THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS
DEACON, PRIEST, BISHOP
Three Orders in this Sacrament
A man is ordained, and receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders, when he is made a Deacon, Priest, and Bishop. There are three orders all contained in the Sacrament. Only the Bishop has the fullness of Holy Orders, therefore, only a Bishop can ordain others.
Order of Deacon
When a man is ordained a deacon, he becomes a member of the clergy; he is no longer a lay man in the church. The deacon may baptize; officiate at marriages; lead funeral rites; impart blessings and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; read the Gospel and preach; and assist the priest in the celebration of Holy Mass. He would be an ordinary minister of Holy Communion, rather than extra-ordinary minister as lay people may be designated. In this Order, he cannot absolve sins in confession, nor celebrate Holy Mass, nor administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. These are reserved to priests. Above all, the deacon is called to the Ministry of the Word and of Charity. In the scriptures, particu-larly in Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7, we find the origin of this Order of Deacon in the Church.
From the time of the Acts, and throughout many centuries in the Church, there were men who served as deacons permanently. Examples include St. Stephen, the first martyr; St. Lawrence; and St. Francis of Assisi. Yes, Francis was a permanent deacon, not a priest. These deacons were either celibate or married. In the Western Church (the Latin Rite to which we belong), married men and single men are ordained. A man cannot marry after ordination. If he is married and his spouse dies, he cannot be remarried after having been ordained. As time moved on, the “permanent” deacon fell away from use and all deacons were “transitional,” that is, ordained to this first Order for a time, but later ordained to the second Order, the priesthood. Hence the word “transitional.” Since priests in our rite embraced the promise of celibacy from that time, there were no longer married deacons for many centuries.
After the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI sensed a renewed need in the Church for the ministry of deacons to work in collaboration with priests and bishops. And so, the permanent diaconate was restored.
“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…It includes three degrees of order: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate” (CCC 1536). Deacons, priest and bishops are essential to the Catholic Church because we believe that they continue the work begun by the apostles.
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. (CCC 1593)
Ordination is the rite at which the Sacrament of Holy Orders is bestowed. The bishop confers the Sacrament of Holy Orders by the laying on of hands which confers on a man the grace and spiritual power to celebrate the Church’s sacraments.
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 ordained the graces of the Holy Spirit required for his ministry. Ordination imprints an indelible sacramental character. (CCC 1597)
Who Receives Holy Orders?
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. (CCC 1598)
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. (CCC 1599)
The Second Vatican Council reminds us that the mission of ordained clergy, while unique, is interrelated to the mission of the lay faithful:
Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity. (Lumen Gentium 10)