“Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate [bishop], presbyterate [priest], and diaconate [deacon] (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1536).
In the Jewish experience of Old Testament priesthood, a traditional understanding of priesthood would include qualities of service, authority, and leadership. The contemporaries of Jesus recognized him as a person who served, taught with authority, and provided leadership, but it was through the witness of his life of service that the early Christian community came to an understanding and practice of this ministry.
The apostles and disciples of Jesus lived their lives in imitation of the life of service and ministry modeled by the Lord, announcing the coming of the kingdom, proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, healing the sick, and extending God’s forgiveness to all. Gradually, the development and identity of ministers called to serve the community became established in the roles of bishops, priests, and deacons.
Ordained ministry is exercised in the name of Jesus. Admission into one of these three “orders” is not simply a matter of delegation but rather is understood as a gift of the Holy Spirit, which comes from Christ through his Church. The gift is conferred through ordination, the laying on of hands by the bishop, with a prayer of consecration.
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