Holy Orders: Ministerial Priesthood

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1536-1600

The Church is the Body of Christ. As such, the whole Church shared in the nature and tasks of Christ, our head. This includes sharing his priesthood.

But beyond this “common priesthood of the faithful,” there is a special or “ministerial” priesthood that certain members of the Church receive through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Each type of priesthood – common or ministerial – is a sharing in the priesthood of Christ. And both types are related to each other. But there is a basic difference between them. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, for example, the ordained priest acts “in the person of Christ” and offers the sacrifices to God in the name of all, and the people join with the priest in that offering. The two roles – of priest and people – go together.

Priests receive their priesthood from bishops, who possess the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. When a bishop ordains priests, he gives them a sharing of his priesthood and mission.

Priests share in Christ’s work and ministry by preaching the Gospel, doing all in their power to bring their people to Christian maturity. They baptize, heal, forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, anoint the sick, and act as the Church’s witness in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Most importantly, priests celebrate the Eucharist, which is “the center of the assembly of the faithful over which the priest presides (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 5)” All priests are united in the single goal of building up Christ’s Body.

When priests are ordained, they “are signed with a special character,” an interior capability that empowers them to “act in the person of Christ the head (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 2)” This special inner “character” unites priests in a sacramental bond with one another – a fact that, in a sense, sets them apart from other people. This “being set apart” is meant to help priests do God’s work with total dedication.

As Vatican II points out, priests “perform other services for people” just as Jesus did (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 2). One thing this means is that priests need their people just as their people need them. Lay people who work closely with priests help them to be leaders in the community of God’s people.

In addition to bishops and priests, deacons also have a special sharing in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The diaconate, conferred by a bishop, is received as the first stage in the ordination by those who are preparing for the priesthood. Since the Second Vatican Council, however, the ancient Order of Deacon has been restored in the Roman Catholic Church as an office in its own right. Many dioceses now have deacons who do not go on to become priests. They are known, therefore, as permanent deacons. Working under the authority of the local bishop, permanent deacons serve the people of God at the direction of priests in parishes.

Deacons were common in the early days of the Church and are becoming common once again in the United States. The permanent deacon is ordained to perform his ministry. Deacons may be married or unmarried members of the Church. The diaconate is a ministry of service. Their service usually combines liturgical service and pastoral service in the community.

Thinking about the Priesthood or the Diaconate?

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with a priest at Saint Philip’s by calling our parish office at (973) 779-6200.

We also encourage you to check out www.rcdop.org/vocations or www.patersonvocations.org  to learn more.