Holy Orders is the Sacrament by which a man is ordained, that is, set apart, to serve the Church as a deacon, priest or bishop. Like baptism and confirmation, Holy Orders is a “character” sacrament, that is, it permanently transforms the essence of the person. As such, these sacraments may not be repeated. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, there are in fact three distinct orders, as mentioned: deacon, priest, bishop. Though the one sacrament, each of these distinct orders receives degrees of the sacrament. Therefore, before being ordained a priest, a candidate must first be ordained a deacon. Likewise, before being ordained a bishop, a candidate must first be ordained a priest.
The Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church is that this Sacrament is reserved for baptized men. Also, those ordained priest and bishops are required to make a life-long commitment to being celibate, that is, not married.
This sacrament has its roots in the Last Supper (Mt 26:26-30) at which Christ gave His Body and Blood to the disciples and commissioned them to continue doing this in His memory. The Acts of the Apostles (Acts: 1) tell us that after Christ’s Ascension, the apostles were concerned about replacing Judas. Through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, they chose Matthias and set him aside to join in the ministry of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles also tells how the Apostles themselves chose men to take care of the daily distribution of food and called them Deacons. They set “Deacon Elders” over local communities. This action of choosing, setting apart and sending forth, continues in the ministry of the three degrees of priesthood: deacon, priest and bishop.
The sacrament itself is conferred by the bishop of the diocese who must determine that the candidates are properly trained. Having done so, he examines their intentions and then confers Holy Orders. The essential Rite 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. (CCC)
Those who are interested in learning more about the priesthood, diaconate or are considering such a vocation for themselves can visit the Archdiocese of Boston Vocation Office website at www.rcab.org .
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