Others are called to share specially in Christís priesthood. In the Old Covenant, even though Israel was a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6), the Lord called certain men to a special priestly ministry (Exod. 19: 22). In the New Covenant, even though Christians are a kingdom of priests (1 Pet. 2:9), Jesus calls certain men to a special priestly ministry (Rom. 15:15Ė16).
This sacrament is called holy orders. Through it priests are ordained and thus empowered to serve the Church (2 Tim. 1:6Ė7) as pastors, teachers, and spiritual fathers who heal, feed, and strengthen Godís peopleómost importantly through preaching and the administration of the sacraments.
The 3 Major or "Sacred" Orders:
- Bishops: The First Degree of the Priesthood:
Bishops have the greatest authority and jurisdiction (aside from Popes and Patriarchs), and have the powers to ordain men into the diaconate and priesthood, and to offer the Sacrament of Confirmation (this last power they can delegate to a priest), to dedicate churches and altars, to consecrate chalices and patens and bells, and to preside at the benediction of abbots. They are said to exercise the fullness of the priesthood. The symbol of this office is the mitre.
- Priests: The Second Degree of the Priesthood
The duties and powers of the priest are to confect the Eucharist at the Mass; offer the Sacraments of Penance, Communion, and Unction; to preside at the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; to solemnly baptize; to preach; to teach, guide, and sanctify his sheep. With ordination to the priesthood, a man has received the fullness of the Sacrament of Order. The symbols of this office are the stole, the chasuble, a paten with bread on it, and a Chalice filled with wine.
- II: Deacons:
The duties of the deacon are to handle the sacred vessels, to be of service to the priests and Bishops (inside and outside of the liturgy), to read the Epistle and Gospel at the Mass, to be general stewards, and to serve the widows and orphans. This Order is Sacramental, and the first of the three divinely-instituted grades of the hierarchy of Orders, the others being the priesthood and the episcopate. The symbols of this office are the dalmatic, the stole (worn over the left shoulder, as opposed to around the neck as priests wear them, and under the dalmatic), and the Book of the Gospels.
- III: Subdeacons:
The duties of a subdeacon are to serve the deacon at Mass; to prepare the bread, wine, and sacred vessels for the Sacrifice; to present the chalice and paten at the Offertory, and pour water into the wine for the Eucharist; to chant the Epistle; and to wash the sacred linens. This office is non-sacramental, but it is now that the vow of celibacy is taken. The symbols of this order are the empty Chalice and the paten, basin and towel, two little cruets, and the book of epistles.
The 4 Minor Orders:
- IV: Acolytes:
The duties of the acolyte are to light the Altar candles, carry the candles in procession, prepare the water and wine for the Mass, and assist the priest during the Mass The symbols of this order are the candle, the cruet, and a linen bag. (Note that altar boys are sometimes designated "acolytes" and fulfill the duties of the acolyte during the Mass.)
- V: Exorcists:
In the early Church, the duty of the exorcist was to cast out demons. Now that duty belongs to the priest alone, but this minor order is kept in traditional priestly societies nonetheless. The symbol for this order is the book containing the Rite of Exorcism.
- VI: Lectors (Readers):
The duty of the lector is to chant the Epistle when Mass is sung without a deacon and subdeacon. The symbol of this order is the Book of the Epistles.
- VII: Porters (Doorkeepers or Ostiaries or Sextons):
The duties of the porter are to ring the bells, to open the church and sacristy, and to open the book for the priest. Most of these duties have passed to the laity, such as sacristans, etc., but in traditional priestly orders, this clerical order is kept as an office and stepping-stone toward the priesthood. The symbol for this order is keys.
Holy Orders is the Sacrament by which men become priests and are given a sacred power (sacra potestas) to act in total sacramental identification with Christ (i.e., to act in persona Christi) in order confect Christ's Body and offer it up to the Father at the Mass for the remission of sins; to forgive sins through the Sacrament of Penance; to solemnly baptize; to preside during the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; to offer Unction to the dying; to preach; and to otherwise teach, guide, and sanctify their sheep. With -- and only with -- the permission of his Bishop, he may be delegated to offer the Sacrament of Confirmation, but to the Bishop alone is reserved the power to ordain other priests (though a priest may be delgated to ordain men to the sub-diaconate and the minor orders).
As in Baptism and Confirmation, the Sacrament of Holy Orders leaves an indelible mark on the soul of the recipient and can never be repeated once validly received; once a priest, always a priest (even if a priest is laicized and removed from his office, this mark remains).