"The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou art a priest for
ever according to the order of Melchisedech."
John 20:19-23 "Now when it was late that same day, the first of the
week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered
together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and
said to them: Peace be to you. And when he had said this, he shewed
them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when
they saw the Lord. He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As
the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he
breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose
sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you
shall retain, they are retained."
Acts 6:3,6 "Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of
good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint
over this business...These they set before the apostles; and they
praying, imposed hands upon them."
II Timothy 1:6 (St. Paul to Timothy, whom he ordained) "For which cause
I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee,
by the imposition of my hands."
St. Francis of Assisi (later quoted by St. John Vianney): "If I saw an
Angel and a priest, I would bend my knee first to the priest and then
to the Angel."
In the Latin Church, there are seven clerical orders, all mentioned
together 1 in the Historical
record by Eusebius (b. A.D. 260) in the 43rd Chapter of the 6th Book of
his "Church History." The lowest 5 are ecclesiastical in origin; the
higher two are of divine origin. The seven orders are, in descending
- The 3
Major or "Sacred" Orders:
- I: Priests:
- Bishops: The
First Degree of the Priesthood:
Bishops have the greatest authority and jurisdiction (aside from Popes
and Patriarchs), and have the powers to ordain men into the diaconate
and priesthood, and to offer the Sacrament of Confirmation (this last
power they can delegate to a priest), to dedicate churches and altars,
to consecrate chalices and patens and bells, and to preside at the
benediction of abbots. They are said to exercise the fullness of the
priesthood. The symbol of this office is the mitre.
- Priests: The
Second Degree of the Priesthood
The duties and powers of the priest are to confect the Eucharist at the
Mass; offer the Sacraments of Penance, Communion, and Unction; to preside
at the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; to solemnly baptize; to
preach; to teach, guide, and sanctify his sheep. With ordination to the
priesthood, a man has received the fullness of the Sacrament of Order.
The symbols of this office are the stole, the chasuble, a paten with
bread on it, and a Chalice filled with wine.
- II: Deacons:
The duties of the deacon are to handle the sacred vessels, to be of
service to the priests and Bishops (inside and outside of the liturgy),
to read the Epistle and Gospel at the Mass, to be general stewards, and
to serve the widows and orphans. This Order is Sacramental, and the
first of the three divinely-instituted grades of the hierarchy of
Orders, the others being the priesthood and the episcopate. The symbols
of this office are the dalmatic, the stole (worn over the left
shoulder, as opposed to around the neck as priests wear them, and under
the dalmatic), and the Book of the Gospels.
The duties of a subdeacon are to serve the deacon at Mass; to prepare
the bread, wine, and sacred vessels for the Sacrifice; to present the
chalice and paten at the Offertory, and pour water into the wine for
the Eucharist; to chant the Epistle; and to wash the sacred linens.
This office is non-sacramental, but it is now that the vow of celibacy
is taken. The symbols of this order are the empty Chalice and the
paten, basin and towel, two little cruets, and the book of epistles.
- The 4
- IV: Acolytes:
The duties of the acolyte are to light the Altar candles, carry the
candles in procession, prepare the water and wine for the Mass, and
assist the priest during the Mass The symbols of this order are the
candle, the cruet, and a linen bag. (Note that altar boys are sometimes
designated "acolytes" and fulfill the duties of the acolyte during the
- V: Exorcists:
In the early Church, the duty of the exorcist was to cast out demons.
Now that duty belongs to the priest alone, but this minor order is kept
in traditional priestly societies nonetheless. The symbol for this
order is the book containing the Rite of Exorcism.
- VI: Lectors
The duty of the lector is to chant the Epistle when Mass is sung
without a deacon and subdeacon. The symbol of this order is the Book of
- VII: Porters
(Doorkeepers or Ostiaries or Sextons):
The duties of the porter are to ring the bells, to open the church and
sacristy, and to open the book for the priest. Most of these duties
have passed to the laity, such as sacristans, etc., but in traditional
priestly orders, this clerical order is kept as an office and
stepping-stone toward the priesthood. The symbol for this order is keys.
A man who is to become a priest first receives the "tonsure" -- i.e.,
he is received into the clerical state by being given a surplice and
having hair shorn away at the crown of the head (over the last 400
years or so, the hair-shearing has passed out of use due to Protestant
persecutions). With the tonsure, he becomes a cleric, but still has not
received the Sacrament of Orders.
The tonsured cleric is then ordained to each of the Orders above, one
at a time, receiving the power of each office, and ascending up through
the ranks until he is raised to the dignity of the priesthood, at which
time he receives the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Those of the Minor Orders are not obligated to pray the Divine Office
or bound to the rule of celibacy (but if they marry they lose their
office); however, once the Major Orders are entered into, there is no
going back, and from the level of deacon on up, the actual Sacrament of
Orders is received. Deacons receive partial fruits of the Sacrament,
priests receive the totality of the Sacrament, with only Bishops having
The Sacrament Itself
Here I will
focus on the elevation of men to the dignity of the priesthood.
Holy Orders is the Sacrament by which men become priests and are given
a sacred power (sacra
potestas) to act in total sacramental identification with Christ
(i.e., to act in persona Christi) in order confect Christ's
Body and offer it up to the Father at the Mass for the remission of
sins; to forgive sins through the Sacrament of Penance; to solemnly
baptize; to preside during the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; to offer
Unction to the dying; to preach; and to otherwise teach, guide, and
sanctify their sheep. With -- and only with -- the permission of his
Bishop, he may be delegated to offer the Sacrament of Confirmation, but
to the Bishop alone is reserved the power to ordain other priests
(though a priest may be delgated to ordain men to the sub-diaconate and
the minor orders).
As in Baptism and Confirmation, the Sacrament of Holy Orders leaves an
indelible mark on the soul of the recipient and can never be repeated
once validly received; once a priest, always a priest (even if a priest
is laicized and removed from his office, this mark remains).
As said, the minister of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the Bishop,
and the matter of the Sacrament is the imposition of hands, which takes
place during the beautiful ceremony of ordination. The form of the
Sacrament is the words:
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty Father, to these Thy
servants, the dignity of the Priesthood; renew the spirit of holiness
within them, so that they may hold from Thee, O God, the office of the
second rank in Thy service and by the example of their behavior afford
a pattern of holy living.
Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Pater, in hos famulos tuos presbyterii
dignitatem. Innova in visceribus eorum spiritum sanctitatis, ut
acceptum a te, Deus, secundi meriti munus obtineant; censuramque morum
exemplo suae conversationis insinuent.
recipient of the Sacrament must be a baptized, healthy male, at least
25 years of age, who has a vocation from God, a strong Catholic faith,
intelligence, a good moral character, and a life marked by sanctity. He
must be committed to living a celibate and chaste life, and to prayer
(especially the Divine Office, which he is obligated to pray), and must
have been properly formed in seminary.
Traditional priestly formation, such as that undertaken by seminarians
of the S.S.P.X., lasts for 6 years and includes a thorough study of
Latin, liturgy, liturgical chant, philosophy, Theology, Church History,
moral Theology, dogmatic Theology, and Canon Law. During the first
year, they receive the cassock; during the second, the tonsure; during
the third and fourth, they are ascend through the minor orders; in the
fifth, they are ordained to the sub-diaconate and then the diaconate;
and after the sixth, they are ordained priests. The seminarian's days
are heavily scheduled, much like a monk's, with daily Mass, the Divine
Office, classes, private study, and community devotions.
Not all priests work in dioceses. Typically, those who do are called
"secular priests" or "diocesan priests," and most of these work in
parishes and, so, are also called "parish priests." Secular priests
make promises of chastity and obedience to the local Ordinary (no
promise of poverty is made). Other priests belong to religious orders (e.g., the Carmelites,
Dominicans, Franciscans, etc.) and offer Mass for the people of their
religious order. These men are called "religious priests" (though
sometimes a "religious priest" might work for a parish in some cases).
Religious priests make the solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and
obedience to the superiors of their religious community that all
members of their Order make.
The Rite of Ordination
The Rite of
Ordination, which you can watch online in video here (will open in new browser
window), is as follows (taken from the Catholic Encyclopdia):
candidates...present themselves in the church with tonsure and in
clerical dress, carrying the vestments of the order to which they are
to be raised, and lighted candles. They are all summoned by name, each
candidate answering "Adsum". When a general ordination takes place the
tonsure is given after the Introit or Kyrie, the minor orders after the
Gloria, subdiaconate after the Collect, the diaconate after the
Epistle, priesthood after Alleluia and Tract. After the Tract of the
Mass the archdeacon summons all who are to receive the priesthood. The
candidates, vested in amice, alb, girdle, stole, and maniple, with
folded chasuble on left arm and a candle in their right hand, go
forward and kneel around the bishop. The latter inquires of the
archdeacon, who is here the representative of the Church as it were,
whether the candidates are worthy to be admitted to the priesthood. The
archdeacon answers in the affirmative and his testimony represents the
testimony of fitness given in ancient times by the clergy and people.
The bishop, then charging the congregation and insisting upon the
reasons why "the Fathers decreed that the people also should be
consulted", asks that, if anyone has anything to say to the prejudice
of the candidates, he should come forward and state it.
The bishop then instructs and admonishes the candidates as to the
duties of their new office. He kneels down in front of the altar; the
ordinandi lay themselves prostrate on the carpet, and the Litany of the Saints is chanted or
recited. On the conclusion of the Litany, all arise, the candidates
come forward, and kneel in pairs before the bishop while he lays both
hands on the head of each candidate in silence. The same is done by all
priests who are present. Whilst bishop and priests keep their right
hands extended, the former alone recites a prayer, inviting all to pray
to God for a blessing on the candidates. After this follows the Collect
and then the bishop says the Preface, towards the end of which occurs
the prayer, "Grant, we beseech Thee etc." The bishop then with
appropriate formulŠ crosses the stole over the breast of each one and
vests him with the chasuble. This is arranged to hang down in front but
is folded behind. Though there is no mention of the stole in many of
the most ancient Pontificals, there can be no doubt of its antiquity.
The vesting with the chasuble is also very ancient and found already in
Mabillon "Ord. VIII and IX." Afterwards the bishop recites a prayer
calling down God's blessing on the newly-ordained. He then intones the
"Veni Creator", and whilst it is being sung by the choir he anoints the
hands of each with the oil of catechumens...
...The bishop then hands to each the chalice, containing wine and
water, with a paten and a host upon it. This rite, with its
corresponding formula,.. [signifying] the power which has already been
received, is not found in the oldest rituals and probably dates back
not earlier than the ninth or tenth century. When the bishop has
finished the Offertory of the Mass, he seats himself before the middle
of the altar and each of those ordained make an offering to him of a
lighted candle. The newly-ordained priests then repeat the Mass with
him, all saying the words of consecration simultaneously. Before the
Communion the bishop gives the kiss of peace to one of the
newly-ordained. After the Communion the priests again approach the
bishop and say the Apostle's Creed. The bishop laying his hands upon
each says: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive
they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are
retained." ...The chasuble is then folded, the newly-ordained make a
promise of obedience and having received the kiss of peace, return to
It is customary
for those who attend the priest's Ordination and/or first Mass to kiss
the palms of his hands which have been consecrated by holy oils.
Palm-kissing at either time results in an indulgence
of 100 days under the usual conditions. An indulgence of 7 years, under
the usual conditions, was traditionally received for piously attending
a priest's first Mass -- the indulgence having been plenary if the one
attending is related to the third degree to the newly-ordained priest.
Indulgenced or not, kissing a newly-ordained priest's hands is the
traditional practice. To do so, kneel on the left knee (or bow
profoundly if kneeling is not an option) and kiss the palm of each hand.
Changes in the Rite
In the Novus
Ordo rite, the minor orders have been done away with and the diaconate
has been changed from a "transitional diaconate" (a stepping-stone on
the way toward the priesthood) to a "permanent diaconate" which can
include married men.
Priestly formation is generally scandalous, often overseen by radical
Modernists and homosexualists. Orthodox seminarians are often
intentionally weeded out by those who've assumed "gate-keeper"
positions in "vocational ministries." Latin is not stressed at all,
Gregorian chant is forgotten, and the very nature of the priesthood is
treated differently than in traditional seminaries, mostly stemming
from an animus against the very existence of hierarchy, and a changed
definition of the Mass (i.e., from an unbloody Sacrifice -- the
Offering of the Son to the Father for the remission of sins -- to a
"celebratory meal" as per the new "Paschal Theology").
In addition, there has been a change of sacramental form in the new
rite: the removal of the Latin "ut" -- "so that" -- in the words of
ordination, a change that fails to fully convey the idea
of a sacramental effect. Also, the prayers, admonitions, and blessings
included in the ordination ceremony reflect a new idea of the
priesthood itself, even to the point that the priest's hands are no
longer consecrated and the prayer, "Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins
you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall
retain, they are retained" has been abolished.
The Saints on the Priesthood
these words of the Saints on the most glorious topic of the priesthood:
St. John Chrysostom: Treatise on the
St. John Vianney, Patron of Priests: Catechism
on the Priesthood
St. Alphonsus Liguori: The Dignity &
Duties of the Priest (excerpt)
vocations and encourage any priestly vocation your sons might have.
Teach your children to have the utmost respect for priests, by word and
your own behavior. Don't call a priest by his first name; he should be
addressed as, for example, "Father Manzione" or simply "Father." He
should enjoy the place of honor (barring the presence of higher ranking
hierarchs) at social gatherings. Kiss his hands to show reverence for
the Eucharist. Let your sons see that to be a priest is to answer God's
highest calling, and that the fruits of the priesthood are His merciful
gifts to us. In this way vocations are nurtured and God's people can
continue to be nourished with the very Body of Christ.
And pray for priests, who give us so much!
O God, Who hast
appointed Thine only-begotten Son to be the eternal High Priest for the
glory of Thy Majesty and the salvation of mankind; grant that they whom
He hath chosen to be His ministers and the stewards of His Mysteries,
may be found faithful in the fulfillment of the ministry which they
have received. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Deus, Qui ad
maiestatis tuae gloriam et generis humani salutem, Unigenitum Tuum
summum atque aeternum constituisti Sacerdotem: praesta, ut quos
ministros et Mysteriorum suorum dispensatores elegit, in accepto
ministerio adimplendo fideles inveniantur. Per eundem Christum Dominum
1 Eusuebius, born in A.D.
260, is actually quoting a letter written by St. Cornelius to the
future Pope St. Fabian. Pope St. Fabian was martyred on 20 January,
A.D. 250, so the reference to the 7 Clerical Orders is older than that
date. After the martyrdom of Pope St. Fabian, St. Cornelius became Pope
until he, too, was martyred in A.D. 253.