To introduce holy orders, we refer readers back to the opening pages of Ch. 1, which traced the emergence of institutional leadership in the NT Church and immediately thereafter. The first Christians, while enjoying the basic equality of all the baptized and so sharing the same 'holy' or 'royal priesthood' (1 Pet. 2: 5, 9), were, nevertheless, led and served by some who had performed specific ministries for them. We read that some received such ministries through the imposition of hands (e.g. Acts 6: 6; 1 Tim. 4: 14; 2 Tim. 1: 6), and we know the names for some office holders: episcopoi (overseers),presbyteroi (elders), and diaconoi (deacons). The development varied from place to place. The precise roles of these settled pastoral leaders are not made fully clear by the NT. Who, for instance, were responsible initially for baptizing converts and for presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist?
As we saw earlier in this chapter when dealing with the Eucharist, Clement of Rome appealed to the OT distinction between the high priest, priests, levites, and laypersons. Others followed up this reference: Tertullian, for example, was the first Christian writer clearly to apply the title of 'high priest' (summus sacerdos) to a bishop (De Baptismo, 17. 1).178 When intervening with Corinthian Christians around AD 96, after several episcopoi had been deposed from office, Clement seemed to have equated them with the presbyteroi (Epistle to the Corinthians., 42, 44).
A decade or so later, however, the letters of St Ignatius of Antioch distinguish the one episcopos or 'bishop' from the many presbyteroi, diaconoi, and laypeople. The gathering of the whole worshipping community
178 Many centuries later Vatican II in 1964 referred to 'Christ, the Supreme High Priest' being present and active through the bishops, 'his high priests' (Lumen Gentium , 21).
around the bishop resembles the unity of God the Father with the Son. The Epistle to the Magnesians by Ignatius could not have been more vigorously explicit on one bishop leading one community and 'presiding in the place of God [the Father]', who is the invisible 'Bishop of all':
As then the Lord was united to the Father and did nothing without him, neither by himself nor through the apostles, so do you do nothing without the bishop and the presbyters. Do not make anything appear right for you by yourselves, but let there be in common one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love, and in the joy which is without fault, that is Jesus Christ, than whom there is nothing better. Hasten all to come together as to one temple of God, as to one altar, to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from the one Father, and is with one, and departed to one. (nos. 3, 6-7; italics ours)
Ignatius did not specify how the bishop entered into his ministry, still less what form any 'ordination' ceremony took. But he clarified the monarchical model of the Christian communities in Asia Minor: a united community gathered around one bishop, who was assisted by presbyters and deacons.
From the early third century the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus provides prayers for the ordination of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. The first prayer calls the bishop 'high priest', invokes on him the power of the Holy Spirit, understands him to have the authority 'to forgive sins' and to unite the cultic ministry of offering the Eucharist (interpreted in the light of the OT sacrifices) with the 'feeding' of the 'holy flock' of God (a ministry interpreted in the light of Jesus' own pastoral ministry) (no. 3). The formula for the ordination of a presbyter prescribes that the bishop should lay hands on his head, invoke the Holy Spirit, and, recalling the elders chosen by Moses, pray that he assist with 'a pure heart' in governing the people of God (ibid. 8). Deacons are likewise ordained by the bishop, who lays hands on them and invokes the Holy Spirit for their ministry of 'service' and collaboration with him (ibid. 9). The Apostolic Tradition also provides details about the ways in which the presbyters and deacons assist the bishop in baptizing, distributing communion, in serving at community meals, and in leading daily meetings for prayer and instruction (ibid. 23-4, 33). This third-century document describes the ordination and ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons; its guidelines for these holy orders remain thoroughly recognizable today in the Catholic Church, among the Orthodox, and beyond.
For many centuries after the apostolic era, the ordination and ministry of those in holy orders remained uncontested. The changes and crises we recalled in Ch. 1 and the first part of Ch. 2 concerned varying ways in which such orders were exercised as societies and cultures developed and collapsed. When, for instance, the Roman Empire was reorganized into fifteen 'dioceses' or administrative divisions, this provided Western Christianity with a standard term for the territory governed by a bishop (or archbishop). From the third century bishops adopted the seat or 'cathedra' of Roman magistrates to symbolize their episcopal authority in teaching, preaching, and presiding in their 'cathedral', the chief church in a diocese. The vestments or special clothes worn by bishops, priests, and deacons for liturgical functions came from Graeco-Roman customs. For example, the alb or long white tunic was modelled on an everyday garment that reached to the ankles. The stole, or long, narrow strip of cloth worn over the left shoulder by a deacon and over both shoulders by bishops and priests, derived from scarves worn by Roman officials to show their rank. The chasuble (Latin casula or 'little house'), worn as the outer liturgical vestment for the celebration of the Eucharist, was originally a cone-shaped, outer garment with a hole for the head. After the barbarian invasions, this garment went out of style, but continued to be the special dress for priests and bishops when celebrating Mass.
When Christianity spread through the Mediterranean world and beyond (see Ch. 1), the cathedral liturgy still brought together the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons. But in rural parishes, often several days' journey from a city large enough to have a bishop, presbyters presided alone at the Eucharist. The vision of one sacrament, perceptibly shared by members of these three orders, disappeared from view. After being originally applied only to the bishop, the title of 'priest' was extended to the 'presbyters' and one spoke of their being 'ordained' by bishops to the priesthood, which essentially meant the power to celebrate the Eucharist. Thus the Fourth Lateran Council stated in 1215: 'No one can perform this sacrament, except the priest duly ordained according the [power of the] keys of the church, which Jesus Christ himself conceded to the apostles and their successors [the bishops]' (DH 802; ND 21). Seven years earlier in a letter to the bishop of Tarragona (near Barcelona), Pope Innocent III had stated: 'No Christians, however honest, religious, holy, and prudent they may be, either can or should consecrate the Eucharist and perform the sacrifice of the altar, if they are not priests regularly ordained by a bishop' (DH 794; ND 1703).
Difficulties already caused by the Waldensians and much more by other 'wounds of the Church', not least by the Great Schism when for thirty-nine years (1378—1417) Western Christianity was divided between eight popes and antipopes, raised serious questions about the sacramental power of bishops and priests, the differences in intrinsic and canonical status between clergy and laypeople, and the prevalent one-sided stress on the ministerial priesthood. Things came to a head when sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, in the name of retrieving the common priesthood of all the baptized, denied that a sacrament of holy orders derived from Christ and the NT Church. Proper ministry, many of them argued, was a function delegated by Christian communities to some of their members, so as to assure primarily that the Word of God be preached well. To preside over the worship of Christian assemblies, ministers do not require a special sacramental power instituted by Christ but a charism of the Spirit to serve the common good with responsibility. Furthermore, by denying the sacrificial value of the Lord's Supper, the Reformers regarded ordination to the priesthood as superfluous. No sacrifice, and so no priests. Yet the emphasis placed by the Reformers on the need to render the Lord's Supper fully effective through solid preaching beforehand and by pastoral care afterwards reflected major NT dimensions of ecclesial service.
In its twenty-third session (1563) the Council of Trent, having upheld the sacrificial character of the Eucharist in its previous session (1562), insisted on the essential connection between 'sacrifice and priesthood' and drew the conclusion: since 'the Catholic Church has received from the institution of Christ the holy, visible sacrifice of the Eucharist, it must also be acknowledged that there exists in the Church a new, visible, and external priesthood', which has 'the power of consecrating, offering, and administering his body and blood', as well as that of 'remitting sins' (DH 1764; ND 1707). The Council also maintained that bishops are 'superior' to priests, inasmuch as they 'govern the Church', 'ordain ministers', and 'confer the sacrament of confirmation' (DH 1768; ND 1711). Besides reiterating in a crisis situation traditional Catholic teaching on holy orders, Trent recommended such practical reforms as requiring that bishops and parish priests manifest a new commitment to the pastoral care of people, which included a renewed concern for preaching and teaching and a proper training for the priesthood. The Council's 1563
decree on the responsibility of bishops for such training encouraged the formation of seminaries across the Catholic world: from such sixteenth-century foundations as the Venerable English College (which replaced the medieval English Hospice in Rome), eighteenth-century foundations (e.g. St Mary's College, Baltimore, and St Patrick's College, Maynooth), down to huge twentieth-century seminaries in such countries as India, Korea, and Nigeria. The Second Vatican Council was to issue a decree on the training of priests (Optatam Totius of October 1965), which directed the bishops of each country to devise their programmes for the educational, pastoral, and spiritual preparation of candidates for the priesthood.
The 1947 encyclical letter Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII signalled developments in teaching about holy orders which prepared the way for Vatican II. All priesthood is founded in the one and unique priesthood of Jesus Christ, but the ministerial priesthood (conferred by the sacrament of holy orders) is to be distinguished from the common priesthood of all the faithful (conferred by baptism) and is exercised differently in the eucharistic sacrifice, where priests 'represent the person of our Lord Jesus Christ' and 'act in the person of Christ' (DH 3850, 3852; ND 1734, 1736). Here the Pope took up an expression officially used for the first time in 1439 when the Council of Florence said of the celebration of the Eucharist: 'The priest effects the sacrament by speaking in the person of Christ (DH 1321; ND 1510). At the same time, as Pius XII stressed, all share in the one offering of Christ, with the people offering the sacrifice 'through' and 'with' the priests (DH 3851-2; ND 1735-6). In Sacramentum Ordinis (the Sacrament of Order) also issued in 1947, the Pope authoritatively restated the ancient usage that we cited above from the third-century Apostolic Tradition: this sacrament is conferred by the imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Significantly Pius XII wrote in the singular of the one sacrament of 'the holy orders of diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate' (DH 3858-9; ND 1737).
Vatican II maintains some of the expressions of Pius XII: for instance, that 'the ministerial priest', by 'acting in the person of Christ, makes the eucharistic sacrifice present and offers it to God in the name of all the people' (Lumen Gentium, 10). But a number of emphases are significantly different. First, Vatican II accents even more the 'holy' or 'royal priesthood' of those who have been baptized (ibid.). Second, episcopal ordination confers on a bishop the fullness of holy orders (ibid. 21), with priests and deacons sharing in the one sacrament, albeit in different degrees (ibid.
28—9).179 Third, the purpose of ministerial priesthood entails not only consecration to God but also a mission to the Church and the world, which aims 'to eliminate division of every shape or form, so that the whole human race may be led into the unity of the family of God' (ibid. 28). Fourth, a new attention to the redeeming role of Christ as prophet/ herald, priest, and king/shepherd repeatedly illuminates Vatican II's teaching on the common priesthood of the faithful (ibid. 9—12, 34—6), the ministry of bishops (ibid. 25—7), and that of ordained priests. The scheme of Christ as the 'Teacher, Priest, and King' provides the major structure for the 1965 Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis (1, 4—6, 13) of the same Council. The prophetic, sanctifying, and pastoral role of presbyters means that priesthood may not be reduced to fulfilling the cultic function that is exercised supremely in offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist.
In 1972, during the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI instituted certain lay ministries in the Western Church. Catholics in many countries have experienced how well lectors (who proclaim the scriptures at the liturgical assemblies), acolytes (who assist priests and deacons at the altar), catechists, eucharistic ministers, and other such ministers can function. Vatican II also mandated the restoration of the permanent diaconate, one that is not simply a stepping-stone to priestly ordination (Lumen Gentium, 29). Many parishes profit greatly from the ministry of such permanent deacons who are often married. But what does or should the future hold for married deacons, as well as for catechists, especially since the latter have contributed immensely in Africa and elsewhere to the spread and good state of Catholic Christianity? Clearly the theme of holy orders brings up these and some further challenging questions: for instance, about the non-admission of women to the ordained ministry. Our concluding chapter will return to these issues. Even before then, the next chapter on 'The Catholic Church and Its Mission' will enlarge and shade our account of holy orders.
179 At ordination ceremonies not only the prayers that accompany the imposition of hands during ordination but also the 'explicatory rites' show the difference between episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate. For example, to signify their participation in Christ's high-priestly mission, bishops and priests are anointed with chrism; deacons are not anointed but are presented with the Gospel Book.
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