Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Holy Orders

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;  for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” – Luke 22, 14-20

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” – John 20, 19-23

Jesus is the Great High Priest. He came to establish his Church here on earth. Knowing he was to return to the Father Jesus handed down his authority to his chosen twelve apostles. They were to continue his ministry and teaching making disciples of all nations. He laid hands on them and breathed on them, passing on to them the Holy Spirit and all authority he had received from his Father in heaven. He appointed one to be head of all, not to rule them but to serve them.

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16, 17-19

The word in the original Greek was “petros” meaning “rock”. "Peter" was more of a title than a name. Simon the Rock. It was the faith of Peter after Pentecost that Jesus built his Church upon. Ironically, about fifteen feet below the teaching chair of the Pope in the Vatican you will find the grave of St. Peter. Upon his bones rests the head of Christ’s Church on earth. The Church is quite literally built upon Simon the Rock. Upon this Rock I will build my Church.

To Jews numbers had specific meanings. Seven means to swear or take an oath. Forty means to test. Any time you see the number twelve in the bible it refers to government; the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve judges, the twelve apostles. When Jesus chose twelve to be his inner circle disciples he was establishing the governmental leadership for his church. Jesus handed his authority down to them and they in turn handed their authority over to replacements before their deaths. Thus was established the hierarchy of Church leadership.

When we hear the word “hierarchy” we think chain of command. The Pope controls the bishops who control the priests, etc. This isn’t exactly how the hierarchy of the Church works. The word hierarchy has its roots in, you guessed it – Greek. Hierarchy = ιεραρχίας which is the combination of the Greek words ιερό σκοπό which when translated means “Holy Orders”. Heir-Archy = Holy-Orders. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony make up the Sacraments of Service and are directed towards the salvation of others. People who receive the Sacrament of Matrimony are called to serve their spouses and children with the primary responsibility to get their families to heaven. Men who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders are called to serve all of the people of their parishes, Catholic or not, with the primary goal of getting them to heaven.

There are three different types of holy orders in the Catholic Church. They should not be looked upon as levels or ranks like what we have in the military. A General in the army can order around any private on any base he visits. A bishop cannot order around any priest anywhere he goes. The Catholic hierarchy is not a chain of command in that fashion.

The first level of Holy Orders is the deacon. A deacon’s ministry is three fold. As the minister of the Word he is the herald of the Gospel and peaches and teaches in the name of the Church. As a minister of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As a minister of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshals the Church's resources to try and meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to work toward eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. For more information on the deacon please read my previous blogpost: What is a deacon?

The second level of Holy Orders is the priest. All priests are first ordained as deacons and remain deacons for the rest of their life. In addition to their responsibilities as a deacon they have priestly responsibility to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and distribute the sacraments of reconciliation and healing. They can be assigned to a parish or a religious community or they can serve in some other administrative or executive role within the Church. When assigned to a parish the priest is actually the stand in for the bishop. Because the bishop cannot be at every parish every day the parish priest represents the bishop when saying Mass and conferring the sacraments.

The third level of Holy Orders is the bishop. When Jesus ordained his twelve disciples he made them bishops. When they handed that authority over to their replacements they ordained new bishops. As the Church grew so did the need for bishops. New bishops were ordained to fill the need. The Catholic Church has an unbroken line of succession going all the way back to Jesus himself. This is what is known as apostolic succession. The bishop is both the head deacon and the head priest and is responsible for all souls within his diocese. Authority to teach, preach and distribute the sacraments come from the bishop and the bishop is the only one who can distribute the Sacrament of Confirmation.  

Peter was the first Pope, a word simply meaning “Father”. The Pope is the head of all bishops but this does not mean that he rules over them. He is called to serve and lead them. The bishops in union with the Pope is known as the magisterium and is tasked with the responsibility to teach what Christ handed down and to ensure what is taught by his Church stays true to what he taught.

As with all Sacraments, Holy Orders are an oath to the death. Like with baptism, when a man is ordained his soul is indelibly marked for eternity. Once ordained, always ordained even if one goes astray. Just as you cannot unbaptized someone you cannot unordain someone of their Holy Orders. Their faculties can be removed but the indelible mark on their soul is there forever. For a man to be ordained and then teach something contrary to what Jesus taught, or in other words something against the official Church teaching, that would cause the man to renege on his oath and cause him to fall into mortal sin. All who accept Holy Orders are bound by their oath to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus even when they don't personally understand the teaching.

Because they are shepherds to Jesus' flock a great responsibility is placed upon them. Extraordinary grace is granted to them to help them through their ministry. Pray for your clergy. They are the frontline foot soldiers against the evil one and darkness engulfing our world.

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