Through Holy Orders, the Church hands down from century to century the ministry entrusted by Jesus Christ to his apostles, until the end of time (CCC 1536).
Sacraments at the Service of Communion: Holy Orders
In the Scriptures, we read of St Paul conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit and the faculties of this apostolic ministry to Timothy, through the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14). The Catholic Church (alongside the Orthodox churches) has carried on this tradition of ‘apostolic succession’ since the first apostles.
Three Degrees of Holy Orders
There are three orders of the Sacrament of Holy Orders namely: Episcopate (Bishop), Presbyterate (Priest) and Diaconate (Deacon).
Diaconate. The deacon (Greek: diakonos) is the ordinary minister of Baptism [LINK] and may lead wedding and funeral services. The deacon also preaches at Mass and attends to the pastoral care of the people. Typically, deacons take a lead in the charitable works of the parish to which they are assigned.
Presbyterate. In addition to the faculties and duties of the deacon, a priest (Greek: presbuteros) may celebrate the Mass, hear Confession, and anoint the sick. If delegated by his bishop, the priest may also confer Confirmation. Each of our parishes is in the care of a priest or group of priests.
Episcopate. The bishop (Greek: episkopos) is a successor of the apostles and possesses the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He therefore has the faculty to celebrate all Seven Sacraments. The duties most unique to him are to ordain priests and deacons, as well as to confer Confirmation [LINK] as the apostle in the diocese.
The Bible affirms that Jesus Christ is the ‘one mediator between God and men’ (2 Timothy 2:5). This singular and unique priesthood of Jesus Christ is made present through the ministerial priesthood in those called to the presbyterate or priesthood. As St Thomas Aquinas puts it, ‘Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers’ (CCC 1545).
Those who are not ordained, the lay faithful, participate in another kind of priesthood - the common priesthood - by virtue of their baptism. The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood; it is directed at unfolding the baptismal grace of all Christians (CCC 1547).
In the Roman tradition, priests observe celibacy - that is to say, they do not marry – ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12)’. Joyfully, they consecrate themselves with undivided hearts to the Lord and his affairs (see 1 Corinthians 7:32), giving themselves entirely to God and his people (CCC 1579).
Ordination to the priesthood is always a call and a gift from God. Christ reminded his Apostles that they needed to ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest. Those who seek priesthood respond generously to God's call using the words of the prophet, ‘Here I am, send me’ (Isaiah 6:8). This call from God can be recognized and understood from the daily signs that disclose his will to those in charge of discerning the vocation of the candidate.
It is through the Sacrament of Holy Orders that men are ordained to be priests for the service of the Church. To become a priest requires a strong sense that this is your calling in life and then preparation through years in training for the priesthood in seminary. After ordination, the diocese offers various opportunities for further training and formation for priests and deacons [LINK OGF]
Want to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders?
In order to become a permanent deacon, you must be at least 25 years old and be willing to commit to lifelong celibacy, if unmarried, or at least 35 years, if married, and have the consent of your wife. You must be a practising Catholic male who has received the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist). If you are discerning a call to the diaconate, please contact
Seminarians undergoing formation for the priesthood can be ordained deacon once they reach the age of 23. Six months must elapse before they go on to be ordained as priests.
To become a priest, you must be an unmarried male, a practising Catholic who has received the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist) and been accepted to a formation programme by your bishop.
To become a bishop, you must be a priest, at least 35 years of age, and have received a letter of appointment from the Pope.
To discern your calling from God to the priesthood, please contact the Diocesan Vocation Director, Fr Paul Kyne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘You wish to become priests, or at least you wish to discover if you are really called. To recognise if this is God’s desire for your life, love him with all your soul and all of your heart in such a way that this love becomes the standard and motive of all your actions. From this moment on, live the Eucharist fully; be persons for whom the Holy Mass, Communion, and Eucharistic adoration are the centre and summit of their whole life. Offer Christ your heart in meditation and personal prayer so that he truly does become the foundation of your life.’ (Pope St John Paul II)