By Father William Summerlin (Diocese of Lafayette, In ’19)
On August 1, we joyfully celebrated the ordination of three men for our diocese. Father Michael Block was ordained a priest, and Deacon Elliot Zak and Deacon Andrew Thornton were ordained as transitional deacons (to be ordained priests next year). I think this occasion is a good time to remind ourselves of the theological and spiritual meaning of ordination, otherwise known as the sacrament of holy orders.
There are seven sacraments: baptism, confession/reconciliation, Eucharist, confirmation, anointing of the sick, holy matrimony, and holy orders. The sacrament of “Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus, it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry”(CCC, 1536). What makes the sacrament of holy orders unique is that it consists of three degrees: bishop, priest, and deacon. Each of these three degrees has its own ordination. Therefore, a bishop has been ordained three times – first as a deacon, second as a priest, and then as a bishop.
All of the sacraments confer grace, and each sacrament confers grace that is proper to it. For example, baptism washes us clean of original sin (and personal sin if we are baptized as adults) and incorporates us into the Church. Confession confers the forgiveness of all sins. Confirmation confers a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, etc. Therefore, what is the grace that is conferred when a man receives the sacrament of holy orders? The sacrament of holy orders confers what is called an indelible mark (otherwise known as a sacramental character or an ontological change). An indelible mark is a permanent alteration of the soul. Nothing can remove this indelible mark once it is received. In fact, indelible marks remain in eternal life! We all are given indelible marks when we receive the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, and as I mentioned, men who receive the sacrament of holy orders receive another indelible mark. The indelible mark that both bishops and priests receive configures their souls to Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church. Therefore, we say that bishops and priests act in persona Christi capitis. The indelible mark that deacons receive configures their souls to Jesus Christ the servant.
Flowing from their indelible marks, men who receive the sacrament of holy orders are able to perform certain functions that are meant to build up the Church. A bishop is a successor of the Apostles.
The line from the original Apostles to today’s bishops has remained unbroken for over 2000 years. When you stop and think about it, that is absolutely incredible.
The line from the original Apostles to today’s bishops has remained unbroken for over 2000 years. When you stop and think about it, that is absolutely incredible. Based upon this, it is said that a bishop has received the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders. He is given the three offices of teaching, governing, and sanctifying, and he can celebrate all seven of the sacraments. While a bishop may have a variety of different jobs, he is typically the chief shepherd of a diocese.
A priest is a coworker of the bishops. Like a bishop, a priest’s soul is configured to Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church (inpersona Christi capitis). However, a priest’s ministry is exercised in union with and as an extension of his bishop. That’s why, at his ordination, he makes a promise of obedience to his bishop and his bishop’s successors. Because a priest is a co-worker of the bishops, he also is given the three offices of teaching, governing, and sanctifying. He can celebrate six of the seven sacraments–baptism, confession/reconciliation, Eucharist/Mass, anointing of the sick, the witness of holy matrimony, and confirmation (with delegation from the bishop). The only sacrament that he cannot celebrate is holy orders (i.e.he cannot ordain other men).
While bishops and priests are ordained unto the priesthood of Jesus Christ, deacons are ordained unto the ministry (CCC, 1569). Their souls are configured to Jesus Christ, the servant. “Among other tasks, it is the tasks of deacons to assist the bishop and the priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, [in celebrating baptisms], in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching [homilies], in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity”(CCC, 1570). There is one order of deacon, but it is lived out in two different ways: permanent and transitional (men who will later be ordained priests).
The sacrament of holy orders is a beautiful gift from God. Through this sacrament, we are able to receive all of the other sacraments. Let us pray for our bishops, priests, and deacons, and let us especially pray for Father Michael Block, Deacon Elliot Zak, and Deacon Andrew Thornton.
Read the original publication from The Catholic Moment.