Holy Orders is a sacrament in which men are approved or “ordained” by the Church to perform the other six sacraments. The men may be deacons, priests or bishops.
Txawm li cas los, the sacrament of Holy Orders is performed only by bishops, and that follows directly from the Bible.
There is an established way in Scripture in which God’s call to the ministry is given and received. It flows from God to Jesus, from Jesus to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to their successors (saib Txoj Moo Zoo ntawm Lukas 10:16 thiab cov Txoj Moo Zoo ntawm John 13:20; 20:21). Yog li ntawd, the sacrament of Holy Orders can be performed only by an Apostle or only by one on whom apostolic authority has been conferred. Piv txwv li, Paul writes in his Thawj tsab ntawv mus rau Timaute (4:14), “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you” (saib 5:22, nws Second Letter to Timothy, 1:6, thiab nws Tsab ntawv rau Titus 1:5). Yog li ntawd, the sacrament follows an unbroken chain from Jesus to today’s newest Catholic priest. (More on this below.)
In the early Church, a hierarchy developed that consisted of bishops, presbyters (or elders), and deacons, which corresponded to Israel’s three-tiered structure of high priest, pov thawj, and Levites (saib Paul lub Tsab ntawv rau lub Phillipians, 1:1; Saint James’ Epistle, 5:14; Phau Ntawv Numbers, 32; Lub Ob txhais Phau Ntawv Vaj Keeb Kwm 31:9-10).1 In Israel, the priest was seen as God’s unique emissary (saib Malakhi 2:7), being set apart from the assembly by an anointing and the imposition of hands (saib Khiav Dim 30:30 los yog Kevcai 34:9).
Given that the Apostles were Jews, the Church adopted these Jewish customs for her rite of ordination.
Aren’t We all Priests?
Tsis, but sometimes people are confused by the Bible’s message that all believers are called to share in Christ’s priesthood. Piv txwv li, Saint Peter’s Thawj Tsab Ntawv (2:9) states, “You are a chosen race, ib tug muaj koob muaj npe pov thawj hwj, ib tug dawb huv lub teb chaws, God’s own people.” These words are a reference back to Khiav Dim 19:6, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Reserving the authority to perform sacraments to a special group of individuals (pov thawj) is known as sacerdotalism.
In the Old Covenant, a smaller, sacerdotal priesthood existed within the larger priestly nation of Israel. As we explain, it is the same in the New Covenant.
The Bible reveals the sacerdotal priesthood to be a kind of spiritual fatherhood, which is why the Catholic Church teaches that priestly ordination is reserved for men alone. Piv txwv li, in the Old Testament, lub Phau Ntawv tsev hais plaub (18:19) states: “Come with us, and be to us a father and a priest.”
Ib yam li ntawd, nyob rau hauv Phau Tshiab, Paul writes in his Thawj Tsab ntawv rau cov neeg Kaulinthaus (4:15) uas “For though you have countless guides in Christ, koj tsis muaj ntau yam kev cov txiv. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Paul elaborates more on this spiritual fatherhood or sacerdotal priesthood at the start of that same chapter, when he says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (4:1).2
At the start of His ministry, Jesus remarked that the crowds resembled “sheep without a shepherd,” hais tias, “The harvest is plentiful, tab sis cov neeg uas hlais muaj ob peb; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (saib Mathais 9:36, 37-38). These remarks preface His selection of the Twelve Apostles, whom He empowered and sent out as His vicarious shepherds over the faithful (saib cov Txoj Moo Zoo ntawm John 21:15-17; lub Tubtxib Tes Haujlwm ntawm cov Thwj Tim 20:28; thiab Peter lub Thawj Tsab Ntawv 5:2). “You did not choose me,” He later reminded them, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). “How can men preach unless they are sent?” writes Paul in his Tsab ntawv mus rau cov neeg Loos, 10:15.
Nowhere in Scripture does a man assume the ministry for himself. “One does not take the honor upon himself, but is called by God, cia li raws li Aaron yog,” write Paul in his Tsab ntawv mus rau cov neeg Henplais 5:4 (see his Tsab ntawv rau cov neeg Khaulauxais yuav 1:25, kuj). When certain Jewish exorcists attempt to rebuke evil spirits “by the Jesus whom Paul preaches,” the spirits reply, “Jesus I know, thiab Povlauj kuv paub; but who are you?” (Tubtxib Tes Haujlwm ntawm cov Thwj Tim, 19:13, 15).
Yog li ntawd, a valid call to the ministry ordinarily involves the confirmation of the apostolic hierarchy. Piv txwv li, in the Act of the Apostles (1:15), Matthias does not stand up and take his ministerial office by his own volition. He is elected according to the authority of Peter and the Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Neither does Paul, in spite of his dramatic conversion, set off on his own to preach the Gospel, claiming God’s anointing for himself. As mentioned in his Tsab ntawv mus rau cov neeg Kalatias (1:18), he goes first to Jerusalem to receive the approval of the Apostles, and later he returns to verify the gospel he is preaching is correct (2:2).
While all Christians are called to evangelize, the Apostles and their successors have the unique call of safeguarding the Deposit of Faith and teaching the faithful. Nyob rau hauv lub Txoj Moo Zoo ntawm Mathais (28:19-20) Jesus says to the Apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, kevcai raus dej lawv nyob rau hauv lub npe ntawm Leej Txiv thiab Leej Tub thiab ntawm tus Vaj Ntsuj Plig, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Ib yam li ntawd, nyob rau hauv nws Second Letter to Timothy, Paul instructs: “Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us,… What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (saib nqe 1:14; 2:2; 1:13; thiab cov Tubtxib Tes Haujlwm ntawm cov Thwj Tim 2:42).
Ua tau, when His ministers teach it is Christ Himself who teaches through them as He said: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lukas 10:16). Elsewhere He declares, “Muaj tseeb tiag,, tiag tiag, Kuv hais rau koj, he who receives any one whom I send tau txais kuv; and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (John 13:20; qhia ntau txog ntxiv).
The Apostles are given the authority of presiding over the Eucharistic celebration. Piv txwv li, while instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He bids them, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lukas 22:19 and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 11:23-24). The Apostles receive a unique share in His priesthood and with it the chief duty of offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice on behalf of the faithful (mob CF lub cev. muaj. 5:1).3
The Apostles also receive from Jesus the power to forgive sins through the gift of the keys given to Peter and the authority to” khi thiab xoob” conferred on them as a group (mob CF lub cev. Matt. 16:19; 18:18). “Raws li Leej Txiv tau xa kuv,” the Savior tells them, “even so I send you. … Receive the Holy Spirit. Yog hais tias koj zam txim rau tej kev txhaum ntawm tej, lawv zam txim rau; Yog hais tias koj khaws tej kev txhaum ntawm tej, they are retained” (John 20:21-23; qhia ntau txog ntxiv).
- Though the fullness of the apostolic office with all its prerogatives was not passed down, the bishops, as direct successors to the Apostles, remained at the head of the hierarchy. ↩
- The word “mystery,” nyob rau hauv Greek, mysterion, is translated in Latin as sacramentum los yog “sacrament.” The Greek Orthodox continue to this day to refer to the Sacraments as the sacred “Mysteries.” ↩
- The Biblical view of the Eucharist as a Sacrifice (mob CF lub cev. Mal. 1:11; 1 Cor. 10:1-5, 15-22; 11:23-30; muaj. 10:25-26), nyob rau hauv qhov tseeb, further points to the existence of a sacerdotal priesthood–for the presence of a sacrifice necessitates a priesthood to offer it. Pope Saint Clement, writing from Rome in about the year 96, clearly distinguished between the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered by the ministerial priesthood and the spiritual sacrifices offered by the priesthood of the laity (mob CF lub cev. Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians 40-41). Misunderstanding the Eucharistic Sacrifice, non-Catholics sometimes accuse Catholics of “re-sacrificing” Jesus at Mass. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is not a re-sacrificing, Txawm li cas los, but a re-presentation of the one Sacrifice of Calvary. Christ does not die again; His saving Flesh and Blood are made present on the altar under the appearances of Bread and Wine so that the faithful may “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” as Paul wrote in his Thawj Tsab ntawv rau cov neeg Kaulinthaus (11:26). ↩