Holy Orders

The Lord calls each of us to live a life of holiness, a life of friendship with God. It is a call that we acknowledge, or others acknowledge for us, at Baptism, a call we respond to as we follow the Commandments and the precepts of the Church. It is the Universal Call to Holiness. In the Ordained Priesthood, which includes bishops, priests and deacons, a man is configured to Christ as head and shepherd, of the Church. Priests are heralds of His Gospel, ministers of the Sacraments of Christ’s Church, mediators of God’s mercy and teachers of God’s truth.

Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church he instituted. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal: In order to shepherd the People of God, Christ set up a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying, and governing in his name and by his power. Holy Orders is a sacrament of vocation, in the apostolic ministry, directed towards the salvation of others. Holy Orders is the sacrament that consecrates priests.


“Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”  —Matthew 9:32

There is a great need in the Church today to increase the numbers responding to the call to priesthood. Each of us has a role to play in this effort, building awareness and inviting the young people in our families and communities to be open to this call. It begins with teaching children to pray, to have a relationship with Christ. When we do that, we can have confidence they will respond to His call. For more information on vocation discernment through our diocese: Diocese of Fall River Vocations Office or the Archdiocese of Boston: Archdiocese of Boston Vocations Office

Becoming a priest or a man or woman religious is not primarily our own decision…. Rather it is the response to a call and to a call of love. —Pope Francis, Address to Seminarians and Novices, July 6, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions About Ordination:

1.  What is ordination?

Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop and enabled to minister in Christ’s name and that of the Church. There are three ordinations in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: deaconate; priesthood; and Episcopal. The ordination ceremony includes various rituals, rich in meaning and history, e.g., the prostration, laying on of hands, anointing of hands, giving of the chalice and paten, sign of peace.

2.  When does the ordination actually take place?
The essential rite of the sacrament, i.e., when it takes place, is the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration. This is an ancient tradition in the Church, mentioned in the Bible.

3.  Who can ordain priests?
Only a bishop can ordain a priest because he shares in the ministry of Jesus passed down through the apostles.

4.  What is the meaning of the laying on of hands?
By this ritual the ordaining bishop and the other priests invoke the Holy Spirit to come down upon the one to be ordained, giving him a sacred character and setting him apart for the designated ministry.

5.  Why does the ordinand lie prostrate during the ordination?
It symbolizes his unworthiness for the office to be assumed and his dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community.

6.  What is the meaning of the newly ordained priest receiving the stole and chasuble?
These are vestments which pertain to his office and have symbolic meaning. The stole symbolizes the authority and responsibility to serve in imitation of Christ. It reflects the line from Scripture: “For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:30). The chasuble is the principal garment of the priest celebrating the Eucharist and is the outermost vestment.

7.  What does the anointing of the hands signify?
Anointing with oil stems from the Old Testament and indicates that someone or something is being set apart for a sacred task or duty. The anointing of the hands signifies that the hands of the newly ordained priest are being prepared for the sacred duties and vessels which will be part of the priestly ministry, for example, offering the bread and the wine, anointing the sick and blessing people. The bishop says as he anoints the hands: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.”

8.  Why does the ordaining bishop hand the ordinand a chalice and paten?
The Eucharist is at the heart of the priesthood and this ritual highlights the importance of celebrating the Eucharist in the life of the priest and its meaning, as seen in the words which are spoken by the bishop: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

9.  How does one prepare for ordination to the priesthood?
A man has to engage in a challenging program of priestly formation which lasts from five to thirteen years, depending upon his background and the seminary he attends. There are three levels of seminary: high school; college or pre-theology; and theology.

Seminaries address four types of formation: human; spiritual; academic (intellectual); and pastoral. In addition to the academic course work, seminarians participate in a full schedule of spiritual activities, e.g., daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer), and spiritual direction and retreats. At each level of seminary training, the seminarian prepares for future pastoral ministry in various settings, such as schools, religious education programs, hospitals and parishes. All of the formation takes into consideration the human person; human growth and development is fostered by community living, workshops and other programs. The formation of future priests includes practical learning, too, for example, preaching, saying Mass, and pastoral counseling.

10.  Do priests take vows?
Priests who belong to a religious order (e.g., Benedictine, Dominicans, Franciscans, etc.) take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Diocesan priests make two promises, celibacy and obedience; these promises are part of the ordination ceremony. It is also expected that diocesan priests will lead a life of simplicity consonant with the people they serve.

For recent statistics on seminaries and seminary students, please call the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

11.  What is a Missionary?
A missionary is called to proclaim Christ through helping to create new Christian communities or assisting those that are just beginning in many parts of the world. The missionary also engages in the interreligious and intercultural dialogue of the Church worldwide. Finally, the missionary lives in solidarity with the poor through the work of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Missionaries collaborate with the populations they serve to work for the common good in communion and solidarity with the local Church and in fidelity to the universal Church.

Provided by: Father Carl Chudy, SX , Provincial, United States Province, Xaverian Missionaries. Vocations & Priestly Formation | 3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington DC 20017-1194 | (202) 541-3000 © USCCB. All rights reserved. From website: catholic.org/vocations/faq.php