The Catholic Sacrament of Holy Orders

5 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Catholic Sacraments

Catholic men who "take Holy Orders" receive a special sacrament called Holy Orders, which creates the hierarchy of deacon, priest, and bishop. These men (who are ordained by a bishop by means of that sacrament) serve the spiritual needs of others in the Catholic Church.

A baptized man must first be ordained a deacon before being ordained a priest and ordained a priest before being ordained a bishop. So every priest and every bishop has experienced the Sacrament of Holy Orders more than once, but he experiences ordination to each level only once.

One of the primary functions of deacons, priests, and bishops is to administer the sacred rites of the Church to God’s people:

  • Bishops are said to have the “fullness of the priesthood,” because they alone have the authority to offer all seven sacraments — Baptism, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders.

  • Priests have the power and authority to celebrate five — Baptism, Penance, Holy Eucharist (Mass), Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick.

  • Deacons can celebrate Baptism and Matrimony, provided that it’s a wedding without a Nuptial Mass.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders doesn’t make a man a Church aristocrat, but it does confer the dignity of the sacrament, and that entails the obligation to obey the Pope and be of service to the people of God. Pastors are to see their role as shepherds who love and know their sheep.

A man can retire from the active ministry or be forced to leave if he misbehaves, but no deacon, priest, or bishop can ever have his Holy Orders taken away from him.

  • Being defrocked is involuntary and is imposed as a punishment for committing crime or scandal.

  • Laicization is at the request of the cleric who wishes to be relieved of his obligations of celibacy and no longer wants to celebrate his sacred ministry.

Both actions have the same effect: Defrocked and laicized priests can’t wear the Roman collar, be called “Father,” or publicly celebrate the sacraments. All requests for laicization must go to Rome, and only the Vatican can approve them.

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The Essentials of Catholic Sacraments

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