Sacraments and Worship . . .

The Sacraments of Vocation and Commitment: Holy Orders

Out of the Twelve Tribes of Israel God singled out the Tribe of Levi to be priests. The Levitical priests, who were set apart for liturgical service, were also appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, and to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. The priesthood of the Old Testament prefigured the priesthood of Christ Jesus: ‘the one mediator between God and men’. (1Timothy 2:5)

At the Last Supper the Lord Jesus gave the greatest gift to the world; he gave himself. During the celebration of the Passover meal he instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, and commanded his apostles to celebrate it until his return; ‘thereby he constituted them priests of the New Testament’. (Council of Trent)

At baptism each one of us is anointed prophet, priest and king. The People of God are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart’. (1 Peter 2:9) However, there are certain men called to serve God in the ministerial priesthood. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred on them, by the bishop, in the laying on of hands and the Prayer of Consecration. At his ordination the priest’s hands are anointed and he is given the power to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Furthermore, an ordained priest, as a successor of the apostles, is empowered to be a minister of God’s forgiveness. Our Lord authorized his apostles: ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ (Matthew 18:18)
By the grace of the Holy Spirit the priest is enabled to act as a representative of Christ and, at Mass, when the priest says the words of consecration, ‘this is my body; this is my blood’ he speaks ‘in persona Christi’. The power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood; his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all. (CCC 1353)

Priests are called to serve and strengthen the people of God by celebrating Holy Mass, in proclaiming the Gospel, by being ministers of the sacraments, by their prayers, by teaching and in providing pastoral care for the people. It is through her ordained ministers that ‘the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time’. (CCC 1536) The Lord Jesus instructed Simon Peter to: ‘Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.’ Therefore, ‘Those among the faithful who are marked by Holy Order are appointed to nourish the Church with the word and grace of God in the name of Christ’. (Lumen Gentium 9:11)

Through baptism priests introduce men into the People of God; by the Sacrament of Reconciliation they reconcile sinners with God and the Church; by the Anointing of the Sick they relieve those who are ill; and especially by the celebration of Mass they offer Christ’s sacrifice sacramentally; the Eucharistic celebration is the centre of the assembly of the faithful over which the priest presides. (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis)

Within the Sacrament of Holy Orders there are three degrees: the episcopate (bishops); presbyterate (priests); diaconate (deacons). (CCC 1536) The diaconate is a temporary stage for those men who are to be ordained priests. Some men, who may be married or unmarried, are called to the Permanent Diaconate; an ancient order dating from the Apostolic age, that was restored at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). For many centuries, in the Latin-Rite, it has been customary to ordain unmarried or widowed men; once ordained priests remain celibate. An exception to the norm applies to certain married convert clergymen who have been ordained into the Catholic priesthood.

For those who may be interested in the priesthood or religious life please contact your parish priest in the first instance.

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