Holy Orders

Sacrament of Holy Orders

Catholic men who are called to a ministerial role in the Church receive a special sacrament called Holy Orders, which creates the hierarchy of deacon, priest, and bishop. Such 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.

One of the primary functions of deacons, priests, and bishops is to administer the sacred rites of the Church to God’s people:

  • Bishops are said to have the “fullness of the priesthood,” because they alone have the authority to offer all seven sacraments – Baptism, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders.
  • Priests have the power and authority to celebrate only five – Baptism, Penance, Holy Eucharist (Mass), Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick.
  • Deacons can celebrate Baptism and Matrimony, provided that it’s a wedding without a Nuptial Mass.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders doesn’t make a man a Church aristocrat, but it does confer the dignity of the sacrament, and that entails the obligation of obedience and respect to lawful authority and be of service to the people of God. Indeed, at ordination a priest and deacon vows his obedience and respect to his bishop – while a bishop at episcopal ordination vows his obedience to and respect to the reigning Pontiff. Pastors are to see their role as shepherds who love and know their sheep.

A man can retire from the active ministry or be forced to leave if he misbehaves, but no deacon, priest, or bishop can ever have his Holy Orders taken away from him.

  • Being defrocked is involuntary and is imposed as a punishment for committing crime or scandal.
  • Laicization is at the request of the cleric who wishes to be relieved of his obligations of celibacy and no longer wants to celebrate his sacred ministry.

Both actions have the same effect: Defrocked and laicized deacons, priests and bishops are prohibited from celebrating the sacraments of the church and from wearing clerical dress. All requests for laicization must go to Rome, and only the Vatican can approve them.