“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19). At that moment, Christ ordained the Apostles to share the fullness of his high priesthood. He instituted the sacrament of holy orders at the same time he is instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, thus showing their intimate connection.
In order that future generations might be able to be present at the once and for all sacrifice of Christ, begun in the upper room and continued on Calvary, Christ gave the Apostles a share in his own priesthood, so that we might receive the fruits of the Paschal Mystery, which is nothing less than Christ himself, body, blood soul and divinity.
The catechism goes on to say that “the sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a ‘sacred power’ which is none other than that of Christ. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all” (CCC 1551).
It also must be recognized that there are three degrees of the sacrament of holy orders: the episcopacy, the presbyterate and the diaconate. In other words: bishop, priest and deacon. What has been said above refers first and foremost to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops.
Those men who receive episcopal ordination receive the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders. What Christ prepared the Twelve to do, and who he prepared them to be, continues through apostolic succession. “…The bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ” (CCC 862).
Christ says to the Twelve, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).
The catechism tells us, “in the beautiful words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father” (CCC 1548). This is precisely what Scripture reveals about Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). What Jesus is by nature, a validly ordained bishop is by grace.
“…The Eucharist celebrated by the bishop has a quite special significance as an expression of the Church gathered around the altar, with the one who represents Christ, the Good Shepherd and Head of his Church, presiding” (CCC 1561).
Early in the history of the church, the apostles and their successors, “…‘duly entrusted in varying degrees various members of the Church with the office of their ministry.’ ‘The function of the bishops’ ministry was handed over in a subordinate degree to priests so that they might be appointed in the order of the priesthood and be co-workers of the episcopal order…” (CCC 562).
Priests do not receive the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders, but “depend on the bishops in the exercise of their own proper power” (CCC 1564). Though this is the case, they do have a sacerdotal dignity all their own. They are priests forever, “after the image of Christ, the supreme and eternal priest…” (CCC 1564).
Also, early in church history, certain men were chosen to be ordained in a special way for service: deacons. The apostles commanded some of the disciples to “…pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom…” (Acts 6:3). Deacons are not ordained unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service. They are configured to Christ, “…who made himself the ‘deacon,’ or servant of all” (CCC 1570). They are called to be like Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:7).
Deacons, too, are in a special way connected to the bishops. “At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his ‘diakonia’” (CCC 1569).
The hierarchy of the church is a divinely instituted reality. It is what Christ, our Lord and Savior, offered his life to give us. May we not reject him by rejecting those whom he has appointed to serve us as he served us.
Some are tempted to complain, and do complain, about the pope, their bishop, their priest or perhaps their deacon. My challenge to all is to at the very least pray for them more than we complain about them, and I believe we will have less to complain about. Our prayers will aid them in their ministry of service, and perhaps change our heart in the process.
We also must also pray diligently for a greater response to the sacrament of holy orders. Without bishops we will have no priests or deacons, because only a bishop can ordain a priest and deacon. Without bishops and priests we also would not have the sacraments of confirmation, anointing of the sick, reconciliation and the sacrament of sacraments, the Most Holy Eucharist.
Mary, mother of our true High Priest, pray for all bishops, priests and deacons!