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Holy Orders - Overview
 Holy Orders 

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

 Holy Orders 
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