Holy Orders

What is Holy Orders?

Holy Orders is the sacrament in which the Lord Jesus Christ ordains adult men as ministers of the mission of the apostles.  The apostles were commissioned by Christ to preach the Gospel and baptize all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  The apostolic ministry consists in governing, sanctifying, and teaching the people of God.  The Lord calls men from among the baptized faithful to be ordained to work for the salvation of the souls of others.

The sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by the laying of the bishop's hands on the head of the man being ordained.  The bishop prays a consecratory prayer appropriate to the ministry to which the man is being ordained.  All of the authority and power possessed by men who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders comes from participating in the ministry of Jesus Christ, the High Priest who is the true Head, Sanctifier, and Teacher.

Bishops, Priests, and Deacons

There are three degrees of Holy Orders: bishops (the episcopate), priests (the presbyterate) and deacons (the diaconate).  Bishops possess the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders because they are the chief representatives of Christ as Head of the Body, the Church.  First and foremost, bishops are the ministers of the sacraments as they work to make the Church holy.  They are the chief teachers of the message of Jesus Christ.  Priests are ordained as co-workers of the bishops in their ministry of headship, sanctification and teaching.  As such, priests act in person of Christ the Head and possess the power to offer the sacraments.  Bishops and priests embrace the gift of celibacy and are not married.  An authentic life of celibacy is not a single life, but a life of total self-gift to the Lord and his Church.

Deacons are ordained as servants at the altar and servants in the charitable work of the Church.  They often minister the sacrament of Baptism, but they do not possess the authority to offer the sacraments of Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, or Holy Orders.  All men who are ordained bishops are first ordained priests, and all priests are first ordained deacons.  However, not all priests become bishops and not all deacons become priests.  Some men are ordained deacons permanently.  Permanent deacons may be married and usually they have careers or are retired.  They do not intend to be ordained priests.

Discerning a Call to Priesthood or Diaconate

If a man thinks he is being called to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders and be ordained a priest or permanent deacon, he should speak to his parish priest and be in touch with the diocesan vocation director.  He should begin to attend daily Mass as often as possible and confess his sins regularly.  A life of prayer is the foundation of discerning a call to the priesthood or permanent diaconate.  The information for the local vocation director is listed below.

Diocese of Fall River Vocation Office
PO Box 2577
Fall River, MA 02722-2577
Phone:  508-675-1311
Fax:  508-679-9220

Fr. Karl Bissinger, Director of Vocations
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