The Sacrament of Holy Orders is the continuation of Christ's priesthood,
which He bestowed upon His Apostles; thus, the Catechism of the
Catholic Church refers to the Sacrament of Holy Orders as "the
sacrament of apostolic ministry." The priesthood was established by
God among the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt. God chose the
tribe of Levi as priests for the nation. Their primary duties were the
offering of sacrifice and prayer for the people.
Christ, in offering Himself up for the sins of all mankind, fulfilled the
duties of the Old Testament priesthood once and for all. But just as the
Eucharist makes that sacrifice present to us today, so the New
Testament priesthood is a sharing in the eternal priesthood of Christ.
While all believers are in some sense priests, some are set aside to
serve the Church as Christ Himself did.
"Ordination" comes from the Latin word ordinatio, which means to
incorporate someone into an order. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a
man is incorporated into the priesthood of Christ at one of three levels:
the episcopate (Bishop), the priesthood, or the diaconate.
The sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by means of the imposition
of hands on the head of the ordaned by the Bishop who pronounces the
solemn prayer of consecration. With this prayer he asks God for the
special outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for the gifts of the Spirit proper
to the ministry to which he is being ordained. Ordained priests act not
on their own authority, but in the Person of Christ and in the name of the
In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in
ordained ministry. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional
deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called
permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent
deacons, and single men may be ordained with a commitment to
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Clergy,
Consecrated Life and Vocations supports the activities of the bishops'
Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations in the
restoration of the Diaconate and the development of diaconal ministry. It
also assists and coordinates the development of diaconal formation
programs on the diocesan and national levels. The Secretariat assists
the General Secretary of the USCCB in responding to all matters
concerning the ministry of deacons in the Church in the United States. It
provides services and liaison support to national organizations and
directors of diocesan diaconate offices.