Sacrament of Holy Orders

“Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate”

(Catechism, 1536)

The Priesthood

The sacrament of Holy Orders is a sacrament of service, in which a man places himself in service to Christ, his Church, and its people. The sacrament of Holy Orders is one of three sacraments, the other two being Baptism and Confirmation, in which the recipient receives a spiritual character (i.e., an indelible spiritual mark, which gives the recipient a new configuration to Christ). The effect of this sacrament, like Baptism and Confirmation, can never be undone. In the sacrament of Holy Orders this reconfiguration to Christ that takes place enables the priest to make Christ present sacramentally for the benefit of the Church and its people. “Priests are ordained to preach the gospel, shepherd the people of God, and celebrate the sacraments” (Lumen Gentium).

Young men who feel called by God to service in the Church as a priest can become a diocesan priest or religious order priest.

A diocesan priest is ordained to serve the local church in which he is ordained. That is, a priest who is ordained in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is ordained for service within this diocese. He is under the authority of the local ordinary. In the case of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, that would be the Cardinal Archbishop.

A religious order priest is a member of a religious community, such as the Franciscan, Dominicans, or Trinitarians to name a few. Nearly one third of priests in the United States are order priests. An order priest is not ordained for service in a specific diocese, rather he is called to serve wherever his community serves in the universal Church. The type of service he engages in depends on the charism and mission of the religious community to which he belongs.

Men who feel called to the priesthood are encouraged to discuss this with a parish priest, or they may contact the:

Vocation Office for Diocesan Priesthood
100 East Wynnewood Road
Wynnewood, PA 19096
(610) 667-5778

There are far too many religious orders to list all of their vocation offices here. However, a parish priest or the Vocation Office for Diocesan Priesthood would be able to assist you in this matter.

The Diaconate

The Second Vatican Council restored the ancient order of the diaconate “as a proper and permanent rank in the hierarchy” (Lumen Gentium). Like priests, men who are ordained deacons in the Church receive the spiritual character that Holy Orders imparts. The deacon’s role is one of service. “Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity” (Catechism 1570).

There are two types of diaconates in the Church: Transitional Deacons and Permanent Deacons.

Transitional Deacons are those men who are ordained deacons, but who are going on to become priests. Hence their diaconate is one of transition. The Transitional Diaconate is a part of the normal progression to the priesthood.

Whereas, Permanent Deacons are those men who remain deacons for the rest of their lives. Hence their diaconate is permanent. Men, both married and unmarried, may become Permanent Deacons in the Church. However, deacons are not permitted to marry once they are ordained. Therefore, to be a married deacon, a man must be married prior to being ordained a deacon. Should his wife predecease him once he is ordained, he may not remarry.

Men, both married and unmarried, who feel a call to serve the Church as a deacon should discuss the matter with a parish priest. For more information, visit the official website of the Archdiocesan Department of Permanent Deacons, or contact them directly at the address below:

Department of Permanent Deacons
Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary
100 East Wynnewood Road
Wynnewood, PA 19096 (610) 664-2213

For a detailed brochure on the Permanent Deaconate published by the Archdiocesan Department of Permanent Deacons, click here.