Holy Orders

From Cor ad Cor
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Three Orders in One Sacrament

To ordain a man is to place him in one of the three Orders in this Sacrament: bishop, priest, or deacon.

All three orders are part of the priesthood.


The English word, "bishop", comes from the Greek, epi-, "over," plus skopos, "watcher."[1] The job of the bishop is to "watch over" the flock. Another good English synonym for "bishop" based on the Greek roots of episkopos" would be "overseer."

Bishops are the successors of the apostles.

Bishops are the high priests of their diocese.

The diocese is the basic building block of the Church — it is the smallest unit of the Church because only bishops can provide all seven sacraments.

Greek NT

Acts 20:28
Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood.
Phil 1:1
Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers [σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις].
1 Tim 3:1-7

1 This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.

2 Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach,

3 not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.

4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity;

5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?

6 He should not be a recent convert, so that he may not become conceited and thus incur the devil's punishment.

7 He must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the devil's trap.

Titus 1:5-9

5 For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you,

6 on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious.

7 For a bishop as God's steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain,

8 but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled,

9 holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents.

1 Peter 2:25
For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd [ἐπὶ τὸν ποιμένα] and guardian of your souls [καὶ ἐπίσκοπον τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν].

Other languages

Latin episcopus
German Bischof
French évêque
Spanish obispo
Italian vescovo


Online Etymology Dictionary, "diocese":
Early 14c., from Old French diocese (13c., Modern French, diocèse), from Late Latin, diocesis "a governor's jurisdiction," later, "a bishop's jurisdiction," from Greek dioikesis "government, administration; province," originally "economy, housekeeping," from dioikein "control, govern, administer, manage a house," from dia- "thoroughly" + oikos "house."


The English word, "priest", comes from the Greek, presbyteros, "elder."[2]

Online Etymology Dictionary, "priest":
Old English preost, shortened from the older Germanic form represented by Old Saxon, Old High German prestar, Old Frisian prestere, from Vulgar Latin *prester "priest," from Late Latin presbyter "presbyter, elder," from Gk. presbyteros (see Presbyterian). In O.T. sense, a translation of Hebrew kohen, Greek hiereus, Latin sacerdos.
A simplified etymology: presbyteros --> presbyter --> prester --> priest.

While "priest" has become a clear and useful word in English, it is not well-connected to the terms indicating those who offered sacrifice in the Temple (Hebrew, kohen; Greek, hieros; Latin, sacerdos). These terms are all related to the offering of sacrifices on behalf of a person or community. Such priests are themselves consecrated, "set apart for sacred purposes," consecrate the sacrificial offerings, and consecrate the beneficiaries of the offering.


The English word, "deacon", comes from the Greek diakonos, "servant."[3]

Only men can be ordained

Magisterial Teachings

1976: Inter Insigniores

The Congregation for the Teaching of the Faith (CDF) issued this "Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood" in the last two years of Paul VI's pontificate (15 October 1974).
"The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women" (1).
"The Church's tradition in the matter has thus been so firm in the course of the centuries that the Magisterium has not felt the need to intervene in order to formulate a principle which was not attacked, or to defend a law which was not challenged. But each time that this tradition had the occasion to manifest itself, it witnessed to the Church's desire to conform to the model left her by the Lord" (1).
"In the final analysis it is the Church through the voice of the Magisterium, that, in these various domains, decides what can change and what must remain immutable. When she judges she cannot accept certain changes, it is because she knows she is bound by Christ's manner of acting. Her attitude, despite appearances, is therefore not one of archaism but of fidelity: it can be truly understood only in this light. The Church makes pronouncements in virtue of the Lord's promise and the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to proclaim better the mystery of Christ and to safeguard and manifest the whole of its rich content" (4).
"Women who express a desire for the ministerial priesthood are doubtless motivated by the desire to serve Christ and the Church. And it is not surprising that, at a time when they are becoming more aware of the discriminations to which they have been subjected, they should desire the ministerial priesthood itself. But it must not be forgotten that the priesthood does not form part of the rights of the individual, but stems from the economy of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The priestly office cannot become the goal of social advancement: no merely human progress of society or of the individual can of itself give access to it: it is of another order" (6).

1994: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

John Paul II, May 22, 1994.
"Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe" (3).
"Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force."
"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful" (3).

1995: 1995 Responsum ad Dubium

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), writing on behalf of PopeJohn Paul II, "Concerning the Teaching Contained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis Responsum ad Dubium," October 28, 1995.
"This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium" 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith."

Personal Reflections

The Church does not ordain women because Jesus chose no women to be apostles. This was an action that He took without providing any verbal explanation for his choice. As noted above, the Church judges that she is bound to follow the pattern set by Jesus in choosing only men to act as His representatives in the administration of the Church and the sacraments.

Jesus acted freely

Some argue that this decision was culturally-conditioned, like the acceptance of slavery in the New Testament, and ought, like slavery, to be overturned because of the development of modern culture. I do not agree that Jesus acted in ignorance in this case.

  • Jesus, one person who is both true GOD and true man, knew what he was doing.
  • Jesus was supremely free from cultural conditioning; there are no circumstances under which He allowed other people's opinions to sway Him from his purposes.
  • Jesus was sinless (Heb 4:15). He was completely free from "male chauvinism."
  • If Jesus had wanted women apostles (the predecessors of today's bishops), He would have chosen women to be among the twelve.
  • Jesus did not chose women to be apostles, therefore we cannot choose women to be bishops (CCC, 1577; priesthood and diaconate are later developments of the gift of apostleship). This fact is part of the deposit of faith (the body of revelation given to the apostles) and cannot be altered.

Men represent the Bridegroom

Understanding why Jesus chose only men to act as apostles is a separate, and speculative issue; that He did so seems to be perfectly clear.

There are no sayings of Jesus associated with this question; there is just the fact that all twelve apostles were men. Jesus may have chosen males to represent His own masculine humanity and/or to symbolize in a special way a particular aspect of the Trinity.

My guess is that God loves the differences between men and women as much as we do, and that the differences are spiritual as well as psychic and physical. It is a form of Manichaeism (a third-century, Gnostic heresy) to say that the body makes no difference to the soul. Jesus portrayed Himself as the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride; therefore, men continue to represent the masculinity of the Bridegroom in His relationship to His bride, the Church.

Men also represent the divine masculinity of God the Father as well as the divine and human masculinity of God the Son. Women represent the divine receptivity of the Holy Spirit.

Priesthood is not personal property

Those who portray the male priesthood as taking something away from women or as some other kind of deprivation are thinking in zero-sum terms. With cake, ice cream, and money, it is true that what I take for myself cannot simultaneously belong to someone else. When I take more cake, someone else gets less.

Women are not harmed by a male priesthood. I am not denying that priests have, like Judas, betrayed Jesus in every age and have sinned against Him and against His People. That is a sad, and quite separate fact. Priests are not automatically holy; priests are not automatically holier than laity; priests are not first-class citizens of the Kingdom to the detriment of everyone else. Priests are commissioned to play a special role so that everyone, priest and laity alike, can receive the sacraments instituted by Jesus. The existence of the sacramental priesthood takes nothing away from women as individuals or as a group.

The special role priests play is a gift from Jesus to the whole body of believers. The crucial question for each believer is whether we use that gift to grow in love for GOD and for each other. Love is what makes the difference between first-class citizens in the Kingdom and everyone else. Not all priests are loving; not all loving people are priests. All Christians are called to love God and love their neighbor.

Measuring equality

"Equal" does not mean "identical." Equality is a term of measurement, and all measurements require specification of units. A pound of feathers is equal to a pound of gold in weight, but not identical in value — the pound of gold would be useless as pillow, while the feathers would be useless for making rings. I am Serena William's equal in the eyes of the law — we have exactly the same civil rights — but I am not fit to tie her Nikes.

All men and women, ordained or not, born or unborn, are of equal worth to God. God creates each person in their mother's womb. God, the Son, died for all (Rom 5:18). We all have an equal opportunity to love God in return, for love is measured not by our public roles but by the gift of self: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ... Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:37-39). We exercise our common priesthood through self-sacrifice, imitating Jesus, our only High Priest, Who sacrificed Himself for love of us.

The Catechism teaches that humans are "equal as persons ('bone of my bones...') and complementary as masculine and feminine" (#372). Just as a male and female play different roles in bringing a child into being, so the ordained and unordained play different roles in rendering Jesus present in the Eucharist. Father and mother are equally, but not identically, parents of the child. The ordained and unordained are equally, but not identically, recipients of the love of GOD made present in the Eucharist — we all receive Jesus. The ordained do NOT receive more of Jesus than the unordained. The laity lose nothing by being served by the ministerial priesthood; priests gain no advantage over the laity by being Jesus' sacramental instruments.

This does not mean that priests are unimportant. Priests enrich the Church and build the Body of Christ. If we do not honor men for laying down their lives for the service of Jesus and His Body, we will not have many men willing to make the sacrifice. St. Paul says that the apostle has a right to expect support from the ministry (1 Cor 9:3-12). To motivate men to serve in this role, we must make it a rewarding way of life. (The very same principles apply to religious life: monks, nuns, brothers, sisters, etc.) Giving honor to priests and religious does not rob anyone else of the honor which they deserve for following the vocation GOD has given them.

We must also honor all who use their sexual powers appropriately before, during and after married life, all who serve the poor, all who suffer innocently, and all who lead others to GOD through their faith, hope and love. As Paul says, there are many different parts in the body (1 Cor 12:14-26). The eye does not rob the hand of glory, nor do priests rob the laity of glory. We are all one in Jesus, even though we are not the same.

Priesthood is not a right

No one has a right to be ordained a deacon, a priest, or a bishop (CCC, 1578). The priesthood is not a piece of property, nor is it designed to benefit the person who receives this commission. The powers of the priesthood come from Jesus and belong to His Body, not to the individuals who act as "outward signs" of His invisible presence. A priest who exercises the priesthood so as to build himself up at the expense of the Body will be treated as he deserves: "it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be cast into a lake of burning fire" (Mt 18:6).

To ordain women on a theory of "property rights" would be to ordain a mistake. If the theory were true, ordination of women would simply expand the "propertied class," not eliminate it. After ordaining some women to be priests, there would still be the first-class citizens of the Church (men and women who are priests) and second-class citizens (men and women who are not priests). If priesthood unjustly enriches priests at the expense of the laity, then the solution is not the ordination of women but the abolition of the priesthood altogether.

"Battle of the sexes"

The fight for dominance by one sex over the other is an evil arising from Original Sin (Gen 3).

Things to think about: assertion, aggressiveness, domination as masculine tendencies; receptivity, acceptance, compliance as feminine tendencies. Legitimate and illegitimate forms of sexual complementarity ...