1536 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, presbyterate, and diaconate. …
I. Why Is This Sacrament Called “Orders”?
1537 The word order in Roman antiquity designated an established civil body, especially a governing body. Ordinatio means incorporation into an ordo. In the Church there are established bodies which Tradition, not without a basis in Sacred Scripture,4 has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines. And so the liturgy speaks of the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, the ordo diaconorum. Other groups also receive this name of ordo: catechumens, virgins, spouses, widows,. . . .
One of my earliest memories about the Catholic Church happened one weekend when I entered my mom’s sewing room, riled up about some theological point. I must have been reading about Church history or something, because I asked her in a very agitated way who the Jesuits were. She told me they were a kind of priest in the Catholic Church and, therefore, subject to the Pope. I, being a well trained, if not very devout, Protestant, immediately retorted, “You’ll never see this Protestant obey no Pope!”
I take my change of heart as nothing less than the grace of God, grace which is whimsical enough to create puppies and to bring me to obey a Pope as Christ’s vicar on earth. I am now one of the Jesuits’ biggest “fans” and have even considered allying myself – my gifts, my love, my heart – with their order of “active contemplatives.” But that’s the future. For now, some nights I am almost awoken by the laughter of angels at my silly youthful oath. But that was the past.
As for the present, the greatest I “dig” about the Sacrament of Orders is that it, like every other sacrament, is so very real. (Pardon the truism, but human language has such puny lungs to grapple with God’s glory at these heights.) All sacraments, as I hope I have explained so far, demonstrate for us the truth that God’s grace is not merely an idea or an immaterial force. Grace is also somehow an incarnated reality. Deacons, priests and bishops all are the most literally living signs of God’s continuing grace for His People. Because I see living priests, I can better see Christ is alive. Ordination is the divine ritual man performs to invite God to embrace His servant, a mere man called to heavenly things. Ordination is the divine ritual the Church performs to ennoble this same mere man to embrace fellow men and women with the strength and grace of God.