CANON IV.If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; though all {the sacraments} are not necessary for every individual; let him be Anathema.


John 20: 21-22 21 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

John: 20: 23 Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.



He said to His apostles: This is my body which will given to you. This cup is the covenant in my blood. Do this in memory of me    Luke 22: 19-20


Holy Orders is absolutely and necessarily divine in its origins. It impresses an indelible character upon the soul of its recipients, and thus sets the ministers of the Church apart from the laity. Historically, various errors have impugned this concept. In the Middle Ages, certain heretics taught that the powers of the priesthood originated with the faithful rather than God. Some of these ideas were developed during the period of the reformation. More recently , however, the Church has witnessed a different trend among those who have extended the notion of the priesthood of the laity beyond legitimate bounds, with a consequent of the significance of, and respect for Holy Orders. In order to safeguard the sacredness of the ministry, the Church has promulgated a great number of laws pertaining to Holy Orders. Much of this legislation deals with the selection and training of candidates and other technical matters. These considerations are extraneous to the purpose of the present study, and will be omitted. Following the general lines of St. Thomas’ treatment, our consideration of the Holy Orders will be presented according to this division.





A  Its Definition

Holy Orders is a sacrament of the New Law certain spiritual powers are conferred with the grace to perform ecclesiastical duties worthily.

Saint Thomas following Peter Lombard, employs the ancient definition that Holy Orders “is a seal of the Church whereby spiritual power is granted to the one ordained.” (6) In the active sense, ordination is the action which confers a spiritual power and institutes a hierarchy of divine grades in the Church. Thus it is an outward sign, a “conferring of a seal,” of an inward grace and of spiritual power. As a sign instituted by Christ to give grace, Holy Orders is a sacrament.      (6) Cf. Supplement, q. 34,a

B The Parts of the Sacrament

Holy Orders comprises seven parts. There are the major orders of priesthood, diaconate and subdiaconate, and the minor orders of acolyte, exorcist, lector and porter. The older theologians and some moderns hold that subdiaconate and the minor orders are truly sacraments, whereas certain more recent theologians deny this. Similarity, the older theologians regarded the episcopacy as the fulfillment of the priesthood, whereas recent theologians see it as a distinct order. Neither opinion is certain, although the Council of Trent in defining that Holy Orders is truly a sacrament makes no distinction among the various orders. (7)

Clerical tonsure, which is a ceremonial clipping of part of the hair of the head, is not a part of Holy Orders. By tonsure, aspirants are inducted into the clerical state and affiliated to a particular diocese if they are not religious; they are made subject to the laws for clerics, sharers in clerical privileges, and fitted for the reception of Holy Orders.

The practice of the Church in conferring orders led to various theological opinions about the matter and form of the different orders. In 1947 the Holy Father Pius XII issued an apostolic constitution on the subject which determined the imposition of hands as the matter for the episcopacy, priesthood and diaconate, and certain designated words from the Prefaces of the different ceremonies as the form. The matter, form and powers of the seven orders are represented in the graph on the opposite page.

(7) Council of Trent, Session XXIII, “On Holy Orders” cf. Denzinger 963     (8)  CF. Dezinger 2301

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Jesus Christ is preeminently a priest. By the very fact of his Incarnation, he became the perfect mediator between God and men who would offer the perfect sacrifice for the redemption of mankind.


Order:a)Priesthood b)Matter c)Imposition of hands

d)Form: We beseech Thee, almighty Father, grant the dignity of Consecrate the Eucharist forgive of hands the priesthood to this Thy servant; renew in his heart sins administer sacraments not the spirit of holiness, that he may hold the office, the reserved to bishops; nourish the second in importance, which he has received from thee, the faithful by teaching and example. O God, and by the example of his life point out a norm of living.

Power: Consecrate the Eucharist; forgive sins; administer sacraments not reserved for bishops; nourish the faithful by teaching and example.


DIACONATE    Matter: Imposition of hands.Form.

“Send forth upon him, we beech Thee, O Lord, Thy Assist the priest immediately at O hands Holy Spirit, by whom he may be strength in faithfully solemn Mass; sing the Gospel discharging the works of Thy Ministry through the preach with permission of Ordinary; gift of Thy seven fold grace” baptize solemnly and distribute Communion with special permission.

POWER Assist the priest immediately at solemn Mass; sing the Gospel preach with permission of Ordinary; baptize solemnly and distribute Communion with special permission.


SUBDIACONATE Handling of “Behold whose ministry is entrusted to you. Therefore, Prepare matter for consecration is empty chalice I exhort you so to conduct yourselves that you may be sacred vessels; serve as a minister & paten; able to please God.” in solemn Mass; sing the Epistle; wash used corporals and purificators handling of “Receive the book of Epistle, and have the power of book reading them in the Holy Church of God, both for Epistles the living and for the dead, in the name of Father and of the Son, etc.”     

  ACOLYTE Handling of “Receive the candle and candlestick, and know that you Assist the sub deacon at solemn Mass: unlighted candle are appointed to light the lights of the church in the carry cruets at altar; light candles. In candlesticks in the name of the Lord”. and empty of cruets “Receive the cruet to minister wine and water for the Sacrifice of the blood of Christ in the name of the Lord.”

EXORCIST Handling of “Take and commit to memory, and have the power to Expel demons. {Public exorcism book of lay hands upon the possessed, whether they are requires permission of Ordination.} exorcisms baptized or catechumens.”

LECTOR Handling of “Receive, and be readers of the word of God. If you Read psalms and lessons in church; book of fulfill your office faithfully and profitably, yours will catechize; bless bread and first fruits. Lessons be the reward of those who have duty administered the word of God from the beginning.”

PORTER Handling “So act as if about to give an account to God of the Guard the doors to admit the worthy the Keys. the things which are kept under these keys.” and exclude the unworthy.

The perfect sacrifice of the perfect priest was confined in time and place to the first Good Friday on the hill of Calvary. But this sacrifice had to be extended to many if the divine plan of salvation was to become a reality. To extend the effects of that sacrifice and to apply its fruits down the ages and across the world, Christ instituted Holy Orders as a means for the continuation of His priestly work among men.

The divine architect leaves His impress upon His works so that they might mirror His likeness and perfection. Thus do the works of God proclaim his reality and his perfection to His creatures. The hallmark of divinity is order, and all creation is so ordered that the higher provides for the lower. This unity in diversity is the foundation of the beauty in the universe, and it is a reflection of beauty of God. In order that this beauty should not be lacking in the Church, Christ established Holy Orders, so that some in the Mystical body should deliver the sacraments to others. Thus they are made like to God in a most special way by co-operating with Him, even as in a physical body some members act upon others.

According to the economy of salvation designed by divine wisdom and divine love, therefore, Holy Orders is necessary, not {except in very special circumstances} for the individual Christian, but for the Church of Christ. In regard to the whole community, Saint. Thomas points out, man is perfected… by receiving power to rule the community and to exercise public acts. Corresponding to this in the life of the spirit is the sacrament of order, according to the remark of (Hebrews 7:27,) that priest offer sacrifice not for themselves only, but also for the people. (9)

(9) Summa, III, Q65. a.1.


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A. The Effects Themselves

Like all sacraments of the living, Holy Orders causes an increase of sanctifying grace in the soul of the recipient. In addition it confers a special sacramental grace which enables the recipient to discharge his special duties. Holy Orders also confers and indelible character upon the soul, which is a ministerial power whereby those ordained are deputed to their sacred functions. It is certain that a sacramental character is conferred in the priesthood and diaconate. It is the opinion of Saint Thomas and many reliable theologians {but by no means all}, that a character is impressed with the subdiaconate and the minor orders as well.

The different powers conferred by Holy Orders are included in the graph representing the various elements and parts of the sacrament. It should be noted that all these powers and functions are related to the Eucharist. Now the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity in the Church, and this indicates the Holy Orders is a social sacrament, given as a remedy to the whole Church, and not a personal favor to an individual.                                                             

B. The Recipients

The candidate for Holy Orders must fulfill certain conditions. Some of these are required for valid reception of the sacrament, while others are required for lawful reception.

1) Conditions for Valid Reception

To receive Holy Orders validly, the one to be ordained must be a baptized male person with at least the habitual intention of receiving the sacrament.

The condition requiring an intention at least habitual is common to the reception of all the sacraments, for without this intention the reception would not be human act.

The condition of being of the male sex may require some explanation. This founded upon the teaching of Saint. Paul: “Let woman keep silence in the churches, for it is ; not permitted them to speak, but let them be submissive, as the Law also says” (I Cor. 14: 340). “For I do not allow a woman to speak, or to exercise authority over men; but she is to keep quiet.” (Timothy 2:12-13). The entire Christian tradition bears this out, for Eve did not discharge any sacerdotal function, nor even is the Blessed Virgin honored with any priestly title.

Saint Thomas observes that it is necessary that the recipient of orders be a male as that the recipient of Extreme Unction be sick. For just as extreme unction signifies essentially a kind of healing that would be meaningless for those in good health, so holy orders signifies an eminence of degree that cannot be signified by the female. Nor is this a misogynous attitude. It is simply a recognition of the divinely instituted and profound difference between the sexes, each of which is enabled to make a distinctive contribution to the building of Christ’s Mystical Body. It is no more an affront to womanhood to declare that women are capable of the priesthood that it is an affront to declare that men are incapable of being the mothers of families. It may be remarked that while the unique glory of women is motherhood, there is a special distinction for those mothers whose sons are raised to holy orders.

Likewise, unbaptized males are incapable of receiving holy orders. Baptism imprints a character upon the soul which gives the subject the power to receive the other sacraments. Without this basic character, no other sacraments can be received validly.

2) Conditions for Lawful Reception

Over and above the conditions required to receive holy orders validly, certain others must be fulfilled to receive the sacrament lawfully. If any of these are lacking, the sacrament is truly received, but such reception is contrary to the law, and hence sinful. Some of these conditions are established by divine law; others by the Law of the Church. Each group will be examined briefly .

Divine Legislation. For lawful reception of holy orders, divine Law requires four things; the state of grace, the right intention, probity of life; and divine vocation

1) The state of grace. As a sacrament of the living, holy orders requires the recipient be in the state of grace . For anyone knowingly to receive orders in the state of sin would be a sacrilege, but the orders would still be received validly.

2) The right intention. This is not the same as the intention {at least habitual} to receive orders which is required for validity. Rather this is a matter of purpose one has in receiving orders. The laws of the Church warn superiors not to ordain those who give evidence that they desire the priesthood for some motive other that the purpose of promoting God’s glory and of saving souls through the exercise of the sacred ministry. Especially to be deterred are those suspected of desiring personal gain in the priesthood. The Church has established as elaborate inquiry to assure that candidates for the priesthood are properly motivated.

But even if a candidate were motivate by the worst possible intentions in receiving orders, he would still receive them validly, and could exercise them validly, if all conditions for validity were present. The priesthood is for the people, and no amount of personal unworthiness on the part of the priest can deprive those who need his ministrations. A priest forbidden the exercise of his office in punishment of crimes is still able to grant valid absolution, and he may do so lawfully if a dying Catholic asks him.

3) Probity of life. Everyone called to the priesthood is called to be a worthy priest. This means that he must give positive signs of virtue. Those who lead others in divine things should be examples of their own teaching. Purity, obedience, charity toward others are indispensable for the worthy exercise of the priesthood. Those other qualities are diligently investigated by authorities before promoting a candidate to orders.

4) Divine vocation. A priest is a mediator between God and men, and the dispenser of divine mysteries. But no one may lawfully undertake to dispenser the goods of another with out his authorization. Hence a divine vocation is required for holy orders, This is emphasized by Saint Paul: “And no man takes the honor to himself; he takes it who is called by God, as Aaron was” (Hebrew 5:4)

Among the more prominent signs of a divine vocation are these. (Acts 14, 22;-22) And when they had ordained to them priests in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, in whom they believed.

a) A good intention to honor God and promote the salvation of oneself and one’s neighbor.                                      b) The ability to discharge ecclesiastical tasks. This includes requisite health an the ability to complete successfully the studies required of students for the priesthood.                                    c) A life of virtue and perseverance in grace. The best guarantee of a virtuous future is a virtuous past. Candidates for the priesthood must give positive signs that they are both willing and able to live a life of grace and virtue constantly. From the outset, candidates for the priesthood are given special direction calculated to lead them to the degree of spiritual perfection and stability requisite for the worthy fulfillment of their ministry.                                      d) An official call or summons by the legitimate ecclesiastical superior. In every ceremony of ordination there is the official call or vocation by the ordaining prelate. Those are said to be called by God who are called by legitimate rulers of His Church.              e) Ecclesiastical legislation: In addition to the qualities required by divine law for the worthy reception of holy orders, the church makes further stipulations. These are very frequently complex, and designed to protect the sacredness of the ministry. There are eight requirements.

1) Testimonial letters from designated authorities who testify to the candidates qualifications must be presented to the ordaining prelate.

2) Canonical age must be attained. For subdiaconate, twenty–one years ; for diaconate, twenty–two, for priest hood, twenty four years complete years.

3) Required knowledge is demanded in different degrees for the different orders. Reception of tonsure and minor orders requires the completion of the course in philosophy and the beginning of the study of theology. Subdiaconate is not ordinarily conferred until near the end of the third year of theology. The diaconate is not conferred until the fourth year of theology has begun, and the priesthood only after the first half of the fourth year of theology. All the above studies must be completed successfully in seminaries approved by the Holy See.

4) Examinations dealing with the orders to be received {and also on certain theological tracts in the case of major orders} must be passed successfully.

5) Reception of minor orders must be preceded by a retreat of three days. A six; day retreat is required for major orders.

6) Intervals determined by law must be observed between the reception of the various orders so that the candidate is led gradually to the priesthood.

7) A title to sufficient and suitable support what will guarantee that the cleric will be able to devote himself entirely to the work of Christ’s Church is required for ordination. Some of the common titles are: service to the diocese for which one is ordained; poverty or solemn profession for religious clerics. These titles guarantee that a diocesan cleric will be able to find decent support in exchange for his labors in his diocese, and that a religious will be provided for by the institute to which he belongs.

8) Freedom from irregularities and impediments to orders. This is highly technical subject of interest only to clerics and their superiors, and not treatment of it is necessary here.

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A Its Institution

That Holy Orders is truly a sacrament is clearly taught in the Scriptures. “Do not neglect the grace that is in thee, granted to thee by reason of prophecy with the laying on of hands of the presbyterate” (I Timothy 4:14). “For this reason I admonish thee to stir up the grace of God which is in thee by laying on my hands.

For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but the power and of love and of prudence               (I Timothy 1: 6-7). Here we have described a sense-perceptible sacred action (the laying on of hands), the proximate matter of the sacrament, and the pronouncing of an accompanying prayer (cf Acts 6-6), the words of form, by a duly constituted minister {the presbyterate; Saint Paul himself} This whole ceremony is significative of the passing on the priestly power of Christ, and confers grace for this sacred office on its recipient. As the Council of Trent declares; Since it is very clear from the testimony of Scripture, from the Apostolic Tradition, and from the unanimous consent of the Fathers, that grace is conferred by sacred ordination, which is effected by the words and external signs, no one should doubt that order is truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of holy Church . . . . (10)

As a true sacrament, Holy Orders must have been instituted immediately by Christ himself, although it would seem that he left the specific determination of its matter and form to His Church, so that proper adjustments could be made a accordance with changing circumstances. Neither Sacred Scriptures nor the Church informs us for certain of the exact moment of its institution. But it seems likely that Christ instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper when he said to the apostles, Do this remembrance of me                                     Luke. 22:19. cf.   I Corinthians11:25).


(10) Session. XXIII Chap. 3, “On Holy Orders” (Denzinger, 959); cf. Denzinger. 963,                                                                                                         (11) Cf. The Council of Trent, Session. XXII. (Can. 949)

B. The Minister of the Sacrament

The ordinary minister of Holy Orders is a consecrated bishop, and no other. The episcopacy is the perfection of priestly power by which a bishop is enabled to dispense the priesthood to others. Simple priests do not have this power. In certain cases determined by law extraordinary minister who is not a bishop may confer tonsure and the minor orders. Generally speaking, the ordaining bishop is the Ordinary of the place where the candidate was born, or where the candidate has his residence. Exceptions to the general rule are provided in the law.

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In the sacrament of Extreme Unction we glimpse the Divine Healer; in Holy Orders we see the Eternal Priest. Both are indications of the unfailing care with which God surrounds His children. The hour of death brings fear and uncertainty into every heart. Death may sometimes be the lesser of evils, but it is always an evil. Faced with death, men realize the inadequacy of all human succor Only God the master of life and the conqueror of death, can fortify and console the soul in the face of death.

This strength and consolation is abundantly provided in Extreme Unction. It lends divine strength for the final struggle; it brings divine consolation with the knowledge that the remnants of sin are destroyed as a preparation for eternal life. So important is this sacrament that every Christian should pray daily that he may receive it in the hour of his death, and each should do everything possible to procure it in time for the faithful who are dying. Extreme Unction is the final sign of Christ’s care in this life, the last application of his saving grace to the soul.

The saving work of Christ is continued through His priesthood, inseparably united to Christ Himself in the Eucharist, The priest is a mediator between God and man, a dispenser of divine gifts. Nowhere is his mediation seen more clearly than in his Eucharistic ministry, wherein he offers mankind through and with Christ to God, and where he brings God to men in return. It is true that the priest is for the people; it is also true that the priest is for God. No one is ever a priest solely for himself.

Humanly speaking, then, the priest sets lout on a lonely journey. He must remain in the world; else his priesthood does not avail those for whom he is ordained. He must not become of the world, worldly, else his life beclouds the brightness of the divine image he is called to reflect, not only what he does, but also by what he is. His ordination makes him a servant of the Eucharistic Christ, and his heart must accept this destiny, for no other fulfillment shall ever given him.

The Church must be solicitous for good priest and she must train them well. She prays that they may increase both in number and in quality. But if, unhappily, a choice must be made, the quality is always to be preferred. It is unthinkable that Christ would not give the grace of divine vocation sufficiently to insure an adequate priesthood. Yet there are many places where the number of priests is far short of the needs. Perhaps the defect is to be found in the home and in the hearts of young men. Grace is a gift, not a compulsion, and some there are who reject it. Then there are homes in which the seed of the divine vocation is smothered by the weeds of world cares, weeds cultivated perhaps by the very parents who should solicitous for the true happiness of those whom they thwart.

The priesthood is great sigh of contradiction, for it is a living declaration of the dependence of man upon Christ, and especially of the priest himself upon Christ. To acknowledge this dependence is to go against the grain of nature with its heritage of pride from the primal sin. To do this occasionally is not much; to do it as a way of life is quite another thing, and few are chosen. Yet only thus can mankind return to God through Christ whose kingdom is for the childlike in soul. Christ the Priest has provided the means through Holy Orders by which the fruits if his redemption are applied that bring the elect to life everlasting.

Two practical points are offered in particular for the thoughtful consideration of the student.                                      

 1) “My eyes have seen vanities, but now let them be shut to the world, and open to thee alone, my Jesus; and pardon me all the sins I have committed by my seeing.

“My ears have been open to detraction, profaneness and unprofitable discourses: let me now give ear to thy word, to thy commands and to thy call; and pardon me, O Jesus, all the sins I have committed by my hearing.

I have taken delight in the perfumes of this world, which are nothing but corruptions: now let my heart and prayers ascend like incense in thy sight, and pardon me, O Lord, all the sins I have committed by sense of smell.

My tongue has many ways offended, both in speaking and tasting; now let its whole business to be cry for mercy; pardon me, dear Jesus, all the sins I have committed by words, or by any excess in eating and drinking.

My hands have offended in contributing to many follies injurious to myself and to my neighbor: now let them be lifted up to heaven in testimony of a penitent heart; and pardon me, O Lord, all the sin I have committed by the ill use of my hands.

My feet have gone astray in the paths of vanity and sin: now let me walk in the way of thy commandments; and forgive me, O lord all the sins I have committed by my disordered steps . . .” (12)        

2) “For the social needs of the Church Christ has provided in a particular was two sacraments which he instituted. Through matrimony. . . . provision is made for the external and properly regulated increase of Christian society . . . through Holy Orders men are set a side and consecrated to God, to offering sacrifice the Eucharist Victim, to feed the flock of the faithful with the bread of angels and the food of doctrine, to guide them in the way of God’s commandments and counsels, and to strengthen them all the other supernatural helps.” (13)

(12) Rite used in the anointing of the sick as found in the Roman Ritual.                                                                                                                    (13) Pope Pius XII , Mysticei Coporis (Paulist Press trans), 791

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(1) Prayer For The Universal Restoration of The Roman Rite & Liturgy:

O God, who didst choose Blessed Pius V as supreme Pontiff in order to shatter the enemies of Thy Church and to restore the Sacred Liturgy, grant us His protection so that, cleaving to Thy service, we may overcome the snares of all our enemies and enjoy perpetual peace.  Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen

(2) God Our Father , please send us Holy Priests All for the Sacred and Eucharistic heart of Jesus All for the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary In union with St. Joseph. Ava, Ava, Ava Maria, Ava, Ava, Ava Maria

(3) Three Our Fathers 3) Three Hail Mary’s 3) Three Glory Be


The tract on Holy Orders is treated in the “Supplement,” Questions XXIV-XL. For an easier approach to this teaching, the book Themselves Christian Priesthood: or the Sacrament of Order {New York; The Macmillan Co., 1931}, by Charles Cronin, give and excellent die and explanation of the important doctrinal points concerned with the priesthood. Another book which is highly recommended is Holy Orders and Ordination {St. Louis: B. Hender Book Co., 1928}, by J.Tixeront.

A short but solid study of orders is the essay, “The Seven Orders of Christ,” by J. Crehan in Theologians Studies, XIX,(1958), 81-93. Consult also The Teaching of the Catholic Church, Vol II, Chapter XXIV, “The Sacrament of Order,” by Very Rev. Canon C Cronin.

Intro Bapt Conf Pena HolComm HolOrd ExtUnc Matr Confs Sacr Misc TraSit


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