The seven sacraments of the Church is divided into three parts- baptism, confirmation and holy Eucharist are called Sacrament of Initiation, Reconciliation and Anointing of the sick are called Sacraments of Healing. The last two Holy Order and Matrimony are called sacraments of service of communion because they minister to our salvation. The Church teaches two priesthoods: the priesthood of all the faithful and the priesthood of the ordained. The common priesthood is by the baptismal grace we all receive, and the ministerial priesthood is rooted in the sacrament of Holy Orders; and both priesthoods share in Christ’s priesthood. The origin of priesthood goes back to Old Testament. The first priest figure encountered is Melchizedek, who offered the sacrifice of bread and wine on behalf of Abraham (Gen. 14:18-20), and he symbolizes the permanence of priesthood: “Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever” (Ps 110:4). Within the people of Israel who are the chosen people of God, God chose the tribe of Levi and set them apart for liturgical service (Ex 19:6). They are to guard the Ark of the Covenant and offer sacrifice and gifts for the people’s sins.
They also proclaim the Word of God and lead the people in worship of God. This prefigures the priests in the New Covenant. When people hear of “ordination”, their minds go to the priesthood, because that is where they experience the sacrament of Holy Orders. Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission of Jesus Christ entrusted to his apostles is exercised in the Church. There are three levels of participation in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: episcopate (as bishop), presbyterate (as priest), and diaconate (as deacon). In all of these ministries, men are commissioned by a laying-on of hands by the bishop (CCC 1538) to serve the Church and make present for God’s people his saving mysteries. A bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament; he is the head or Ordinary of the local Church.
He is also a member of the episcopal college (this is all the bishops who, in communion with the pope, guide the Church). The ordained priests represent Christ and unite with the bishop in teaching, shepherding and sanctifying God’s people. In the offering of the Holy Mass, the priests represent the whole Church and acts in her name. They are not a substitute for Christ, but they make Christ present in a similar way Christ is in the bread and wine at Mass. They are co-workers of the bishop, and are responsible for the preaching and teaching of the Good News, to shepherd the people of God, and lead them in worship of God. There are also Religious priests who belong to a religious community, like the Dominicans, Jesuits, Augustinians, Claretians, and Franciscans. They belong to a religious order founded by priest or brother in response to a special need of the Church at a particular time In the Church’s history. The deacons are called as ministers of service, delegated to act in the name of the Church. They are to preach, to baptize, witness marriages, and to work in areas of pastoral governance and the service of charity.
Rite of the Holy
Orders The essential rite of ordination for priests occurs when the bishop lays hands on the head of the person being ordained and invokes a special prayer of consecration asking God for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the ordained that he may serve God and his people with love and fidelity. This rite is same for the ordination of a bishop and also a deacon. The deacons are ordained not to ministerial priesthood, but to the ministry of service. By this ordination, they can baptize, bless marriages, preside at funerals, proclaim the Gospel and preach.
Who may be ordained?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that no one has a right ordination. Anyone who believes he has a call to priestly vocation must submit his desire to the Church who has the responsibility to discern the genuiness of the vocation. This process of discernment takes place during the formation period in the seminary. The bishop of the diocese to which he belongs has the final say. It must be made clear here, that ONLY a baptized male (Catholic) who may be ordained in the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Celibacy emphasizes the unique role of the priest. The priest conform himself to Christ in every way possible to carry out the mission entrusted to him. He follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who was also a celibate. In a spiritual and a practical way, celibacy allows the priest’s first priority to be the Church and helps him to be more devoted to the service of God.
Reasons for celibacy:
• By choosing not to marry, the priest is conforming himself more to Christ who was never married, so that he can totally dedicate himself with undivided heart to God.
• By living a celibate life for the sake of the Gospel, he becomes an eschatological sign to remind the people that our stay here is temporal, there is need to set our sights on the city where God is all in all.
• The priest’s concern for the Church must be total, so that his individual attention and love are centered on his ministry and the service of the Christian community (1Cor. 7:32-34)
Graces of the Sacrament of Holy Orders
• Like the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, confers an indelible spiritual character (seal) on the soul of the ordained (that is why priests who has left active priesthood or has been laicized or forbidden to exercise his priestly duties, is still a priest). This spiritual character configures the priest to Christ in a special way, enabling him to celebrate the Eucharist and represent Christ as the Head of the Church and act in the name of the whole Church.
• The Holy Spirit offers each bishop, priest and deacon the graces and gifts necessary to live a holy life and faithfully carry out their ministerial duties.
• The sinfulness or unworthiness of the priest does not prevent the recipient of the sacraments from receiving the graces in the sacraments, because it is Christ who acts in all the sacraments through the priests. In St. Mathew’s gospel, Jesus said to the young rich man: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt. 19:21). Not everyone who has heard this invitation of Jesus wants to follow this command, but there are those men who do even today. The priests make huge sacrifices to be the servants of God in the service of His people (rich and poor like). We all need to support them in every way we can, especially with our prayers. God bless.
• Rev. Sr. Mary Judith Madueke EHJ, Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Lagos