The following materials are from the “Persona Christi” Life Teen Life Night guide.
THE VOCATION OF HOLY ORDERS
A priest receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Holy Orders, as you may remember, is one of the four vocations a person can have. The other three are marriage, consecrated life, and committed single life. Like all vocations, Holy Orders is rooted in our universal vocation: God’s call to everyone to be holy; to love God and to love our neighbor.
A man who lives out the vocation of Holy Orders directs his entire life toward the salvation of others. His mission is the same as the Church; his goal is to get every person to heaven and to continually build up the People of God on earth. Jesus, himself, gave this special mission to the Church; it is carried out continuously by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the vocation of Holy Orders.
There are three levels to the vocation of Holy Orders. These three are the episcopate (bishops), the presbyterate (priest), and the diaconate (deacons). each level serves a specific purpose and is obedient to the level above it. We are going to talk specifically about bishops and priests at this Life Night; deacons also receive Holy Orders, but they live it out in a way different from bishops and priests. We will give them a Life Night all their own.
Bishops and priests share many things in common; in fact, every bishop is a priest (although not every priest is a bishop). They are both called to “feed the Church by Word and by the grace of God.” This means that they hold a special responsibility to preach the Gospel and celebrate the Sacraments. Bishops and priests are both “ordained” into their ministry. “Ordination” happens as part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders; it is an action that sets a man apart for the priesthood. When a priest is ordained he makes vows of obedience to his bishop and celibacy; he commits his whole life to the service of Christ and the Church. A priest from a religious order also makes a vow of poverty. These vows represent the sacrifices a man is making in order to serve Christ and the Church selflessly, just the same way a husband and wife promise to love each other selflessly in marriage.
During the ordination rite, a bishop lays hands on the man who wishes to become a priest and asks that he be given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament brings a man into Holy Orders. This Tradition goes all the way back to the apostles at the beginning of the Church.
At the Last Supper, Jesus began the priesthood of the New Covenant with the apostles who had gathered there. He did this so they could be a visible sign of the Church and could continue to carry out his ministry. He commands them to celebrate the eucharist. At his Ascension, he commands them to baptize others and create more disciples. Once they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they go out to preach the Good News of Jesus. This began the ministry of Word and Sacrament. As the Church grew, the disciples set apart, or “ordained” more men to serve in the ministry. They did this by laying hands on them and asking God for the same gifts of the Holy Spirit they had received. This has continued at the ordination of every priest and bishop. They can trace their ordination back to the Last Supper, when Jesus gave the eucharist to the disciples. That’s pretty amazing.
It is because of this ordination that bishops and priests are able to stand in the place of Christ for us. In Latin, we say that they are acting in persona Christi capitas, or “as Christ the Head of the Church.” This means that when a bishop or priest is celebrating the sacraments, it isn’t the priest who is performing the sacrament, it is Christ acting through him. This service is wholly dependent on Christ and not the person; that is how powerful the Sacrament of Holy Orders is.
When God calls men to this vocation this is what He is calling them to— a life of service by acting in the place of Jesus Christ, the Son, in order to serve the people of God and help them get to heaven.
Some men who become priests will be called to God to serve as bishops. It is important for anyone who is discerning Holy Orders to realize that the priesthood does not work like a “career.” Just because you serve as priest does not mean you will become a bishop. The Holy Spirit guides the Church in selecting men for this level of the vocation.
If a man is called to be a bishop, his vocation grows from serving a parish, to having teaching authority and “rule” over an entire area. We call this area a “diocese.” The bishop serves his vocation as a living apostle for the Church. He serves the Church by making sure things that are being taught in the diocese are in line with Church teaching, calling new men to the priesthood and ordaining them, and guiding the direction of all the parishes in unity by acting as their “shepherd.” He also is called to act as the unified voice of the Catholic Church in that area. Bishops will often stand in the public arena and fight for the Truths that the Catholic Church teaches and for the salvation of all people. This is in addition to celebrating the sacraments of the Church, managing employees, making sure the diocese is taking care of its money, etc.
A bishop also participates in a “college” of bishops. This community of bishops helps makes decisions for the entire Church, and provides special guidance for the country that those bishops reside in. Bishops serve in a variety of ways, and it is a lot of work. Thankfully, they have some co-workers to help.
A priest lives out his vocation to Holy Orders by serving, in obedience, as a co- worker for the bishop of his diocese. Since the bishop cannot be at every parish, the priest is given authority by the bishop to preach the gospel, celebrate the sacraments, and (you guessed it) lead the People of God towards heaven. A priest draws his strength from celebrating the mass; this is also when he exercises the greatest aspect of his vocation. At mass, he stands in place of Christ so that we can all celebrate the eucharist.
- How would you explain the importance of the priesthood to a non-Catholic?
- How has a Priest made a positive difference in your life, personally?
- What are some questions you still have about the priesthood?
- What are some ways you can discern your own vocation right now?