What is this Sacrament? The Sacrament of Holy Orders is the continuation of Christ's priesthood, which He bestowed upon His Apostles; thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Sacrament of Holy Orders as "the sacrament of apostolic ministry. "Ordination" comes from the Latin word ordinatio, which means to incorporate someone into an order. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a man is incorporated into the priesthood of Christ, at one of three levels: the episcopate, the priesthood, or the diaconate.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders imparts a special indelible character, a mark that God can see, on the human soul. Like the Holy Eucharist itself, the character of Holy Orders ontologically transforms a man interiorly while leaving his outer appearance unchanged. That character remains on his soul for all eternity, identifying him as one of God’s ordained servants. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation also impart indelible characters to the human soul that remain for all eternity.
The priesthood was established by God among the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt. God chose the tribe of Levi as priests for the nation. Their primary duties were the offering of sacrifice and prayer for the people. Christ, in offering Himself up for the sins of all mankind, fulfilled the duties of the Old Testament priesthood once and for all. But just as the Eucharist makes that sacrifice present to us today, so the New Testament priesthood is a sharing in the eternal priesthood of Christ. While all believers are, in some sense, priests, some are set aside to serve the Church as Christ Himself did.
Ordination of a Deacon The third level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the diaconate. Deacons assist priests and bishops, but beyond the preaching of the Gospel, they are granted no special charism or spiritual gift. In the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, the permanent diaconate has been a constant feature. In the West, the office of deacon was reserved to men who intended to be ordained to the priesthood. The permanent diaconate was restored in the West by the Second Vatican Council. Married men are allowed to become permanent deacons.
‘Deacon’ comes from a Greek word – diakonos – which means a servant or helper. It occurs frequently in the New Testament and is sometimes applied to Christ himself. But the Apostles, for whom it was not "not right…. To neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables", the deacons soon came to be understood as helpers in more than a material sense – "not servants of food and drink, but ministers of the Church of God". As St. Ignatius of Antioch put it around 100 A.D., the deacon’s task was nothing less than to continue "the ministry of Jesus Christ". In a special way deacons were considered to be ‘helpers’ of the bishop. St. Ignatius specifically mentions two functions of this sort; writing letters for the bishop and generally assisting him in ministry of the word, and serving as the legate of the bishop from one local church to another. In addition, deacons often rendered assistance – on the bishop’s behalf – to the poor and needy of the community. The special relationship between deacons and bishops was emphasised, among other places, in a third century Christian document which speaks of the deacons being ordained "for the ministry of the work designated by the bishops as being necessary to the Church’s ministry".
Ordination of a Priest The second level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the priesthood. No bishop can minister to all of the faithful in his diocese, so priests act, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as "co-workers of the bishops." They exercise their powers lawfully only in communion with their bishop, and so they promise obedience to their bishop at the time of their ordination. The chief duties of the priesthood are the preaching of the Gospel and the offering of the Eucharist.
Ordination of a Bishop A bishop is the Teacher of the Faith, the carrier of Sacred Tradition, and the living Vessel of Grace through whom the energeia (divine grace) of the Holy Spirit flows into the rest of the church. A bishop is consecrated through the laying on of hands by other bishops, normally at least two or three, but in emergency situations, such as times of persecution, a single bishop may ordain another. His consecration takes place before the Little Entrance of the Liturgy. A Gospel Book is laid over the head of the one being ordained, and the consecrating bishops lay their hands upon the Gospel Book, while the prayer of ordination is read, after this, he ascends the synthranon (bishop's throne in the sanctuary) for the first time.
Bishops in all of these communions are ordained by other bishops through the laying on of hands. While traditional teaching maintains that any bishop with Apostolic Succession can validly perform the ordination of another bishop, some churches require two or three bishops participate, either to insure sacramental validity or to conform with church law. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that one bishop can validly ordain another male (priest) as a bishop. Though a minimum of three bishops participating is desirable (there are usually several more) in order to demonstrate collegiality, canonically only one bishop is necessary. Apart from the ordination, which is always done by other bishops, there are different methods as to the actual selection of a candidate for ordination as bishop. In the Catholic Church the Congregation for Bishops oversees the selection of new bishops with the approval of the pope. The papal nuncio usually solicits names from the bishops of a country, and then selects three to be forwarded to the Holy See. Most Eastern Orthodox churches allow varying amounts of formalized laity and/or lower clergy influence on the choice of bishops.
Eligibility of the Sacrament The Sacrament of Holy Orders can be validly conferred only on baptized men, following the example set by Christ and His Apostles, who chose only men as their successors and collaborators. A man cannot demand ordination. The Church has the authority to determine eligibility for the sacrament. While the episcopate is reserved to unmarried men, the discipline regarding the priesthood varies in East and West. The Eastern Churches allow married men to be ordained priests, while the Western Church insists on celibacy. Once a man has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, however, he cannot marry in either the Eastern or Western Churches
Role of the Bishop(Ministry of the Sacrament) Because of his role as a successor to the Apostles, who were themselves successors to Christ, the bishop administers the sacrament of Holy Orders. The grace of sanctifying others that he receives at his own ordination allows him to ordain others.
Form of the Sacrament As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes: The essential rite of the sacrament of Holy Orders for all three degrees consists in the bishop's imposition of hands on the head of the ordain and 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. Other elements of the sacrament, such as holding it in the cathedral (the bishop's own church); holding it during Mass; and celebrating it on a Sunday are traditional but not essential.
Effects of the Sacrament The Sacrament of Holy Orders, like the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation, can only be received once for each level of ordination. Once a man has been ordained, he is spiritually changed, which is the origin of the saying, "Once a priest, always a priest." He can be dispensed of his obligations as a priest (or even forbidden to act as a priest); but he remains a priest forever. Each level of ordination confers special graces, from the ability to preach, granted to deacons; to the ability to act in the person of Christ to offer the Mass, granted to priests; to a special grace of strength, granted to bishops, which allows him to teach and lead his flock, even to the point of dying as Christ did.