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Sacrament of Order
 Holy Orders 

Sacrament of Order

From Scripture we learn that the Apostles appointed others by an external rite (imposition of hands), conferring inward grace. The fact that grace is ascribed immediately to the external rite, shows that Christ must have thus ordained. The fact that cheirontonein, cheirotonia, which meant electing by show of hands, had acquired the technical meaning of ordination by imposition of hands before the middle of the third century, shows that appointment to the various orders was made by that external rite. We read of the deacons, how the Apostles “praying, imposed hands upon them” (Acts 6:6). In II Tim., i, 6 St. Paul reminds Timothy that he was made a bishop by the imposition of St. Paul’s hands (cf. 1 Timothy 4:4), and Timothy is exhorted to appoint presbyters by the same rite (1 Timothy 5:22; cf. Acts 13:3; 14:22). In Clem., “Hom.”, III, lxxii, we read of the appointment of Zachæus as bishop by the imposition of Peter’s hands. The word is used in its technical meaning by Clement of Alexandria ("Strom.", VI, xiii, cvi; cf. “Const. Apost.”, II, viii, 36). “A priest lays on hands, but does not ordain” (cheirothetei ou cheirotonei) “Didasc. Syr.”, IV; III, 10, 11, 20; Cornelius, “Ad Fabianum” in Euseb., “Hist. Eccl.”, VI, xliii.

Grace was attached to this external sign and conferred by it. “I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee, through (dia) the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). The context clearly shows that there is question here of a grace which enables Timothy to rightly discharge the office imposed upon him, for St. Paul continues “God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of sobriety.” This grace is something permanent, as appears from the words “that thou stir up the grace which is in thee”; we reach the same conclusion from I Tim., iv, 14, where St. Paul says, “Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with (meta) imposition of hands of the priesthood.” This text shows that when St. Paul ordained Timothy, the presbyters also laid their hands upon him, even as now the presbyters who assist at ordination lay their hands on the candidate. St. Paul here exhorts Timothy to teach and command, to be an example to all. To neglect this would be to neglect the grace which is in him. This grace therefore enables him to teach and command, to discharge his office rightly. The grace then is not a charismatic gift, but a gift of the Holy Spirit for the rightful discharge of official duties. The Sacrament of Order has ever been recognized in the Church as such. This is attested by the belief in a special priesthood (cf. St. John Chrys., “De sacerdotio”; St. Greg. of Nyss., “Oratio in baptism. Christi"), which requires a special ordination. St. Augustine, speaking about baptism and order, says, “Each is a sacrament, and each is given by a certain consecration, . . . If both are sacraments, which no one doubts, how is the one not lost (by defection from the Church) and the other lost?” (Contra. Epist. Parmen., ii, 28-30). The Council of Trent says, “Whereas, by the testimony of Scripture, by Apostolic tradition, and by the unanimous consent of the Fathers, it is clear that grace is conferred by sacred ordination, which is performed by words and outward signs, no one ought to doubt that Order is truly and properly one of the Seven Sacraments of Holy Church” (Sess. XXIII, c. iii, can. 3).


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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