Order signifies a relation of many things in reference to one common beginning or end, and so arranged as to be mutually related. In ecclesiastical language, by a certain excellence the spiritual or sacred power that is conferred in the Church has been called "order" (Latin ordo, Greek τάξις or τάγμα). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that holy orders is the sacrament of apostolic ministry, i.e., "the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time" (CCC 1536). The term also signifies the sacred ordination or "to ordain," i.e., the external rite or ceremonial whereby a degree of power is imparted, called in Greek the extension or imposition of hands (χειροτονία, χεροθεσία). There are three degrees of holy orders: episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate.
Institution by Christ
The Council of Trent clearly reaffirmed (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum 1766) the previous teaching of the Church that Holy Orders or sacred ordination by which sacred power is conferred as instituted by Christ is a true Sacrament of the New Covenant. The priesthood and the sacrifice of the Old Law especially prefigured the New Dispensation, as the Prophets had foretold. It has always been Catholic teaching, based upon the testimony of Scripture, apostolic tradition, and the unanimous agreement of the Fathers, that to the new sacrifice that Christ inaugurated He associated a new priesthood empowered to continue His own priesthood until the consummation of the world (Council of Trent; Denzinger 1740, 1764). That the Apostles were conscious of and exercised this power and that they ordained bishops, priests, and deacons by the sacramental rite of the imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is shown in the Acts and the Epistles (e.g., Acts 6.6; 13.3; 1 Tm 4.14;5.22; 2 Tm 1.6). The witness of tradition from the earliest documents offers explicit acknowledgment of a divinely constituted hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons, and by the 4th century there is found express mention of the grace of order as clearly distinct from the sacred power conferred.
Categories of Orders
Sacred Scripture mentions priests and deacons; the historical minor orders of subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, and porter, were known since the early Church. In the sacerdotal order the bishop, as successor of the Apostles, is superior to the priest and is the principal hierarch with powers not at all possessed or not ordinarily enjoyed by other orders.
Origin. Bishop. It is of faith that the episcopacy is divinely instituted, and immediately by Christ, according to the far more common theological teaching. The institution of the episcopacy as such, as an order distinct from the simple priesthood, cannot be established with certainty from the Scriptures alone without the witness of tradition. The Scriptural terminology is quite fluid and the later fixed usage regarding bishop, priest, deacon does not appear in the New Testament writings. The names πρεσβύτερος and 'επίσκοπος (as well as hegoumenos, praesidentes ) were often used synonymously. Some interpret them to mean simple priests only; others, bishops only; and others, simple priests and sometimes bishops. All, however, are under the direction of the Apostles.
From Scripture it is clear that Christ established a priesthood and in this sense certainly an episcopacy. There are indications that in the Scriptures some are singled out for powers and functions that are proper and exclusive to those specifically called bishops in later times. This is the more ancient and common teaching of theologians. It is an open theological question whether or not the episcopacy as distinguished from the priesthood is sacramental, the older opinion judging negatively, the later and now more common, affirmatively. Leo XIII wrote: "But the episcopacy undoubtedly by the institution of Christ pertains most truly to the Sacrament of Orders and constitutes the sacerdotium in the highest degree, which surely by the teaching of the holy Fathers and our liturgical customs is called the 'summum sacerdotium, sacri ministerii summa"' (Apostolicae curae; Denzinger 3317). This doctrine was taught also by Vatican Council II in practically the same words (Const. on the Church 20–21).
It would seem that those to whom the terms bishop and successor of the Apostles subsequently were exclusively applied were individuals in the Apostolic Church whom the Apostles associated with themselves or delegated to carry on the office of Apostle-successors, e.g., Timothy and Titus (and according to some, James of Jerusalem inasmuch as he was not James of Alpheus, one of the Twelve). The presbyters-bishops were dependent upon these Apostle-successors, as originally upon the Apostles themselves. In the tradition of the primitive Church the appellations of the incumbents of these successors evolved, although the hierarchical structure remained the same. Until the late 2d century, when the designation was clearly fixed, the term 'επίσκοπος designated the presbyter, the presbyter-president of the college of presbyters, the bishop. see bishop (in the bible); bish op (in the church); bishop (sacramental theology of).
Priest. Since the Scriptural usage of the terms was not fixed, and since certainly not all termed 'επίσκοποι were bishops, or all called πρεσβύτεροι priests, the meaning cannot be derived from the words themselves but rather from the contexts or from what was signified in the particular instances. Probably the one sacerdotium was being referred to, at one time in its fullness and at another in a lesser degree, i.e., in a higher or lower order.
Precision of terminology begins only in the 2d century, and then only in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (Ad Philadelphenses 4; J. Quasten, Monumenta eucharista et liturgica vetustissima 335). By the end of the 3d century the name presbyter was specifically applied only to the second grade of the hierarchy, and thereafter the distinction was commonly employed. Only much later, after the 5th century, did the term "sacerdos" (which had applied to bishops, priests, and deacons) come to be restricted to the presbyters. see priesthood in christian tradition.
Deacon. The existence of the diaconate (διακονία, ministry) as a distinct hierarchical and sacramental order is found in Scripture (Phil 1.1; 1 Tm 3.8–13; Acts 6.1–6) and is confirmed by the witness of tradition [Justin, 1 Apol. 65; Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Philadelphenses 4 (Quasten 17, 335)], its full characteristics being clearly discussed by the 4th century. deacons are clearly distinguished from the laity and from the priests (simple or episcopal) to whom they are subordinate and ministering. Deacons have from the beginning been ordained by the imposition of the hand of the bishop with the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
It is more commonly held that the Apostles ordained the original seven deacons. Theologians today hold it to be certain that the diaconate is of divine institution and a sacramental order (Council of Trent; Denzinger 1765,1776). The "serving at table" would include their assistance at the celebration of the Eucharist and its distribution, which was usually joined with the agape of the early Christians. Moreover, they preached and administered Baptism (Acts 6.8–15; 7.1–60; 8.5–13, 38).
Subdeacon. The origins of the historical subdiaconate are obscure and testimony concerning it, silent. The existence of the subdeacon in the 3d century is affirmed in the Apostolic Tradition and in the practice of the Roman and African churches. Only gradually did it grow in importance through the assumption of more sacred functions and of the law of celibacy, and through its increasing connection with and necessity for higher orders. By the close of the 12th century it was patently ranked in the West among the major orders. In the East the subdiaconate was certainly an institution by the 4th century, as mentioned in the Councils of Antioch (341) and Laodicea (c. 343–381), but it has never to this day been reckoned among the sacred or major orders. In the Latin Church, the order of subdeaconate was abolished by Pope Paul VI in his motu proprio, Ministeria quaedam (Aug. 15, 1972).
Acolyte. An historical order that was found only in the Western Church. In fact, it was hardly even noted in the Gallican-rite churches of the West (Gaul, Spain, Milan). Early evidence of it in Rome and in Africa is found in SS. Jerome, Augustine, and Cyprian, and Popes Siricius and Zosimus. The later influence of the Gallican upon the Roman liturgy lessened the position and functions of this office. However, with the lapse of the lectorship and office of exorcist from about the 6th to the 9th centuries, the acolyte remained to assist at the altar and at priestly ministrations. By the 8th century the order had become the requisite step to the subdiaconate. In 1972, it was abolished by Pope Paul VI in his motu proprio, Ministeria quaedam, who created the ministry of acolyte in its place and opened it to the laity.
Lector. This is the most ancient order below the diaconate of which there is record; it is mentioned early in the 3d century by Tertullian, the Apostolic Tradition, and in about the middle of the next century by the Didascalia Apostolorum. The lector was used very early in the Roman, Carthaginian, and Syriac churches. From about the 4th to the 10th centuries it lost a large portion of its prominence and functions. This was due to the practice of conferring ordinations that bypassed (per saltum ) the lectorship and to the admission to this order of youngsters with the result that the function of singing was restricted to them and the other functions of the office assumed by older and higher clerics. In the Latin Church, Pope Paul VI abolished the minor order of lector in his motu proprio Ministeria quaedam, and replaced it with the ministry of reader, which is opened to laypeople.
Exorcist. Sepulchral inscriptions of the 3d and 4th centuries attest to the existence of the exorcist (see exor cism). The position of this order subsequently declined with the promotion of young men to the other clerical grades and due to instances in which adults were ordained by bypassing (per saltum ) the order of exorcist. Likewise, with the lapse of the catechumenate during which period the exorcist had exercised his order, and with the assumption of these baptismal exorcisms by the acolytes and priests, the role of the exorcist was lessened. Its long presence in the Roman usage came with the influence of the Gallican practice. Pope Paul VI suppressed the minor order of the exorcist in 1972.
Porter. The order of porter seems not to have received much attention in the early Church because of its slight importance. At best it is mentioned only in passing in the early testimonies. Although Pelagius I referred to it in the 6th century as the beginning of the clerical state, it appears to have fallen into desuetude by the end of the 4th century, and its functions were exercised even by laymen. The survival of the porter in Gallican usage brought about its revival in the Roman practice around the 10th century. It survived in the Roman Rite until its abolition in 1972 by Pope Paul VI.
Tonsure. Clerical tonsure was never considered an order but only a special rite of introduction into the ranks of the clergy. It appeared to have developed from the early Christian practice, with Semitic roots, of cutting the hair to symbolize humility. In relation to the clerical state it was also a sign of holiness. The rite, already indicated in the 6th century, was in stable use by the 8th century, as noted in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. From being a private ceremony in the beginning, it gradually assumed a public and official character. Initially it was connected with the ceremony of first ordination, but in the West certainly by the 12th century it had become a separate and distinct ceremony. The tonsured person was thus set apart from the laity, whether or not he thereafter received clerical orders. In the East tonsure was a less prominent rite and it seems probable that, as today, it was always joined to the reception of the lectorship or cantorship. In the Latin Church, Pope Paul VI abolished the tonsure in his 1972 motu proprio, Ministeria quaedam.
Deaconess. From the period of the public ministry of Our Lord and of the Apostles pious women had offered their service to the ministers of the Church in the form of works of charity and temporal aid. The office of dea coness in the Church developed in time, probably growing out of the system of organized widowhood in the early Church (about the 2d century). The institution of the deaconess arose in the East (about the 3d century) before appearing as such in the West (about the 5th century). With the rise of monastic houses for women and with the gradual discontinuance of the ceremony of Baptism by immersion in which the deaconess assisted the women candidates, the office of the deaconess correspondingly lapsed in the 7th century. Between the 10th and 12th centuries it disappeared in the West, although it survived somewhat longer in parts of the East.
Historical Division into Major and Minor Orders. In the Latin Church, historically the major orders comprised priesthood, diaconate, and subdiaconate; the minor orders were those of porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte (Council of Trent; Denzinger 1765). First tonsure is not commonly listed among the orders, nor is the episcopacy, which was not considered an order adequately distinct from the priesthood; some, however, taking "order" in the wider sense, enumerate one or both. Before the 12th century the present distinction of major and minor orders was not clearly fixed. That the Latin Church, in particular the Roman Church, developed the minor orders early can be discerned from ancient documents. These orders may be distinguished from other offices and dignities by reason of their stable character and conferral by a sacred rite. The full list of orders below the diaconate was given by Pope Cornelius around 251 as existing in the Roman Church. By the end of the 12th century the subdiaconate had taken on such prominence that it was already classed among the major or sacred orders. The 1972 motu proprio of Pope Paul VI, Ministeria quaedam, abolished all the minor orders and the subdiaconate, thereby removing the distinction between minor and major orders.
In the Eastern Church the subdiaconate has always been held as a minor order, except for some few rites, notably the Armenians, who since the 11th century have followed the Latins. This is probably because the subdeacon does not minister at the altar nor come to it for the sacrifice nor touch the sacred vessels on the altar. The earliest mention of orders below the diaconate is to the lectorship and the subdiaconate; these two alone have been commonly maintained in the Eastern Church. More generally the office of cantor has been attached to the lectorship, although some would hold it to be an order. Others maintain that the lectorship or subdiaconate contains the order of porter, exorcist, and acolyte.
One or Many Sacraments. It is Catholic teaching that there are only seven Sacraments, no more or less, and that Holy Orders is one of them. Thus, regardless of the number of orders existing and accepted, they all together constitute but one Sacrament. The priesthood (with the episcopacy) and the diaconate at least are clearly sacramental as of divine institution, notwithstanding theological opinion respecting the other orders. The problem thus lies in the manner in which these orders are Sacraments and yet form but the one specific Sacrament of Holy Orders. Several solutions have been proposed.
The most common solution follows the view of St. Thomas (Summa Theologiae, Suppl. 37.1 ad 2) that considers this Sacrament in the manner of a potential or potestative whole, whereby the essence, power, and character of the Sacrament reside perfectly and fully in the priesthood and less completely in the diaconate (and, according to some, in the other orders). To consider this Sacrament as a universal whole would result in several specifically different Sacraments; to consider it as an integral whole would require the presence of all the orders at once.
The conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is through a sacred sign. Whether the entire sign or only its signification has been instituted by Christ depends upon whether the theory of the generic or specific institution of this Sacrament is supported. The opinion that Christ established only the signification of this Sacrament and left it to the Church to determine the material element that under a form or formula of words would convey this signification, or that He instituted an indeterminate material element or merely an imposition of hands and left the rest to the determination of the Church, is held by some. The more common opinion holds for a specific institution.
Matter and Form. In the churches of the Christian East, the orders have always been conferred by the imposition of hands and this was the one essential rite in the Latin Church before the 10th century. It seems to have been generally taught in the late Middle Ages and for a long time thereafter that the essential rite was the handing over of the instruments, although this does not disprove the continued existence of the rite of imposition of hands. The Decree for the Armenians of the Council of Florence cites the handing over of the instruments as the matter of the Sacrament in each order (Denzinger 1326), but the doctrinal value of this decree is disputed and some assert that it is not definitive but merely expository in that it states the common theology of the day in this question. It is more probable that the imposition was always the matter of this Sacrament and even by divine institution.
In his apostolic constitution Sacramentum Ordinis of Nov. 30, 1947, Pius XII declared that thenceforth the episcopacy, priesthood, and diaconate would be conferred in each instance by the one and only essential and valid rite, namely, the designated imposition of hands and the designated form, the consecratory Preface [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 40 (1948) 5–7].
Minister. It has always been Catholic teaching that the bishop is the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Holy Orders by divine institution (Council of Trent; Denz 1768, 1777, CIC 1983, c. 1012). Scripture indicates only bishops as the ministers of sacred orders (Acts 6.6; 13.3; 1 Tm 4.14; 5.22; 2 Tm 1.6). This has been the traditional practice in the Church, as ancient liturgical and canonical writings testify.
Priest as Extraordinary Minister. The question has been long discussed whether a simple priest can be also an extraordinary minister of Holy Orders or whether the bishop is the exclusive minister by divine right. Contrary to the opinion of the canonists, the older theologians held that a simple priest could not by commission of the pope become the extraordinary minister of the major orders. They followed more or less this conclusion as stated by both St. Thomas and Duns Scotus, although for different reasons. It became commonly agreed that a properly commissioned priest could confer minor orders (this commission was often given by the pope) and even the subdiaconate (a practice in the Greek Church but not in the Latin).
With the coming to light of three papal bulls (Boniface IX, Sacrae religionis, Feb. 1, 1400; Martin V, Gerentes ad vos, Nov. 16, 1427; Innocent VIII, Exposcit, April 9, 1489), an increasing number of theologians to the present day have been maintaining, with varying degrees of theological probability and of certitude, that a simple priest can be commissioned by the pope to confer the diaconate and even the priesthood. The cited papal bulls seem to have granted to certain abbots (not in episcopal orders) the power to ordain their subjects to the diaconate. Dispute obtains regarding the force and meaning of these documents in view of the longstanding tradition in the Church and the widespread theological teaching regarding the bishop as the exclusive minister of the diaco-nate and the priesthood. The common teaching today rejects the opinion that a simple priest may act as extraordinary minister of these orders, although the opinion that he may must be considered as at least probable.
Worthiness and the Question of Reordination. For the valid administration of Holy Orders neither the presence of grace nor the state of grace is required in the minister (Council of Trent; Denzinger 1612, 1710), since the power of God and the merits of Christ and not the dispositions and merits of the minister confer this sacramental validity. But the sanctity and dignity of the Sacrament demands for its lawful and worthy administration that the minister be in the state of grace, free of ecclesiastical penalties, and observant of the requirements of law regarding the conferral of ordination.
The firm and explicit teaching of the Church regarding the relationship or dependence of the validity of a Sacrament upon the dispositions or condition of the minister and its common practice regarding reordination was long in coming. The doubts and the subsequent controversies began with St. Cyprian in the 3d century in regard to the validity of Baptism administered by heretics. The dispute was extended during the Donatist heresy and schism to the validity of ordinations performed by those who were publicly unworthy. In subsequent centuries unworthiness tended to center especially around those involved in concubinage or simony, or subjected to excommunication. Theologians disputed the question and many prelates, even some popes, practiced reordination in such cases. The definitive settlement of the controversy began with the efforts of Paschal II (Council of Guastalla, 1106; Denzinger 705) and of Innocent III (in the profession of faith required of the Waldensians in 1208; Denzinger 793) whereby the principle of the validity of the Sacraments independently of the dispositions of the minister was upheld. Thus the ancient practice and teaching of the Church was restored and became widely and permanently effective.
Intention. The Council of Trent, in harmony with previous papal statements, made it clear that in effecting and conferring the Sacraments the minister must have an intention at least of doing what the Church does (sess. 7,c.11; Denzinger 1624). Thus in conferring the Sacrament of Holy Orders the minister is a voluntary and vitally responsible agent of Christ in this action. He must have a deliberate intention formed at least in some general and implicit fashion, and this must truly bear upon the conferral by his action of what, by the institution of Christ, is a sacramental administration of Holy Orders. He thus intends to do at least what the Church does (which is a sacramental conferral). This is implicitly the very same intention of doing what Christ's Church herself does. Besides a defective matter or form, an intention which is defective also invalidates the Sacrament. Thus there must be on the part of the minister a serious will not merely to perform an external application of the matter and form but also to confer a rite that as a matter of fact is considered by the Church as sacred. The intention need not be actual but it must be at least virtual in order to bear upon the sacramental action at hand. A minister, otherwise qualified and applying valid matter and form, who has at least the above minimum qualities of intention, will validly confer Holy Orders. (see anglican orders; apos tolicae curae.)
Recipient. Just as for the minister, there are certain requirements that must be met by the ordinand. Some of these requirements pertain to validity, others to liceity.
Valid Reception. Only a baptized male with at least a habitual intention of receiving this Sacrament is a capable subject of valid ordination (CIC 1983, c. 1024). Only males can validly receive sacred ordination by divine law, and any prudent doubt, as in the case of the hermaphrodite or pseudohermaphrodite, must bar the candidate from ordination. Moreover, the Church has always understood and insisted upon as essential the reception of Baptism before allowing the reception of Holy Orders.
Essential to valid reception also is an internal intention or will of receiving this Sacrament, since no adult receives a Sacrament unwillingly. There must be a voluntary, positive act of the will and not a passive attitude to the reception. For the reception of a Sacrament a habitual intention suffices, although a virtual or actual intention is recommended as more fruitful. The recipient is in the condition of one receiving a gift and a benefit, and thus it suffices that the reception be voluntary, which is ensured by a habitual intention. However, for the reception of Holy Orders the habitual intention must be explicit to receive what de facto the Church and the minister intend to confer and thus to be received, namely, the Sacrament and its effect. The reason is that the intention must include an advertence to the clerical state and its obligations, since these are not practically contained implicitly in the habitual intention to live a Christian life. Only when such an explicit intention is present can the ordination of one asleep or unconscious, drunk, or insane be considered valid. Baptized infants are validly ordained, but may choose the clerical or lay state upon completion of their 16th year.
It is commonly taught that a candidate who deceitfully (ficte ) receives Orders, i.e., inwardly dissenting or refusing, is invalidly ordained. However, a cleric who receives Orders under the influence of grave fear or deceit receives them validly; he is to be reduced to the lay state unless he has subsequently ratified the ordination upon the removal of the obstacle. The lawful intention required of a clerical vocation is considered below.
Lawful Reception. For the lawful reception of Holy Orders, i.e., that the candidate be considered qualified, other conditions are required by the Church and are comprised under the qualities of divine vocation, suitability, and freedom from canonical impediments.
Admission to Holy Orders is subject to the judgment and authority of the Church, to whom the Sacraments have been entrusted. The norms or requirements forming the basis of judgment are signs of the presence of a divine interior vocation, which they presuppose, guarantee, or recognize. Vocation to the clerical state, then, consists of the divine interior act of selection of and preparation of the candidate with suitable endowments of nature and grace for the worthy exercise of priestly duties. Together with this must be the call and acceptance of the Church through the bishop upon judgment of the suitability or worthiness of the candidate who gives evidence of an interior vocation. The principal signs of this clerical vocation are a right intention, probity of life, and suitability.
Besides the intention, which is necessary for the valid reception of the Sacrament, the candidate must have the right intention essential to a clerical vocation. It is his response to God's special grace and the primary sign of a divine vocation, namely, a free, firm, and constant supernatural motivation to procure the glory of God and the salvation of souls with the determination to go on for the priesthood.
The bishop should confer Sacred Orders only if he is morally certain of the canonical fitness of each candidate, i.e., of the presence of the qualities of mind and body, of nature and grace and proven virtue required and suited for bearing the burdens and fulfilling the tasks of the priesthood. The candidate must be sound physically and psychologically and possess the intellectual ability and knowledge set forth in the pertinent regulations of the Church and other competent authorities. The lawful reception of Orders demands outstanding and habitual goodness of life, especially perfect chastity. Solid possession of this latter virtue is an indispensable condition of a clerical vocation and its presence must be positively evident, profoundly appreciated, and zealously cherished and not merely assumed by reason of any absence of deviation.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law also prescribes minimum age requirements: "The presbyterate is not to be conferred except on those who have completed the 25th year of age and possess sufficient maturity; an interval of at least six months to be observed between the diaconate and the presbyterate. Those destined to the presbyterate are to be admitted to the order of deacon only after completing the twenty-third year of age" (CIC 1983, c.1031 §1). The interstices are to be observed, i.e., the fitting intervals laid down by law between the reception of one order and another, in order to provide a period of trial and preparation as well as the exercise of one order before promotion to the next.
The lawful reception of Holy Orders requires that the candidate have already received the Sacrament of Confirmation (CIC 1983, c.1024). Those who are bound to the divine ministry by ordination ought to be strong in the faith themselves and leaders of others in its witness and defense. Holy Orders fittingly complements the perfections of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit already received in the other Sacraments. Each order is to be received in its proper sequence and no intermediate order omitted per saltum.
A candidate for Holy Orders must be free of all canonical irregularities and impediments. Both are ecclesiastical disqualifications prohibiting primarily and directly the reception of orders and secondarily and indirectly their exercise. They do not invalidate but rather render unlawful the reception or exercise of orders, and are considered to bind gravely. An irregularity is of its nature perpetual, whether based upon a defect or a delict, and is removable only by dispensation. An impediment is temporary, the basis being considered to be lack of faith or of freedom or of good repute. The impediment may cease by dispensation, the lapse of time, or the removal of the cause. The purpose behind all these disqualifications is to safeguard the dignity of the clerical state and office, reverence and becomingness in the sacred ministry, and to avoid offense to the laity by reason of unfit ministers of the altar.
Canonical Procedures. Candidates for promotion to orders must possess testimonial letters giving proof of Baptism and Confirmation or of the last order received, of the prescribed studies completed, of good moral character, and of the absence of a canonical impediment.
Differing from the aforesaid are dimissorial let ters by which one bishop or superior releases his subject and sends him to another bishop with the faculty of receiving orders from him.
The names of candidates for individual sacred orders (with the exception of perpetually professed religious) should be announced publicly in their respective parish churches, unless the ordinary dispenses or makes other arrangements.
Fruitful Reception. As a Sacrament of the living, Holy Orders should be received in the state of grace. To receive in the state of sin an order that certainly has the dignity of a Sacrament would itself be a grave sin. In order to provide for better dispositions for the reception of orders, all candidates for any order are to make a spiritual retreat for at least five days in a place or manner determined by the ordinary (CIC 1983, c. 1039).
It is of faith that Sacraments confer grace; it is also a defined dogma that Holy Orders confers, in addition, an indelible character.
Sacramental Grace. "From the testimony of Scripture, apostolic tradition and the unanimous agreement of the Fathers it is clear that grace is conferred by sacred ordination" [Trent, sess. 23, ch. (Denz 1766); c.4 (Denz 1774)]. This grace is noted by the Apostle Paul in 1 Tm4.14 and 2 Tm 1.6–7. It is not only sanctifying grace, which is common to all the Sacraments, but also sacramental grace, the particular effect of grace of this Sacrament of Holy Orders. This sacramental effect, whether it be, theologically speaking, in the nature of a right to the actual graces corresponding to the purpose of the Sacrament or a modality of habitual grace directing to the same goal, is specified by the end of the Sacrament. The Council of Florence (Decree for the Armenians) speaks of an "increase of grace so that one may be a suitable minister," and Pius XII of "the grace proper to this particular function and state of life" (Mediator Dei 42). To be a suitable minister implies all the virtues and supernatural helps attendant upon the proper and worthy exercise of liturgical functions, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the duties respecting the sanctification, instruction, and direction of the faithful. In particular the form for the ordination of a deacon prays that the Holy Spirit might strengthen the candidate "with the sevenfold gift of grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry"; the form for the priesthood asks the Father Almighty to "renew within him the spirit of holiness so that he may hold the office of second rank which he has received from Thee, O God, and by the example of his life give a pattern of upright conduct"; the form for episcopal consecration beseeches, "give to thy priest the fullness of thy ministry, and sanctify with the dew of the heavenly anointing him who is adorned with the vesture of the highest dignity." The various virtues and leadership in holiness that the documents of tradition describe regarding the recipients of sacred ordination seem to be reduced to various aspects of charity, enlightenment, and service on the part of the bishop, priest, and deacon, respectively.
Character. The other and permanent effect of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the spiritual and indelible character imprinted on the soul of the recipient of ordination, with the result that no valid order may be repeated or lost (Council of Trent; Denz 1767, 1774). Besides the nature and function common to the characters of Baptism and Confirmation, the character of Holy Orders has its proper and specific role, "shaping sacred ministers to the likeness of Christ the Priest, and enabling them to perform the lawful acts of religion by which men are sanctified and God duly glorified according to the divine ordinance" (Pius XII, Mediator Dei 42). It confers the power over the real body of Christ to consecrate, offer, and administer His Body and Blood, and the power over His Mystical Body to prepare the faithful, by the Sacraments and the preaching of the word, to be fit and worthy for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This character is imprinted in each sacramental order, depending on the theological view held as to the sacramentality of the various orders. It is an active power whereby the recipient, according to his order, can accomplish in the name and person of Christ the sacramental rites destined for Christian worship and for the sanctification of the faithful, and by which also he is constituted a leader of the Christian community in liturgical functions. Theologians dispute whether this character is one, with many powers being, as it were, successively released or conferred, or many, either adequately or inadequately distinct among themselves, perfectly or imperfectly.
Bibliography: De ordinatione episcopi, presbyterorum et diaconorum (Vatican City 1990). a. stantantoni, L'ordinazione episcopale: storia e teologia dei riti dell'ordinazione nelle antiche liturgie dell'Occidente (Rome 1976). p. f. bradshaw, Ordination Rites of the Ancient Churches of East and West (New York 1990). j. puglisi, The Process of Admission to Ordained Ministry: A Comparative Study, 3 vols. (Collegeville, Minn. 1996–). a. lameri, La traditio instrumentorum e delle insegne nei riti di ordinazione: studio storico-liturgico (Rome 1998). j. s. h, gibaut, The Cursus Honorum: A Study of the Origins and Evolution of Sequential Ordination (New York 2000).
In 1972 the Roman Catholic orders of subdeacon, exorcist, and doorkeeper were suppressed; the other two minor orders which had formerly been nominal steps to the priesthood, were called ‘ministeria’ and allowed to be conferred on laymen. In most E. churches the major orders are bishop, priest, and deacon, and the minor orders subdeacon and reader. (Other titles like chorepiscopus and archpriest are not usually considered separate orders.)