Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Holy Orders


Psalm 109:4 "The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech."

John 20:19-23 "Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."

Acts 6:3,6 "Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business...These they set before the apostles; and they praying, imposed hands upon them."

II Timothy 1:6 (St. Paul to Timothy, whom he ordained) "For which cause I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee, by the imposition of my hands."

St. Francis of Assisi (later quoted by St. John Vianney): "If I saw an Angel and a priest, I would bend my knee first to the priest and then to the Angel."



In the Latin Church, there are seven clerical orders, all mentioned together 1 in the Historical record by Eusebius (b. A.D. 260) in the 43rd Chapter of the 6th Book of his "Church History." The lowest 5 are ecclesiastical in origin; the higher two are of divine origin. The seven orders are, in descending rank:  

  • The 3 Major or "Sacred" Orders:

    • I: Priests:
      • Bishops: The First Degree of the Priesthood:
        Bishops have the greatest authority and jurisdiction (aside from Popes and Patriarchs), and have the powers to ordain men into the diaconate and priesthood, and to offer the Sacrament of Confirmation (this last power they can delegate to a priest), to dedicate churches and altars, to consecrate chalices and patens and bells, and to preside at the benediction of abbots. They are said to exercise the fullness of the priesthood. The symbol of this office is the mitre.

      • Priests: The Second Degree of the Priesthood
        The duties and powers of the priest are to confect the Eucharist at the Mass; offer the Sacraments of Penance, Communion, and Unction; to preside at the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; to solemnly baptize; to preach; to teach, guide, and sanctify his sheep. With ordination to the priesthood, a man has received the fullness of the Sacrament of Order. The symbols of this office are the stole, the chasuble, a paten with bread on it, and a Chalice filled with wine.

    • II: Deacons:
      The duties of the deacon are to handle the sacred vessels, to be of service to the priests and Bishops (inside and outside of the liturgy), to read the Epistle and Gospel at the Mass, to be general stewards, and to serve the widows and orphans. This Order is Sacramental, and the first of the three divinely-instituted grades of the hierarchy of Orders, the others being the priesthood and the episcopate. The symbols of this office are the dalmatic, the stole (worn over the left shoulder, as opposed to around the neck as priests wear them, and under the dalmatic), and the Book of the Gospels.

    • III: Subdeacons:
      The duties of a subdeacon are to serve the deacon at Mass; to prepare the bread, wine, and sacred vessels for the Sacrifice; to present the chalice and paten at the Offertory, and pour water into the wine for the Eucharist; to chant the Epistle; and to wash the sacred linens. This office is non-sacramental, but it is now that the vow of celibacy is taken. The symbols of this order are the empty Chalice and the paten, basin and towel, two little cruets, and the book of epistles.

  • The 4 Minor Orders:

    • IV: Acolytes:
      The duties of the acolyte are to light the Altar candles, carry the candles in procession, prepare the water and wine for the Mass, and assist the priest during the Mass The symbols of this order are the candle, the cruet, and a linen bag. (Note that altar boys are sometimes designated "acolytes" and fulfill the duties of the acolyte during the Mass.)

    • V: Exorcists:
      In the early Church, the duty of the exorcist was to cast out demons. Now that duty belongs to the priest alone, but this minor order is kept in traditional priestly societies nonetheless. The symbol for this order is the book containing the Rite of Exorcism.

    • VI: Lectors (Readers):
      The duty of the lector is to chant the Epistle when Mass is sung without a deacon and subdeacon. The symbol of this order is the Book of the Epistles.

    • VII: Porters (Doorkeepers or Ostiaries or Sextons):
      The duties of the porter are to ring the bells, to open the church and sacristy, and to open the book for the priest. Most of these duties have passed to the laity, such as sacristans, etc., but in traditional priestly orders, this clerical order is kept as an office and stepping-stone toward the priesthood. The symbol for this order is keys.

A man who is to become a priest first receives the "tonsure" -- i.e., he is received into the clerical state by being given a surplice and having hair shorn away at the crown of the head (over the last 400 years or so, the hair-shearing has passed out of use due to Protestant persecutions). With the tonsure, he becomes a cleric, but still has not received the Sacrament of Orders.

The tonsured cleric is then ordained to each of the Orders above, one at a time, receiving the power of each office, and ascending up through the ranks until he is raised to the dignity of the priesthood, at which time he receives the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Those of the Minor Orders are not obligated to pray the Divine Office or bound to the rule of celibacy (but if they marry they lose their office); however, once the Major Orders are entered into, there is no going back, and from the level of deacon on up, the actual Sacrament of Orders is received. Deacons receive partial fruits of the Sacrament, priests receive the totality of the Sacrament, with only Bishops having more authority.

The Sacrament Itself

Here I will focus on the elevation of men to the dignity of the priesthood.

Holy Orders is the Sacrament by which men become priests and are given a sacred power
(sacra potestas) to act in total sacramental identification with Christ (i.e., to act in persona Christi) in order confect Christ's Body and offer it up to the Father at the Mass for the remission of sins; to forgive sins through the Sacrament of Penance; to solemnly baptize; to preside during the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; to offer Unction to the dying; to preach; and to otherwise teach, guide, and sanctify their sheep. With -- and only with -- the permission of his Bishop, he may be delegated to offer the Sacrament of Confirmation, but to the Bishop alone is reserved the power to ordain other priests (though a priest may be delgated to ordain men to the sub-diaconate and the minor orders).

As in Baptism and Confirmation, the Sacrament of Holy Orders leaves an indelible mark on the soul of the recipient and can never be repeated once validly received; once a priest, always a priest (even if a priest is laicized and removed from his office, this mark remains).

As said, the minister of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the Bishop, and the matter of the Sacrament is the imposition of hands, which takes place during the beautiful ceremony of ordination. The form of the Sacrament is the words:

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty Father, to these Thy servants, the dignity of the Priesthood; renew the spirit of holiness within them, so that they may hold from Thee, O God, the office of the second rank in Thy service and by the example of their behavior afford a pattern of holy living.

Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Pater, in hos famulos tuos presbyterii dignitatem. Innova in visceribus eorum spiritum sanctitatis, ut acceptum a te, Deus, secundi meriti munus obtineant; censuramque morum exemplo suae conversationis insinuent.

The recipient of the Sacrament must be a baptized, psychologically healthy, physically healthy, emotionally healthy, sexually healthy male, at least 25 years of age, who has a vocation from God, a strong Catholic faith, intelligence, a good moral character, and a life marked by sanctity. He must be committed to living a celibate and chaste life, and to prayer (especially the Divine Office, which he is obligated to pray), and must have been properly formed in seminary.

Traditional priestly formation lasts for 6 years and includes a thorough study of Latin, liturgy, liturgical chant, philosophy, Theology, Church History, moral Theology, dogmatic Theology, and Canon Law. During the first year, they receive the cassock; during the second, the tonsure; during the third and fourth, they are ascend through the minor orders; in the fifth, they are ordained to the sub-diaconate and then the diaconate; and after the sixth, they are ordained priests. The seminarian's days are heavily scheduled, much like a monk's, with daily Mass, the Divine Office, classes, private study, and community devotions.

Not all priests work in dioceses. Typically, those who do are called "secular priests" or "diocesan priests," and most of these work in parishes and, so, are also called "parish priests." Secular priests make promises of chastity and obedience to the local Ordinary (no promise of poverty is made). Other priests belong to religious orders (e.g., the Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, etc.) and offer Mass for the people of their religious order. These men are called "religious priests" (though sometimes a "religious priest" might work for a parish in some cases). Religious priests make the solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the superiors of their religious community that all members of their Order make.

In the Latin Church, the promise of chastity entails celibacy (remaining unmarried). Read more about that here.

The Rite of Ordination

The Rite of Ordination, which you can watch in video at the botton of this page, is as follows (taken from the Catholic Encyclopdia):

All the candidates...present themselves in the church with tonsure and in clerical dress, carrying the vestments of the order to which they are to be raised, and lighted candles. They are all summoned by name, each candidate answering "Adsum". When a general ordination takes place the tonsure is given after the Introit or Kyrie, the minor orders after the Gloria, subdiaconate after the Collect, the diaconate after the Epistle, priesthood after Alleluia and Tract. After the Tract of the Mass the archdeacon summons all who are to receive the priesthood. The candidates, vested in amice, alb, girdle, stole, and maniple, with folded chasuble on left arm and a candle in their right hand, go forward and kneel around the bishop. The latter inquires of the archdeacon, who is here the representative of the Church as it were, whether the candidates are worthy to be admitted to the priesthood. The archdeacon answers in the affirmative and his testimony represents the testimony of fitness given in ancient times by the clergy and people. The bishop, then charging the congregation and insisting upon the reasons why "the Fathers decreed that the people also should be consulted", asks that, if anyone has anything to say to the prejudice of the candidates, he should come forward and state it.

The bishop then instructs and admonishes the candidates as to the duties of their new office. He kneels down in front of the altar; the ordinandi lay themselves prostrate on the carpet, and the Litany of the Saints is chanted or recited. On the conclusion of the Litany, all arise, the candidates come forward, and kneel in pairs before the bishop while he lays both hands on the head of each candidate in silence. The same is done by all priests who are present. Whilst bishop and priests keep their right hands extended, the former alone recites a prayer, inviting all to pray to God for a blessing on the candidates. After this follows the Collect and then the bishop says the Preface, towards the end of which occurs the prayer, "Grant, we beseech Thee etc." The bishop then with appropriate formulŠ crosses the stole over the breast of each one and vests him with the chasuble. This is arranged to hang down in front but is folded behind. Though there is no mention of the stole in many of the most ancient Pontificals, there can be no doubt of its antiquity. The vesting with the chasuble is also very ancient and found already in Mabillon "Ord. VIII and IX." Afterwards the bishop recites a prayer calling down God's blessing on the newly-ordained. He then intones the "Veni Creator", and whilst it is being sung by the choir he anoints the hands of each with the oil of catechumens...

...The bishop then hands to each the chalice, containing wine and water, with a paten and a host upon it. This rite, with its corresponding formula,.. [signifying] the power which has already been received, is not found in the oldest rituals and probably dates back not earlier than the ninth or tenth century. When the bishop has finished the Offertory of the Mass, he seats himself before the middle of the altar and each of those ordained make an offering to him of a lighted candle. The newly-ordained priests then repeat the Mass with him, all saying the words of consecration simultaneously. Before the Communion the bishop gives the kiss of peace to one of the newly-ordained. After the Communion the priests again approach the bishop and say the Apostle's Creed. The bishop laying his hands upon each says: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." ...The chasuble is then folded, the newly-ordained make a promise of obedience and having received the kiss of peace, return to their place.

It is customary for those who attend the priest's Ordination and/or first Mass to kiss the palms of his hands which have been consecrated by holy oils. Palm-kissing at either time results in an indulgence under the usual conditions. An indulgence, under the usual conditions, was traditionally received for piously attending a priest's first Mass -- the indulgence having been plenary if the one attending is related to the third degree to the newly-ordained priest. Indulgenced or not, kissing a newly-ordained priest's hands is the traditional practice. To do so, kneel on the left knee (or bow profoundly if kneeling is not an option) and kiss the palm of each hand.

There is also the tradition of giving to the new priest's mother the maniturgium -- the cloth used to wrap the new priest's hands during ordination, and to wipe off excess chrism used to anoint his hands. It is wrapped around her own hands at her funeral when she dies. A priest's father is buried wearing the purple stole his son wears to hear his first confession. It is said that, upon their deaths, the parents are greeted by the Blessed Virgin, who asks each, "What did you do for my Son?" The mother and father can show them the maniturgium and stole respectively and reply, "I gave Him my son.”

Changes in the Rite

In the Novus Ordo rite, the minor orders have been done away with and the diaconate has been changed from a "transitional diaconate" (a stepping-stone on the way toward the priesthood) to a "permanent diaconate" which can include married men.

Priestly formation is generally scandalous, often overseen by radical Modernists and homosexuals. Orthodox seminarians are often intentionally weeded out by those who've assumed "gate-keeper" positions in "vocational ministries." Latin is not stressed at all, Gregorian chant is forgotten, and the very nature of the priesthood is treated differently than in traditional seminaries, mostly stemming from an animus against the very existence of hierarchy, and a changed definition of the Mass from that of an unbloody Sacrifice -- the Offering of the Son to the Father for the remission of sins -- to a "celebratory meal" as per the new "Paschal Theology".

In addition, there has been a change of sacramental form in the new rite: the removal of the Latin "ut" -- "so that" -- in the words of ordination, a change that fails to fully convey the idea of a sacramental effect. Also, the prayers, admonitions, and blessings included in the ordination ceremony reflect a new idea of the priesthood itself, even to the point that the priest's hands are no longer consecrated and the prayer, "Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained" has been abolished.

The Saints on the Priesthood

Please read these words of the Saints on the most glorious topic of the priesthood:

St. John Chrysostom: Treatise on the Priesthood (excerpt)
St. John Vianney, Patron of Priests: Catechism on the Priesthood
St. Alphonsus Liguori: The Dignity & Duties of the Priest (excerpt)


Pray for vocations and encourage any priestly vocation your sons might have. Teach your children to have the utmost respect for priests, by word and your own behavior. Don't call a priest by his first name; he should be addressed as, for example, "Father Manzione" or simply "Father." He should enjoy the place of honor (barring the presence of higher ranking hierarchs) at social gatherings. Kiss his hands to show reverence for the Eucharist. Let your sons see that to be a priest is to answer God's highest calling, and that the fruits of the priesthood are His merciful gifts to us. In this way vocations are nurtured and God's people can continue to be nourished with the very Body of Christ.

And pray for priests, who give us so much! Pray especially during Ember Days, when the focus is on priestly vocations. St. John Vianney is the patron Saint of priests; ask for his intercession in this regard.

Traditional Rite of Ordination,
Bavaria 27 June 2015


1 Eusuebius, born in A.D. 260, is actually quoting a letter written by St. Cornelius to the future Pope St. Fabian. Pope St. Fabian was martyred on 20 January, A.D. 250, so the reference to the 7 Clerical Orders is older than that date. After the martyrdom of Pope St. Fabian, St. Cornelius became Pope until he, too, was martyred in A.D. 253. 

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