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The dignity of priesthood

By Sean Martin
John Paul II Generation

St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, said "If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love” (CCC 1589). The Easter and Pentecost seasons give us time to reflect on the institution of the Catholic Church, the Sacramental life of the Church and the institution of the Holy Priesthood. It has been a blessing for me to be able to be present at the Chrism and Holy Thursday Liturgies. What struck me at the Chrism Mass this year was Christ’s gift of the priesthood to the Church and the calling of each and every priest to utter dedication and sacrifice. We need to thank our priests for saying yes to this calling by God. In order that our priests stay faithful and live up to this calling, we ought to pray for them! We should speak kindly of them and support them by inviting them to our events and into our homes. We should uphold the dignity of priests. Some cultures kiss the hands of priests to signify their respect and love for the ministerial priestly office. In our culture, we show our respect to priests and recognize their spiritual fatherhood by calling them Father. Let us ponder Christ’s gift of the priesthood and uphold the dignity of priests.

What is the Sacrament of 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. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate” (CCC 1536). Each degree of Holy Orders receives the powers to teach, govern, and sanctify to greater or lesser degree. Each degree of Holy Orders can only be received once because it “confers an indelible spiritual character” (CCC 1582).

“The bishop receives the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders” (CCC 1594). The bishop is a successor to the apostles and is a member of the college of bishops throughout the whole world. He can confer or preside over all seven Sacraments, he shepherds or governs a region or diocese, and he has the authority to teach the faith that was given to us by Jesus Christ.

The priest receives their faculties and responsibilities from the bishop (CCC 1595). The priest can confer or preside over six of the seven Sacraments. He governs and teaches the faith usually in a parish setting.

Under the authority of their bishop, the deacons are charged with tasks of service. They proclaim and teach the Gospel, perform charitable deeds, and aid in the governing of the people of God (CCC 1596).

Who can receive Holy Orders?
Any male who is a full member of the Catholic Church, in good standing, and approved by ecclesial authorities can receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. "’Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination.’ The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible” (CCC 1577).

Who is the minister of Holy Orders?
Through Apostolic Succession our present day bishops have received that same power given by Christ to Ordain. Only bishops have the power and authority to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Orders (CCC 1576).

What is needed for Holy Orders?
The essential elements for the Sacrament of Holy Orders are the proper form, matter, and intentions. The proper form is the words of consecration said by the minister. The proper matter consists of the minister Laying on of Hands. The minister must intend to do what the Church intends for the Sacrament of Holy Orders.


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