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.


1545 The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ's priesthood: "Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Hebrews 8,4)


Two participations in the one priesthood of Christ


1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church "a kingdom, priests for his God and Father." (Revelation 1:6; cf. Revelation 5:9-10; 1 Peter 2:5,9) The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are "consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 10 § 1)


1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, "each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ." While being "ordered one to another," they differ essentially. (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 10 § 2) In what sense? 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. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.


In the person of Christ the Head . . .


1548 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: (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 10; 28; Sacrosanctum Concilium 33; Christus Dominus 11; Presbyterorum Ordinis 2; 6)


It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi). (Pius XII, Encyclical, Mediator Dei: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 39 (1947) 548)


Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ. (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 22, 4c)


1549 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. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21) In the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Trall. 3,1:SCh 10,96; cf. Ad Magn. 6,1:SCh 10,82-84)


1550 This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister's sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.


1551 This priesthood is ministerial. "That office . . . which the Lord committed to the pastors of his people, is in the strict sense of the term a service." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 24) It is entirely related to Christ and to men. It depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood; it has been instituted for the good of men and the communion of the Church. The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a "sacred power" which is none other than that of Christ. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all. (cf. Mark 10:43-45; 1 Peter 5:3) "The Lord said clearly that concern for his flock was proof of love for him." (St. John Chrysostom, De sac. 2, 4:PG 48, 636; cf. John 21:15-17)


. . . "in the name of the whole Church"


1552 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. (cf. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 33N; Lumen Gentium 10)


1553 "In the name of the whole Church" does not mean that priests are the delegates of the community. The prayer and offering of the Church are inseparable from the prayer and offering of Christ, her head; it is always the case that Christ worships in and through his Church. The whole Church, the Body of Christ, prays and offers herself "through him, with him, in him," in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to God the Father. The whole Body, caput et membra, prays and offers itself, and therefore those who in the Body are especially his ministers are called ministers not only of Christ, but also of the Church. It is because the ministerial priesthood represents Christ that it can represent the Church.


III. The Three Degrees Of The Sacrament Of Holy Orders


1554 "The divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called bishops, priests, and deacons." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 28) Catholic doctrine, expressed in the liturgy, the Magisterium, and the constant practice of the Church, recognizes that there are two degrees of ministerial participation in the priesthood of Christ: the episcopacy and the presbyterate . The diaconate is intended to help and serve them. For this reason the term sacerdos in current usage denotes bishops and priests but not deacons. Yet Catholic doctrine teaches that the degrees of priestly participation (episcopate and presbyterate) and the degree of service (diaconate) are all three conferred by a sacramental act called "ordination," that is, by the sacrament of Holy Orders:


Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Trall. 3,1:SCh 10,96)


Episcopal ordination - fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders


1555 "Amongst those various offices which have been exercised in the Church from the earliest times the chief place, according to the witness of tradition, is held by the function of those who, through their appointment to the dignity and responsibility of bishop, and in virtue consequently of the unbroken succession going back to the beginning, are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 20)


1556 To fulfill their exalted mission, "the apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and by the imposition of hands they passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit, which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21; cf. Acts 1:8; 24; John 20:22-23; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6-7)


1557 The Second Vatican Council "teaches . . . that the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by episcopal consecration, that fullness namely which, both in the liturgical tradition of the Church and the language of the Fathers of the Church, is called the high priesthood, the acme (summa) of the sacred ministry." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21 § 2)


1558 "Episcopal consecration confers, together with the office of sanctifying, also the offices of teaching and ruling. . . . In fact . . . by the imposition of hands and through the words of the consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is given, and a sacred character is impressed in such wise that bishops, in an eminent and visible manner, take the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd, and priest, and act as his representative (in Eius persona agant)." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21) "By virtue, therefore, of the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, bishops have been constituted true and authentic teachers of the faith and have been made pontiffs and pastors." (Vatican II, Christus Dominus 2 § 2)


1559 "One is constituted a member of the episcopal body in virtue of the sacramental consecration and by the hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22) The character and collegial nature of the episcopal order are evidenced among other ways by the Church's ancient practice which calls for several bishops to participate in the consecration of a new bishop. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22) 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.


1560 As Christ's vicar, each bishop has the pastoral care of the particular Church entrusted to him, but at the same time he bears collegially with all his brothers in the episcopacy the solicitude for all the Churches: "Though 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." (Pius XII, Fidei donum: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 49 (1957) 237; cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 23; Christus Dominus 4; 36; 37; Ad Gentes 5; 6; 38.)


1561 The above considerations explain why the Eucharist celebrated by the bishop has a quite special significance as an expression of the Church gathered around the altar, with the one who represents Christ, the Good Shepherd and Head of his Church, presiding. (cf. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 41; Lumen Gentium 26)


The ordination of priests - co-workers of the bishops


1562 "Christ, whom the Father hallowed and sent into the world, has, through his apostles, 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." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 28; cf. John 10:36) "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." (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 2 § 2)


1563 "Because it is joined with the episcopal order the office of priests shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up and sanctifies and rules his Body. Hence the priesthood of priests, while presupposing the sacraments of initiation, is nevertheless 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." (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 2)


1564 "Whilst not having the supreme degree of the pontifical office, and notwithstanding the fact that they depend on the bishops in the exercise of their own proper power, the priests are for all that associated with them by reason of their sacerdotal dignity; and in virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, after the image of Christ, the supreme and eternal priest, they are consecrated in order to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 28 cf. Hebrews 5:1-10; 7:24; 9:11-28; Innocent I, Epist. ad Decentium:PL 20,554A; St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 2,22:PG 35,432B.)


1565 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 have received in ordination prepares them, not for a limited and restricted mission, "but for the fullest, in fact the universal mission of salvation 'to the end of the earth,"' (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 10; Optatam Totius 20; cf. Acts 1:8) "prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere." (Vatican II, Optatam Totius 20)


1566 "It is in the Eucharistic cult or in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful (synaxis) that they 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." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 28; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26) From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength. (cf. Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 2)


1567 "The priests, prudent cooperators of the episcopal college and its support and instrument, called to the service of the People of God, constitute, together with their bishop, a unique sacerdotal college (presbyterium) dedicated, it is, true to a variety of distinct duties. In each local assembly of the faithful they represent, in a certain sense, the bishop, with whom they are associated in all trust and generosity; in part they take upon themselves his duties and solicitude and in their daily toils discharge them." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 28 § 2) priests can exercise their ministry only in dependence on the bishop and in communion with him. The promise of obedience they make to the bishop at the moment of ordination and the kiss of peace from him at the end of the ordination liturgy mean that the bishop considers them his co-workers, his sons, his brothers and his friends, and that they in return owe him love and obedience.


1568 "All priests, who are constituted in the order of priesthood by the sacrament of Order, are bound together by an intimate sacramental brotherhood, but in a special way they form one priestly body in the diocese to which they are attached under their own bishop. . . ." (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 8) The unity of the presbyterium finds liturgical expression in the custom of the presbyters' imposing hands, after the bishop, during the Ate of ordination.


The ordination of deacons - "in order to serve"


1569 "At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands 'not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry."' (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 29; cf. Christus Dominus 15) At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon's special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his "diakonia." (cf. St. Hippolytus, Trad. ap. 8:SCh 11,58-62)


1570 Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 41; Apostolicam Actositatem 16) 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. (cf. Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27; St. Polycarp, Ad Phil. 5,2:SCh 10,182) 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. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 29; Sacrosanctum Concilium 35 § 4; Ad Gentes 16)


1571 Since the Second Vatican Council the Latin Church has restored the diaconate "as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy," (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 29 § 2) while the Churches of the East had always maintained it. This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, constitutes an important enrichment for the Church's mission. Indeed 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. They would be more closely bound to the altar and their ministry would be made more fruitful through the sacramental grace of the diaconate." (Vatican II, Ad Gentes 16 § 6)


IV. The Celebration Of This Sacrament


1572 Given the importance that the ordination of a bishop, a priest, or a deacon has for the life of the particular Church, its celebration calls for as many of the faithful as possible to take part. It should take place preferably on Sunday, in the cathedral, with solemnity appropriate to the occasion. All three ordinations, of the bishop, of the priest, and of the deacon, follow the same movement. Their proper place is within the Eucharistic liturgy.


1573 The essential rite of the sacrament of Holy Orders for all three degrees consists in the bishop's imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand and in 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. (cf. Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution, Sacramentum Ordinis: DS 3858)


1574 As in all the sacraments additional rites surround the celebration. Varying greatly among the different liturgical traditions, these rites have in common the expression of the multiple aspects of sacramental grace. Thus in the Latin Church, the initial rites - presentation and election of the ordinand, instruction by the bishop, examination of the candidate, litany of the saints - attest that the choice of the candidate is made in keeping with the practice of the Church and prepare for the solemn act of consecration, after which several rites symbolically express and complete the mystery accomplished: for bishop and priest, an anointing with holy chrism, a sign of the special anointing of the Holy Spirit who makes their ministry fruitful; giving the book of the Gospels, the ring, the miter, and the crosier to the bishop as the sign of his apostolic mission to proclaim the Word of God, of his fidelity to the Church, the bride of Christ, and his office as shepherd of the Lord's flock; presentation to the priest of the paten and chalice, "the offering of the holy people" which he is called to present to God; giving the book of the Gospels to the deacon who has just received the mission to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.


V. Who Can Confer This Sacrament?


1575 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. (cf. Roman Missal, Preface of the Apostles I) Thus, it is Christ whose gift it is that some be apostles, others pastors. He continues to act through the bishops. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21; Ephesians 4:11)


1576 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," (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21 § 2) the "apostolic line." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 20) 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. (cf. DS 794 and cf. DS 802; Code of Canon Law, canon 1012; Corpus Canonum Ecclisarum Orientalium, canon 744; 747.)


VI. Who Can Receive This Sacrament?


1577 "Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination." (Code of Canon Law, canon 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. (cf. Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:12-16; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 2 Timothy 1:6; Titus 1:5-9; St. Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. 42,4; 44,3:PG 1,292-293; 300) 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 the ordination of women is not possible. (cf. John Paul II, MD 26-27; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declaration, Inter insigniores: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 69 (1977) 98-116)


1578 No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God. (cf. Hebrews 5:4) Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God's call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift.


1579 All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 19:12) Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," (1 Corinthians 7:32) they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God. (cf. Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 16)


1580 In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. (cf. Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 16) Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry.


VII. The Effects Of The Sacrament Of Holy Orders


The indelible character


1581 This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.


1582 As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily. (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1767; Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 21; 28; 29; Presbyterorum Ordinis 2)


1583 It is true that someone validly ordained can, for grave reasons, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, (cf. Code of Canon Law, cann. 290-293; 1336 § 1 3o, 5o, 1338 § 2; Council of Trent: DS 1774) because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.


1584 Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting. (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1612; DS 1154) St. Augustine states this forcefully:


As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ's gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled. (St. Augustine, In Jo. ev. 5,15:PL 35,1422)


The grace of the Holy Spirit


1585 The grace of the Holy Spirit proper to this sacrament is configuration to Christ as Priest, Teacher, and Pastor, of whom the ordained is made a minister.


1586 For the bishop, this is first of all a grace of strength ("the governing spirit": Prayer of Episcopal Consecration in the Latin rite): the grace to guide and defend his Church with strength and prudence as a father and pastor, with gratuitous love for all and a preferential love for the poor, the sick, and the needy. This grace impels him to proclaim the Gospel to all, to be the model for his flock, to go before it on the way of sanctification by identifying himself in the Eucharist with Christ the priest and victim, not fearing to give his life for his sheep:


Father, you know all hearts.
You have chosen your servant for the office of bishop.
May he be a shepherd to your holy flock,
and a high priest blameless in your sight,
ministering to you night and day;
may he always gain the blessing of your favor
and offer the gifts of your holy Church.
Through the Spirit who gives the grace of high priesthood
grant him the power
to forgive sins as you have commanded
to assign ministries as you have decreed
and to loose from every bond by the authority which you
gave to your apostles. May he be pleasing to you by his gentleness and purity of heart,
presenting a fragrant offering to you,
through Jesus Christ, your Son. . . .


Roman Pontifical, Ordination of Bishops 26, Prayer of Consecration; cf. St. Hippolytus, Trad. ap. 3:SCh ll,44-46


1587 The spiritual gift conferred by presbyteral ordination is expressed by this prayer of the Byzantine Rite. The bishop, while laying on his hand, says among other things:


Lord, fill with the gift of the Holy Spirit
him whom you have deigned to raise to the rank of the priesthood,
that he may be worthy to stand without reproach before your altar
to proclaim the Gospel of your kingdom,
to fulfill the ministry of your word of truth,
to offer you spiritual gifts and sacrifices,
to renew your people by the bath of rebirth;
so that he may go out to meet
our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, your only Son,
on the day of his second coming,
and may receive from your vast goodness
the recompense for a faithful administration of his order.


Byzantine Liturgy, Euchologion


1588 With regard to deacons, "strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service (diakonia) of the liturgy, of the Gospel, and of works of charity." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 29)


1589 Before the grandeur of the priestly grace and office, the holy doctors felt an urgent call to conversion in order to conform their whole lives to him whose sacrament had made them ministers. Thus St. Gregory of Nazianzus, as a very young priest, exclaimed:

We must begin by purifying ourselves before purifying others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct, become light to illuminate, draw close to God to bring him close to others, be sanctified to sanctify, lead by the hand and counsel prudently. I know whose ministers we are, where we find ourselves and to where we strive. I know God's greatness and man's weakness, but also his potential. [Who then is the priest? He is] the defender of truth, who stands with angels, gives glory with archangels, causes sacrifices to rise to the altar on high, shares Christ's priesthood, refashions creation, restores it in God's image, recreates it for the world on high and, even greater, is divinized and divinizes. (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 2,71,74,73:PG 35,480-481) And the holy Cure of Ars: "The priest continues the work of redemption on earth. . . . If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love. . . . The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus." (St. John Vianney, quoted in B. Nodet, Jean-Marie Vianney, Curé d' Ars, 100)


In Brief


1590 St. Paul said to his disciple Timothy: "I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6), and "If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task." (1 Timothy 3:1) To Titus he said: "This is why I left you in Crete, that you amend what was defective, and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5).


1591 The whole Church is a priestly people. Through Baptism all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called the "common priesthood of the faithful." Based on this common priesthood and ordered to its service, there exists another participation in the mission of Christ: the ministry conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders, where the task is to serve in the name and in the person of Christ the Head in the midst of the community.


1592 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 (munus docendi), divine worship (munus liturgicum) and pastoral governance (munus regendi).


1593 Since the beginning, the ordained ministry has been conferred and exercised in three degrees: that of bishops, that of presbyters, and that of deacons. The ministries conferred by ordination are irreplaceable for the organic structure of the Church: without the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, one cannot speak of the Church (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Trall. 3,1).


1594 The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which integrates him into the episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church under the authority of the Pope, successor of St. Peter.


1595 Priests are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity and at the same time depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions; they are called to be the bishops' prudent co-workers. They form around their bishop the presbyterium which bears responsibility with him for the particular Church. They receive from the bishop the charge of a parish community or a determinate ecclesial office.


1596 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.


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.


1598 The Church confers the sacrament of Holy Orders only on baptized men (viri), whose suitability for the exercise of the ministry has been duly recognized. Church authority alone has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.


1599 In the Latin Church the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate for the love of God's kingdom and the service of men.


1600 It is bishops who confer the sacrament of Holy Orders in the three degrees.




  1. St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107)
    Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97)
    St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163)
    St. Theophilus of Antioch, (unknown - A.D. c.186)
    St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202)
    St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220)
    Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218)
    St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)
    St. Optatus of Milevis, (unknown - A.D. 384)
    St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386)
    St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403)
    Pope St. Siricius, (A.D. c.334-398)
    St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394)
    St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396)
    St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407)
    Pope St. Innocent I, (A.D. c.350-417)
    St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428)
    St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444)
    Pope St. Leo I, ( A.D. c.391-461)
    Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458)
    Canons Of The Apostles, (A.D. c. 400)
    Pope St. Gelasius I, (unknown - A.D. 496)


St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107), Syrian; ecclesiastical writer, bishop, martyr. A disciple of St. John, the Apostle; he was bishop of Antioch, in which see he succeeded St. Peter, or, as others think, Evodius. He is supposed to have governed that church for about forty years. He suffered martyrdom at Rome in the year 107.

"I exhort you that ye study to do all things in a divine unanimity, the bishop holding presidency in the place of God; and the presbyters in the place of the council of Apostles; and the deacons most dear to me, entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ.... Be ye made one with the bishop, and with those who preside for a pattern and lesson of incorruption."

Ep. ad Magnes. n. 6.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 212-213

Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97), Roman; Pope from A.D. 88-97; martyr. That St. Clement was honored by the friendship of the great Apostle, St. Peter, is not doubted. There are good reasons to believe that he was designated by that Apostle as his successor in the see of Rome. The authenticity and genuineness of St. Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians are acknowledged. We learn from Eusebius and from other writers, that it was publicly read in many churches. This second epistle is the oldest extant Christian homily we have attributed to him, (A.D. 150).

"There are proper liturgies (sacred offices) delivered to the chief priest; and a proper place assigned to the priests; and there are proper ministrations incumbent on the Levites; and the layman is adjudged to the appointments of laymen."

"Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his proper station, with a good conscience, with gravity, not going beyond the prescribed rule of his sacred office (liturgy)."

"The Apostles have preached to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ from God. Christ, therefore, was sent by God, and the Apostles by Christ. . . . Preaching through countries and cities, they appointed their first-fruits, having proved them by the spirit, bishops and deacons."

"Our Apostles knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that contention would arise regarding the name (or dignity) of the episcopate. And for this cause, having a perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the aforesaid (bishops and deacons), and then gave direction, in what manner, when they should die, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry (liturgy). Wherefore, we account that they who have been appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, the whole Church consenting, and who have ministered blamelessly to the flock of Christ, with humility . . . that such men are not to be, without injustice, thrown out of the ministry (liturgy). For it would be no small sin in us, if we should cast off from the episcopacy those who offer up the gifts blamelessly and holily."

Ep. i. ad Corinth, n. 40-44.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 211-212

St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163), Samaritan; born in Sichem (Naplousia) in Palestine; a platonic philosopher, apologist, and martyr for the faith; he was a convert to Catholic Christianity in A.D. 133. He wrote two Apologies for the Christian religion, one addressed to Antoninus, the other to Marcus Aurelius. He was martyred at Rome in the year 163.

After having thus washed him who has been convinced, and has expressed his agreement with us, we lead him to those who are called brethren, where they are assembled, that we may earnestly make prayers in common, both for ourselves and for the baptized (illuminated) person, and for all others in every place; that, having learned the truth, we may be found by works, good administrators, and observers of the commandments, that so we may obtain the eternal salvation. Having ceased from the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss: after which, to him who presides over the brethren bread is brought, and a cup of wine mixed with water. And he, having taken them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of all things, through the name of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and employs much time in offering up thanks for having been deemed worthy of these things by Him; when he hath ended the prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people present express their assent by saying, Amen, which, in the Hebrew tongue, signifies, so be it. He who presides having given thanks (eucharistized), and all the people having expressed their assent, they who are called amongst us deacons, give to each of those present a portion of the bread, and of the wine mixed with water, over which the thanksgiving has been made, and carry away a portion to those who are absent.

66. And this food is called amongst us Eucharist: of which no one is allowed to partake, but he who believes that what we teach is true, and has been washed in the laver (of baptism) which is for remission of sins and unto regeneration, and who so lives as Christ has delivered. For we do not receive these things as common bread and common drink; but in the (same) manner as Jesus Christ, our Savior, being made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation; even so we have been taught, that the food over which thanksgiving has been made (eucharistized) by the prayer of the word which came from Him, — by which (food) our blood and flesh are nourished by transmutation, — is both flesh and blood of that same incarnate Jesus. For the Apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have delivered, that Jesus gave them this injunction: that, having taken bread, and given thanks, He said: Do this in remembrance of me; this is my body; and that, in like manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said: This is my blood; and that He distributed (them) to these alone. And this, too, the wicked demons have in imitation commanded to be done in the mysteries of Mithra. For, that bread and a cup of water are set forth, in the rites appointed for the initiated, ye either know, or may learn."

Apol. i. n. 5-6, pp. 82-3.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 192-194

St. Theophilus of Antioch, (unknown - A.D. c.186), Patriarch of Antioch, born pagan but embraced Christianity by studying the Holy Scriptures, especially the prophetical books. Wrote against idols, made contributions to Christian literature, polemics, exegetics, and apologetics.

"Know then that I have made Saturus a lector, and Optatus, the confessor a subdeacon; whom we had already, by common advice, made next to the clergy."

Ep. xxiv. Presbyter.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 217

"This too we see to be derived from divine authority, that a priest be chosen in presence of the people, in sight of all, and be approved worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, as in Numbers, the Lord commanded Moses (Numbers 25:26). God commanded a priest to be appointed before all the synagogue, that is, He instructs and shows that the ordinations of priests ought only to be solemnized with the knowledge of the people standing by, that so by the people being present, either the crimes of the wicked may be detected, or the merits of the good proclaimed, and the ordination be just and lawful, which has been examined with the suffrage and judgment of all. This is afterwards observed in the Acts of the Apostles, in accordance with the divine teaching, when Peter speaks to the people of ordaining a bishop to replace Judas (Acts 1:15); and we notice that the Apostles observed this, not only in the ordinations of bishops and priests, but also in those of deacons (Acts 6:2). This surely was done so diligently and carefully, the whole people being called together, that no unworthy person might creep into the ministry of the altar, or to the priestly office."

Ep. Ixviii. Laedio.
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St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202), Asia Minor; bishop, missionary, theologian, defender of orthodoxy. Though by birth a Greek, he was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. He tells us that, in his early youth, he learned the rudiments of religion from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle. He wrote several works, of which only a few fragments are now known, with the exception of his Treatise against Heretics which we have in five books.

"But, that Paul taught plainly those things which he had also learned, and this not to those only who were with him, but to all his hearers, he himself makes manifest. For, at Miletus, having convoked the bishops and presbyters, who were from Ephesus, and the other neighboring cities, for that he was hastening to Jerusalem to celebrate the Pentecost, testifying many things unto them, and declaring what must needs befall him at Jerusalem, he added: I know that ye shall see my face no more. (Acts 20)"

Adv. Hæres. L. iii. c. 14, n. 2, p. 201.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 213

St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220), Greek; theologian, a scholar of Pantaenus, to whom he succeeded as head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Egypt. His writings display great acquaintance with the Gentile philosophy. He wrote with the express design of hiding the mysteries of the Christian religion from the Pagans, and the uninitiated, while at the same time, laboring to show the immense practical superiority of the Christian code of morals over that of every Pagan sect and system of philosophy.

"The degrees in the Church on earth of bishops, presbyters, deacons, are, in my opinion, imitations of the angelic glory, and of that dispensation which is said in Scripture to await all who, walking in the steps of the Apostles, live in perfect righteousness according to the Gospel."

Strom. L. vi. n. 13, p. 793.
See also Paedag. L. iii. c. 12, p. 309.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 213

Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218), North African; ecclesiastical writer, Christian apologist and lawyer, son of a centurion and contemporary of St. Irenæus, a native and citizen of Carthage. The zeal and ability with which he defended the Christian cause, and vindicated its faith and discipline, have immortalized his name, though it has suffered by his adoption, around the year A.D. 200, of some of the Montanist's errors, whose cause he is thought to have supported until his death. His works are numerous, and are written with great ability and erudition, but in an harsh style.

"To conclude my little work, it remains that I give an admonition also concerning the right rule of giving and receiving baptism. The right of giving it indeed hath the chief priest, which is the bishop: then the presbyters and deacons, yet not without the authority of the bishop, for the honor of the Church, which honor being preserved, peace is preserved. Otherwise laymen have also the right, for that which is equally received may equally be given, unless the name disciples denotes at once bishops, or priests, or deacons. The word of the Lord ought not to be hidden from any; wherefore also baptism, which is equally derived from God, may be administered by all: but how much more incumbent on laymen is the duty of reverence and modesty! Seeing that these things belong to superiors, let them not assume to themselves the office of the bishopric set apart for bishops. Emulation is the mother of divisions. A most holy Apostle has said, that all things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. Let it in truth suffice thee to use such things in thy necessities, whensoever the circumstances of place, or time, or person compel thee."

De Baptismo, n. 17, pp. 230-31.
See also De Prceserip. n. 41, cf. n. 32.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 213-214.

St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236), Roman; bishop and martyr, probably a scholar of St. Irenæus of Lyons.

"The emperor does not despise the generals that are under him, nor governors despise their subjects; and without leaders, a kingdom cannot stand: but neither let the bishop conduct himself haughtily towards the deacons, or the presbyters; nor the presbyter towards the laity; for the existence of a congregation depends on both; for both bishops and presbyters are the priests of certain others. . . . To be a Christian is in our power, but to be an Apostle, or a bishop, or anything of the like, is not in our power, but in God's, who is the giver of His free gifts."

De Charismatibus, Traditio Apostolica, Gall. T. ii. p. 502, n. 1 (Fabr. T. i. p. 247).

"The bishop gives a blessing and does not receive it; he ordains, he offers. he receives a blessing from bishops, but by no means from priests. The bishop deposes every cleric that deserves deposition, except a bishop, for one (bishop) only is not sufficient (to depose a bishop). The presbyter gives a blessing, and does not receive it: he receives a blessing from a bishop and from a fellow-priest: he imposes hands, but does not ordain; he deposes not, but excommunicates those under him that may come under that punishment. The deacon blesses not, he gives not a blessing, but receives it from a bishop and from a presbyter; he baptizes not, he offers not, but when the bishop or the presbyter has offered, he distributes to the people, not as a priest, but as ministering to priests."

Ib. p. 507, n. 17. This passage is also found in the Apost. Const., lib. viii. n. 28.

"For you know undoubtedly that bishops have been nominated by us, and presbyters, and deacons, with prayer and laying on of hands, pointing out by the difference in the names, the difference of the offices (things). Having been taught by the Lord the series of things, we have assigned to the bishops what belongs to the high-priesthood, to the presbyters what belongs to the priesthood, to the deacons what belongs to the ministering unto both; that what appertains to divine worship may be celebrated in a pure manner. For it is not lawful for a deacon to offer up sacrifice, to baptize, or to give the greater or the lesser blessing; nor for the presbyter to perform ordinations. For it is not a holy thing for the order to be reversed; for He is not the God of confusion, that inferiors may tyrannically usurp what belongs to their superiors. For such do not war against us, or against the bishops, but against the universal bishop and the high-priest of the Father, Jesus Christ, our Lord. For by Moses, the beloved of God, high-priests, and priests, and Levites were appointed; by the Saviour we the thirteen Apostles; but by the Apostles, I James and I Clement and the rest with us, not to give a list of all. But in common by each of us (were appointed) presbyters, and deacons, and subdeacons, and lectors. Wherefore, the first high-priest, the only-begotten Christ, did not seize to Himself that honor, but was constituted by the Father. He having become man for us, and offering to His own God and Father the spiritual sacrifice before His passion, to us alone did He give commission to do this, although there were others like unto us who had believed in Him; but not by any means was everyone that believed. at once appointed a priest, or in possession of the dignity of the high-priesthood. But after His ascension, we offering up, according to His appointment, a pure and unbloody sacrifice, set apart bishops, and presbyters, and deacons seven in number, of whom Stephen was one, that blessed martyr . . .he never appears in the exercise of what does not appertain to the deaconship, neither offering sacrifice, or imposing hands on any one, but keeping to his deacon's order to the last."

De Charism. Trad. Apostol. n. 26, Galland, t. ii. p. 512. This passage, with slight additions, is found in the Apost. Const. l. viii. n. 46.

Similar passages occur in other writers of the third century.
See Archelai Disp. cum Manete, Galland. t. iii. p. 605, n. 51, col. 2.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 215-217

Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

"Besides these which are more general, there is one thing due to the widow, of whom the Church takes care; another to the deacon; and another to the presbyter; and what is due to the bishops is the weightiest, and will if not rendered be required, and avenged by the Saviour of the whole Church."

T. i. De Oratione, n. 28, p. 253.
See also De Oratione L. iii. Contr. Celt. n. 30. pp. 466-67.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 214

"Does thou think that they who exercise the ministry, and glory in the order of the priesthood, walk according to this order, and do all things which beseem their order?
In like manner, deacons, do they walk according to the order of their ministry? Then, whence is it that we often hear men blaspheme, and say, see "What a bishop." or, "What a presbyter." or "What a deacon?" Is not this said, when either a priest, or a minister of God, has dared to proceed in any way contrary to His order, and do something contrary to the sacerdotal, or Levitical, order?"

T. ii. Hom. ii. in Numer. n. 1, p. 278, col. 2.
See also:
T. iii. Lib. ii. in Cantic. Cant, p. 48, col. 1.
T. iii. Lib. ii, in Matth. T. xii. n. 14, p. 731 ; Hom. xx. in Lucam, n. 1, p. 956.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 214-215

St. Optatus of Milevis, (unknown - A.D. 384), bishop of Milevis, Numidia, in Africa; from Augustine's writings we can assume Optatus was a convert; he is best known for his opposition to the heresy of Donatism.

Eusebius uses the following language of a bishop of his day:

"Who is able to penetrate into these secret recesses, but only He, the great universal High-Priest; whose of right it is to search into the secrets of the rational soul; and perhaps to one other only is it attainable to partake, though in the second place, of an equal power to him, that is, who has been set as the leader of this army; him whom that first and great High-Priest has honored here with the second place in sacred things, the Shepherd of this your divine flock, by the choice and judgment of the Father placed over this people, and whom Himself has appointed His minister and interpreter; a new Aaron, or Melchisedech, bearing the image of the Son of God, abiding and preserved perpetually, by the united prayers of you all. His then alone, after that first and greatest High-Priest, let it be, if not in the first, at least in the second place, both to look into and to watch over the inmost recesses of your soul."

Hist. Eccles. I. x. c. iv.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 218

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386), Palestinian; ordained by Maximus, he was made bishop of Jerusalem in A.D. 345; scholar and Doctor of the Church. None of his writings have been preserved to us, except eighteen catechetical instructions addressed to catechumens, and five mystagogic discourses addressed to neophytes.

"We enjoin that a bishop be ordained (xetpororsitiQai) by three bishops, or at least by two; by one it is not lawful for you to be constituted; for the testimony of two or three is more secure and firm. But a priest, as also a deacon, and the rest of the clergy, by one bishop; but neither priest nor deacon is to ordain clerics from amongst the laity; but simply the priest is to teach, to offer, to baptize, and to bless the people, and the deacon to minister to the bishop and to the priests."

Apostolic Constitutions I. iii. c. xxii.
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St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403), Palestinian; bishop, abbot, scholar.

"His doctrines were, beyond all human conception, replete with madness. For he asks, "Wherein is a bishop above a priest? They in nothing differ from each other. For their order is one; their honor one; and their dignity one. The bishop imposes hands, but so does the priest: the bishop baptizes, and so does the priest. The bishop goes through the whole economy of worship, and so does the priest. The bishop is seated on a throne, and so is the priest. Herein he led many astray; and they had him for their leader.

Next he asks, "What is this Easter that you celebrate? You are again made to take up with Jewish fables. There is not to be any celebration of the Passover, for Christ our Passover is sacrificed." After this, he next asks, "On what account do you, after their death, mention the names of the departed?"

We will discourse briefly on these things advanced by him, and thus pass them by. And that the whole is full of folly is plain to every man of sense. To say, for example, that a bishop and a priest are equal. How can this be? For the order of bishops is generative of fathers; for it begets fathers to the Church; whereas the priestly order, unable to beget fathers, begets, through the laver of regeneration, children to the Church, but not fathers, or teachers. And how is it possible for him, who has not had hands imposed on him to ordain, to make a priest? And how is it possible to say that such a one is equal to a bishop?

Now, of these, which is the wiser?

This deceived man, who has just now obtained notoriety, and who is still living; or they who were witnesses before us, who held before us the tradition in the Church?"

Adv. Hæres. (75) pp. 906, 908, and 910.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 219-220

St. Optatus of Milevis, (unknown - A.D. 384), bishop of Milevis, Numidia, in Africa; from Augustine's writings we can assume Optatus was a convert; he is best known for his opposition to the heresy of Donatism.

"The difference of dress indicates also the dignity. If one be a bishop he is distinguished both by his dress and his dignity; if a presbyter, or a deacon, and so of the rest, and if they be unworthy, they shall be stripped (of their dress)."

T. i. Gr. Repreh. sui ipsius.p. 141.
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"Whose heart is so stony as not henceforth to bewail that hour (of judgment) when bishops shall be separated from their co-bishops; priests from their fellow-priests; and deacons, and subdeacons, and readers from their associates."

T. ii. Gr. In Secund. Advent. Doni. p. 200.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 219

"Having led him (Abraham) from his cell, they conducted him to the city. And (the bishop) having imposed hands on him, sent him forward with gladness accompanied by the clergy."

T. ii. Gr. In Vit. Abraami, p. 4.
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St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394), bishop of Nyssa in A.D. 371, an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene creed. Gregory's philosophical writings were influenced by Origen. He was the brother of the great St. Basil.

"Why should I mention laymen who were not sustained by the possession of any dignity in the Church? Why deacons placed in the third, or presbyters in the second rank of the priesthood. The very heads and chiefs of all, certain bishops, in those days, to purchase, even at the loss of eternal life, the brief delays of this uncertain light, delivered up the records (instrumenta) of the divine law."

De Schism. Donat. L i. n. 13.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 218

St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396), German; reluctantly made bishop in the A.D. 374., Doctor of the Church. He closed a great and glorious career in A.D. 396. We have his life by Paulinus.

"What is signified by this, that after Aaron's death, God gave His command, not to the whole people, but to Moses alone, who is amongst the priests of the Lord, to clothe Eleazar, Aaron's son, with the garments of Aaron the priest; except that we might learn that a priest ought to consecrate a priest.. . . For he that will have to supplicate for the people ought to be chosen by the Lord, and approved of by the priests, that there be nothing grievously to offend, in him whose office it is to mediate for the offences of others."

T. ii. Ep. Ixiii. Eccles. Vercell n. 59, p. 1036.

"Who, brother, gives the episcopal grace? God, or man? Thou wilt answer without doubt God: but yet through man does God give it. Man lays on the hand, God bestows the grace. The priest lays on his suppliant right hand, and God blesses with His powerful right hand. The bishop initiates the order, and God bestows the dignity."

T. ii. De Dign. Saeerd. c. v.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 220

St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407), Syrian; archbishop, Doctor of the Church. Born at Antioch in 344; he was ordained priest in A.D. 383, and raised to the see of Constantinople in the year A.D. 398. His eloquence gained him the title of Chrysostom, or the mouth of gold. His expositions of Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, are very valuable. This illustrious prelate died on his road to exile, in A.D. 407.

"And when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them." From this it is evident that they separated them from the multitude. Observe how the writer avoids redundancy; for he says not how, but simply, that they were ordained by prayer, for this is the laying on of hands. The hand of man is laid on, but God works all, and it is His hand that touches the heart of him that is ordained, if he be ordained as he ought to be.

T. ix. Hom. xiv. n. 3, p. 138.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 220-221

To the fellow-bishops and deacons (Philippians 1:1).

What is this? Were there many bishops of one city? Not so: but he thus designated the presbyters. For then they still interchanged the names, and the bishop was called a deacon. For this cause, when writing even to Timothy, he said, "Fulfill thy ministry." (deaconship) when he was a bishop. For that he was a bishop, he says to him, "Impose not hands suddenly upon any man." And again, which "was given thee with the imposition of the hands of the priesthood"; and yet presbyters would not have imposed hands on a bishop. And again writing to Titus, he says: "For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst ordain priests in every city, as I appointed thee. If any be without crime, the husband of one wife," which things he says of the bishop. And after saying this, he added immediately, "For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God, not proud." As then I said, both the presbyters were of old called bishops and deacons, and the bishops presbyters: whence even now many bishops write, "To my fellow-presbyter", and "To my fellow-deacon." But otherwise the distinctive name is given to each, the bishop and the priest, To the fellow-bishops, he says, and deacons."

T. xi. Hom. i. in Ep. ad Phil. n. 1, p. 224.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 221

Pope St. Innocent I, (A.D. c.350-417) was pope from (A.D. 401 to 417), he lost no opportunity in maintaining and extending the authority of the Roman See as the ultimate resort for the settlement of all disputes.

"Let the periods fixed by our ancestors be observed: and let no one be made quickly a lector, quickly an acolyte, quickly a deacon, quickly a priest. . . Since therefore, it has by an undoubted definition been shown you, who ought to be admitted, or who rejected, you will have to choose out of all those whom your condescension sees are not to be repudiated, those whom you may make clerics."

Ad Felicem Episcopum, col. 1261, Labi). T. ii.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 223

St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428), North African; born in Tagaste in A.D. 354, baptized in Milan in A.D. 387, ordained a priest in A.D. 391 and appointed bishop of Hippo in A.D. 395, Augustine is one of our greatest theologians. His numerous works display genius of the highest order, and have ever had great weight in the Christian churches. He is also a Doctor of the Church.

"What some of these men, forced by truth, have begun to say, "He that recedes from the Church does not forfeit baptism, but yet loses the right of conferring it," is evidently in many ways a useless and foolish opinion.

First, because there is no cause shown why one that cannot lose baptism itself, can lose the right of conferring it. For each is a sacrament, and each is given to man by a certain consecration: Baptism when a man is baptized, the other when he is ordained; and for this cause, in the Catholic Church, neither [sacrament] is allowed to be repeated.

For if, at any time, the (Donatist) prelates return to us from that party, they have, for the sake of the blessing of peace, after renouncing their error of schism, been received; and if it seemed proper that they should exercise the same functions as they had previously exercised, they have not been reordained; but as their baptism, so did their ordination remain entire; for in their separation was the evil, — which by the peace of unity was corrected, — not in the sacraments, which, wheresoever they are, are the same.

And when it is judged expedient for the Church, that such prelates, on returning to Catholic fellowship, should not exercise therein their honors, the sacraments themselves of ordination are not taken away from them, but remain with them. And for this cause hands are not imposed upon them with the people, lest an injury be done, not to the man, but to the sacrament itself."

T. ix. L. ii. Contr. Epist. Fundam. n. 28, col. 105. So passim, see, for instance, Ib. L. i. Contr. Donat. de Bapt. n. 2, col. 159.

"Aerius having fallen into the heresy of the Arians, added some dogmas of his own. ... He also said that a priest ought not to be distinguished from a bishop by any difference."

T. viii. Lib. de Hceres. liii. col. 55.
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St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444), Egyptian; bishop, theologian and Doctor of the Church. He succeeded Theophilus in the patriarchal see of Alexandria, in A.D. 412, and was the great champion of orthodoxy against Nestorius, against whom the general council of Ephesus was called, in A.D. 431 and in which St. Cyril presided.

"And should any one choose to seek out the orders of the Church, as prefigured in the law, he would be surprised, and not without cause. For to bishops, as being appointed to rule, and to those who fill a lower rank, to priests I mean, has the altar been entrusted, also the things within the veil; and to them also may fittingly be said, "And they shall guard their priest's office {Numbers 3:10)." And to the deacons this applies: "They shall have charge of the coverings of the tabernacle, and of all the vessels thereof, and the watching of the people." Do they not cry aloud, commanding in the churches, when the people ought to say the hymn, and stand orderly, and often enjoin them to keep still, and excite them to prayers, and when the unbloody sacrifice is being celebrated, do they not carry the more sacred vessels?. . . But the laity is withheld from every sacred office, and the word threatens the extremest punishment against those who seize on this honor."

T. i. L. xiii. de Ador. in Sp. et Ver. p. 454.
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Pope St. Leo I, ( A.D. c.391-461), also known as Leo the Great, bishop of Rome (A.D. 440 to 461); an Italian aristocrat, remembered theologically for issuing the Tome of Leo, a document which was foundational to the debates of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon.

"That, therefore, which we know was, with more earnest care, observed by our fathers, that do we wish to be adhered to by you also, that the sacerdotal, or levitical, ordination be not celebrated indiscriminately on all days. . . . For besides the authority of a custom, which we know comes from apostolic teaching, the sacred Scripture also shows, how, when the Apostles were, by the command of the Holy Ghost, sending Paul and Barnabas to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, they fasting and praying imposed hands upon them: that we may understand, with what religious attention both of those who give, and of those who receive, care is to be taken lest the sacrament of so great a benediction seem to be negligently accomplished."

Ep. ix. Ad Dioscorum, Ep Alexand. c.i. page 629.
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Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458), Greek; an influential author, theologian, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria (A.D. 423-457). He played a pivotal role in many early Byzantine church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms. His friendship for Nestorius embroiled him, for a time, with his great contemporary, St. Cyril of Alexandria.

"Though tens of thousands of men are baptized by one priest, they diminish not the grace of that priest; and though very many have hands laid on them by the chief priests, and receive the priestly dignity, they lessen not the gift of that chief priest."

T. i. Qucest. xix. in. Num. p. 233.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 224

Canons Of The Apostles (A.D. c. 400) the Apostolic Canons or Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles is a collection of ancient ecclesiastical decrees concerning the government and discipline of the Early Christian Church, first found as last chapter of the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions and belonging to genre of the Church Orders. Thought to have been really compiled by the Apostles, whilst, by others, it is repudiated, and referred to the close of the fifth century.

"Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops."

Can i. col. 25, Labbe, t. i.

"Let a presbyter, deacon, and the other clerics, be ordained by one bishop."

Cann. ii. col. 25, Labbe t.i.
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Pope St. Gelasius I, (unknown - A.D. 496) was pope from A.D. 492 until his death in A.D. 496; prolific writer whose style placed him on the cusp between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. His reign was characterized by a call for strict orthodoxy.

"No less do we prohibit priests to go beyond their bounds; that they assume not presumptuously to themselves the things due to the episcopal dignity (summit); that they are not to seize to themselves the power of making the chrism, or the episcopal seal; ... let them remember that on no account is it allowed them to have the right of making a subdeacon, or an acolyte, without the chief pontiff; and let them be assured, that if they think that, of their own choice, they may perform anything which belongs specially to the episcopal ministry, they will be (are) at once deprived of the dignity of the priesthood, and of sacred communion. . . . The ordinations also of priests and deacons ought not to be performed except at certain seasons, and on certain days, that is, during the fast of the fourth, seventh, and tenth months."

Ep. ad Episc. Lucan. cap. vi. xi.,col. 1189-91, T. iv. Labb.
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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 (the bishop), presbyterate (the priest), and diaconate (the deacon).


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.


Both bishops and priest, liturgically act, "in the person of Christ, the man", in the service of God and for the salvation of souls. Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way.



The Church's Scriptures that support the Sacrament of Holy Orders or the Priesthood:


The Great Commission

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 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 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."


Matthew 28:16,18-20

The Institution of the Lord's Supper according to Luke.

14 And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them,
"I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on
I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

Luke 22:14-19

Jesus sends His Apostles, His first priests, to preach the Gospel.

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."

John 20:21

Matthias chosen to succeed Judas as the twelfth Apostle.

17 For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. . . . 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us— one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:17, 21-26

The twelve Apostles ask the fellow body of disciples to chose seven more to serve the Church; and the Apostles ordain or lay hands on the chosen ones.

2 And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.

Acts 6:2-6

Barnabas and Saul Commissioned

1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.


Acts 13:1-3

The Apostles Preach in Cyprus

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

Acts 13:4-5

Paul bears witness to his priesthood and speaks to the Ephesian Elders and reminds them of their key role as overseers of the Church

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Acts 20:17-28

Paul emphasizes the importance of priests in the Church so all may be saved.

14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? 15 And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!"

Romans 10:14-15

The ministry of the Apostles

1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2

The Church is made up of many types of callings ... one of which is the priest.

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

1 Corinthians 12:28-29

The gifts of the Holy Spirit vary and given to various members in the Church.

11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.

Ephesians 4:11

Paul encourages his fellow priests not to neglect their priestly calling by their ordination or laying of hands by the council of elders.


14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. 15 Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:14-16

Paul reminds his fellow priest of their ordination day.

6 Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;

2 Timothy 1:6

Paul encourages his fellow priests to seek others that can continue to faithfully carry out their priestly ministry.

1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.


2 Timothy 2:1-2

Titus appoints bishops in Crete while correcting incorrect teaching.

5 This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.


Titus 1:5

Those called to the priesthood are chosen (among men) by the Church to be priests.

1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.

Hebrews 5:1-4

The pastors and priests of the Church are accountable to those entrusted their care: their parish.

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. . . . . 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:7, 17

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