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Holy Orders

The Sacrament or Rite of Ordination as a member of the Clergy, especially in the grades of Bishops, Priests or Deacons.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church includes three Orders: Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

In the phrase “Holy Orders” the word “Holy” simply means ‘set apart for some purpose’.  The word “Order” (Latin Ordo) designates an established Civil Body or Corporation with a hierarchy and Ordination means legal incorporation into an Ordo.  In context, therefore, a Holy Order is simply a group with a hierarchical structure that is set apart for ministry in the Church.

For Catholics, the Church views typically that in the last year of seminary training a man will be Ordained to the “transitional diaconate”.  This distinguishes men bound for priesthood from those who have entered the “permanent diaconate” and do not intend to seek Ordination as Priest.  Deacons, whether transitional or permanent, receive faculties to preach, to perform baptisms and to witness marriages.  They may assist at the Eucharist or the Mass, but are not the Ministers of the Eucharist.  After six months or more as a transitional deacon, a man will be ordained to the priesthood.

Priests are able to preach, perform baptisms, witness marriages, hear confessions and give absolutions, anoint the sick and celebrate the Eucharist or the Mass.  Some priests are later chosen to be Bishops; Bishops may Ordain Priests, Deacons and Bishops.

The Catholic Church sees the priesthood as both a reflection of the ancient Jewish priesthood in the Temple and work of Jesus as priest.  The liturgy of Ordination recalls the Old Testament priesthood and priesthood of Christ.

In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a prefiguration of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ”. (Summa Theologica II 22, 4C).


Second Vatican Council decree on the nature of Catholic priesthood – ‘Presbyterorum Ordinis’ says: (This document has come to be one of the defining documents on the role and duties of the priesthood in the modern era).

“In order that priests may find mutual assistance in the development of their spiritual and intellectual life, that they may be able to cooperate more effectively in their ministry and be saved from the dangers of loneliness which may arise, it is necessary that some kind of common life or some sharing of common life be encouraged among priests.  This, however, may take many forms according to different personal or pastoral needs, such as living together where this is possible or having a common table, or at least by frequent and periodic meetings.” (P.O.8)

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