Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz

Holy Orders

The Sacrament of Holy Orders

1. Christ selected Apostles to place them over His church, and at His Last Supper conferred upon them the three-fold office of teacher, priest and shepherd. He also endowed them with the power of conferring this office upon others. The Apostles carried out this command, and in the newly-formed congregations ordained deacons, priests and bishops. The bishops again conferred this power upon others, and so this Apostolic power has been transmitted in the Church, unbroken, for 1900 years.

The means of this transmission or propagation is the Sacrament of Holy Orders, by virtue of which the recipient is forever set apart, as it were, from the laity, to be empowered with this three-fold office.

2. As this exalted state of life should not be entered upon without careful preparation and examination, the Church has instituted several orders as degrees preceding the Sacerdotal dignity.

The first four of these degrees are called Minor Orders. They are:

a) The Doorkeeper;
b) Reader;
c) Exorcist;
d) Acolyte.

The three others are called Major Orders. They are:

e) Sub-deacon;
f) Deacon, and
g) the Priesthood.

The consummation and sum total of all the orders, is the Episcopacy.

3. The Minor Orders, it is true, were instituted by the Church, but in the earliest Christian times. In those dangerous days only reliable men were entrusted with the keys of the church door, the preparation for Divine Service, and other minor offices. Those who were chosen for these offices were ordained by prayer and outward ceremonies. The Minor Orders have not now this significance, but they serve as a preparation for Major Orders, which they must always precede.

The essential difference between the Minor and the Major Orders is, that the latter entitle an immediate participation in the Divine Service, and consecrate the receiver to the service of God forever; whereas the Minor Orders entitle the receiver only to inferior clerical services; neither do they bind the recipient forever to the clerical state, but always permit a return to the secular state.

4. These different Orders show us the greatness and exalted dignity of the priesthood, to which one ascends only by so many degrees; they place before our eyes, as a picture, the manifold duties of the priest, and none the less the plenitude of graces imparted to him.

5. The sacramental character of the priesthood is imprinted only by the last two degrees.

All the preceding Orders, although belonging to the Sacrament, are only a preparation for the complete reception of Holy Orders.

6. The outward signs for the last two degrees are the imposition of hands, by the Bishop, and the touching of the sacred vessels, which constitute the matter of the Sacrament; the necessary prayers constitute the form. The outward signs of the other degrees consist in handing to the recipient those objects which belong to each degree, and in pronouncing the words which confer the right of practicing the duties of the respective Orders.

7. The inward grace conferred by this Sacrament consists

a)   in an increase of sanctifying grace;
b)   in the conferring of various Sacerdotal powers corresponding to each degree, and
c)   it imparts the graces which are necessary for the execution of these functions.

8. Only the Pope and Bishops can administer this Sacrament. Abbots can administer the four Minor Orders to such subjects who have already made their vows. The subjects, or recipients of this Sacrament must be men who have attained the prescribed age, and who possess the virtue and knowledge necessary for such exalted dignity. They must be free from the bond of marriage and from any qualities which would be inconsistent with the priestly state.

9. According to the wishes of the Church, ordinations should take place during the Ember days, because the faithful are implored to fast, and to pray on those days that God may grant them worthy priests.

Minor Orders

1. The candidate for the priesthood is initiated into the ranks of the clergy by a ceremony called tonsure. The conferring of the tonsure is no ordination, it confers no office and no spiritual power. The recipient is thereby introduced from the laity into the clerical state. It is of very ancient origin and is called "Tonsure" because the hair is cut in the form of a crown, solemnly done by the Bishop. With it he gives the candidate the surplice, or ecclesiastical dress, to indicate the putting off of the old man, and the putting on of the new.

2. The first of the Minor Orders is that of Door-keeper. In the time of the Christian persecution the office of Doorkeeper was of great importance, and was intrusted only to reliable men, who were ordained for this special office. It was the duty of the Doorkeeper to inform the faithful beforehand, of the time and place of meeting, and even during the Divine Service he had to guard the door against the intrusion of heretics and unbelievers.

3. The second Minor Order is that of Lector, or Reader, a cleric nearer to the sanctuary. While the Doorkeeper had to stand at the door, the Reader stood in the middle of the Church before the assembled congregation. The office of Lector was to read aloud for the faithful, at the beginning of Divine Service, during the so-called Mass of the Catechumens, those passages from Holy Scriptures which the Bishop or priest ordered to be read.

4. The third Minor Order is that of Exorcist, which gives to the cleric the power of casting out devils. Even laymen, in the early days of the Church, exercised this power; later, however, men were chosen and ordained for this office. The Church confers this power by a Minor Order, to show how impotent these satanic spirits of darkness are against the power which Christ has imparted to His Church. Later on, however, in order to avoid abuse and deception, this power was reserved for priests, and even these cannot make use of this faculty, except by special permission of the Bishop.

5. The fourth Minor Order is that of Acolyte. It is the duty of the Acolyte to supply wine and water, and to carry the lights at Mass.

Major Orders—Sub-Deaconship

1. The first of the Major Orders is that of Sub-deacon. This order irrevocably incorporates the recipient into the Sacerdotal state, by which he contracts the obligation to observe continency and to say the breviary.

2. The Subdeacon is chosen to a higher service of God—to immediate participation in the Divine Service. His functions are:

a)   to take care of the sacred vessels;
b)   to pour wine and water into the chalice;
c)   to sing the Epistle at High Mass;
d)   to hold the book of the Gospel for the deacon, and to carry it to the Celebrant to kiss;
e)   to carry the cross in the processions;
f)   to assist the deacon in all his functions, and to receive the offerings of the people.

He ascends the altar with the priest and deacon and brings the chalice, paten and host to the altar. At High Mass he wears the priestly vestments, excepting the stole and chasuble, instead of which he wears the dalmatic.

3. Celibacy of the clergy is not a command of recent date. Those Apostles who were married before they were called to the Apostleship, left their wives when called by our Lord. The Church has always endeavored not to choose married men for the priesthood, and only out of necessity, or exceptionally, has admitted married men to this state, who then, as a rule, have separated from their wives. The sanctity of this state makes this obligation readily understood. The sublimity of the Holy Sacrifice requires immaculate purity and undivided surrender of self, on the part of the one who offers the Sacrifice. The preaching of the Divine Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments require that the priest be free and independent from all human considerations, which might hamper him in the fulfillment of his duties.

4. The prayers of the Breviary are essentially as old as Christianity itself. At stated hours of the day, the first Christians assembled together to praise God by prayer, reading and the singing of psalms and hymns. When toward the close of the fourth century the laity withdrew, the clergy alone continued to recite these prayers. St. Jerome, at the request of Pope Damasus, arranged the psalms and lessons for the different hours and days, and this arrangement was universally introduced. These prayers were called Officium—that is, duty, because the priest was always obliged to pray them. Since in the course of time, additions were made to the Office, Pope Gregory VII. abridged it again, and called it the Breviary abbreviated office.

The Council of Trent ordered a revision of the Breviary and enforced anew the obligation of saying it. In the Greek church the same hours for prayer are observed, as in the Roman, and at the present time even recited solemnly in the Church.


1. The word "Deacon" comes from the Greek and means servant, because the Deacon serves the priest.

2. The Apostles appointed seven Deacons at Jerusalem, and from this time it became common in all the churches. They are the seven candles of the sanctuary—the seven angels of the Apocalypse. The Apostles ordained them by the imposition of hands, and by prayer; in the same manner Deacons are now ordained.

3. The Deacon is now permitted to stand near the priest at the altar, to baptize, to preach, and to sing the Gospel. Formerly the Deacons were the constant companions of the priest, and in early times a priest could not say Mass without a Deacon at his side. The Deacons prepared the Faithful for the sacraments, visited the imprisoned, and the sick, administered Communion, took care of the poor, and guarded the property of the Church. In the course of time all of these duties devolved entirely upon the priest.

4. Besides the dalmatic, the Deacon receives the stole, but wears it over the left shoulder, fastened at the right side to indicate that his participation in the priestly functions is yet limited.

The Priesthood

1. The word "Priest" comes from the Greek, presbyter, meaning elder, because in the first centuries of Christianity the priests were chosen mostly from among men advanced in years. As Christ, besides the Apostles, chose seventy disciples to be their assistants, so the Apostles appointed priests as assistants to the bishops in the different congregations.

This regulation has remained unchanged even to this time.

2. Priesthood is conferred by the Bishop, through the imposition of hands and prayer. The Priest receives at ordination the three-fold power—to bless, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to forgive sins. Besides this three-fold power the Priest receives an increase of sanctifying grace, and special graces to strengthen him for the onerous duties of his state.

3. As a sign of his power the Priest wears the stole crossed on his breast. His power is greater than that of the deacon, but still, less than that of the bishop, who wears the stole pendant on each side. The Priest receives the chasuble because the power to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is given to him.

Rite of Ordination

1. The Seven Orders and the Tonsure are administered during the Bishop's Mass, because they are all steps, or degrees, to the Most Holy Sacrifice; they are administered during the time between the Introit and the Gospel.

2. The Minor Orders are conferred by the Bishop handing to the recipient while praying over him, the symbols of the different orders. To the Doorkeeper he gives the keys; to the Exorcist, the book containing the exorcisms; to the Lector, the book of the lessons; and to the Acolyte, a candlestick without a candle, and empty cruets.

3. At the beginning of the ceremonies, those who are to receive Major Orders, prostrate themselves before the altar, while the Bishop, with all the priests present, recites the Litany of All Saints; this is to signify that the candidate for ordination is dead to the world, and consecrates himself entirely to the service of the Most High.

4. After the Litany of All Saints the ordination follows.

The Sub-deaconship by the Bishop's handing him the chalice, paten, and filled cruets, because the Sub-deacon has to make the immediate preparation for the Sacrifice; the Deaconship and Priesthood, by the imposition of hands and prayer.

5. After the ordination proper, the Bishop, while reciting the appropriate prayers, hands to those ordained the significant symbols of the power which has just been conferred on them; first the vestments; then to the subdeacon a book of Epistles, and to the deacon a book of Gospels. With these their ordination is finished, and they hasten to exercise the functions of their office, therefore the sub-deacon sings the Epistle, and the deacon the Gospel of the Mass.

6. The priest is ordained by the imposition of hands and then invested with the stole and chasuble, after which, by symbolic ceremonies, he is initiated into the threefold power which he has just received: viz.,—

a) As dispenser of blessings,
the Bishop consecrates him by anointing his hands with Catechumen Oil. The anointing of the hands expresses the power of benedictions which will in future flow from his hands. The thumb and the forefinger particularly, of each hand, are anointed because with them the priest touches the body of our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice. In the Holy Sacrifice this grace is renewed and increased continually.

b) As sacrificial priest,
the Bishop consecrates him by handing him the chalice with wine and water, and the paten with the host. This is to signify that he has received the power to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The newly ordained makes immediate use of this power, as from now on he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice in union with the Bishop.

c) As minister of the Sacrament of Penance,
the Bishop consecrates the candidate for ordination by placing both hands upon his head, after Communion, with the words of Christ: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained."

After the newly ordained has promised obedience to the Bishop, and received from him the kiss of peace, he is dismissed by the Bishop with a paternal admonition and a solemn blessing.

7. At all the ordinations the clerical candidate holds a lighted candle in his hand until the Offertory when he offers it to the Bishop, to express thereby the love of sacrifice with which he consecrates himself to the service of the Church. In like manner the newly ordained receives Communion from the hands of the Bishop after his Communion—symbolical of his close union with the Church of Christ and her representatives.

8. How holy and exalted is the priestly office achieved through a sevenfold consecration! He is the mediator between God and man, daily he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for this purpose. He is the father and shepherd of the flock confided to his care, their teacher and guide on the road to heaven from the cradle to the grave. His life is a life of sacrifice. How many obstacles he had to overcome and how many sacrifices he had to make, before he could enter the priesthood! And as pastor, what dangers, what hardships and difficulties he has to endure to save the souls entrusted to his care. Therefore the faithful should show their pastors respect and obedience; they should listen to their words and follow their advice, remembering the words of our Lord, "Who hears you, hears me, and who despises you, despises me."

The Episcopacy

1. The name Bishop comes from the Greek, "episcopus" and means "overseer,' because the Bishop in the name of the Church, has supervision over the diocese entrusted to him. The fullness of spiritual power is embodied in the Bishop, the might and dignity of all the preceding orders.

2. For the consecration of a Bishop there must be at least three Bishops present; he is consecrated by the imposition of hands, and prayer. Besides an increase of sanctifying grace, this Sacrament confers the threefold power of the office of shepherd, priest and teacher, and the special graces necessary for these offices.

3. The consecration of a Bishop is similar to the ordination of a priest but it is a more solemn ceremony.

a) Before Mass begins the Bishop elect takes an oath before the Bishop who is to consecrate him, that he will be faithful to the Holy See, that he will promote its authority; that he will, at stated intervals prescribed, visit the City of Rome and give an account of his pastoral office to the Pope. Thereupon he begins the Mass with the consecrating Bishop, during which the consecration takes place. Both read the entire Mass together, both communicate from the same Host, and out of the same Chalice to show the bond of charity which binds them to Christ. The real consecration begins before the Gospel. The Litany of All Saints is said while the Bishop-elect lies prostrate before the altar. His renunciation and sacrifice ought to be more perfect than that of the priest.

b) The book of Gospels is opened and laid upon his neck and shoulders, to designate that the Bishop is the bearer and guardian of the Holy Faith. Then the three Bishops lay their hands upon his head and say: "Receive the Holy Ghost." This is the actual moment of consecration.

c) The new Bishop is anointed with Chrism on the crown of his head, and on his hands. He is now the anointed of the Lord, equipped with a fullness of spiritual power far greater than that of the priest. He is the head, therefore he is anointed on the head, the priests, who are anointed only on the hands, are his servants.

d) The crook or bishop's staff is given him, to initiate him as shepherd over his flock. He is then handed the bishop's ring; through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass he is intimately united with his bride, the Holy Church of God, therefore he is handed the ring. The book of the Gospels is given him to touch, as a sign of his office as teacher.

e) At the Offertory, the newly consecrated Bishop offers bread and wine into the hands of the Consecrator, and two large burning candles, to express, thereby, that he will always be solicitous for the Holy Sacrifice; and, furthermore, that like the burning candles he will be consumed as a living sacrifice in the service of God. The large candles denote that his light (example) must shine greater than that of the priest.

f) Before the last Gospel the mitre is placed on his head, to show that he is to combat for the Church and to be a defender of the truth.

g) Gloves are put on his hands as a sign that he must keep them pure, and thus preserve the strength of imparting blessings. He is then conducted to his throne, which is delivered to him, and thus installed in the government of his diocese. While the Te Deum is being sung, the clergy render him homage and allegiance by kissing his hand.

Thereupon he begins his Episcopal functions; namely, he is led by the two assisting bishops through the Church bestowing his blessing upon all the people. Arriving. at the altar, he imparts the solemn Episcopal blessing.

How great is the dignity of a Bishop, how wonderful his power! He is a follower of the Apostles, equipped with the same powers as they. In his diocese he is the ambassador of Christ; the source of all blessings and graces. From his hands comes the Sacred Oil, the matter of several sacraments; by his hands you become a soldier of Christ in the Sacrament of Confirmation. From his hands come the spiritual pastors of the whole diocese. Thank God for this wonderful establishment of the Episcopacy and pray diligently for priests and bishops.