Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Chirst

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.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls marriage and holy orders
"sacraments at the service of communion" and says that these sacraments
"are directed toward the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to
personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They
confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the people of
God" (no. 1534).

This brief statement might serve as a touchstone for under-standing the
sacrament of holy orders. Like marriage, it consecrates some members of
the church into a way of life through which they live out their baptismal
commitment. While married couples live their faith in the domestic church
and provide the wider church with new members, those called to holy orders
build up the church as servants of the whole faith community. The
fundamental order of the church is the order of the faithful, all the baptized.
Those called to holy orders are called to serve that largest and most basic


Holy Orders

Holy Orders, or Ordination, is the sixth of the seven sacraments, as well as
the first Sacrament at the Service of Communion. Its name comes from the
Latin words ordo and ordinatia Ordo refers to a "governing body" (CCC 1537),
and ordinatio refers to the process by which a person was constituted as a
member of such a body (CCC 1538). The Sacrament of Holy Orders is
conferred in three degrees, which are received successively: the Diaconate,
the Presbyterate, and the Episcopate. In the central moment of Ordination, a
bishop lays hands on a baptized and confirmed man and prays a prayer
which consecrates that man, elevating him to the intended degree of Holy
Orders (CCC 1538).

This is perhaps the most difficult sacrament of all to treat. It is exceedingly
complicated in its origin and in the development of terminology. Tertullian
chose the word ordo (order) to apply to clergy as a whole, probably under the
influence of Psalm 109:4 over Hebrews 5-7, which refer to the priesthood,
according to the order of ministers. The bishop, a modern term derived from
the Latinization of episcopos (overseer), was commonly called sacerdos
(priest). The priest was called presbyter. The deacon was usually called
minister (servant). In the course of history, the corporate or collegial sense of
ordo gradually evaporated, only to be rediscovered at Vatican II.


The terms ‘bishop’ and ‘bisphoric’ came from the ancient Greek ‘ἐπίσκοπος’,
from the classical Latin ‘episcopus’. It is defined as the chief dignitary of the
church and an overseer of the clergy. Our word bishop seems to have been
formed by a contraction both of the beginning and ending of ἐπίσκοπος, thus
ἐ-πίσκοπ-ος, or in the fame manner from the Latin episcopus, thus e-PISCOP-


The words ‘Presbyter’ and ‘Priest’ share a complicated and often con-fused
history. Early Modern dictionaries display a degree of uncertainty as to which
term represents the origin of the other, an ambiguity that Milton utilizes to
polemical effect here, arguing — as Spenser did before him — that we should
be cautious of any claims of linguistic innovation that do not acknowledge
their debt to traditions. There is a further sub-merged etymological pun in
the fact that the term 'Presbyter', although newly applied to English clerics in
the late sixteenth century, is a much older word than 'Priest'. The Old English
'priest', is a contraction of the Greek, ‘πρεσβύτερος’ and the post-classical
Latin root word 'Presbyter'. The irony is doubled then in Milton's etymological
play, and the sup-porters of inauthentic presbytery under attack here are
wrong about what the institution should represent, and also wrong to present
its name as 'new'. 'Presbyter' may emblematize the reformist efforts of
Milton's own moment, which resulted in the abolition of episcopacy by the
Long Parliament in September 1646, but it actually predates the earliest
English Christian church of the Saxons. Milton's play upon words reminds his
etymologically astute readers of the pre-Christian, pagan roots of the term
'Presbyter', and the fundamentally un-Christian behavior of those who
currently identify themselves as such.


In the passage 1 Timothy 3:8-13, two forms of the word deacon are used,
διάκονος (diakonos), which is found in 1 Timothy 3:8 & 12, and διακονέω
(diakoneó), which is found in 1 Timothy 3:10 & 13. The noun form of deacon,
diakonos, means an official of the church entrusted to serve the needs of
believers. The verb form deacon, diakoneo, means to be a deacon, minister
unto. It is also means to wait upon tables in Acts 6:2, which connotes to
serve and handle finances.


In the Christian churches, Holy Orders are ordained ministries such as
bishop, priest or deacon. In the Roman Catholic (Latin: sacri ordines), Eastern
Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (ιερωσύνη [hierōsynē], ιεράτευμα [hierateuma],
Священство [Svyashchenstvo]), Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Assyrian, Old
Catholic, Independent Catholic and some Lutheran churches, holy orders is
comprised is the three ministerial orders of bishop, priest and deacon, or the
sacrament or rite by which candidates are ordained to those orders. Except
for Lutherans and some Anglicans, these churches regard ordination as a
sacrament (the sacramentum ordinis). The Anglo-Catholic tradition within
Anglicanism identifies more with the Roman Catholic position about the
sacramental nature of ordination.

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,…

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.

Term Etymology

Holy Halig (old English)
Hailaga (Proto-Germanic)

Order Ordre (French)

Ordinem (Latin)

Bishop Bisceop (old English)

Episcopus (late Latin)

Episkopos (Greek)

Priest Preost (old English)

Prestere (old Frisian)

Presbyter (late Latin

Deacon Diacon (old English)

Diaconus (late Latin)

Diakonos (Greek)

Biblical Foundation

What is the Sacrament of Holy Orders and where is it in the Bible?

I answer that the Sacrament of Holy Orders is that through which men
receive the Power and Grace to perform sacred functions within the Catholic
Church. These functions are sub-divided into two, major and minor orders.
The major orders consists of Subdeacon, Deacon and Priest, with Bishop
being the culmination while the minor orders consists of Porter, Lector,
Exorcist and Acolyte. I shall now proceed to demonstrate that the institution
of these Holy Orders was initiated by CHRIST, continued by the Apostles and
completed by the Early Church handed over to us through Tradition.

First Fact:

In Genesis 14:18, it is written: "But Melchisedech, the King of Salem bringing
forth bread and wine, for he was the Priest of the Most High GOD." In Psalm
109:4, speaking of Our Lord JESUS CHRIST, it is written: "Thou art a Priest
forever according to the order of Melchisedech." And so it were, Our Lord
JESUS CHRIST, the Founder of the Catholic Church, on the night before His
Passion "... took bread and giving thanks and said: "Take ye and eat: This is
My Body Which shall be delivered for you. Do this in Commemoration of Me.
In like manner also the chalice after He had supped saying: "This Chalice is
the New Testament of My Blood. This do ye. As often as you shall drink for
the Commemoration of Me ..." — 1 Corinthians 11:23 — 25. This Command of
Our Lord JESUS CHRIST to His Priests: "Do this in Commemoration of Me ..."
signifies the Declaration of Power and Authority of GOD to men who would
become His Priests forever in the Order of Melchisedech!

Second Fact:

St. Peter, convening a meeting for the replacement of Judas, Acts of the
Apostles 1:15 said as recorded in verse 20: "For it is written in the book of
Psalms, let their habitation become desolate and let there be none to dwell
therein. And his Bishopric, let another take." Thus, the First Apostles where
regarded as Bishops in concordance to the Will of CHRIST Who first chose
and consecrated them!

Third Fact:

In Acts of the Apostles 6:1, it is written: "And in those days, the number of
the disciples increasing, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the
Hebrews for their widows were neglected in the daily ministration ..." The
Apostles, the First Bishops of the Catholic Church who had received from
CHRIST Power and Authority concerning the matters of the Church, seeing
that the flock was increasing, needed the assistance of men who would help
them as revealed In verse 2. And thus as it is written in verses S — 6: And
they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the HOLY GHOST and Philip
and Prochorus and Nicanor, Timon and Parmenias and Nicolas, a proselyte of
Antioch. These they set before the Apostles and they praying imposed hands
upon them." These seven men appointed from among the early Christians.
became the first Deacons of the Catholic Church.

Fourth Fact:

In Acts of the Apostles 6:2, it is written: 'Then the twelve calling together the
multitude of the disciples said: "It Is not reason that we should leave the
Word of GOD and serve tables." From this passage, it is readily observed that
it was because of the need for the Apostles, the First Catholic Bishops, not to
be distracted from the Word of GOD that the order of Deacon was instituted
by them. And so it were as received from Tradition that as the Catholic
Church grew rapidly in numbers, other orders were established to assist the
work of the Bishops and the Priests. These are the Porters — whose chief
duty is to guard the keys and doors of the Church; Lectors — whose primary
duty is to read in a clear and distinct voice, the books of the Old and New
Testament; Exorcists — whose primary role is to invoke the Name of the Lord
over those possessed with unclean spirits; Acolyte — whose chief role is to
attend to and serve the Subdeacon and Deacon during the Holy Sacrifice of
the Mass; the Subdeacon — whose primary duty is to assist the Deacon who
in turn assists the Priest.

Furthermore, there are several passages in the Scriptures that inform us
clearly of the institution and practice of Holy Orders in the early Catholic
Church. but I shall cite only a few here.

In Acts of the Apostles 20:28, it is written: "rake heed to yourselves and to
the whole flock wherein the HOLY GHOST hath placed you Bishops to rule the
Church of GOD which Ile hath purchased with His Own Blood."

In Hebrews 5:1, it is written: "For every High Priest taken from among men is
ordained for men in things that appertain to GOD, that he may offer up gifts
and Sacrifices for sins."

In I Timothy 3:8, it is written: 'Deacons in like manner chaste, not double
tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the
Mystery of Faith in a pure conscience."

And finally, in 1 Timothy 4:14, it is written: "Neglect not the Grace that is in
thee which was given thee by prophecy with imposition of the hands of the
Priesthood ..."

Conclusion: Therefore, the Institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is
deeply rooted in the Scriptures!

Virtually all Christian churches have Holy Orders, even though many
churches do not all the institution a 'sacrament" nor even an "ordinance" of
Jesus—they “ordain" their pastors. Most denominations of Christians call their
local leader a "pastor" and most churches have at least one or more of the
three Biblical orders of Bishop, presbyter and deacon. The Catholic and
Orthodox churches have all three 'orders':

Some English versions of the Bible translate "episcopos" as "Bishop" (the
Greek literally means "overseer"). For example, the New Revised Standard
Version (NRSV) has "bishop' four times (Phil. I:I; Tim 3:1-2; Titus 1:7). The
King James Version (KJV) has "bishop" six times, adding Acts 1:20 and 1 Peter
2:25. The New International Version (N1V) uses the literal translation
'overseer' instead of bishop. Other translations have used "pastor" or
"shepherd". The Catholic Church has used the title Bishop as the highest of
all the orders in the church (even the Pope is a bishop—the Bishop of Rome).
The Catholic Archbishops" and the Orthodox 'Patriarchs" are Bishops who
have larger geographic authority than other Bishops but they are still
ordained in the same order.

Catholic theology claims that the twelve "apostles* were the first Bishops.
Jesus selected the twelve to be his closest collaborators in the
announcement of the gospel They had to be twelve men because they were
replacing the twelve patriarchs, the heads of the twelve tribes of ancient
Israel. Jesus was establishing the new Israel, the new covenant (Luke 22:20;1
Cor. 11:25) and the new law (John 13:34). So when one of the original twelve,
Judas, committed suicide, he had to he replaced because there had to be

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 must become a witness with us to his resurrection."

23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also
known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, 'Lord,
you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have
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 added to the
eleven apostles. (Acts 1:21-26)

Jesus did not use the title Bishop. His twelve were called 'disciples' and

10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them
authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cute every
disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve
apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and
Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of
Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas
Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: to
nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6
but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of IsraeL 7 As you go,
proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near!
(Matt. 10: 1-7)

However, the twelve themselves understood their role as "overseer" or
"bishop' as can be seen in their description of the twelfth apostle in Acts:

20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be
desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another
take. (Acts I :20 KJV)

20 "For it is written in the book of Psalms, let his homestead become
desolate, and let there be no one to live In It'; and let another take his
position of overseer:

(Acts 1:20 NRSV)

So the twelve became known in the church as the rust bishops of the church.
And we have seen above (in the chapter on Confession) that Jesus gave his
own authority of binding and loosing to the twelve:

18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in
heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
(Matt. 18:18)

And he promised them that they would be the judges of the twelve tribes of

28 Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things,
when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who
have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve
tribes of Israel. (Matt. 19:28 and Luke 22:30)

The twelve apostles have been given the authority of Jesus to lead church.
And St. Paul made his claim to be the thirteenth apostle (2 C 11:5 and
12:11). And every Catholic and Orthodox bishop traces spiritual lineage back
to these thirteen apostles. The church ministry of the Bishop was well
established by the ern the first century:
3:1 The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires
a noble task.

2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once,
temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 not a
drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of
money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his
children submissive and respectful in every way-5 for if someone
does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take
care of God's church?

6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with
conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he
must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into
disgrace and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

7 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be
arrogant or quick-tempered of addicted to wine of violent or greedy
for gain; 8 but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent,
upright, devout and self-controlled. 9 He must have a firm grasp of
the word that is trustworthy


In addition to the authority given to the twelve, Jesus gave a special position
to Simon. Jesus signified this special role by giving Simon a new name:
"Cephas" (Aramaic) or "Petros" or "Peter" (Greek) translated as "Rock' in
English. Simon is renamed the Rock upon whom Jesus would build his church:

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my
church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 191 will
give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind
on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth
will be loosed in heaven.' (Matt. 16:18-19)

"Peter" is his name untranslated from the Greek "Petros': A translated
version would read:

And I tell you you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my
church ..:"

The Catholic Church takes this statement of Jesus literally. Jesus gave the
keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter. Peter is the Bishop of the Bishops.
Protestant theology has offered several complex interpretations to avoid the
literal interpretation. They say that somehow Jesus refers to himself as the
Rock. But Jesus changed Peter’s name purposely. Catholics interpret Matthew
16:18 literally. And Matthew seems to be the first to state the primacy of the
Bishop of Rome. History records the martyrdom of both Peter and Paul in
Rome prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Peter brought the status of the
Bishop of the Bishops to Rome prior to his death. The Bishop of Rome has
been the first among bishops from the time of Peter whose tomb can still be
visited to this day.


Jesus did not directly establish an order of deacons. He did so indirectly by
establishing the concept of deacon (servant) as the most important role in
the church and by identifying the service of a deacon as Jesus' own ministry:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that the rulers
of the Gentiles lord It over them, and their great ones are tyrants
over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be
great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to
be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man
came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for
many." (Man. 20:25-28 and /via* 10:43.45 and Luke 22:26-27)

11 The greatest among you will be your servant (Matt. 23:11 and
Mark 9:35)

The Greek word for "servant" or 'minister" is “diakonos”; the Greek word for
'service" and 'ministry" is “diakonia”. Before he fulfilled the prophecy of the
°Suffering Servant' of the Prophet Isaiah (the suffering 'deacon) by giving 'his
life as a ransom for many' (Isaiah 52:13; 53:11), Jesus performed a sign of
his deacon role in the washing of the feet of his disciples:

13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I
am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you
also ought to wash one another's feet.

15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have
done to you.

( John 13:13-15)
The role of Jesus as servant ("deacon") became a model for the ministry of
the deacon in the church. The role was officially established as an order in
the church by the twelve apostles shortly after Pentecost:

6:1 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in
number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because
their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
[“diakonia”] 2 And the twelve called together the whole community
of the disciples and said, it is not right that we should neglect the
word of God in order to wait [“diakoneo”] on tables. 3 Therefore,
Mends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing,
MI of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4
while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving
[“diakonia”] the word: 5 What they said pleased the whole
community, and they chose Stephen, a man fun of faith and the
Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon,
Pannenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 They had these
men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on

(Acts 6:1.6)

This initial service of the seven deacons involved the delivery of food to the
church's widows and their children. The twelve apostles were caring for the
spiritual needs of the church; they ordained the seven deacons to care for
the physical needs of the church. The ministry to the physical needs of the
church gradually expanded to all the "corporal works of mercy- outlined in
Matthew 25: 31-46 and to ministry by women “deaconesses":

16:] I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at
Canchreae, 2 I0 that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for
the saints. and help her in whatever she may require from you, to:
she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

(Romans 16: 1-2)

Very early on after their ordination. the first seven deacons joined the
apostles in the ministry of the word ('diakonia’). The first of the seven was
Stephen who “did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).
Because he was outspoken in his sharing of the good news, he was quickly
arrested by the authorities and brought to trial. The whole chapter seven of
the Acts of the Apostles documents the great sermon that Stephen preached
before the Sanhedrin claiming as the Messiah and the climax of Salvation
History. Stephen was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr
to give his life for Jesus. He imitated his savior by forgiving his persecutors in
his final words (Acts 7:58.60). In chapter eight, we read about the ministry of
the second deacon, Philip:

6 The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by
Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7 for unclean
spirits. crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were
possessed; and many other who were paralyzed or lame were

(Acts 8: 6-7)

Philip worked 'signs' as did Stephen, and the people of Sarnatia 'believed
Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and
the name of Jesus Christ, [and] they were baptized, both men and women”
(Acts 8:12). Then the Lord led Philip to preach the gospel to the Ethiopian
eunuch, who believed and was baptized and who (presumably) brought the
gospel back to the court of Ethiopia (Acts 8:38). These kinds of preaching
successes led the church to incorporate the preaching of the gospel into the
deacon’s ministry along with the corporal works of mercy. The diaconal
ministry was clearly established as a church ministry in the first century:

8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued. Not
indulging in much wine. not greedy for money; 9 they must hold
fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let
them first be tested; then. If they prove themselves blameless. let
them nerve as deacons. (1 Tim. 3:8-10)

The Catholic ordination of the deacon goes by the Bible.


The Catholic and Orthodox and Anglican ministry of the priest is based on
the Biblical ministry of the "presbyter or ‘elder'. ‘Elder' is a translation of the
Greek word “presbuteros“ or ‘presbyter’ and by the end of the first century,
the church used the titles “priest” and ‘presbyter' interchangeably. This was
a more formal use of the word "priest" than the usual because in the
Christian scriptures, the first use of the word “priest" was a title for all
Baptized Christians:
4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet
chosen and precious in God's sight. and 5 like living aches, let
yourselves he built into a spiritual house. to be a holy priesthood,
to be the spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts
ofhim who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1
Peter 2:4. 5, 9)

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and
made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to
him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Rev. 1:545)

9 They sing a new song: “You are worth take the scroll and to open
its seals. for you were slaughtered and by your blood you rammed
for God saints from every tribe and language and people and
nation; 10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests
serving our God, and they will reign on earth? (Rev 5:9-10)

6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.
Over these the second death has no power but they will be priests
of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
(Rev. 20:6)

The “priesthood of all believers” was a major issue in the Protestant
Reformation because the Catholic Church had neglected this 'priesthood'
theology over the centuries. and the Reformer: were calling for a much-
needed restoration of the “priestly people' concept of Peter and John. At the
Vatican Council II in the 1960s, the 2000+ Bishops of the Catholic Church
restored this theology of the 'priestly people', quoting the verses from Peter
and Revelation more than 20 times in their official documents. In fact, the
maturation of the New Testament concept of the universal priesthood caused
some confusion with the traditional Catholic use of the title 'Priest" for
addressing pastors, so the Bishops had to use new language to between the
two priesthoods. They made the distinction in two ways: they introduced the
term "ministerial priesthood' to distinguish the ordained clergy from the 'lay
priesthood’ and they restored the title 'Presbyter' as it was used in the New

17 Let the elders (presbuteros) who rule well be considered
worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching
and teaching; 18 for the scripture says. ‘You shall not muzzle an ox
while it is trading out the grain? and. 'The laborer deserves to be
paid." (1 Tim. 5:17-18)

The Catholic ministerial priesthood is actually the ministry of the presbyter,
or elder, or ‘presbyteros" of 1 Timothy 5. The offices in the church are
regulated by ordination to confirm the calling of the Holy Spirit. Once
ordained, the gifted person is supported by the church because 'the laborer
deserves to be paid'. Their labor was “preaching and teaching'. The elders /
presbyters were the body of ministers that Paul and Barnabas appointed in
every town:

23 And after they had appointed elders for them in each church,
with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom
they had come to believe. (Acts 14:23)

There seems to be some overlap between the early concepts of elder and
bishop and 'shepherd‘. Paul refers to the elders in Ephesus as ‘overseers"
(‘episcopos', Greek for “bishop') and as “shepherds' of the “flock":

17 From Milena: he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders
of the church to meet him . . . 28 “Keep watch over yourselves
and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you
overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with
the blood of his own Son. (Acts 20: l7& 28)

And it seems that from earliest times, the bishop was selected from among
the elders:

5 I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put
in order what remained to be done. and should appoint elders in
every town, a l directed you: 6 someone who is blameless,
married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of
debauchery and not rebellious. 7 For a bishop, as God’s steward.
must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or
addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; 8 but he must be
hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and
self-controlled. 9 He must have a firm grasp of the word that is
trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be
able both to preach with round doctrine and to refute those who
contradict it. (Titus I: 5-9)
And from the beginning of the church, the elders were the ministers who
assisted the Bishop in his ministry of the word and sacrament while the
deacons assisted the Bishop in his ministry of the word and charity.

There continue to be the three ordained ministries in the Catholic Church
today, Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, all based in the Bible.

History and Theology

Recent history has seen dramatic changes in the shape of ministry in many
Catholic churches. Laypeople have taken on more responsibility in the
church, and many new ministerial positions have developed in parishes.
Some of this is a result of the rapidly declining number of priests, but these
developments are also a result of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
The council emphasized the baptismal dignity and responsibility of laypeople
in the church and called for the renewal of the ordained ministry of bishops
and priests. The council fathers also called for the restoration of the
diaconate as a permanent order of service in the church.

All of these developments have led to reexamination of the meaning of the
sacrament of holy orders and the broader range of ministries of service in
the church community. The sacrament of holy orders is the way that the
church celebrates three major ministries of leadership: deacons, priests, and
bishops. This leadership must be exercised in light of Christ’s teaching and
witness. One of the choices for the gospel reading at ordination is Matthew
20:25b-28, where Jesus tells his disciples: “[W]hoever wishes to be great
among you shall be your servant.” Leading through service is the primary
call of the ordained.


Old Testament

As is explained in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus’ priesthood must be
understood in light of the Old Testament. The patriarchs, as heads of families
or tribal groups, performed priestly functions, such as offering sacrifice
(Genesis 22:2; 31:54). Eventually. A specific office of priesthood evolved and
a priestly professionalism developed, especially in the tribe of Levi (thus, the
Levitical priesthood). This professionalism involved certain skills and training.
It also required sanctity (Leviticus 19:2; 21:8). Deuteronomy 33:8-10
suggests three basic priestly functions: the discernment of God’s will through
the casting of sacred lots (1 Samuel 14:41-42), teaching (Deuteronomy
33:10), and sacrifice and cultic offering (Deuteronomy 33:10). The priest,
therefore, was an intermediary between God and humankind.

New Testament

As noted in chapter 17, the New Testament does not provide an
organizational blueprint for the Church. On the contrary, it is practically
impossible to say more than thereis some organizational structure in the
various New Testament churches, that these are influenced by the political,
social, and cultural character of the communities in which these churches
existed, and that each organizational or ministerial component was for the
sake of the mission of the Church – i.e., for service and not for domination.

Varieties of Ministries and/or Offices: There are the Twelve (Matthew 10:2-4;
Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts of the Apostles 1:13), called “the Eleven”
during the interval between the death of Judas and the election of Matthias
(Matthew 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:9,33; Acts of the Apostles 1:26). The
election of Matthias seemed important in order to maintain an apparent
symbolic link with the twelve tribes of Israel, which the Twelve will judge
(Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). All of the Twelve were apostles (literally, “those
sent forth”), but not all apostles were members of the Twelve – e.g., Paul.
(Hereafter, the word apostles is capitalized only when it refers to the Twelve.)
And there were other ministries besides those of the Twelve and the other
apostles. There were also prophets and teachers, whose authority was very
much like of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28; Acts of the Apostles 13:1;
15:32, Ephesians 2:20, 3:5, 4:11). There were, in addition, wonder-workers,
healers, helpers, administrators, and speakers in tongues, evangelists,
shepherds, elders, deacons and overseers. The elder (presbyteroi), deacons
(diakonoi), and overseers (episcopoi) are of particular interest here because
their officers came eventually to be recorded by the Catholic Church as
constituting the threefold division of the one sacrament of Holy Order:
diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate – deacon, priest, and bishop. No
Christian, however, is ever specifically identifies as a priest, probably
because early Christians regard the Jewish priesthood as valid and never
thought of a priesthood of their own. They expected, after all, that the Jews
would all eventually join the movement.

Deacons seem to have had their origin in the designation of “the Seven”
(Acts of the Apostles 6: 1-6) to “wait on tables” – e.g., to distribute good
among the widows and to assist the Twelve in other material ways. The
elders were adult males of a town, city, or tribe, who constituted the
community’s governing body. In Acts of the Apostles the elders are
associated with the Apostles in decisions, especially the council of Jerusalem
(15:22). The relationship between elders and overseers is more difficult to
determine. Sometimes the offices seem interchangeable (Titus 1:5-9); at
other times the elders are in charge (1 Timothy 5:17). Some have suggested
that the two offices were, in fact, the same; others regard the overseers as
the executive board of the elders, a view which is more probable because it
is more in harmony with the practices of other social units in which elders
appear. In any case, there is no sign that a one single bishop is in charge of a
local church.

The elders also became a more select group. They were "established" in
each town by election (Titus 1:5), and there was a ritual conferral of office,
probably by the imposition of hands (Act, of the Apostles 14:23; 1 Timothy
5:22). Bishops are established by the Holy Spirit (Acts of the Apostles 20:28),
whose will is manifested by the assembly of the entire Church. The
bishops/elder have care of the Church (1 Timothy 3:4), manage the Church
(5:17), are God's stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1), instruct in sound doctrine
(Titus 1:7-9), and feed the flock (Acts of the Apostles 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).

Thus, the bishop/elder, or presbyter/bishop, took up where the Pauline
apostles left off. They were responsible for the continued care of churches
founded by these apostles. Whereas the apostles including the Twelve, were
ministers "on the move," the presbyter-bishops were ministers in residence.
The apostles were charismatic and non-institutionalized ministers; the
presbyter-bishops had to be people who could manage a household well (1
Timothy 3:4-5) and who could organize, stabilize, and combat dangerous
innovation (Titus 1:9). They were not to be recent converts, nor married more
than once (1 Timothy 3:2,6). They were also to manifest pastoral skills (Acts
of the Apostles 20:28-29; I Peter 5:2-4).

It is only when we go outside (although not chronologically beyond) the New
Testament literature that we find evidence for the so-called monarchical
episcopate, i.e., a local church presided by one bishop. The primary source is
Ignatius of Antioch d. 108), and specifically his letters to the Smyrnaeans
8:1; 9:1), the Ephisians (5:1,3), the Trallians (2:1), and the Magnesians (4:1;
7:1). Such respect as Ignatius recommended for bishops served as a weapon
against disunity and heresy. But we must keep certain qualifications in mind:
(1) The local churches over which the bishop presided were not dioceses in
the modern sense of the term. They were nothing more than one-parish
towns. (2) We have evidence that the monarchical episcopal structure was
universal in the Church at this time. Indeed in Paul's day, some churches had
presbyter-bishops (e.g., Philippi) and some did not (e.g., Corinth). (3) On the
contrary, in the mid-second century, when The Shepherd of Hermas was
written, the Roman church still seems to have been ruled by a presbyterate,
and Ignatius makes no mention of a bishop in his letter to the Romans. (4)
Presbyters also served as overseers (bishops) of churches (1 Peter 5:1-3). (5)
Neither the presbyter-bishops nor the monarchical bishops can be considered
"successors of the Apostles" in the sense that all were duly appointed and
ordained by an Apostle, i.e., one of the Twelve.

The Emergence of Christian Priesthood: So long as Christians understood
themselves as the renewed, not the new, Israel, they had no idea of
replacing the Jewish priesthood with one of their own. The Acts of the
Apostles reports that while they broke bread in their homes, the Jerusalem
Christians also kept up their daily attendance at the Temple (2:46). Even
Paul, who insisted that Gentile Christians were not bound by the Law, still
went to the Temple for offerings as late as the year 58 (Acts of the Apostles

Not until the early Christians concluded that they were indeed part of a
radically new movement distinct from Judaism was there a basis for the
development of a separate Christian priesthood. Other events accentuated
this process: the increasing numbers of Gentile converts, the shift of
leadership away from the Jerusalem church and to the churches of Rome,
Antioch, Ephesus, and Alexandria, the destruction of the Temple, and, finally,
Judaism's own sectarian tendencies in the post-destruction period.
Concomitantly, there was a growing recognition of the sacrificial character of
the Eucharist, which called for a priesthood of sacrifice distinct from the
Jewish priesthood. This awareness appeared in Christian writings about the
end of the first century or the beginning of the second, especially in the
Didache, in the writings of Clement of Rome (d. 100), and in the Apostolic
Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (d. ca. 236).

This historical record requires some modification of the traditional Catholic
notion that Jesus directly and explicitly instituted the Catholic priesthood at
the Last Supper. As noted in the previous chapter, Jesus' institution of the
sacraments is implied and/or included in his proclamation of the Kingdom of
God, in his gathering of disciples, and in the special significance he accorded
the Last Supper which he ate with his disciples. (The Eucharist, to be sure,
was explicitly instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper.) Te. priesthood as we
have come to know it represents a fusion different roles and ministries which
are to be found in the New Testament churches. It is not even clear, for
example, that anyone in particular was commissioned to preside over the
Eucharist in the beginning. Paul never mentions that he presided. In fact, he
seems to have been little involved in the administration of sacraments (1
Corinthians 1:14-15). There is no explicit mention that any of the Apostles
presided over the Eucharist. Indeed, there is no (impelling evidence that they
presided when they were present, or that a chain of ordination from Apostle
to bishop to priest was required for presiding. Someone must have presided,
of course, and those who did so presided with the approval of the

We simply do not know how a certain individual came to preside and whether
it came to be a permanent or regular function for that person. As we have
already seen, there was a remarkable diversity of structure and form in the
New Testament churches. The most that can be said is that those who
presided did so with the consent of the local church and that this consent
was tantamount, but not always equivalent, to ordination.

As the Church grew larger and became more complex in its organizational
structure, the element of selection and consent came to be regularized.
Presiding eventually became the exclusive privilege of bishops and
presbyters. The Didache may have been written just at the turning point
when the system was placed into effect. There is mention there, for example,
of wandering prophets will who are not forbidden to hold Eucharist (10:7),
and there is an instruction for bishops and deacons to render to the
community the ministry (liturgy) of the prophets. By the year 96 Clement's
Epistle to the Corinthians speaks of the sin of ejecting from office "men who
have offered the sacrificial gifts of the episcopate worthily " (44:4). Fifteen
years later, Ignatius of Antioch makes it clear that the practice of episcopal
and presbyteral presiding is well oil established (Smyrnaeans 8:1). Thus, by
the turn of the century or soon thereafter, two roles that were probably once
separated are together: the role of the presbyter-bishop and the role of the
presiding minister of the Eucharist. Significantly, not until the year 1208 is
there an official declaration that priestly ordination is necessary to celebrate
the Eucharist (Innocent III, Profession of Faith Prescribed to the Waldensians),
and then, more solemnly, by the of Florence (1439) and the Council of Trent

Third Through Fifth Centuries
The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus sketches a picture of the third-century
Church. The bishop is the sacerdos, elected by the people, but he receives
the imposition of hands from another bishop. The presbyter, or priest, is
ordained by the bishop, wit I other priests joining in. The deacon is ordained
by the bishop alone because the deacon is ordained to the service of the
bishop. Significantly, the rite of consecration of a bishop is clearly inspired by
the New Testament, while the ordination of the priest is inspired by the Old
Testament. This anomaly tends to confirm what was suggested above about
the probable origins of the Christian priesthood. At first the Church had no
intention of having a priesthood of its own, distinct from the Jewish
priesthood. But when the concept of Christian priesthood took hold, the
Church understandably drew upon the Old Testament for models, standards,
and inspiration.

Early in the fourth century the Church was "blessed" (or "cursed") with the
Edict of Constantine, which showered upon the clergy many civil privileges
and dispensations. The influence of the Old Testament's notion of priesthood
had much to do with this new bestowal of temporal favor.

As the local churches grew, parishes were created outside the, major
Christian centers, and the presbyters were given pastoral care over them.
The Council of Chalcedon (451) would later decree that a priest be ordained
for a particular church. The first signs of emphasis on the fundamental
equality of bishops and presbyters developed in the fourth century, not only
within unorthodox circles, e.g., Arianism, but even within orthodox groups
e.g., John Chrysostom (d. 407) and the Canons of Hippolytus. The authors
who exercised a decisive influence in this matter on the Middle Ages were
Jerome (d. 420) and Ambrosiaster, the unknown author of a series of
commentaries on the Pauline epistles. Both stressed the equivalence of the
bishop's and the presbyter's power to celebrate the Eucharist and forgive

Sixth Through Twelfth Centuries

With the Germanization of Christianity in the early Middle Ages, the
understanding and exercise of priesthood took another turn. Priestly and
royal power were fused. Priests themselves were caught up into the feudal
system and were ordained not only for the celebration of the Eucharist and
the administration of sacraments, but also for certain tax-collecting chores.
Their loyalty was to the feudal lords who selected them, not to the bishop. In
the Frankish churches new rites of ordination were added. The bishop was
anointed with holy chrism, the crozier (staff) and ring were given, and then
he was enthroned. The priest was ordained with an anointing of the hands,
the giving of bread and wine, and a second laying on of hands in view of the
absolution of sins. These developments reflected Germanic customs which
attached great importance to the transmission of the emblems of power, a
"princely" power for bishops and a cultic power for priests. Toward the end of
the tenth century this liturgy was merged with lite Roman tradition in the
Romano-Germanic Pontifical of Mainz. Priesthood became even more of a
caste-like existence within the Church with the imposition of celibacy in the
twelfth plumy as a universal requirement for priests of the Latin rite.

The Reformation

The increasing alienation of the clergy from the rest of the Church provoked
a reaction. The Reformers insisted that there exists in the Church no
ministerial power received through the sacrament of Holy Order. There is
only a priesthood of all believers. All specialized ministry is delegated by the
community. Furthermore, since the Eucharist is not a sacrifice (Calvary
cannot, and need not, be repeated), there is no need for a cultic priesthood
in the Church. The Council of Trent rejected these views, declaring that
priesthood is conferred through one of the seven sacraments, that the Mass
is a true sacrifice, and that there is a true hierarchy in the Church consisting
of bishops, priests, and deacons and that these ministers do not depend on
the call of the community for their authority and powers (Doctrine on the
Sacrament of Order, Session XXIII, 1563).

The Counter-Reformation to Vatican II

Under the impact of Trent, the Catholic Church launched a reform of the
clergy. Seminaries for the education and training of future priests were
established, and greater emphasis was placed on priestly spirituality. The
reform of priestly formation and spirituality was supported by such figures as
Charles Borromeo (d. 1584) and Francis de Sales (d. 1622), and by the new
religious orders. But the spirituality was still individualistic, and the notion of
priesthood on which it was based was still cultic and sacramental. Under the
impact of the anticlericalist wave of the French Revolution in the eighteenth
century, the Church launched yet another spiritual renewal, this time sparked
by principles enunciated earlier by Vincent de Paul (d. 1660), Jean-Jacques
Oiler (d. 1657), Pierre de Bérulle (d. 1629), and others. Under the impact of
post-Enlightenment modernity (see chapter 3), the Catholic priesthood
began losing much of its "mystique" as a spiritually elite form of Christian
existence. Young Catholic men concluded that there were other ways of
living the Gospel and working for the Kingdom of God. A drastic decline in
vocations followed, and large numbers of priests resigned from the active
ministry. Many of those priests who did resign complained about the misuse
of authority by bishops and other Church leaders, and others protested
against the continued imposition of obligatory celibacy.

Vatican II

With its stress on the Church as the whole People of God, the Second Vatican
Council acknowledged that all the baptized participate in some way in the
one priesthood of Christ (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n. 11).
Although the priesthood of ordination and the priesthood of Baptism differ "in
essence and not only in degree," they are nonetheless related to this one
priest-hood of Christ. The ministerial priesthood of ordination consists of
three degrees or orders: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate (nn. 20-
29). Each order is truly sacramental.

Taken as a body (ordo), bishops are the successors to the college of the
Apostles in teaching authority and pastoral rule (n. 22). United with their
head, the bishop of Rome, the bishops constitute a college and are the
subjects of "supreme and full power over the universal Church." The union of
bishops among themselves and with the bishop of Rome symbolizes the
communion of churches which constitutes the whole Body of Christ (n. 23).

The presbyterate is a specific participation in the priesthood of the
episcopate (n. 28). Priests are united with their bishop in priestly dignity.
They are collaborators with the bishop and constitute college with him.

The diaconate is also a sacramental degree of Holy Order (n. 29). The council
recommends the restoration of the permanent diaconate (as distinguished
from reception of the diaconate as the next-to-last step on the way to

Since the priesthood of Christ includes prophetic and shepherding as well as
"priestly" or cultic functions, the ordained priesthood of the Church embraces
more than sacramental and Iiturgical responsibilities (Decree on the Ministry
and Life of Priests, 2-6).

The New Rites of Ordination

The rite of episcopal ordination is now modified to include the consecratory
prayer from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, in order to bring
out the apostolic succession of bishops and their various duties and functions
beyond the purely cultic. The collegial character of the episcopate is also
emphasized. In presbyteral ordination the collaborative relationship between
the priest and the bishop is more clearly drawn. Significantly, the Old
Testament flavor is preserved in the consecratory prayer. Only minor
changes have been made in the rite of ordination to the diaconate to take
into account recent prescriptions concerning the diaconate as a proper and
permanent grade of the hierarchy in the Latin Church and also for the sake of
clarifying and simplifying the ceremony

Ecumenical Developments

Several of the ecumenical consultations have addressed themselves to the
question of ordained ministry: Lutheran-Catholic, Anglican-Roman Catholic,
United Methodist-Roman Catholic, Orthodox-Roman Catholic, and
Presbyterian-Reformed-Roman Catholic. The Lutheran-Catholic consultation
issued an important statement, "Eucharist and Ministry" in 1970 (Lutherans
and Catholics in Dialouge, vol. 4, Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic
Conference, 1970, pp. 7-33). It distinguishes between the general ministry
(lower case) of the whole People of God and the ordained Ministry (upper
case), which is a particular form of service within and for the sake of the
Church in its mission to the world. It is a ministry of proclaiming the Gospel,
celebrating the sacraments, caring for the faithful, witnessing and serving. It
stands with the People of God under Christ, but also speaks in Christ’s name
to his People. The Catholic participants in the dialogue noted a “gratifying
degree of agreement” with the Lutherans “as to the essentials of the sacred
Ministry.” Specifically, they found that the Lutherans hold that the Ministry is
of divine institution, that it includes both preaching of the word and
administration of the sacraments, and that there is a distinction between it
and the general ministry of all believers. The Catholic parties to the
Lutheran-Catholic Consultation concluded that they “see no persuasive
reason to deny the possibility of the Roman Catholic church recognizing the
validity of this (Lutheran) Ministry,” and they urged the Catholic authorities
to do so.

Similar agreement was recorded by the Anglican-Roman Catholic
consultation. In its twelve-year report of December, 1977, the dialogue noted
only a continuing difference or emphasis on the ministry of episcope (literally
“oversight”). For Roman Catholics, this ministry is centered in the bishop of
Rome; for Anglicans it is less centralized. But certain pastoral developments
in the Catholic Church have brought the two churches closer together even
on this matter. Collegiality and coresponsibility are now the order of the day:
national advisory boards, diocesan pastoral councils, parish council, priests’
senates. And the ministry of the bishop of Rome is increasingly perceived
and exercised as one of service. (Origins 7/30, January 12, 1978, pp. 465,

The Methodist-Roman Catholic statement, Holiness and Spirituality of the
Ordained Ministry (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference,
1976) is theologically less substantive preceding agreements, but it does
report consensus on the traditional and contemporary responsibilities of the
ordained ministry: preaching the Gospel, presiding at eucharistic worship,
exercising pastoral care, e.g., and now the promotion of peace and
reconciliation participation in the struggle for social justice, e.g.

The Orthodox-Roman Catholic joint statement of July 1976 on the pastoral
office of "Bishops and Presbyters" lists several points of agreement: Ordained
ministry is a commissioning by the Holy Spirit to build up the Church; the
offices of bishop and presbyter are different realizations of the sacrament of
Order; bishops exercise authority over a whole community, and presbyters
share in that authority under the bishop; ordination is required for both
offices because they are "an essential element of the sacramental reality of
the church"; the pastoral officer is distinct but not separated from the rest of
the community; on the other hand, he is not dependent on the community
for the exercise of his service, since he receives the special bestowal of the
Spirit in ordination (Origins, 6/9, August 12, 1976, pp. 142-143).

The Presbyterian-Reformed-Roman Catholic consultation offers a more
congregational approach to the ordained ministry. It stresses, first, the call of
all Christians to ministry, for the building up the Church. Within this general
ministry there are ministers who are "called and ordained to represent Christ
to the community and the community before Christ. Through the
proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments this
ministry has endeavored to unite and order the Church for the ministry of the
people of God." Its function is to see to it that "the Word of God is
proclaimed, the sacraments celebrated, individuals led to Christian maturity,
and the Christian community built up" (The Unity We Seek, New York: Paulist
Press, 1977, pp. 11-13).

What emerges from these assorted consensus statements is a measure of
convergence at the following points: (1) There is a general ministry to which
all baptized Christians are called. (2) Within that general ministry and in its
service there are specialized ministries. (3) The ordained ministry at the local
level exists to see to it that the Gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments
celebrated. Beyond this there is the abiding demand for pastoral care,
spiritual direction, and service to other human needs. (4) The ordained
minister speaks not only on behalf of or in the name of the community to
God, but also on behalf of and in the name of Christ to the community as
well. (5) The ordained minister is not called to a different kind of holiness
from the rest of the Church but is called to "exemplify" the call to
servanthood to which all are in fact called. (6) Bishops have a special role in
the Church beyond that of the local pastor, in that bishops serve to unify and
coordinate the Christian mission and ministries of a community of churches
(diocese). This ministry is one of oversee-ing (episcope), and is always
exercised as a service, never for domination. Its mode is always collegial, not
monarchical. (7) Finally, in the Roman Catholic tradition there is the special
place of the bishop of Rome in the service of the unity and mission of the
Church universal.

Contemporary Catholic Theology

To the extent that a debate continues on the nature (essence) of the
ordained ministry of bishop and presbyter, the discussion centers on two
questions: (1) What is the relationship between the two ministries? (2) What
makes either or both of these ministries distinctive within the network of
ecclesial ministries?

Regarding the first question, a presbyteral tendency is still pressed by some
(e.g., Hans Kiing and Edward Schillebeeckx), in spite of Vatican II's strongly
"episcopal" doctrine. These theologians ask whether the distinction between
episcopacy and presbyterate is of divine institution, and whether the
episcopacy as it has developed has any real basis at all in the New

Regarding the second question, answers vary according to one's operative
model of the Church. More traditional approaches (e.g., Avery Dulles)
continue to insist on the distinctively cultic and sacramental responsibilities
of the ordained bishop and priest as that which sets them apart from other
ministers in the Church. Others (e.g., Karl Rahner) underline the priest's call
to proclaim the Gospel by word and witness. Still other theologians (e.g.,
Yves Congar, Hans Kiing, Walter Kasper, Edward Schillebeeckx) stress the
leadership role of the bishop and priest. It is this latter understanding which
is perhaps most comprehensive and is most readily integrated with the
ecclesiology of Vatican II. Given this perspective, Holy Order is literally a
sacrament directed to the order of Church, "that all according to their proper
roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart" (Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church, n. 30).

The Church and Holy Order

The Church is a sacrament. That means it must be and act as a sacrament.
Among the principal ways in which the Church manifests itself as a
sacrament and acts according to its sacramental nature is the celebration of
the sacraments themselves. But the celebration of the sacraments requires
those who will see to it that the sacraments are celebrated, that everything
is ordered to the or benefit of the whole Church and to its upbuilding (2
Corinthians 4-47; 1 Corinthians 14:5). Through the exercise of this
sacramental ministry of Holy Order the whole sacramental reality of the
Church is expressed: The good news of the Kingdom of God is proclaimed,
the Eucharist is celebrated, the death and resurrection of Christ are made
real and effective for individuals in Baptism, sins are forgiven, the sick are
ministered to and healed, human love is sanctified, the Holy Spirit is poured
forth, and the mediating priestly work of Christ is continued.


The way that those in holy orders have served the church through the
centuries has varied significantly. Various orders have appeared and
disappeared through history, while others have significantly changed their
focus and their identity. Seeing how this process has occurred in the past can
help us to understand changes in our own time as well as possibilities for the

The Early Centuries

The New Testament shows us a church with a variety of structures and
ministries. Jesus did not establish bishops. priests (presbyters). and deacons.
The only ministerial structure he established, the Twelve, was not maintained
long. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas, but after that the Twelve were
not replaced when they died. Instead, we find local churches developing
different forms of leadership. Though the evidence is limited, the churches
founded by Paul seem to have developed a charismatic structure. based on
gifts of the Spirit manifested in various individuals and groups. He lists
apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. miracle workers, healers,
assistants, administrators, and those who speak in tongues (see I Cor 12:28
and Eph 4:1 I) among others. Other churches adopted a structure that was
common in the Jewish synagogue, with a council of elders (presbyters)
directing the church's life. In at least some of these, there was a head of the
council, called the overseer (episkopos) or bishop. Eventually the bishop-
presbyter model came to prevail, but there was great variety in those early
years. Late in the New Testament period, we also see the development of the
order of deacons, who were assistants to the bishop.

Among the various charismatic ministries, prophets and teachers seem to
have been especially important (see 1 Cor 12:28), and another early church
document gives us a valuable insight into their role. The Didache, written in
the early second century, around the Sallie time as the later New Testament
books, indicates that prophets and teachers customarily presided at the
Eucharist. The Didache seems to be encouraging the communities to which it
was addressed to choose bishops and deacons to replace the prophets and
teachers, since they performed the same service to the church. What seems
to be happening here is a shift from wandering and charismatic ministries to
a more stable and structured ministry. The office of prophet and teacher was
eventually absorbed into the role of bishop, and the bishop increasingly
appears as the dominant figure, gradually standing out from the council of
elders (presbyters) as a separate order and the chief minister of the church.

This development did not occur without some struggle, however. At the end
of the fourth century there was an attempt to limit the power of the bishops.
St. Jerome and others insisted that presbyters could do almost everything
the bishops could and that the bishop should be seen as the first among
equals. This movement did not have much success at restricting the power
of the bishops at the time, but the writings of St. Jerome were taken up in the
Middle Ages and contributed to a theology that saw the priest as the highest
order and the bishop as simply a priest with some added powers and
authority. It is important to note here that presiding at the Eucharist, whether
that was an apostle, a prophet, a teacher, or a bishop.

This community base was very important in the early church, so much so
that the Council of Chalcedon (451) forbade the ordination of anyone unless
a local community was assigned to him. Those ordained had to be the
leaders of local communities. Ordination was not a personal possession but
the recognition and affirmation of a leadership role in the church community.
This principle about ordination reminds us that the early church saw no
separation between its worship and its daily life. Worship was the expression
of the church's life, and thus the leader of the community was the leader of

From Presbyter to Priest

It is also interesting to note that the New Testament and the post-New
Testament church did not speak of the presider in priestly terms. The Letter
to the Hebrews is very clear that Jesus is the only priest in the New
Covenant, in contrast to the multiple priesthood of the Jewish Covenant in its
concern to make clear the difference between the two covenants, the early
church avoided using priestly language in reference to its ministers.

At the same time, the New Testament itself sees the Eucharist as linked to
the sacrifice of Jesus, and sacrifice is a priestly action, so it was inevitable
that the bishop would eventually begin to be seen as a priest. Once the
church had clearly distanced itself from Judaism and the Old Testament
worship, this is precisely what happened. The bishop was seen more and
more as the new high priest presiding over the Eucharistic celebration of
Christ’s sacrifice.

At first, of course, this applied only to the bishop, since at this time only the
bishop presided at the Eucharist. Priests (presbyters) were his council of
advisors and did not normally preside at the Eucharist, except perhaps in the
bishop's absence. However, as dioceses grew larger and multiple
celebrations of the Eucharist were needed, the priests (presbyters) were sent
to nearby assemblies to substitute for the bishop.

As this became more common, the priest (presbyter) began to be seen as
the normal presider at the Eucharist and thus came to be called a priest
rather than a presbyter. This was undoubtedly a valid development, but it
entailed a radical shift in perspective. The terms "presbyter" (meaning elder)
and "bishop" (meaning overseer) contain a clear reference to the role of
these ministries in leading the community in its daily life. While this included
leadership in worship, it also involved a much broader ministry. The term
"priest," in contrast, seems to define the office solely in terms of worship.
Thus, instead of understanding the cultic role as a result of being the
community’s leader, the "priest" conies to be seen more and more as
primarily a cultic figure, ordained for sacramental ministry and doing other
things in the community only secondarily.

This narrow sacramental focus led to further shifts in understanding orders of
ministry in succeeding centuries. Since the priest (presbyter) was
increasingly seen as ordained precisely for sacramental ministry, ordination
came to be seen more and more as the conferral of the power to consecrate
the Eucharist and absolve sins. This seems to have been quite a change from
the early tradition. Although the historical evidence is not completely clear, it
seems that deacons and perhaps even laymen could preside at the Eucharist
in emergencies and that laypeople could hear confessions in emergencies
and anoint the sick with holy oil even in ordinary circumstances. Such
historical data is surprising to us, but the early church consistently saw the
celebration of the sacraments as the work of the whole community, and
whoever led the community could preside at these liturgical celebrations.
Scholars tell us that such leaders would normally be ordained, but in
emergencies even a non• ordained leader could preside.

Loss of the Community Connection

As ordination came to be seen as the conferral of powers, it also came to be
seen more and more as an individual matter, a conferral of powers upon an
individual regardless of his connection to a particular community of faith. By
the time of the Third Lateran Council in 1179 and the Fourth Lateran Council
in 1215, the shift was complete. In contrast to the Council of Chalcedon, the
Third Lateran Council minimized the community base of ordination to simply
a question of whether the one ordained had a bishop who would provide a
proper living for him. Thus ordination without a community ministry was
approved in practice, if not in theory. The Fourth Lateran Council completed
the picture by insisting that no one could preside at the Eucharist except a
priest (presbyter) or bishop who had been validly ordained. The Council of
Trent in 1563 returned to the ancient practice and again prohibited
ordinations not linked to a particular church.

Paralleling this narrowing focus of the meaning of ordination was a narrowing
of the concept of ministry in the

church. While the early church bad a multiplicity of ministries, ordained and
non.ordained, to meet the varied needs of the community, the late medieval
church knew only the ministries of priest (presbyter) and bishop. Deacons,
who had once been much more powerful and influential than the priests
(presbyters), had disappeared except as a step on the way to priesthood. So,
too, the orders of porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, and subdeacon were
transformed front separate orders with their own ministries to being simply
steps to the priesthood.
Thus the church came to see the sacrament of holy orders as containing
seven steps: four minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte) and
three major orders (subdeacon, deacon, and priest). All those who were
ordained as priests received the other six orders first. By this time the office
of bishop was seen as simply a consecration of a priest to higher status,
though there was considerable discussion about whether this office was a
true sacramental order as well.

Recent Reforms

The Second Vatican Council mandated that both the ceremonies and the
texts of the ordination rites should be revised, noting specifically that all the
bishops present may impose hands at the consecration of a bishop. It also
approved the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order in the
church. In his apostolic letters Misisteriam Quaedam and Ad Pascendum,
issued on August 15, 1972, Pope Paul VI reformed the structure of ministry in
the church. He suppressed the minor orders, retaining the offices of reader
and acolyte as "ministries" rather than orders. A candidate is now
"instituted" as a reader or acolyte, not ordained. He also reestablished the
diaconate as an independent order, open to both single and married men. A
rite of Admission to Candidacy for Ordination as Deacons and Priests
replaced the old rite of tonsure. The sacrament of holy orders is thus now
seen as comprised of the three ancient orders of deacon, priest (presbyter),
and bishop.

For many people, it came as a bit of a shock that the minor orders could
simply be suppressed by decree. But this was just another example of the
church reshaping its ministerial structure to meet the changed needs of new
situations. The church has done this regularly throughout history, and
perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from this historical overview
is that the church can and must continue to shape its ministries according to
the needs of the church community in every age.

When the diaconate was restored as a permanent order, a deacon could not
remarry if his wife died after his ordination. In 1997, however, Pope John Paul
II decreed that dispensations can be granted from this rule for any of three.
reasons: because of the deacon's proven usefulness to the diocese, because
he has young children who need a mother's care, or because he has elderly
parents or parents-in-law who need care.

Beneath the History
Understanding the history of this sacrament requires more than recounting
its development through the centuries. It is natural that the understanding of
leadership and the structure of the church will shift as the church's
understanding of itself and its relationship to the outside world also changes.
The meaning and purpose of various ministries and exercise of leadership
and power need to be reexamined and sometimes reshaped. The Christian
church, because of the gospel message, always lives in uneasy relationship
with power and structure.

Throughout the history of holy orders we can identify a fundamental tension
between seeing the church as a hierarchically ordered society and viewing it
as a community of mutual service. The early church knew that Jesus had
called his followers to humble sent of one another, but they also inherited
ideas of structured societies, both Jewish and Roman, organized with kings
and emperors and high priests. Soon a similar kind of structure began to
develop in the church itself. Though it was tempered somewhat by Christ's
own warnings about not lording it over others, this hierarchical model soon
became dominant. [be structure exalted the clergy and diminished the role
of the laity more and more as centuries passed, until many people 0111C to
see the clergy as "the church," possessing all significant power and
authority, while the laity were expected, as some put it, to 'pray, pay, and

The Second Vatican Council painted a most complex picture of the church in
its documents. The hierarchical model is still present, but it is balanced by
images of the church as the Mystical Body of Christ, as the people of God on
pilgrimage, and as a sacrament of the unity that Christ came to establish
between God and humanity. These other images all help to recover some of
the sense of mutual responsibility for carrying on the mission of Christ that
had been lost through history. Mother tension that is evident in the history of
the church is one between the institutional need for order and orthodoxy and
the variety of faith experiences of individual church members. These are in
tension because those personal experiences cannot be controlled by the
institutional structure, and those who have such experiences often challenge
aspects of the institution. The tendency toward centralization and control
struggles with the power of personal experience and conscience.

Ultimately, these are issues of power, and the history of ministry is shaped
by how people in various ages have viewed the proper exercise of power in
the church. The ultimate power is God's, of course, and no person or
institution can control that power. Yet there are other forms of power in any
group, for power makes it possible to accomplish things. How power is
exercised can vary widely. In the church there is a constant tension between
power seen as authority and control versus power viewed as love and
service. One can also notice shifts at various periods of history in how much
that power is centralized of how broadly it is shared.


One key to understanding the meaning of ordination is found in the word
itself. Being ordained means entering an order. The term ordo in the Roman
Empire meant a defined civil body, often a governing body. The church
adopted this term to refer to defined groups of people set aside for a
particular ministry. Ordination is not primarily the conferral of special powers
upon the ordained individual but entering an order of ministry.

Good sacramental theology begins by studying the actual celebration of the
sacraments, and the rites of ordination themselves indicate this basic
meaning of holy orders. In the ordination of a bishop, the new bishop Is
ordained by at least three other bishops; the ancient tradition, restored by
Vatican II, is for all the bishops present to share in the ordination of the
bishop-elect. All the bishops taking part in the liturgy lay hands on the head
of the new bishop during the celebration. In a similar way, all the priests
present at the ordination of a new priest (presbyter) impose hands on the
new member of their order. In the ordination of a deacon, all the deacons
present are invited to give the new deacon the sign of peace right after the
bishop, thus welcoming him into their order.

In each of these rites it is clear that those being ordained are entering their
order, a group of those who share the same ministry in the church. One does
not "receive" an order, one "enters" an order, a concrete group of people
who are chosen and recognized by the church for a particular ministry. A
bishop-elect is told, for example, to "never forget that you are joined to the
College of Bishops."

This perspective gives us a solid basis to approach the question of the
meaning of ordination to a particular order. The issue is not properly
considered in terms of what an ordained person can do, but in terms of what
place that order of ministry has in the community of faith. Whatever powers
are connected with an order flow from the role of that order in the
community. It is clear that ordination is the affirmation of a leadership role in
the community. Leadership can be exercised in various ways, but each of
these orders exists in the church to provide leadership and guidance for the

The church community celebrates the initiation of one or several of its
members into a ministerial order in the liturgical rites of ordination,
recognizing the call of the minister as a gift of God and praying for the grace
of the Spirit upon those called to serve the community in this sacramental
order. In the process of celebrating the call of these individuals, the whole
community also reaffirms its own commitment to minister in the name of

Another approach to understanding orders in the church is to see them as a
way of ordering the church community. They establish relationships between
the various ministers and the rest of the people of God. This is also a good
way to understand the traditional teaching that holy orders, like baptism and
confirmation, confers an indelible character. All three of these sacraments
define permanent relationships within the church community, and they thus
establish order in the community.

Ministers in each of the orders also serve as sacraments themselves. They
make Christ visible in their ministries. And they also proclaim the nature of
the church. Bishops, who are united in the college of bishops, symbolize the
church community as a worldwide communion of churches. Priests
(presbyters) express the nature of the church as a priestly community.
Deacons proclaim the church's nature as a community of service.

Seeing ordained ministers as sacramental symbols throughout their lives can
help us understand what we mean when we speak of their leadership
function. While the ordained minister may in fact lead the community in a
variety of ways. an order itself leads precisely as a sacrament. Sacraments
function by signifying. by being symbols. Ordained ministers lead the church
by being living symbols in the midst of the church community. The orders of
ministry are symbols of the wider ministry of the whole church; their very
presence among us reminds us of the responsibility of the whole community
to carry on the ministry of Christ in the world today.

Matter and Form

Its Nature, Institution, Matter and Form

The Church of God, being by Divine institution one visible body, kept
together by visible signs, —by faith which corned, offspring, and by external
discipline, —implies in its constitution two distinct classes, —War who
administer and those who receive the sacraments, those who preach and
those who believe, those who govern and those who obey.

St. Paul says, "To every one of us is given grace according to the measure of
the giving of Christ. Where-fore He nab: Ascending on high He led captivity
captive: He gave gifts to men. And He gave some apostles and some
prophecy, and others some evangelists, and others some pastors and
doctors. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the
edifying of the body of ac: until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the
knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the
age of the fullness of Christ: that henceforth we be no more children tossed
to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the wicked-ness
of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive. But doing
the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head,
even Christ: from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined
together, by what every joint supplied), according to the operation in the
measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of
itself in charity" (Eph. iv. 7 – 16).

The Apostles here plainly tells us that our Lord established a hierarchy, i.e. a
sacred body of teachers and rulers, to keep His people in one faith, and build
them up in the way of salvation. The Evangelists narrate the occasion of His
so doing. After His resurrection He came to His Apostles, and said to them,
"All power is given Me in heaven and in earth: go ye, therefore teach ye all
nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have
commanded you, and behold I am with you all days, even to the
consummation of the world" (St. Matt. xxviii. 20). "Go ye into all the world,
and preach the. gospel to every creature" (St. Mark xvi. 15). The authority
which our Divine Lord received from His Father He here bestows on His
Apostles; and on them, as the terms of the commission show, not as
individuals, but as heads of the Church for ever. Hence His words prove that
there will always be persons to stand in the place of the Apostles and inherit
their authority as preachers of the Gospel and administerers of the

It has been seen that our Lord gave His Apostles and their successors power
to consecrate and offer the Holy Eucharist, as a sacrifice in memory of His
death ; and further, that He bestowed on them authority to forgive or retina
sins (St. John xx. 21-28). There are, then, two kinds of power in the Church.
1st. Jurisdiction, or power over the mystical body of Christ, which includes a
right of governing the faithful at large, and judging that; dual conscience
before God. 2dly. The power to administer sacraments and offer sacrifice,
which is called power over Christ's natural body. This twofold power forms
the priesthood, and resides in its fulness, first, in the Bishop of Rome, the
successor of St. Peter whom our Lord constituted the Rock of His Church, die
feeder of His flock, to whom He gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and
next, in the body of bishops in union with St. Peter's See. To the Pope and to
the collective episcopate alone does it belong to define matters of faith. Each
bishop has jurisdiction over the particular district assigned to him, called a
diocese, wherein he governs the priests and the faithful. Subordinated to the
bishop, and deriving from him his jurisdiction, ‘is the simple priest’, who has
to preach the word, administer the sacraments, offer sacrifice, and direct in
the way of salvation those committed to his charge.

Besides the priesthood, there are other orders or kinds of ministerial power
which, more or less remotely, subserve it according to their office. In all there
are seven orders in the Church,—priest, deacon, subdeacon, acolyte,
exorcist, reader, and porter. The first three are called holy or greater orders,
the last four minor or lesser. Observe, the priest comprehends both the
bishop and simple priest, or presbyter; for a bishop is only a complete priest.
Having spoken of the priesthood, it will be well to speak of each of the other
orders in succession. And first of the deacon.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles (ch. vi.), that "when the number of the
disciples increased, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the
Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
Then the twelve, calling together the multitude of the disciples, said: It is not
reason that we should leave the Word of Cod and serve tables. Wherefore
look ye out among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost
and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give
ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the 'Word. And the saying
was liked by all the multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith
and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon,
and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the
Apostle, and they, praying, imposed hands upon them." Here we have the
account of the appointment of decoys. They were to help the priest, and
relieve his burden in the external management of the church, especially in
the distribution of alms.

St. Paul, in his Epistle to St. Timothy, dwells on the virtues which this office
requires, and gives us a high idea of its dignity (1 Tim. iii. 8, 10). "To the
deacon," says the Catechism of Trent, "as the eve of the Bishop, it be-longs
to investigate who within the diocese, lead lives of piety and religion, and
who do not; who attend Mass, and who do not; and to make the bishop
acquainted with all these matters. In the absence of the bishop and priest,
he may be delegated to expound the Gospel to the pen e; not, however, from
an elevated place, to make it stood that this is not his proper office." The
deacon's principal office as present is to assist the priest during solemn
Mass. He pours wino into the chalice, offers it with the priest, chants the
gospel, dismisses the people at the end. When it was the discipline of the
Church to administer in both kinds, the deacon used to distribute the chalice.
He used also to carry the Blessed Sacrament to the absent.

The office of the subdeacon, as the name shows, is to serve the deacon at
the altar. It is his business to prepare the altar-linen, the vessel; the bread
and wine necessary for the sacrifice. He delivers the chalice and paten to the
deacon, hands him the cruet filled with wine, and pours the water into the
chalice while the priest blesses it. lie chants the epistle, ministers water to
the bishop when he washes his hands during the Mass, and assists as a
witness to the sacred mysteries.

The acolyte accompanies and serves the deacon and subdeacon. He hands
the latter the cruets filled with wine and water; carries and attends to the
lights used during the celebration of the sacrifice.

The exorcist receives power to drive out evil spirits from those possessed.

The reader's office is to read portions of the Old and New Testament during
certain services of the Church.

The porter has to keep the keys and gate of the church, and exclude
unworthy persons from coming. His duties correspond to these of a sacristan.

As a preparation for orders there is a ceremony called the tonsure, in which
the hair is cut off the top of the head in form of a crown, in honour of the
crown of thorns our Saviour wore, and to denote the royal dignity of the
clerical state. Persons who have been tonsured are hence-forth called clerics,
because they have chosen the Lord tbr their lot (" cleros") and inheritance.

Such are the different kinds of ministers of the Church. The rite by which
they are made is called from them Holy Orders, because it establishes that
regular gradation of rank of which they are the instance.
As God alone could institute the priesthood, so God alone could appoint the
means of its transmission; we are then prepared to find and are required to
believe, at least in the case of the priesthood, that Holy Orders is one of the
seven sacraments: "If any one shall say that orders, or sacred ordination, is
not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ the lord, let him he
anathema" (Coen. of Trent, sass xxiii. c 8 ). And its sacramental character is
manifest in Holy Scripture. St. Paul, in his Epistles to St. Timothy, says: "
Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given prophecy. with
imposition of the bands of the priesthood 1 ma. Iv. 14). And again, "I
admonish the that thou stir up the gram of God which is in thee by the
imposition of my bends" (2 Tim. 1. 6). Here we have all the elements of a
sacrament,—the outward sign, the inward grace annexed, and divine
appointment; for God alone can make outward signs means of grace.

As we hold that Christ instituted the diaconate, it is certain that that power,
as well as the priesthood, is communicated by the same Sacrament of
Orders; the distinct ordinations do not form different sacraments, but one
sacrament conveys different powers. It is, however, very doubtful whether
the Sacrament extends beyond the diaconate to the other orders, which are
or ecclesiastical origin.

Imposition of hands, and the prayer which the Bishop says, constitute the
matter and form in the ordination of priests, and probably nothing further is
essential ; the delivering of the sacred vessels, and the words, Receive power
to offer sacrifice for the living and the dead, in the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," as well as the last laying-on of the Bishop's
hands, with the accompanying words, being only more explicit expressions of
the same act. In the diaconate, too, most probably nothing further is needed
for the external sign, than the imposition of the Bishop's hands and the
words, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost for strength, and to resist the devil and his


Its matter is the object by whose handing over the order is conferred. The
"priesthood is bestowed by the handing over of a chalice with wine and a
paten with bread; the diaconate by the giving of the book of the Gospels; the
sub-diaconate by the handing over an empty chalice with an empty paten on
it; and similarly for the other Orders by allotting things connected with their
The form is the prayer of ordination to receive the power of ministering in the
Church for the living and the dead, in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit. The ordinary minister of this sacrament is a bishop.
The effect is the gift of grace to make the person a suitable minister of

The Parts of the Rites of Holy Orders

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" (CCC, 1576). Only a baptized man can be ordained. The
sacrament is always conferred by the bishop within celebration of Mass 'in
which the faithful, particularly on a Sunday, take an active pan 'at one altar
at which the Bishop presides, surrounded by his presbyterate and ministers"
(RO, 9).1 In this way the preeminent manifestation of the Church and the
conferral of Holy Orders are joined to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the font and
apex of the whole Christian life' (RO, 9). The celebration of the Eucharist by
the bishop with his priests and deacons is the preeminent manifestation of
the Church because 'in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the entire
spiritual wealth of the church, namely Christ himself,' and the bishop
“eminently and visibly, take[s] the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd
and priest, and acts] in his person” (PO, 5; LG, 21).

The Rite of Ordination begins during the Liturgy of the Word, following the
reading of the Gospel. It is comprised of three parts. The first part consists of
the preparatory rites; the presentation of the one(s) to be ordained, the
Homily, the Promise of the Elect, and the Litany of Supplication. This is
followed by the essential element of ordination—the laying on of hands and
the Prayer of Ordination, which ‘specifies the signification of the laying on of
hands' (RO, 7). It concludes with the explanatory rites, 'which are different
for the various Orders and which represent the offices that have been
conferred through the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy
Spirit' (RO, 8). In the explanatory rites, signs and symbols are given that
'explain' the office just conferred. For the ordination of the bishop, this
includes the giving of the ring, the miter and the crozier (pastoral staff); for
the priesthood, the handing over of bread and wine; and for the diaconate,
the handing on of the Book of the Gospels.

The Prayer of Ordination for bishops cites God's promise to Abraham, the
institution of rulers and priests, and his provision for ministers of the

Father of mercies and God of all consolation …

who from the beginning,

foreordained a nation of the just,

born of Abraham:

who established rulers and priests

and did not leave your sanctuary without ministers … (RO, 47)

The reference to 'a nation of the just born of Abraham' is found in Genesis
12. God's choice of Abraham. God tells Abraham to leave his country and go
to a place that God will show him. And he promises to bless Abraham and to
make of him "a great nation' so that in him 'all the families of the earth will
find blessing' (12:2-3). Prefigured in this promise is the definitive blessing of
salvation in Christ, visibly manifested in the person of the bishop. The prayer
also makes reference to the establishment of 'rulers and priests" as well as
ministers for the sanctuary, events described in the books of Exodus,
Leviticus, and Numbers. The Prayer of Ordination for priests and deacons
respectively contain more specific references to these events, so we will
discuss the relevant passages in those sections.

One of the Old Testament readings for the ordination of both bishops and
priests is Isaiah 61:1-3abcd. In this passage the prophet announces that the
spirit of the Lord is upon him, and in a messianic (‘messiah' means 'the
anointed one') reference proclaims that the Lord has anointed him. He is the
messenger of the Lord 'to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners,
To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our
God; To comfort all who mown: to place on those who mourn in Zion a
diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness instead of mourning, a
glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit' (61:2-3).

An analysis of this passage reveals several ways In which it prefigures the
priesthood of the new covenant.' The reference to the spirit °signals the
special action of God (Jgs 3:10; 11:19; 1 Sm 10:5-13).' While other Old
Testament prophecies spoke of the spirit with reference to the messianic king
(Is 11:1-2) and promised it to the messianic people (113; Zec 12:10). here
the spirit is given to anoint prophecy. The term anointed is linked with
preaching and hearing; it designates an interior enlightening to know Cod's
word and a strengthening to follow it.' The phrase 'release to prisoners' can
also be translated as 'light to prisoners? In either case, "prisoners are led out
of dark dungeons to full daylight.' This passage 'looks to the total salvation of
God's people—bodily and spiritually, individually and socially.' Finally, the
reference to 'the day of vindication of the Lord' is almost always used to
describe God 'repairing the injured or weakened force of salvation (34:8;

This Old Testament prophecy is definitively fulfilled in the minis-try of Jesus.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus inaugurates his public ministry by reading this
passage in the synagogue on the Sabbath. After pro-claiming this passage,
Jesus announces that he is the one about whom Isaiah prophesied: 'Today
this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing' (Lk 4:21). “With these words
Jesus announced that the messianic era had come." In his words and deeds
Christ brought good news to the poor and oppressed, comforted the
brokenhearted, brought freedom to those oppressed by the enemy, and
freed those Imprisoned by illness—the blind saw the salvation of the Lord,
the deaf heard the good news, and the mute praised the Lord. God's saving
action, hindered by the corruption and self-interest of the religious
establishment of Jesus' day, was fully and definitively realized in Christ.

This passage has a particular relevance for the ordination of both bishops
and priests, who by virtue of ordination are configured to Christ so that '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' (CCC,
154B). This is what the Church means when she says that the priest (and the
bishop was first a priest) acts 'in the person of Christ the head' (the Latin
phrase is in persona Christi). Through priestly ordination the minister '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 (Pitts XII quoted in CCC, 1548). In
St. Thomas Aquinas' elegant summary, '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' (quoted in CCC, 1548).


The Prayer of Ordination lot priests contains several Old Testament
references. It first mentions ministerial offices in the old covenant that were
"established through mystical rites” It then mentions those appointed to
assist Moses and Aaron.

Already in the earlier covenant

offices arose, established through mystical rites:

when you set Moses and Aaron wee your people

to govern and sanctify them,

you chose men next in rank and dignity

to accompany them and assist them in their task. (R0,130)

The 'mystical rites' for the consecration of the Old Testament priests am
described in Exodus 29:1-80, the consecration of Aaron and his sons. Aaron
is vested in a tunic, ephod, breast piece and embroidered belt, and a turban
with the sacred diadem is placed on his head. Anointing oil is then poured on
his head. His sons arc clothed with tunics and sashes and skullcaps on their
heads. “Thus shall the priesthood be theirs by a perpetual statute, and thus
shall you install Aaron and his sons' (v. 9). This is followed by the sacrifice of
"a young bull and two unblemished rams' (v. I). The blood of the sacrifices is
splashed on and around the altar and used to anoint the tip of the right ears
of Aaron and his sons, as well as 'the thumbs of their right hands and the
great toes of their right feet' (v. 20). The meat, hide, and dung of the bull are
banned outside the camp as a purification altering (v.14), and one of the
rants is burned on the altar as 'a sweet-smelling oblation" (v. 18). The blood
of the other ram that is splashed on the altar and together with anointing oil
is sprinkled on Aaron and his sons and on their vestments 'that he and his
sons and their vestments may be sacred' (v. 21). Pasts of the ram along with
a loaf of unleavened bread, a cake made with oil and a wafer are then given
to Aaron and his sons who 'raise them as an elevated offering before the
LORD' (v. 24). They are then burned on the altar 'as a sweet-smelling
oblation to the LORD' (v. 25).

The consecration of Aaron's sons is mentioned in another section of the
Prayer of Ordination:

So also upon the sons of Aaron

you poured an abundant share of their father's plenty,

that the number of the priests prescribed by the Law
might be sufficient for the sacrifices of the tabernacle,

which were a shadow of the good things to come. (RO. 130)

This reference concludes with an explanation of the importance of the Old
Testament for understanding the offices of the new covenant—they 'were a
shadow of the good things to come.' This 'mystical" rite prefigures many
elements of the current Rite of Ordination the divine choice of the ministers,
clothing with sacred vestments, anointing with oil, and the offering of

The Prayer of Ordination also refers to those chosen to assist Moses and
Aaron. This is found m Exodus 18:17-27. Moses' father-in-law tells him that
his responsibilities are too great for him to bear alone. He advises him to
choose 'able and God-fearing men, trustworthy thy men who hate dishonest
gain who can then 'render decisions for the people in all routine cases' (Ex
18:21-22). He urges Moses to do this—on the condition that 'Cod so
commands you'—so that he 'will be able to stand the strain, and all these
people, too, will go home on-tent (Ex 18:23). This prefigures the pastoral
ministry of priests as assistants to the bishops.

The Prayer of Ordination next mentions the seventy elders who received the
spirit to assist Moses:

So too in the desert

you implanted the spirit of Moses

in the hearts of seventy wise men;

and with their help he ruled your people with greater ease. (RO,159)

This event is described in Numbers 11,10-29. When the people complain
about the food in the desert. Moses complains to the Lord: 'Why are you so
displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?... I cannot carry
all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me' (vv. II. 14). God
replies by telling Moses to gather 'seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you
know to be elders and authorities among the people' (16). Then, when they
are all assembled at the tent of meeting, Cod tells Moues, “I will also take
some of the spirit that is on you and will confer it on them, that they may
share the burden of the people with you. You will then not have to bear it by
yourself” (17). When the spirit was bestowed on the seventy, 'they
prophesied but did not continue' (25) This prefigures the gift of the spirit
bestowed on the priests as coworkers with the bishop. This passage is one of
the Old Testament readings for the ordination of priests, which reflects its
importance as prefiguring the priesthood of the new covenant.

The Old Testament references in the Rife of Ordination of Priests reveal key
elements of the rite, especially the relationship between ordination and
sacrifice. They also anticipate the pastoral ministry of priests and the gift of
the Spirit. finally, they reveal the collegiality of the priesthood.


The Prayer of Ordination for deacons cites the Lord's choice of the sons of
Levi as prefiguring the three degrees of ministers in the new covenant:

as once you chose the sons of Levi

to minister the former tabernacles

o now you establish three tanks of ministers

in their sacred offices to serve in your norm. (RO. 207)

God's choice of the sons of Levi is recorded in Numbers 1:48-53. God tells
Moses not to include the Levites in the census along with the other Israelites"
(49). Rather, they are to have 'charge of the tabernacle of the covenant with
all its equipment and all that belongs to it and °shall be its ministers' (50).
Because God designated the tribe of Levi for liturgical service, 'Cod himself is
its inheritance' (CCC, 1539). The Levites' ministry is further described in one
of the Old Testament readings for the ordination of deacons as recorded in
Numbers 3:5-9. In this passage die Lord tells Moses to station rite Leviers
‘before Aaron the priest to serve him' (6). They are responsible for all of the
furnishings of the tent of meeting and for maintaining the tabernacle. They
are “assigned unconditionally” to Aaron and his sons (9).

This passage prefigures an important aspect of the diaconate, the liturgical
ministry of deacons. lust as the Levites were assigned to assist Aaron and his
sons, so men are ordained to the diaconate “so as to serve as a vested
minister in the sanctification of the Christian community, m hierarchical
communion with the bishop and priests. They provide a sacramental
assistance to the ministry of the bishop and, subordinately, to that of the
priests which is intrinsic, fundamental and distinct” (DMI.PD, 28). Their
ministry at the altar is distinct both from the liturgical ministry of the lay
faithful and from that of the ministerial priest- hood (DMLPD, 28). So, (or
example, 'in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the deacon does not celebrate the
mystery: rather, he effectively represents on the one hand, the people of Cod
and specifically, helps them to unite their lives to the offering of Christ; while
on the other, in the name of Christ himself, he helps the Church to
participate in the fruits of that sacrifice" (DMLPD, 28)

Signs and Symbols

As we have seen, sacramental celebrations are composed of liturgical signs
that engage the whole person and communicate the power of Christ's
Paschal Mystery. The liturgical signs that comprise the Sacrament of Holy
Orders are complex and varied. They include the postures of standing,
kneeling, and prostration and gestures such as the imposition of hands and
the fraternal kiss. The Church Triumphant is invoked through the Litany of
Supplication. Bishops and priests are anointed with sacred Chrism, a sign of
the Holy Spirit. The newly ordained are clothed with rich vestments that
signify their sacred ministry. Signs such as the miter, chalice and paten, and
the Book of the Gospels are given to signify the distinctive participation of
each degree in the one priesthood of Christ.

The Rite of Ordination consists of three parts that express 'the multiple
aspects of sacramental grace' (CCC, 1574). The first part consists of the
preparatory rites: the presentation of the one(s) to be ordained, the Homily,
the Promise of the Elect, and the Litany of Supplication. These rites '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' (CCC, 1574). This is
followed by the essential Rite of Ordination: the laying on of hands and the
Prayer of Ordination (also referred to as the consecratory prayer). As we
noted in chapter 2, if the essential rite is omitted or altered, the sacrament is
invalid. The Rite of Ordination concludes with the explanatory rites that
'symbolically express and complete the mystery accomplished' (CCC, 1574).
In considering the signs that comprise the Rite of Ordination, we will look first
at the rite itself, supplemented by the General Instruction of the Race of
Ordination and the Catechism. Below is a chart of the Rite of Ordination for
all three degrees. The preparatory rites are given in a regular font, the
essential clement in italics, and the explanatory rites in bold. Also included is
the gesture or posture that accompanies the different elements.

Bishop Priest Deacon
Gospel Gospel Gospel
Presentation of the Election of Candidates Election of Candidates
Elect (goes to bishop, sign of
(led to Bishop, makes reverence)
sign of reverence)
Homily Homily Homily
Promise of elect Promise of elect Promise of elect
(stands before the (stands before the
bishop) bishop)
Litany of Saints Litany of Saints Litany of Saints
Laying on of Hands Laying on of Hands Laying on of Hands
(kneels before bishop) (kneel before bishop) Prayer of Ordination
Prayer of Ordination Prayer of Ordination
(deacons hold book of
Gospels over head)
(stands) Vesting stole and
Vesting stole and dalmatic
Anointing of head Anointing Hands Handing on Book of
(kneels) (kneels before Gospels
Handing on Gospels bishop) (kneels)
Insignia (ring, miter, Handing over
crozier) Bread/Wine
(rises) (kneels before
Occupies Cathedra bishop)
Fraternal kiss
Liturgy of Eucharist Liturgy of Eucharist Liturgy of Eucharist
with inserts with inserts with inserts


The Rite of Ordination for Priests and Deacons begins with the election of
candidates. Following the reading of the Gospel but before the homily, a
deacon calls the candidate by name: "Let N., who is to be ordained a Priest,
come forward? The candidate responds, 'Present,' and makes a sign of
reverence to the bishop. The rite does not specify the exact nature of this
sign of reverence, but in the United States it is customary for the candidate
to stand when his name is called, answer 'Present," and make a slight bow to
the bishop.

The posture of standing has several meanings within the context of the
liturgy: "One rises to greet people, to honor someone important, or to
express readiness for action, or when seized with excitement. In Christian
liturgical tradition, standing is the basic posture of an Easter people lifted up
to greet their risen Lord" (IOM, 29). Cardinal Ratzinger explains standing as
the posture proper to an Easter people: "Standing is the posture of the victor.
Jesus stands in Cod's presence—he stands, because he has trodden death
and the power of the Evil One underfoot. At the end of this struggle, he is the
one who stands upright, the one who remains standing. This standing is also
an expression of readiness: Christ is standing up at the right hand of God, in
order to meet us. . . . When we stand, we know that we are united to the
victory of Christ. ... "'. The candidate expresses his readiness to be ordained
not only by responding 'Present," but also by his posture, standing before the

The rite continues with a designated priest saying to the bishop, "Most
Reverend Father, holy mother Church asks you to ordain N., our brother, to
the responsibility of the Priesthood.' The bishop inquires about the
candidate's worthiness, and the priest replies, 'After inquiry among the
Christian people and upon the recommendation of chose responsible. I testify
that he has been found worthy.' The bishop then confirms his election:
'Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose
N., our brother, for the Order of the Priesthood? The assembly then gives
their assent. In the Dioceses of the United States, this assent can take
different forms: a sung or recited acclamation such 45 'Thanks be to Cod' or
by an action such as applause or standing. The liturgy then continues with
the homily.


Common to the preparatory rites for all three degrees of Holy Orders is the
Litany of Supplication, also known as the Litany of the Saints. A litany is a
form of prayer consisting of a series of petitions, said or sing, with a fixed
response, such as 'Lord, have mercy" or 'pray for us.' It is divided into two
parts: a series of petitions addressed directly to God, and the invocation of a
series of saints. The origins of this prayer are obscure, although there are
examples from Jewish and pagan sources. The litany was used in the early
Church before the dismissal of the catechumens (those preparing for
Baptism), who did not participate in the prayers of the faithful. There is
evidence that this litanic prayer form was used in Rome before 225. In
addition to the Rite of Ordination, litanies are part of other liturgical
celebrations such as the Sacraments of Baptism and the Faster Vigil. They
are also part of private devotions, such as the Litany of the Sacred Heart and
the Litany of Loreto.
The Litany of Supplication is an example of the union of the earthly Church
with the heavenly Church that occurs in every liturgical celebration. The
liturgy, as we noted in chapter 2, is unceasingly celebrated in heaven by
Christ, our high priest, ‘with the holy Mother of Cod, the apostles, all the
saints, and the multitude of those who have already entered the kingdom'
(CCC, 1187). When we celebrate the liturgy, we are 'entering into the liturgy
of the heavens that has always been taking place. Earthly liturgy is liturgy
because and only because it joins what is already in process, the greater
reality'? We seek the inter• cession of the saints because they are present at
our liturgical celebrations, and their intercession is efficacious.

The Litany of the Saints has been part of the Rite of Ordination from the
seventh century onward 'in preparation for the imposition of hands, so as to
invoke the assistance of the saints on behalf of those about to be ordained."
Beginning in the eighth century, the candidates prostrated themselves
during the litany.' St. John Paul II described his experience of this rite as an
ordinand and as the presider as bishop and pope: “There is something very
impressive about the prostration of the ordinands, symbolizing as it does
their total submission before the majesty of God and their complete
openness to the action of the Holy Spirit who will descend upon them and
consecrate them." Prostration gives bodily expression to 'the awareness of
our absolute incapacity, by our own powers, to take on the priestly mission of
Jesus Christ, to speak with his 'I."

Cardinal Ratzinger described his experience of the Litany of the Saints during
his episcopal ordination: 'The fact that the praying Church was calling upon
the saints, that the prayer of the Church really was enveloping and
embracing me, was a wonderful consolation. In my incapacity, which had to
be expressed in the bodily posture of prostration, this prayer, this presence
of all the saints, of the living and the dead, was a wonderful strength—it was
the only thing that could, as it were, lift me up. Only the presence of the
saints with me made possible the path that lay before me.” The Litany of the
Saints in the Rite of Ordination illustrates how the liturgy integrates different
signs—words, music, and posture—to signify sacramental realities and
engage the whole person.


The essential rite and visible sign '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, 1573). The imposition of hands is rooted in the practice of Jesus
himself. He healed the sick and blessed children by laying hands on them
(Mk 6:5; 8:23, 10:16), and he empowered the apostles to do the same (Mk
16:18; Acts 5:12: 14:3). In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is
imparted through the imposition of hands (Acts 8:17-19; 13:3; 19:6; cf. I Tm
and 2 Tm).'Thc imposition of hands,' wrote St. John Paul II, "is the
continuation of the gesture used by the early Church to signify that the Holy
Spirit is being given for a specific mission (cf. Acts 6:6. 8:17, 13:3). Paul
imposed hands on the disciple Timothy (cf. 2 Tm 1:6: I Tim 4:14), and the
gesture has remained in the Church (cf. 1 Tm 5:22) as the efficacious sign of
the Holy Spirit's active presence in the Sacrament of Holy Orders." The Letter
to the Hebrews describes the laying on of hands as one of the 'fundamental
elements' of its teaching. The Church has kept this sign of the all-powerful
out-pouring of the Holy Spirit in its sacramental epiclesis” (CCC, 699). St.
John Chrysostom explains the sacramental reality of this liturgical sign: 'the
hand of the man is laid upon (the person) but the whole work is of God, and
it is his hand that touches the head of the one ordained, if he be duly

For example, for the ordination of a bishop, after the principal ordaining
bishop has laid his hands on the head of the elect in silence, each of the
other bishops present does the same. For the ordination of priests, after the
bishop has imposed hands, all of the priests who are present, wearing stoles,
lay hands on the elect in silence. 'While the laying on of hands is taking place
the faithful should pray silently. They take part in the Prayer of Ordination by
listening to it and by affirming and concluding it through their final
acclamation' (RO, 7). This is a good example of how Christ, Head (bishops
and priests) and Body (the faithful), acts in the sacraments.


One of the explanatory rites common to both the ordination of bishops and
priests is anointing with sacred chrism. Before considering its particular
meaning in each ordination rite, let's first look at the meaning of chrism as a
liturgical sign. In addition to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, chrism is also
used in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. It 'is a sign that
Christians, incorporated by Baptism into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, dying:
buried, and rising with him, are sharers in his kingly and prophetic Priesthood
and that by Confirmation they receive the spiritual anointing of the Spirit who
is given to them." The chrism is made from olive oil or another plant of mixed
with an aromatic sub-stance such as balsam and is consecrated only by a
bishop. The Rite for the Consecration of Chrism explains the meaning of
chrism. The bishop begins by inviting the people to ask God to 'bless this oil
so that all who are anointed with it may be inwardly” transformed and come
to share in eternal salvation.” Chrism, in all of its sacramental uses, is a sign
and means of inner transformation through the working of the Spirit and so
contributes to our salvation.

The bishop can choose between two consecratory prayers. Each reveals
different aspects of the meaning and power of the chrism. "The first prayer
asks the Father to 'fill it with the power of your Holy Spurt through Christ
your Son.' This prayer also explains that the name chrism is derived from
Christ: 'It is from him that Chrism takes its name and with Chrism you have
anointed for yourself Priests and kings, Prophets and Martyrs.' This prayer
emphasizes its use in the Sacrament of Baptism: 'Make this Chrism a sign of
life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of

The second prayer explains how in the Old Testament God 'gave your people
a glimpse of the power of this holy oil' and then 'brought that mystery to
perfection in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Henceforth, 'through the sign of
holy Chrism, you dispense your life and love to men.' The prayer then asks,
'Father, by the power of your love, make this mixture of oil and perfume a
sign and source ┼ of your blessing.... Above all, Father, we pray that through
this sign of your anointing you will grant increase to your Church until it
reaches the eternal glory.” Each of the sacraments that includes anointing
with chrism gives increase to the Church: Baptism, which incorporates new
members into the Body of Christ; Confirmation, which equips believers with
the gifts of the Spirit to participate fully in the mission of the Church: and
Holy Orders, through which the faithful are instructed in the authentic faith of
the apostles and sanctified chiefly through the Eucharist and Penance. This
prayer offers a beautiful summary of the power of this liturgical sign: 'Let the
splendor of holiness shine on the world from every place and thing signed
with this oil.'

Posture and gesture are also part of this rite. Both bishops and priests are
anointed while kneeling before the consecrating bishop, a posture whose
meaning we discussed above. Newly ordained bishops are anointed on the
head. The anointing is accompanied by the following explanatory words:
'May God, who has made you a sharer in the High Priesthood of Christ,
himself pour out upon you the oil of mystical anointing and make you fruitful
with an abundance of spiritual blessing.” (RO, 85). The rite explains that this
anointing is a "sign of the Bishop's distinctive share in the Priesthood of
Christ' (RO. 26). Newly ordained priests are anointed on the palms their
hands. While performing the anointing, the bishop says the following words:
The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and
power, guard and preserve you that you may sanctify the Christian people
and offer sacrifice to God" (RO, 133). This anointing "symbolizes the Priests'
distinctive participation in Christ's Priesthood" (RO, 113). For both bishops
and priests, the anointing with chrism is for 'a sign of the special anointing of
the Holy Spirit who makes their ministry fruitful' (CCC. 1574).

Canonical Instructions

"THE ORDERS ARE the episcopate, the priesthood and the diaconate" (can.
1009 §1). For the purpose of drawing up practical formularies not only for the
use of our chanceries but of our parishes as well, only the orders of the
diaconate and the priesthood are dealt with. This section includes a brief
treatment on the following: 1) the admission to candidacy for sacred orders;
2) the institution in the ministries of lector and acolyte; 3) the ordination to
the Diaconate; 4) the ordination to the Priesthood; 5)
Incardination/Excardination; 6) Appointments to Offices, Profession of Faith
and Oath of Fidelity; 7) Faculties for some pastoral functions; 8) Penal
Processes; 9) Removal from Offices and Parishes; 10) Transfer of Parish
Priests; and 11) Dispensations from Priestly Obligations from Celibacy.


Can. 1034 §1 provides: "An aspirant to the diaconate or to the priesthood is
not to be ordained unless he has first, through the liturgical rite of admission,
secured enrolment as a candidate from the authority mentioned in canons
1016 and 1019. He must previously have submitted a petition in his own
hand and signed by him, which has been accepted in writing by the same
authority." However, "one who has by vows become a member of a clerical
institute is not obliged to obtain this admission" (can. 1034 §2).

"The rite for admission among the candidates for diaconate and the
priesthood is obligatory for all except religious and is to be celebrated by the
bishop himself (c. 1034). One cannot be admitted to this candidacy unless he
is twenty-one years old and has started the course of Theology" (F. Testera,
Canon Law Digest of the Philippine Catholic Church, 1995, p. 120-121).
For the admission to candidacy for ordination, the following documents are
required by the Code:

Letter of petition from the candidate (Formulary 1).

Letter of acceptance by the bishop or the major superior (Formulary 2).

"In what concerns the ordination to the diaconate of those who intend to
enrol themselves in the secular clergy, the proper Bishop is the Bishop of the
diocese in which the aspirant has a domicile, or the Bishop of the diocese to
which he intends to devote himself. In what concerns the priestly ordination
of the secular clergy, it is the Bishop of the diocese in which the aspirant was
incardinated by the diaconate" (can. 1016).

After the admission of a candidate to ordination, it is recommended that
there be a Certificate of Admission as Candidate for Orders (Formulary 3).

There are different practices regarding the time of admission for candidacy
to sacred orders. Some seminaries schedule it before the institution in the
ministries; others prefer to schedule it after the institution in the ministries.


Canon 1035, §1 provides: "Before anyone may be promoted to the diaconate,
whether permanent or transitory, he must have received the ministries of
lector and acolyte, and exercised them for an appropriate time." Moreover,
"between the conferring of the ministry of acolyte and the diaconate there is
to be an interval of at least six months" (can. 1035 §2).

On 15 August 1972, Paul VI issued Ministeria Quaedam, a motu proprio
Apostolic Letter by which the discipline of first tonsure, minor orders and
subdiaconate in the Latin Church was reformed. In its no. VIII, the. Letter
prescribes that in order to be admitted to the ministries, a male Christian
must fulfil the following requirements:

the presentation of a petition freely made out and signed by the aspirant to
the Ordinary (the Bishop and, in clerical religious institutes, the major
Superior) who has the right to accept the petition;

a suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the Episcopal

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), in its "Decisions
Regarding Ministers" determined that "...For men who aspire to become
priests, the lectorate should not be given earlier than in the first year of
theology, and the acolytate in the second year, with an interval of at least
three months between both" (F. Testera, o.c., p. 120).

a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people.

For the institution in the ministries, the following docu-ments are required by
the same MR. Ministeria Quaedam:

Letter of petition from the candidate (Formulary 4).

Letter of acceptance from the bishop or major superior (Formulary 5).

Certificate of reception of the ministries (Formulary 6). 'This document is to
be prepared after the institution in the ministries.


For a person to be promoted to the diaconate, the following documents are
to be prepared:

a. Certificate of the reception of Baptism (can. 1050, 3°).

b. Certificate of the reception of Confirmation (can. 1050, 3°). [See can.

c. Certificate of admission to candidacy for Sacred Orders (cf. can. 1034

d. Certificate of the reception of the ministries of Lector and Acolyte (can.
1050, 3°)

e. Certificate of the completion of studies (can. 1050, 1°), in accordance
with can. 1032.

f. Declaration of intent and petition for ordination from the candidate
(can. 1050, 3°). (Formulary 7)

Canon 1036 provides: "For a candidate to be promoted to the order of
diaconate or priesthood, he must submit to the proper Bishop or to the
competent major Superior a declaration written in 11.4s own hand end
signed by him, in which he attests that he will spontaneously and freely
receive the sacred order and will devote himself permanently to the
ecclesiastical ministry, asking at the same time that he be admitted to
receive the order." Canon 1050, 3° actually requires the certificate that such
declaration has been made. Concerning the minimum age for the diaconate
the Code establishes that "those who are destined for the priesthood are to
be admitted to the order of the diaconate only when they have completed
their twenty-third year" (can. 1031 §1).

g. Certificate of marriage and testimony of his wife's consent (in the case
of a married candidate for the permanent diaconate)

This is required by canon 1050, 3°. The Code also provides that "A candidate
for the permanent diaconate who is not married may be admitted to the
diaconate only when he has completed at least his twenty-fifth year; if he is
married, not until he has completed at least his thirty-fifth year, and then
with the consent of his wife" (can. 1031 §2).

h. Testimonials from the Rector of the seminary or of the house of
formation concerning the candidate's suitability for ordination and from
persons concerned regarding his health. (Formulary 8)

"There is to be a certification from the Rector of the semi-nary or of the
house of formation, concerning the qualities required in the candidate for the
reception of the order, namely, sound doctrine, genuine piety, good moral
behavior, fitness for the exercise of the ministry; likewise, after proper
investigation, a certificate of the candidate's state of physical and
psychological health" (can. 1051, 1°).

i. Other testimonials of the candidate's suitability, if the Bishop or major
Superior requires them (Formulary 9).

Canon 1051, 2° states that "the diocesan Bishop or the major Superiors may,
in order properly to complete the investigation, use other means which,
taking into account the circumstances of time and place, may seem useful,
such as testimonial letters, public notices, or other sources of information."
They may indeed get some feedback from the faithful, who, in accordance
with canon 1043, "are bound to reveal, before ordination, to the Ordinary or
to the parish priest, such impediments to sacred orders as they may know

"For a Bishop to proceed to an ordination which he is to confer by his own
right, he must be satisfied that the documents mentioned in can. 1050 are at
hand and that, as a result of the investigations prescribed by law, the
suitability of the candidate has been positively established" (can. 1052 §1).
Moreover, before he proceeds to the ordination, the Bishop must have
assured himself that the candidate has duly made his retreat for at least five
days, in a place and in the manner determined (cf can. 1039).

j. Certificate of perpetual vows, if a member of a Religious Institute or
Certificate of definitive incorporation, if a member of a Secular
Institute. (These certificates may be included in the dimissorial letters.)

k. Dimissorial letters, if needed. (Formulary 10)

"For a Bishop to proceed to the ordination of someone not his own subject, it
is sufficient that the dimissorial letters state that those documents are at
hand, that the investigation has been conducted in accordance with law, and
that the candidate's suit-ability has been established. If the ordinand is a
member of a religious institute or a society of apostolic life, these letters
must also testify that he has been definitively enrolled in the institute or
society and that he is a subject of the Superior who gives the letters" (can.
1052 §2).

After the ordination, the following documents are to be prepared:

l. Certificate of ordination to the diaconate. (Formulary 11)

"The ordaining Bishop is to give each person ordained an authentic
certificate of the ordination received" (can. 1053 §2). m. Notice of ordination
to the diaconate. (Formulary 12) Canon 1054 provides: "The local Ordinary, if
it concerns the secular clergy, or the competent major Superior, if it concerns
his subjects, is to send a notification of each ordination to the parish priest of
the place of baptism. The parish priest is to record the ordination in the
baptismal register in accordance with can. 535 §2."


For a deacon to be promoted to the priesthobd, the following documents
required by canons 1050-1051 are to be presented or secured:

a. Certificate of the reception of the diaconate (can. 1050, 2').

With this certificate, all the documents required by can. 1050 §3 for the
promotion to the diaconate, are expected to be in order. Canon 1031 §1
requires that "an interval of at least six months between the diaconate and
the priesthood must have been observed."

b. Certificate of the completion of studies (can. 1050 §1).
Canon 1032 §2 provides: "After completing the currictilum of studies and
before being promoted to the priesthood, deacons are to spend an
appropriate time, to be determined by the Bishop or by the competent major
Superior." Moreover, "the priesthood may be conferred only upon those who
have completed their twenty-fifth year of age, and possess a sufficient
maturity." (can. 1031 §1)

c. Declaration of intent and petition for ordination from the candidate
(can. 1036).

d. Testimonials from the Rector of the seminary or of the house of
formation concerning the candidate's suitability for ordination and from
persons concerned regarding his health (can. 1051, 10).

e. Other testimonials of the candidate's suitability, if the Bishop or major
Superior requires them (can. 1052 §2).

f. Dimissorial letters, if needed.

g. After the ordination to the priesthood, the following documents are to
be prepared:

h. Certificate of ordination to the Priesthood (can. 1053 § 2). (Formulary

i. Notice of ordination to the Priesthood (can. 1054).


"Every cleric must be incardinated in a particular church, or in a personal
Prelature, or in an institute of Consecrated Life or Society which has this
faculty: accordingly, acephalous or `wandering' clergy are in no way to be
allowed" (can. 265).

Initial incardination occurs with the ordination to the diaconate (can. 266 §1).

It may happen that a cleric applies to change his incarnation from one
diocese to another. Such transfer from one diocese to another is effected
either by a formal process or in virtue of the law itself (ipso iure).

64 4. Handbook of Formularies

A. Formal Process
1. The cleric obtains a letter of excardination from the Bishop of the
diocese in which he is presently incardinated.

a. For lawful excardination, a just reason is required. Such may be the
advantage of the Church, be it the incardinating or the
excardinating diocese, of the personal good of the cleric, like his
physical health or his spiritual well-being or his peace of mind (cf.
can. 270).

b. The Bishop is not to refuse the request for excardination except for
grave reasons. For instance, he can deny a request in case his
diocese is urgently in need of the cleric's services (cf. lb.).

c. If a cleric thinks he has been wrongly denied excardination, and if
he has a bishop willing to accept him, he may have recourse to the
Congregation for the Clergy against his own bishop's decision not to
grant excardination. The recourse should indicate the reasons why
the cleric seeks excardination, the reasons why the bishop is
denying excardination, all the pertinent documentation in the case
including a letter from the bishop willing to receive him.

2. The cleric obtains a letter of incardination from the. Bishop of the
diocese in which he applies to be incardinated.

Before he grants such a letter of incardination, the Bishop is required:

a. to obtain from the cleric a written declaration of his intention to
serve in the Bishop's diocese;

b. to determine if such incardination is necessary or advantageous to
his own diocese;

c. to determine if his diocese can provide fitting support to the cleric
according to law; d. to obtain from the excardinating Bishop,
confidentially if necessary, necessary information regarding the
cleric's life, behavior and studies;

d. to obtain official notification from the excardinating Bishop that
excardination has been granted (cf. can. 269).

Once these requirements are fulfilled, the incardinating bishop can issue the
letter of incardination to the cleric and send the official notification to the
excardinating Bishop regarding the incardination. 3. Once the cleric obtains
the letter of excardination from the bishop a quo and the letter of
incardination from the bishop ad quern, his incardination is changed.

B. Ipso lure Process

1. The cleric legitimately moves to another diocese. His Move is
"legitimate" if he is absent from his own diocese with at least the
presumed permission of his proper Ordinary (can. 283 §1), and the
Bishop of the host diocese, for a just cause, has not refused him
permission to reside further in his territory (can. 271 §3). It is not
necessary that the cleric actually perform ministry in the host diocese
but that he is there physically.

2. The cleric is present in the host diocese for five years.

3. The cleric writes to both his own Bishop and the Bishop of the host
diocese about his intention to change his incardination. This can be
done at any time in the course of the five years, or at any time after
the five years. The letters can be sent to the two bishops at the same
time, or at different times.

4. The Bishops have four months during which to oppose the change. If
the cleric's letters are sent before the end of the five years, the
Bishops have four months from the end of the quinquennium. If the
letters are sent after the five years, the Bishops have four months
from the date they receive the letters.

5. Either Bishop must express his opposition to the cleric's intention in

6. The cleric is incardinated in the host diocese ipso iure if he has not
received a written response opposing the change from either Bishop
within the specified four months. No further exchange of letters is
required (cf. can. 268 §1)


Since "an ecclesiastical office cannot be validly obtained without canonical
provision" (c. 145, §1), appointments to offices and parishes are familiar
practices in the life of the clergy. So do are the promises to fulfill their office
faithfully professed by those who are admitted to an office.

A. Provision of Offices
Ecclesiastical offices are established or created either by the law itself or by
a decree of the competent authority. As a matter of principle, the provision of
an ecclesiastical office belongs to that authority which is competent by law
to establish, alter or suppress the office; for example, it is the diocesan
Bishop who appoints parish priests, since it is he who establishes, alters and
suppresses parishes. (Formulary 21);

In order to be appointed to an ecclesiastical office, one must be in
communion with the Church, and be suitable, that is, possess those qualities
that are required for that office by universal or particular law (:an. 149 §1).

"The appointment of those who fulfil an office in the diocesan curia belongs
to the diocesan Bishop" (can. 470). All those who are admitted to an office in
the curia must promise to fulfil their office faithfully and observe secrecy
within the limits and according to the manner determined by law or by the
Bishop (can. 471).

Some examples of diocesan appointments regulated by cc. 469-494 are the

a) Appointment of a Vicar General (Formulary 22);

b) Appointment of an Episcopal Vicar (Formulary 23);

c) Appointment of a Vicar Forane (Formulary 24);

d) Appointment of a Judicial Vicar (Formulary 25);

e) Appointment of a Chancellor (Formulary 26);

f) Appointment of the Notary of the Curia (Formulary 27);

g) Appointment of a Diocesan Consultor (Formulary 28);

h) Appointment of a Diocesan Financial Administrator. (Formulary 29).

Other appointments, such as of an Advocate, an Assessor, Promotor of
Justice, and an Investigator are dealt with later under Penal Process (see
Formularies 46-49).

The provision of an office which in law is not vacant is by that very fact
invalid (can. 153 §1). "If, however, there is question of an office which by law
is conferred for a determinate time, provision can be made within six months
before the expiry of this time, and it takes effect from the day the office falls
vacant" (can. 153 §2). An office which in law is vacant, but which someone
unlawfully still holds, may be conferred, provided that it has been properly
declared that such possession is not lawful, and that mention is made of this
declaration in the letter of conferral (can. 154).

B. Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity

Some persons who have agreed to assume an office, dignity or duty are
canonical obliged to make a personal profession of faith and to take an oath
of fidelity upon the assumption of office. Canon 833 gives a list of those
considered bound to do it. At the level of particular church, they are the


5° in the presence of the diocesan Bishop or his delegate: Vicars general,
episcopal Vicars and judicial Vicars;

6° in the presence of the local Ordinary or his delegate: parish priests; the
rector, professors of theology and philosophy in seminaries, at the beginning
of their term of office; and those who are to be promoted to the order of

7° in the presence of the, Chancellor or, in the absence of the Chancellor, the
local Ordinary, or the delegates of either: the rector of an ecclesiastical or
catholic university, at the beginning of the term of office; in the presence of
the rector if he is a priest, or of the local Ordinary or the delegates of either:
those who in any universities teach subjects which deal with faith or morals,
at the beginning of their' term of office;

8° in accordance with the constitutions: Superiors in religious institutes and
clerical societies of apostolic life."

The same canon requires that the profession of faith be made "according to
th e formula approved by the Apostolic See." Up to 1989 the formula
published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1967 as in
force. A new formula was published on 27 February 1989 and was
accompanied by the text of an oath of fidelity (cf AAS 81 [1989] 104-106).
Vernacular translation of the two formulae - to be prepared by the respective
Episcopal Conferences - may be used, and that in fact is the normal practice
at the moment. (Formularies 30-31)

The grant of faculties for ministerial or pastoral functions are governed by
the canonical provisions concerning delegated power. The Code of Canon
Law itself grants a number of such faculties to clergy. One of them, for
instance, is the faculty to hear confessions given by the law itself to
Ordinaries, local Ordinaries, canons penitentiary and parish priests.

In addition to those faculties, the diocesan bishop or other local ordinary
(Vicar General, Episcopal Vicar, cf. can. 479) may also grant faculties for
some ministries in the diocese. For instance,

a) The faculty to hear confessions (Formulary 32-33)

b) The faculty to administer the sacrament of confirmation (See
Formulary of Confirmation)

c) The faculty to absolve censures (Formulary 34)

d) The faculty to assist at marriages (Formulary 35)

A faculty that is strictly necessary for priests for their pastoral ministry is the
faculty to hear confessions: "For a valid absolution of sins, it is required that,
in addition to the power of order, the minister has the faculty to exercise that
power in respect of the faithful to whom he gives absolution" (can. 966). This
faculty is granted to priests by the competent authority (Ordinaries and local

Other faculties are optional in the sense that they are not essential for the
ministry of priests, deacons and even lay persons, and are granted according
to the discretion of the competent authorities in accord with the needs of the
particular church.

It is becoming a practice in many dioceses for the Bishop to grant ministerial
faculties to particular priests, for instance, by issuing a decree declaring that
he may exercise the faculties proper to him in accordance with the norms of
canon law and pertinent apostolic decrees, plus in addition some specific
functions (enumerated there) with some conditions attached. This is done
"by virtue of our authority as local Ordinary, and in virtue of the authority
delegated to us by the Apostolic See." In many instances the Bishop includes
in his listing of "faculties" prescriptions of general law which do not require
the added intervention of the Bishop for the clerics to act, but which the
Bishop wishes to bring to their attention. (Formulary 36)
Regarding the manner in which faculties are granted, they are to be granted
in writing (can. 51). And concerning their duration, the norm is that faculties
do not normally end on the expiry of the granting authority, unless this
appears from clauses attached to them (cf. can. 142), but on the expiry of
the time or the completion of the number of cases for which they were
granted as well as on their withdrawal by the granting authority. (Formulary


The allegation of misconduct or of commission of an offense by the clergy
may need to be investigated in order to determine whether or not the
accused is guilty and, if ever, whether or not to declare or impose a penalty
for that offense.

As it is well known a canonical offense is any external, voluntary, and
imputable violator of a penal law or precept of the Church (cf. can. 1321). For
an offense to be punishable it is necessary that the following three elements
be present: (a) the external violation of a law or precept; (b) the fact that the
violation in question is "gravely imputable by reason of malice or of
culpability"; and (c) the violation must be expressly sanctioned in and by the

Although the canonical process which governs the application of penalties to
the clergy may be used rarely, however, its procedural regulations are quite
important, for they relate mainly to matters of justice and the protection of
rights. The process has two phases clearly differentiated: the first stage, the
preliminary investigation, which is of strictly administrative nature; and the
second stage, which, if it is reached, can be either administrative (by extra-
judicial decree) or judicial, depending on the decision taken by the Ordinary.


1. The Initiation of the Information

Whenever the Ordinary receives information, which has at least the
semblance of truth, about an offence, he is to enquire carefully, either
personally or through some suitable person, about the facts and
circumstances, and about the imputability of the offence, unless this enquiry
would appear to be entirely superfluous. Care is to be taken that this
investigation does not call into question anyone's good name.
The one who performs this investigation has the same Powers and
obligations as an auditor in a process. If, later, a judicial process is initiated,
this person may not take part in it as a judge (can. 1717).

2. Decree of the Ordinary Initiating (or not) a Penal Process

When the facts have been assembled, the Ordinary is to decide whether a
process to impose or declare a penalty can be initiated; whether this would
be expedient; and whether a judicial process is to be used or, unless the law
forbids it, whether the matter is to proceed by means of an extra judicial

In making this decree - which can be revoked or changed whenever new
facts indicate that a different decision should be made - the Ordinary, if he
considers it prudent, is to consult two judges or other legal experts.

Before making a decision, the Ordinary is to consider whether, to avoid
useless trials, it would be expedient, with the parties' consent, for himself or
the investigator to make a decision, according to what is good and equitable,
about the question of harm (cf can. 1718). Attestations, precepts and
decrees associated with penal processes may be needed here. Some

a) Precept Enjoining an impeded cleric from exercising Sacred Orders;
(Formulary 38)

b) Precept enjoining a cleric from contact with certain persons; (Formulary

c) Attestation recording the imposition of an admonition; (Formulary 40)

d) Attestation recording the imposition of a rebuke; (Formulary 41)

e) Decree by which the initial inquiry of a penal process is opened;
(Formulary 42)

f) Decree by which the initial inquiry is concluded absolving the accused
of an offense; (Formulary 43)

g) Decree by which the initial inquiry is concluded and the determination
that an administrative process to apply a penalty or penal remedy is
set in motion; (Formulary 44)
h) Decree by which the initial inquiry is concluded and the determination
that a judicial process to apply a penalty is set in motion. (Formulary

(N.B.: These documents/formularies are samples, intended only to present
the general format which such documents can follow, and should not be
considered complete in and of them-selves. The circumstances,
jurisprudence and conclusions associated with the specific case under,
consideration should be expressed, at least in summary fashion, in the
documents which are formulated.)

It should be noted that the notary authenticating documents associated with
the reputation of a cleric must himself be a cleric in accord with canon 483
§2. Thus, if the chancellor of the diocese who would formally authenticate
these documents is someone who is a non-cleric, another notary must be

B. THE COURSE OF THE PROCESS (Formularies 46-52)

1. Extra-judicial Penal Process

If the Ordinary believes that the matter should proceed by way of an extra-
judicial decree:

1° he is to notify the accused of the allegation and the evidence, and give an
opportunity for defense, unless the accused, having been lawfully
summoned, has failed to appear;

2° together with two [freely chosen] assessors, he is accurately to weigh all
the proofs and arguments;

3° if the offense is certainly proven and the time for criminal action has not
elapsed, he is to issue a decree in accordance with cc. 1342-1350, outlining
at least in summary form the reasons in law and in fact (can. 1720).

Hierarchical recourse is possible against this extra-judicial decree as well as
recourse to the Apostolic Signature. The recourse against a decree imposing
or declaring a penalty has suspensive effect (cf. can, 1353).

2. Judicial Penal Process

a) If the Ordinary decrees that a judicial penal process is to be initiated,
he is to pass the acts of the investigation to the promotor of justice,
who, at the request of the former, will initiate the penal process by
presenting to the judge a petition of accusation in accordance with cc.
1502 and 1504.

b) An Advocate to ensure the rights of defense of the accused is to be
appointed, either by the accused himself or ex officio.

c) The accused is not bound to admit to an offence, nor may the oath be
administered to him (can. 1728 §2).

d) At any stage of the process, in order to prevent scandal, protect the
freedom of the witnesses and safeguard the course of justice, the
Ordinary can, after consulting the promotor of justice and summoning
the accused person to appear, prohibit the accused from the exercise
of the sacred ministry or of some ecclesiastical office and position, or
impose or forbid residence in a certain place or territory, or even
prohibit public participation in the blessed Eucharist (can. 1722). e) If
at any stage of a penal trial, it becomes quite evident that the offence
has not been committed by the accused, the judge must declare this in
a judgment and acquit the accused (can. 1726).

e) The accused can appeal to a higher tribunal once a penalty is declared,
and even when no penalty was declared simply because the penalty
was facultative. Likewise, the promotor of justice can appeal whenever
he considers that the reparation of scandal or the restitution of justice
has not been sufficiently provided for (can. 1727).

N.B.: Application to Clerical Sexual Abuse cases. These procedural steps
described in the Code of Canon Law, from the preliminary investigation to
the initiation-conclusion of an administrative or judicial penal process are
supposed to be rigorously applied also to present-day cases on Clerical
Sexual Abuse. In the Philippines these procedures must be complemented
with the provisions contained in the so-called Protocol, approved already in
principle by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) but
still under final study before being submitted to the Apostolic See for its
Recognitio. Examples of this application may be found in Formularies 49-52.

REMOVAL FROM OFFICES AND PARISHES When the ministry of any parish
priest has for some reason become harmful or at least ineffective, even
though this occurs without any serious fault on his part, he can be removed
from the parish by the diocesan Bishop. Obviously this has to be done
through due process, following the procedural steps described in the Code of
Canon Law.
A. Removal from an Ecclesiastical Office One is removed from office either by
a decree of the competent authority lawfully issued... or by virtue of the law
(cf. can. 192). I. Removal by Decree (Formulary 53) In order to remove
someone from an ecclesiastical office that has been conferred for an
indeterminate time, grave reasons are required .(cf. can. 193 §1). Grave
reasons are likewise required to remove .a person from an office that has
been conferred for a determinate time, before- the term has expired (cf. can.
193 §2). HoWever, if.an office has been conferred upon someone at the
prudent discretion of the competent authority, that person may be removed
from the office for a just reason by the same authority (cf. can. 193 §3). Once
the bishop has accurately determined the just reasons for removal, he must
notify his decision by issuing an individual decree containing, at least in
summrry fashion, the reasons for the removal. In the process, the bishop
must hear not only those who could be damaged by the removal, but also
and above all, the person to be removed, for whom in addition some
supporting provisions need to be made if that person's livelihood depended
from the office.

2. Removal by virtue of the law itself

Canon 194 reads: "§1. The following are removed from ecclesiastical office by
virtue of the law itself:

1° one who has lost the clerical state;

2° one who has publicly defected from the catholic faith or from communion
with the Church;

3° a cleric who has attempted marriage, even a civil one."

§2. The removal mentioned in nn. 2 and 3 can be insisted upon only if it is
established by a declaration of the competent authority."

The clerical state is lost by declaration of invalidity of Orders, imposition of
the penalty of dismissal, or dispensation (can. 290). The competent authority
must act for each case. In the other two situations the competent authority
declares the removal, which here has the effect of a penalty.

B. The Removal of Parish Priests (Formulary 54)

1. Reasons for the Removal

"When the ministry of any parish priest has for some reason become harmful
or at least ineffective, even though this occurs without any serious fault on
his part, he can be removed from the parish by the diocesan Bishop" (can.

In accordance with the law, only the diocesan bishop or his equivalent (see
can. 381 §2) may remove a parish priest. A Vicar general or an Episcopal
Vicar would require a special mandate to do so (see can. 134 §3).

The reasons for which a parish priest can lawfully be removed from his parish
are mainly (not exclusively) the following, listed in can. 1741:

a) Disruption of ecclesial communion;

b) Ineptitude or permanent infirmity;

c) Loss of reputation and aversion to the parish priest;

d) Grave neglect or violation of parochial duties, which persists after a

e) Bad administration of temporal affairs

2. Procedure for the Removal

The Code of Canon Law (canons 1740-1745) indicates the following steps:

1. There must be a preliminary investigation by the Bishop to establish
the existence of a 'reason' for removal consistent with the contents of
cc. 1740-1741;

2. The bishop discusses the reason for removal with two parish priests
(chosen among those regularly selected by the Presbyteral Council for
the purpose);

3. The parish priests is informed of the reason(s) for his removal and is
persuaded by the bishop to resign within 15 days;

4. The bishop decrees his removal when the parish priest offers no

5. If there is no response by the parish priest, the bishop is to repeat his
invitation to resign and allow additional time for the parish priest to

6. If a parish priest expresses his opposition to the reason given for his
removal, he is invited to submit his proofs and arguments, while
affording him the right to inspect the acts [This is an innovation!];
7. The bishop discusses again the issue with the same two priests as

8. Final decision of the bishop either decreeing the parish priest's removal
arid making a suitable provision for him, or to end the proceedings.

If the removed parish priest lodges a hierarchical recourse against the
decree of removal within the prescribed 15 days (cc. 1732-1738), the
recourse has a suspensive effect, since the office is not vacant while his
recourse is pending. Hence in the mean-time the bishop cannot appoint a
new parish priest, but is to make provision by way of a parochial
administrator (cf. can. 1747 §3).


The transfer of a parish priest is a different thing from his removal. Whereas
removal followed the judgment that a parish priest's ministry was ineffective
or harmful, a transfer meant that a parish priest was serving his parish well
but that his service was needed elsewhere. In fact, canon 1748 states that
"the good of souls or the necessity or advantage of the Church may demand
that a parish priest be transferred from his own parish, which he governs
satisfactorily, to another parish or another office." There is no longer the old
distinction between removable and irremovable parish priests.

The procedure for the transfer of a parish priest is outlined in canons 1748-
1752, which actually specify the threefold directive of canon 190.

1) The bishop proposes the transfer to the parish priest in writing and
persuades him to consent, for the love of God and of souls; (Formulary

2) If the parish priest accepts the proposal, the bishop issues a decree of

3) If the parish priest opposes to the transfer he is entitled to present his
reasons in writing;

4) The bishop, together with two parish priests chosen in accordance with
can. 1742 §1, he is to weigh the reasons which favor and those which
oppose the transfer;

5) If the bishop still considers that the transfer should proceed, he is
again to renew his fatherly exhortation to the parish priest;
6) After a new refusal by the parish priest, if the bishop still believes that
a transfer ought to take place, he is to issue a decree of transfer
stating that, when a prescribed time has elapsed, the parish shall be
vacant. (Formulary 56)

7) When this time has elapsed without result, the bishop is to declare the
parish vacant.


One of the three ways in which a cleric loses the clerical state is by a rescript
granted by the Apostolic See (cf. c.290). This way involves a process of
dispensation from the obligations of priest-hood and celibacy — commonly
known as "laicisation" — that is currently handled by the Congregation for
Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

A. Principles

The present legislation governing procedures of dispensation from priestly
obligations and the vow of celibacy is contained in the document issued by
the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,
entitled "Documents Necessary for the Instruction of a Case For Dispensation
from the Obligations of Priestly Ordination." Basically, this document has
kept intact the Substantial and Procedural Norms found in the Circular Letter,
Per Litteras Ad Universos, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, Prot. No. 128/61s, dated 14 October 1980, dealing with the matter.

When this Circular Letter was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, it was this Congregation the one with competence over cases of
priestly dispensation. With the reorganization of the Roman Curia by the
Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, of Pope John Paul II, dated 28 June 1988
(cf AAS, vol. LXXX, n.7), this competence was transferred to the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Art,
63). This Congregation, however, decided to keep the norms that were laid
down by that Circular Letter and that were already in effect.

The first part of the letter contains several principles that should guide those
concerned, especially the bishops and those to whom they will entrust the
task of handling petitions for dispensation:

1.. Sacerdotal celibacy is exalted and highly esteemed in the Latin Church.
Celibacy is an obligation that is imposed not only by Church law, but also by
virtue of one's personal responsibility (No. 1).
2. A good number of priestly defections during the past years has inflicted a
painful wound in the Church who is struck in the very source of her life,
causing a lot of pain to her pastors and to the entire Christian community.
(No. 2).

3. Dispensation from celibacy should not be considered as a right that should
be indiscriminately recognized by the Church for all her priests. Nor should it
be considered as an almost automatic result of a summary administrative
process (No. 3).

4. In this process, the good of many, each one of them very precious, is at
stake. Thus every aspect should be considered carefully, but always
safeguarding justice and charity:

a) First, the good of the priest who asks for dispensation convinced that
this is the only way to solve his present concrete problem, whose
burden he could no longer bear;

b) Second, the good of the entire Church who could not allow the
dissolution, every now and then, of the very organic structure of the
priesthood, which is absolutely necessary to fulfil her mission;

c) Third, the particular good of the local Church, that is, of the bishops
and the presbyterium, who are concerned with the preservation, as
much as possible, of the needed apostolic personnel, as well as that of
all the faithful


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