Holy Orders - Overview
Order is the appropriate disposition of things equal and unequal, by giving
each its proper place (St. Aug., “De civ. Dei,” XIX, xiii). Order primarily
means a relation. It is used to designate that on which the relation is
founded and thus generally means rank (St. Thom., “Suppl.”, Q. xxxiv, a.2,
ad 4um). In this sense it was applied to clergy and laity (St. Jer.,
“In Isaiam”, XIX, 18; St. Greg. the Great, “Moral.”, XXXII, xx). The
meaning was restricted later to the hierarchy as a whole or to the various
ranks of the clergy. Tertullian and some early writers had already used the
word in that sense, but generally with a qualifying adjective (Tertullian,
“De exhort. cast.”, vii, ordo sacerdotalis, ordo ecclesiasticus; St. Greg.
of Tours, “Vit. patr.”, X, i, ordo clericorum). Order is used to signify
not only the particular rank or general status of the clergy, but also the
outward action by which they are raised to that status, and thus stands for
ordination. It also indicates what differentiates laity from clergy or the
various ranks of the clergy, and thus means spiritual power. The Sacrament
of Order is the sacrament by which grace and spiritual power for the
discharge of ecclesiastical offices are conferred.
Christ founded His Church as a supernatural society, the Kingdom of God. In
this society there must be the power of ruling; and also the principles by
which the members are to attain their supernatural end, viz., supernatural
truth, which is held by faith, and supernatural grace by which man is
formally elevated to the supernatural order. Thus, besides the power of
jurisdiction, the Church has the power of teaching (magisterium) and the
power of conferring grace (power of order). This power of order was
committed by our Lord to His Apostles, who were to continue His work and to
be His earthly representatives. The Apostles received their power from
Christ: “as the Father hath sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). Christ
possessed fullness of power in virtue of His priesthood--of His office as
Redeemer and Mediator. He merited the grace which freed man from the
bondage of sin, which grace is applied to man mediately by the Sacrifice of
the Eucharist and immediately by the sacraments. He gave His Apostles the
power to offer the Sacrifice (Luke 22:19), and dispense the sacraments
(Matthew 28:18; John 20:22, 23); thus making them priests. It is true that
every Christian receives sanctifying grace which confers on him a
priesthood. Even as Israel under the Old dispensation was to God
“a priestly kingdom” (Exodus 19:4-6), thus under the New, all Christians are
“a kingly priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9); but now as then the special and
sacramental priesthood strengthens and perfects the universal priesthood
(cf. 2 Corinthians 3:3, 6; Romans 15:16).
Written by Hubert Ahaus. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Offered to
Almighty God for the priests and brothers of the Legionaries of Christ and
all the men ordained into the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911.
New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911.
Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur.
+John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York