September 14, 2005


What are the types of ordination?
What is a priest expected to be?

Friar Jack’s Inbox:

Readers reflect on Friar Jack’s musings

Catechism Quiz
The Sacrament of Holy Orders

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

We come now to the last of the sacraments—Holy Orders. There are two aspects to “priesthood” in our Catholic faith. Vatican II said that each baptized person is “already consecrated to be a holy priesthood” (Constitution on the Church, par 10:1). In other words, every person by his or her Baptism participates in the priesthood of Christ. That is why Baptism is not just an initiation or sign of membership in the Church: It is a vocation to live out the gospel values of Jesus and to minister to others as Jesus did.

In addition, there is, for those called to ordination, the Sacrament of Holy Orders—a “ministerial priesthood” though which Jesus builds up and leads his Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1547). When a man is ordained, the power of the Holy Spirit is conferred upon him to exercise “sacred power” within the Church (CCC, #1547). However, it is essential that “gospel power” is used by a priest in his role as servant. It is not to be power that is used to “lord it over others,” something Jesus strongly forbade (Mt 20:25).

What are the types of ordination?

This sacrament has three levels. First, there is the ordination to the permanent diaconate, which is open to all men, single or married. Those who are ordained are called to a ministry of charity and service in the Church: to preach the gospel, to assist, witness and bless marriages, to officiate at funerals and burial services and last, but not least, to solemnly baptize. Deacons are custodians of the Eucharist and have special care in bringing the Eucharist to the sick and dying. They also play major roles in a diocese in areas of management and planning. Ordination comes only after an intense three-year theology program. In 2005 there were 14,693 permanent deacons in the U.S., an increase of 587 over 2004. The second kind of deacon is called “transitional” since these men will make the next step to ordination to priesthood, usually within a year.

The second level of the sacrament is the ordination to priesthood and to the ministry of presiding at Eucharist and offering Mass, administering the sacraments (especially Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick), preaching and teaching. Diocesan priests are ordained to work in a specific diocese and under their bishop. They promise obedience to their bishop and pledge to be celibate. Other priests who are ordained may be members of religious orders or institutes (Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit, etc.) These men take the three religious vows—poverty, chastity and obedience—and are subject to their religious superior. However, in matters of pastoral or parochial ministry, they work for the bishop, following all the diocesan regulations and guidelines.

Finally, the fullness of the priesthood is conferred on those who are appointed by the pope and ordained as bishop. Bishops are members of the Church’s hierarchy, in union with the pope and the successors of the Apostles as pastors of the Church. They have responsibility for pastoral care of the people in their dioceses and also have collegial responsibility for the care of the universal Church. One of the key roles of the bishop is ordination of priests and deacons.

The 2005 Catholic Almanac lists 29,483 diocesan priests, 14,729 religious priests and 19,431 parishes in the U.S. There are 14 cardinals (including those working in Rome and retired), 48 archbishops and 373 bishops.

What is a priest expected to be?

As in the case of marriage, the priesthood is a vocation. It is not merely a career but a “way of life” (not a “lifestyle”) to which a man believes he is called by God. If you ask what the most important qualities people expect, need and want in a priest, they consistently say the following: kindness and understanding, a sense of compassion and the ability to preach, teach and always be approachable. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like Jesus.

Friar Jack’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack’s musings on “A Prayer to Deepen Our Union With Christ and His Saving Love.

Dear Friar Jack: Thanks so much for a deeply prayerful reflection on the Anima Christi—the best I’ve ever read or heard! It is so appropriate for us Franciscans as we approach the feast of the stigmata of our holy father, St. Francis (Sept. 17). God bless you abundantly and grant you continued success in this special ministry. Patrick, SFO

Dear Friar Jack: I always love to read your E-spirations. However, this one on the Anima Christi means so much to me. It is one of my favorite prayers that I’ve been saying for a very long time. I never fail to say it after receiving Communion, and I also say it at home. Your write up on how each line inspires you was most beautiful. I am compiling a copy for myself to read over and over and a copy to mail to a friend who doesn’t have a computer. Thank you for inspiring all of us with your writing. Rose

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your article on Anima Christi. In my youth I said this prayer after Communion. For some reason, I have neglected it for many years. (I am 78.) Perhaps, as you commented, emphasis is now more on communal prayer. Thanks for you comments and encouragement on personal prayer and for reminding me of Anima Christi. I shall copy your article and use it during my hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Our Church is blessed with perpetual adoration. Tony

Dear Patrick, Rose and Tony—and several others who responded to my E-spiration on Anima Christi: It's amazing how my revisiting this prayer from long ago struck a strong nostalgic chord in so many. I think the prayer deserves attention in every era. As the last writer, Tony, indicated, we all seek a good balance between the personal and communal aspects of prayer. An enlightening and captivating article just published by St. Anthony Messenger Press (in our Eucharist: Jesus With Us series) provides some wonderful reflections on that personal/communal balance. I highly recommend to you this article by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. It’s entitled “Communion With the Lord and the Church.” May it lead you to a fuller union with Christ! Friar Jack

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