“I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15).
In these words from the prophet Jeremiah, God promises his people that he will never leave them without shepherds to gather them together and guide them.
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 (Bishops), presbyterate (Priesthood), and diaconate. Each of these degrees of Holy Orders is received from the Bishop at the time of ordination.
Ordination is the sacramental act, which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons. The laying of hands of the bishop on the candidate constitutes the visible sign of this ordination.
This sacrament confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a sacred power, which comes only from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is also called consecration, especially for the order of Bishops, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his Church.
Christ instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper. In the Gospels the Lord Jesus chose males to form the college of the twelve apostles. In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.
The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, through the unbroken apostolic succession, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. Priests are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the one high priest, embodying his way of life and making him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care.
In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ – the head and shepherd – authoritatively proclaiming his word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation – particularly in baptism, penance and the Eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit. In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the head and shepherd, the Eternal High Priest of our faith.
The consciousness that one is a minister of Jesus Christ the head and shepherd also brings with it a thankful and joyful awareness that one has received a singular grace and treasure from Jesus Christ: the grace of having been freely chosen by the Lord to be a “living instrument” in the work of salvation. This choice bears witness to Jesus Christ’s love for the priest. This love, like other loves and yet even more so, demands a response.
In order to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders a baptized man has to be called by God. Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God’s call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be receivedonly as an unmerited gift. Because it involves an interior motion of the Spirit in the candidate, both he and the Church need to discern if he has received the gift of a vocation to the priesthood. The actions of the candidate, his prayer life, and his obedience to authority, his love for the Church and his assent to Catholic teachings, however, objectively manifest the genuine existence of this interior motion. Therefore, the Church asks the candidate to go through a period of spiritual, pastoral, human and academic formation that generally takes place in a seminary or a house of formation so that he and his Bishop can determine the existence of a legitimate vocation to the Priesthood.
What is true of every vocation is true specifically of the priestly vocation: The priesthood is a call, by the sacrament of Holy Orders received in the Church, to place oneself at the service of the People of God with a particular belonging and configuration to Jesus Christ and with the authority of acting “in the name and in the person” of him who is head and shepherd of the Church.
The history of every priestly vocation, as indeed of every Christian vocation, is the history of an inexpressible dialogue between God and human beings, between the love of God who calls and the freedom of individuals who respond lovingly to him.
If the priestly vocation bears unequivocal witness to the primacy of grace, God’s free and sovereign decision to call man calls for total respect. It cannot be forced in the slightest by any human ambition, and it cannot be replaced by any human decision. Vocation is a gift of God’s grace and never a right, such that “one can never consider priestly life as a simply human affair, nor the mission of the minister as a simply personal project.”
Every claim or presumption on the part of those called
Is thus radically excluded. Their entire heart and spirit should be filled with an amazed and deeply felt gratitude, an unshakable trust and hope, because those who have been called know that they are rooted not in their own strength but in the unconditional faithfulness of God who calls.
According to the Acts of the Apostles, as the Church began to grow in numbers after the Resurrection of Christ, the Apostles decided to chose men as collaborators to assist them in their ministerial work, especially with works of mercy and charity so that they could concentrate on prayer and the proclamation of the Word (Acts 6). Thus, the order of deacons emerged.
The diaconate is a particular ministry received through ordination. It is the lower degree in the sacrament of Holy Orders. Their vocation is to collaborate with the bishop especially in works of mercy. They also assist with Marriages, Baptisms and distribution of the Eucharist. There are two types of deacons, namely transitional and permanent. A transitional deacon is a candidate for the priesthood, who as part of his preparation has been ordained to the diaconate. A permanent deacon is a man who has received a particular vocation to ministry in the Church and for the Church. A married man can be ordained a permanent deacon.