Holy Orders

Title of Sacrament:

Holy Orders or as it is more commonly known, Ordination

Sacrament Information:

The Parish Priest or the Diocesan Vocations Director

Contact Telephone Number:

The Parish Office or one of the links in the Links page of this site


The Parish Office or one of the links in the Links page of this site

What is a vocation?

A vocation, as defined in today’s secular world, is a term for an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained or qualified.   However, the original context of the word comes from within Christianity.   The word comes from the Latin word ‘vocare’ (to call) and was used, as it still is, in relation to a ‘vocation to the priesthood.’

In general terms, we all have a vocation to holiness which we receive through our baptism.  We are called to live out our faith in our every day lives as witnesses to Christ’s love for us and for the world.   We believe that God created each one of us with gifts and talents which lead us to live our lives in particular ways: vocational commitments to an individual through marriage, commitment to the poor and less fortunate by way of charitable employ (or volunteer), the use of our gifts through our family life, civic duties and employment, and of course vocation to a priestly ministry or the religious life.

What is the Sacrament of Holy Orders?

Holy Orders or Ordination is the climax of a period of preparation that a man undertakes in preparation for the priesthood or diaconate.

Christians live their faith in a local church with Christ as their leader and ‘overseer’ (1 Peter 2:25). We are a people intimately ‘at one’ with Christ, a royal, priestly and prophetic community anointed with the Spirit to be the Lord’s instrument in the world. The risen Jesus is Servant Lord of the Church, and lives among us as our one and only Good Shepherd and High Priest, the Head of his Body, gathering us together, feeding and guiding us, bringing us back when we stray.

How does the Lord make his invisible leadership visibly present and effective? He works in many ways, using the gifts of different people to care, teach and lead, but it is above all through those set aside by the sacrament of ordination that Jesus exercises his role as our Shepherd and Leader.

The priest is the personal living sign in the midst of his pilgrim community that the Lord is there as our High Priest offering himself to the Father, our Head uniting his Body with himself in his sacrifice, our Shepherd nourishing his flock with the gift of himself and gathering them together as one. The priest is not someone ‘between’ Christ and his people; he makes Christ present, ‘re-presenting’ him, specifically in his pastoral leadership of his disciples.

The priest presides at the Eucharist, absolves sinners, anoints the sick, proclaims and explains the Good News with authority, blesses the people and generally leads the whole faith-life of his community. He does these things because of what he became at his ordination, the living sign and instrument, the living icon of Jesus as he continues his own ministry among us. Jesus leads the Church through the visible service of his priests.

The priest serves as one of the people, yet one set apart. His vocation enables every member of the Church to live his or her own vocation to the full. The priest is a visible centre of unity, and has the task of helping people to discover and use their gifts in the service of Christ, so that the Church can be what it is called to be, the living sign and instrument of Christ in the world. The priest is essential for the full life of the Church. There is a real need for more people to offer themselves for this vital ministry of pastoral leadership in the name of the Lord.

From Bishop Michael Evans booklet  “Being a catholic”  CTS  1992. 

What the Church teaches:

The following are taken from the catechism of the Catholic Church (the numbers refer to the paragraphs in the document, should you wish to look them up and read further – there is a link to the Catechism in the “Links” page):

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.

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, 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) 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.

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.” 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.”

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. 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.

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:

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).

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.

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.26 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.

The ordination of priests:

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.” “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 fulfilment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ.”

The ordination of deacons:

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.”‘ 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.”

1570 Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. 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. 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.