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Holy Orders
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Holy Orders

This article is about the sacrament. Holy Orders was also the title of a 1908 book by Marie Corelli.

The sacrament of Holy Orders in the modern Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox and Anglican churches, includes three degrees: The Eastern Orthodox Church also has two minor orders, namely subdeacon and reader (or anagnostis). While a person becomes a bishop, priest, or deacon through ordination, one becomes a subdeacon or reader through tonsuring. In former times, the Roman Catholic church also had the four minor orders of porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte, which were conferred on seminarians pro forma before they became subdeacons and then deacons. The last of these was suppressed under Pope Paul VI.

Such titles as Cardinal, Monsignor, Archbishop, etc., are not orders to which a man is ordained; to receive one of those titles is not an instance of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Table of contents
1 Definition of "order"
2 Meaning of priesthood
3 Process and sequence
4 Recognition of other churches' orders
5 Marriage and holy orders
6 Chastity and celibacy
7 See also

Definition of "order"

The word ordo (order, in Latin) designated an established civil body or corporation, and ordinatio meant legal incorporation into an ordo. The three degrees of Holy Orders represent ordines.

Meaning of priesthood

The Catholic church sees the priesthood as both a reflection of the ancient temple priesthood of the Jews and the person of Jesus Christ. The liturgy of ordination recalls the Old Testament priesthood and the priesthood of Christ. In the words of St Thomas Aquinas, "Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a prefiguration of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ" Summa Theologica III, 22, 4c. See Presbyterorum Ordinis for the Second Vatican Council decree on the nature of the Catholic priesthood.

Process and sequence

The arrangement given above, "bishops, priests, and deacons" is in the reverse order of ordination. For Roman Catholics, it is typically in the last year of seminary training that a man will be ordained to the diaconate, called by Roman Catholics in recent times the "transitional diaconate" to distinguish men bound for priesthood from those who have entered the "permanent diaconate" and do not intend to seek further ordination. Deacons, whether transitional or permanent, are licensed to preach sermons, to perform baptisms, and to witness marriages, but to perform no other sacraments. They may assist at the Eucharist or the Mass, but are not the ministers of the Eucharist. Orthodox seminarians are typically tonsured as readers before entering seminary, and may later be made subdeacons or deacons; customs vary between seminaries and between Orthodox jurisdictions.

After at least six months or more as a transitional deacon a man will be ordained to the priesthood. Priests are able to preach, perform baptisms, witness marriages, hear confessions and give absolutions, and celebrate the Eucharist or the Mass.

For Anglicans, a person is ordained a deacon once they have completed their training at a theological college. They then typically serve as a curate and are ordained as priest a year later. Deacons must be at least 23 years old, and priests 24. Anglican deacons can preach sermons, perform baptisms and conduct funerals, but, unlike priests, cannot conduct marriages or celebrate the Eucharist. In most branches of the Anglican church, women can be ordained as priests, but usually cannot be ordained a bishop. Anglican priests have to be at least 30 before they can be chosen to become a bishop.

Bishops are chosen from among the priests, and are the leaders of territorial units called dioceses. Only bishops can validly administer the sacrament of holy orders. In Latin-rite Catholic churches and Anglican churches, only bishops may lawfully administer the sacrament of confirmation, but if an ordinary priest administers that sacrament illegally, it is nonetheless considered valid, so that the person confirmed cannot be confirmed again, by a bishop or otherwise. In Eastern-rite Catholic churches, confirmation is done by parish priests via the rite of chrismation, and is usually administered to both neonates and adults immediately after their baptism.

Recognition of other churches' orders

Roman Catholics recognize the validity of holy orders administered in Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches because those churches have maintained the apostolic succession of bishops, i.e., their bishops claim to be in a line of succession dating back to the Apostles, just as Catholic bishops do. Consequently, if a priest of one of those eastern churches converts to Catholicism, he is automatically a Catholic priest. Eastern Orthodox bishops can, and normally do, grant recognition to the holy orders of converts who were earlier ordained in the Catholic church; that is part of the policy called church economy. Anglican churches, unlike most Protestant churches, maintain the succession, their bishops being successors of English bishops who converted to Protestantism in the 16th century. A controversy in the Catholic church over the question of whether Anglican holy orders are valid was dogmatically settled by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, who wrote that Anglican orders lack validity because the rite by which priests are ordained is not correctly performed. Eastern Orthodox bishops generally grant "economy" when Anglican priests convert to Orthodoxy. Catholics do not recognize ordination of ministers in Protestant churches that do not maintain the apostolic succession.

Marriage and holy orders

The rules discussed in this section are not considered to be among the infallible dogmas of the church, but are mutable rules of discipline. See clerical celibacy for a more detailed discussion.

Married men may be ordained to the diaconate as Permanent Deacons, but in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church may not be ordained to the priesthood. In the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox Church married deacons may be ordained priests, but may not become bishops. Bishops in the Eastern Rites and the Eastern Orthodox churches are drawn only from among monks, who have taken a vow of celibacy.

There are cases of permanent deacons who, left widowed by the death of a wife, have been ordained to the priesthood. There have been some situations in which men previously married and ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood and allowed to function much as an Eastern Rite priest but in a Latin Rite setting.

Chastity and celibacy

There is a difference between chastity and celibacy. Celibacy is the state of not being married, so a vow of celibacy is a promise not to enter into marriage but instead to consecrate one's life to service (in other words, "married to God"). Chastity, a virtue expected of all Christians, is the state of sexual purity; for a vowed celibate, or for the single person, chastity means the avoidance of sex. For the married person, chastity means the practice of sex only with the spouse, and even carries the expectation of intercourse with the spouse preferably at the sole scope of reproduction.

See also