On Saturday, Bishop Burbidge ordained two men as deacons, in preparation for being priests, for the Diocese of Arlington. And next Saturday, he will ordain three new priests for this diocese. It is thus a good occasion to discuss the sacrament of Holy Orders through which the Church consecrates men as deacons, priests or bishops.
All people are called to holiness of life, to bring the Gospel to others, and be witnesses of Christ. See, e.g., Matt. 5:13-16. The much misunderstood sacrament of Confirmation gives the full gifts of the Holy Spirit to believers as occurred at Pentecost and thus enables all the faithful to fulfill this calling as citizens of the greater Kingdom. See Catechism 1302-05. However, as St. Paul wrote, there are different roles in the Church, which complement each other. See, e.g., Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-16. Married couples, religious brothers and sisters, those in consecrated single life, and ordained ministers, have different and mutually beneficial roles in building up the kingdom of God. Regarding the clergy, Jesus specifically selected twelve men called apostles (and later St. Paul) to sanctify His church with specific abilities to bring God’s saving power on earth. Those men in turn appointed successors, such as Saints Matthias, Barnabas, Timothy and Titus, who would join in their full apostolic authority. See, e.g., Acts 1:15-26, 14:1-4; 1 Cor. 9:4-6; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 4:11.
The successors to the apostles, whom we call bishops English, guided the Church in large regions or (as with Saints Paul and Barnabas) in worldwide missions. These leaders also appointed others to assist them in their ministry, who would eventually be called presbyters (Latin for priests) and deacons. See Acts 6:1-7, 14:23, 15:2, 20:17; 1 Tim. 3:1-13, 5:17-23; Titus 1:5. Priests assist the bishops by offering sacraments and celebrating liturgies, by teaching the faith and preaching the Word of God, and by guiding the church in more specific areas. The deacons assisted the bishops and their appointees in charitable work, teaching, preaching and sacraments. The way we phrase this arrangement today is to say that the bishops are successors to the apostles with the fullness of the priesthood. Priests are co-workers of the bishops in this apostolic role and act in the person of Christ, bringing His power to earth. And deacons are specially ordained assistants to the bishop and, under his authority, to the priests. See Catechism 1555-71.
Next week’s article will discuss the training and organization of the clergy today.