The Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church includes three orders: bishop, priest, and deacon. In the phrase “Holy Orders”, the word “holy” simply means “set apart for some purpose.”
Catholic men who “take Holy Orders” receive a special sacrament called Holy Orders, which creates the hierarchy of deacon, priest, and bishop. These men (who are ordained by a bishop by means of that sacrament) serve the spiritual needs of others in the Catholic church. A baptized man must first be ordained a deacon before being ordained a priest and ordained a priest before being ordained a bishop. So every priest and every bishop has experienced the Sacrament of Holy Orders more than once, but he experiences ordination to each level only once.
There are three levels of participation in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: as bishop, as priest, and as deacon.
- A bishop receives the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He is the head or Ordinary of the local church. The local area entrusted to him is called a diocese. A bishop is also a member of the episcopal college: this is all the bishops who, with the pope, guide the Church.
- Priests serve the community in various ways. They may be called to serve in their dioceses or as religious order priests, carrying out the mission of a particular religious community. They preside at liturgies, preach, administer the sacraments, counsel people, serve as pastors, and teach.
- Deacons help and serve bishops by serving the needs of the Church, proclaiming the gospel, teaching and preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages, and assisting the priest celebrant at liturgies. Deacons are ordained for service in the Church. There are deacons who are studying to become priests. There are deacons that include married men who are called to remain deacons for life and to serve the Church in this capacity.
Priests receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Rite of Ordination. The bishop lays his hands on the head of the candidate and says a prayer asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In one part of the rite, the candidate lies in front of the altar while the Litany of the Saints is sung or recited. In another part of the rite, a priest’s hands are anointed with chrism. In the rite for a bishop, the new bishop’s head is anointed.
There are two notable ways in which the sacrament of Holy Orders differs from the other sacraments.
- One is the fact that Holy Orders can be administered only by a bishop. Only a bishop has the power to ordain priests. An ordinary priest cannot pass his power on to another.
- The second way in which Holy Orders differs from other sacraments is that Holy Orders is notreceived all at once.
No deacon, priest, or bishop can ever have his Holy Orders taken away from him.