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The sacrament by which, through the authority of the Church, the imposition of a bishop’s hands confers on a man the grace and spiritual power to celebrate the Church’s sacraments.
There are three forms of this sacrament: diaconate (deacon), presbyterate (priest) and episcopate (bishop). One sacrament, celebrated three times with successively higher sacramental effects.
Every man in Holy Orders is either a deacon, priest or bishop. A monsignor, for instance, is a priest who has special recognition as a member of the papal household. An archbishop is a bishop in charge of a large or important diocese called an archdiocese. A cardinal is a special member of the papal household. Nearly all cardinals are bishops, but there are one or two cardinals who are priests, such as Avery Cardinal Dulles, are priests. The pope is the Bishop of Rome.
Only men can be ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The reasons are set forth in Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. It concludes, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
But only a special few among men. Deacons, priests, and bishops are called by Jesus, who told His apostles, Jn 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you.” The apostles hastened after Jesus when He called, Mk 1:16, 2:13 “Follow Me.” No man on earth has a right to be ordained. Those who sense a call from God to Holy Orders humbly submit to Church authority.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders imparts a special indelible character, a mark that God can see, on the human soul. Like the Holy Eucharist itself, the character of Holy Orders ontologically transforms a man interiorly while leaving his outer appearance unchanged. That character remains on his soul for all eternity, identifying him as one of God’s ordained servants. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation also impart indelible characters to the human soul that remain for all eternity.
The matter of this sacrament is the bishop’s imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand, or man to be ordained.
The form of this sacrament is the bishop’s prayer of consecration asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for His gifts proper to the diaconate, presbyterate, or episcopate, as appropriate.
Holy Orders is a sacrament of the living. It can only be received fruitfully in the state of grace.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders is one of the two sacraments of vocation. The other is the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1536-1600
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
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