Holy Orders

Holy Orders

Ready to Answer the Call?

“In every age there have been men and women who,
obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit,
have chosen this special way of following Christ in order to
devote themselves to Him with an ‘undivided’ heart.
Like the apostles, they too have left everything behind
in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as He did,
at the service of God and their brothers and sisters.
In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life
bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make
the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing
so have contributed to the renewal of society.”

VITA CONSECRATA: Apostolic Exhortation–Pope John Paul II


Priests are present in the Old Testament and acted as intermediaries between God and man, but the offerings and sacrifices they were commissioned to make could not take away our sins.  At the Last Supper, Jesus made the Apostles priests and commanded them to celebrate the Eucharist, sending them out to preach and baptize in His Name.  Following His Resurrection, He gave them His own authority to forgive sins as well.  The Apostles later ordained other men to be their successors, and those did the same down through the centuries to our time.

Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a baptized man is configured to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, becoming another Christ (alter Christus) so that he can stand in the very Person of Christ (in persona Christi) among those he serves.  The grace of ordination imparts a permanent seal or mark on his soul that conforms him to Christ in a deep and particular way.


“The priest continues the work of redemption on earth . . . The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”  (St. John Vianney)

There are three degrees of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church: Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.

•Bishops receive the fullness of Holy Orders and can trace their ordination in succession all the way back to the Apostles themselves.  The importance of this apostolic succession for the preservation of the Church’s teaching is clearly documented as early as the second century, and indeed in Scripture itself.  Bishops receive the office of Jesus for sanctifying, teaching, and guiding or governing the faithful under their care.  They are assigned by the Pope to serve the Church in a particular geographic area called a Diocese or Archdiocese, and they share in the Pope’s responsibility for the whole Church as his brothers.

• Priests are also ordained into Jesus’ ministerial priesthood, but to a lesser degree.  They serve as co-workers with their bishops, to whom they promise obedience and by whom they are ordained, and he assigns them to serve the people in a particular parish or ministry and to share in his office of sanctifying, teaching, and governing.  As priests, they receive from Christ the power to forgive sin and to offer the Mass.

• Deacons are also ordained by the bishop, but not to the priesthood.  A deacon’s ministry is one of service, so that bishops and priests may focus primarily on those duties reserved to them.  Deacons may assist at the Mass, preach and teach, witness and bless marriages, preside at funerals, baptize, and carry out works of charity, but they cannot hear confessions or offer the Mass.

Holy Orders is a call from God, not to be confused with a career choice or a right that anyone can invoke.  Like Matrimony, it is a Sacrament of Service or Vocation.  Unlike the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist), which are intended for everyone in the Church, Holy Orders is a call given only to some and only to men.  It is a gift given as God wills and the Church confirms, not because of what a man can do but because of what he has become through ordination.

Catholic Diocese of Arlington

Is God Calling Me To Be A Priest?
How Do I Know If God Is Calling Me?

There are several things that help us to discern God’s call in our lives:

  • Prayer
    Spend time daily in quiet prayer, especially in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  Also pray the rosary.  Mary’s total surrender to God is a model for all of us to follow.  Read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels.
  • Sacraments
    Frequent reception of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist open our hearts to hearing the voice of God.
  • Counsel
    Seek counsel from people you trust (your parents, a priest).  Get spiritual direction from someone trained to do so.
  • Silence
    Being with God in silence allows us to hear His voice, away from all of the distractions of the world.
  • Visit
    Visit a seminary.  You do not know what you are saying yes or no to unless you go and see.
  • Participate
    Join a discernment group in order to be with others who are trying to discern God’s will in their lives.
  • Trust
    Above all, trust that doing the will of God will bring us joy and peace.