The Sacrament of Holy Orders

Ordained to Serve, Gather, Transform, and Send

The Lord calls each of us to live a life of holiness, a life of friendship with God. It is a call that we acknowledge, or others acknowledge for us, at Baptism, a call we respond to as we follow the Commandments and the precepts of the Church. It is the Universal Call to Holiness. There are also specific vocations in which one gives oneself entirely to the Lord. In Marriage, a man and a woman give themselves to each other in a sacred bond that becomes a witness of love for the world. In Consecrated Life, which includes the state of being a religious sister or brother, a woman or man responds to a call from God to live the Christian life in a most radical way, imitating Christ and committing to the Evangelical Counsels. The Evangelical Counsels are principles laid out by Christ that, while not binding upon all, present a way to aim for Christian perfection. They include poverty, chastity and obedience. In the Ordained Priesthood, which includes bishops, priests and deacons, a man is configured to Christ as head and shepherd, of the Church.


The Priesthood

Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops and priests are given a special role in carrying out this mission. They exercise a ministerial priesthood. Deacons also receive a special grace through ordination and are called to assist the ministry of bishops and priests (CCC 1547, 1554). The ministerial priesthood differs in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful because it confers a sacred power for the service of the faithful. The ordained ministers exercise their service for the People of God by teaching, divine worship and pastoral governance. The priest is above all a servant of others. In gathering the community, modeling Christ’s love for the poor, presiding at Eucharist, and evangelizing social realities, ordained ministers help Christians imitate Christ’s mission of love and justice.

The word ordo or order is taken from the Roman times, when it designated a group of people. The Latin word ordinatio means incorporation into such an ordo. The Catholic tradition has numerous such orders: the order of catechumen; the order of virgins; the order of spouses; the order of widows; religious orders that denote groups of monks or nuns who live according the same religious rule. There also is the ordo episcoporum (bishops), the ordo presbyterorum (priests) and the ordo diaconorum (deacons).

The Latin verb “ordination,” or ordering, was used to incorporate a person into a specific order. These ordinations could be elaborate or simple ceremonies comprised of a consecration or blessing. Today the word ordination is only used when referring to the sacramental act by which a man is integrated into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons.

  • A bishop, by virtue of his ordination, is the direct successor of the Apostles. His principle task is to teach, sanctify and shepherd the members of the Church. The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which integrates him into the episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church under the authority of the Pope, successor of St. Peter.
  • A presbyter is ordained to assist the bishops in their ministry, and are tasked with celebrating the Eucharist, administering the Sacraments and spreading the Good News. Priests are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity and at the same time depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions; they are called to be the bishops' prudent co-workers. They form around their bishop the presbyterium which bears responsibility with him for the particular Church. They receive from the bishop the charge of a parish community or a determinate ecclesial office.
  • A deacon is ordained to assist the bishops and priests. They assist at the Eucharist, distribute Holy Communion, baptize, bless marriages, proclaim and preach the Gospel, preside over funerals and above all, dedicate themselves to ministries of charity. Deacons are ministers ordained for tasks of service of the Church; they do not receive the ministerial priesthood, but ordination confers on them important functions in the ministry of the word, divine worship, pastoral governance, and the service of charity, tasks which they must carry out under the pastoral authority of their bishop.

Who Receives Holy Orders?

The Church confers the sacrament of Holy Orders only on baptized men, whose suitability for the exercise of the ministry has been duly recognized. In the Latin Church the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate for the love of God's kingdom and the service of men. (CCC 1599) The Second Vatican Council reminds us that the mission of ordained clergy, while unique, is interrelated to the mission of the lay faithful. Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity. (Lumen Gentium 10)

There is a great need in the Church today to increase the numbers responding to the call to priesthood. Each of us has a role to play in this effort, building awareness and inviting the young people in our families and communities to be open to this call. It begins with teaching children to pray, to have a relationship with Christ. When we do that, we can have confidence they will respond to His call.

Vocation Resources



Prayer for Vocations

God our Father, we thank you for calling men and women to serve in your Son’s Kingdom as priests, deacons, religious, and consecrated persons. Send your Holy Spirit to help us respond generously and courageously to your call. May our community of faith support vocations of sacrificial love in our youth. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Office of Vocations

Fr. Christopher Gober
Director of Vocations
Diocese of Charlotte
1123 South Church Street Charlotte, NC 28203
Phone: (704) 370-3353


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