By Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel
The sacrament of holy orders gives a man the powers of the priesthood and the graces necessary to carry out that ministry in the church. Holy orders is the only one of the seven sacraments which has a plural name. This is so because there are three grades or orders in holy orders: the order of deacon, the order of priest and the order of bishop.
Holy orders is also one of the three sacraments which changes us and conforms us into the image of Jesus Christ. In baptism we are reborn as children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We live and imitate him in life, death and resurrection. Confirmation makes us even more like Christ. We are given the Holy Spirit and imitate Christ by teaching the word of God by our words, our actions and good example.
The sacrament of holy orders conforms a man into an even deeper likeness of Christ in service to the church. Through a person who is ordained, Jesus Christ continues his serving ministry to his body, the church. Jesus Christ keeps his promise to be with the church until the close of the ages. He continues to teach the Word of God, forgive sins, comfort the afflicted and nourish us with his body and blood in the Eucharist.
In a sense, all baptized and confirmed Christians share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the one true high priest who offered the one perfect sacrifice. We are all commissioned to bring Christ into the world in which we live at home, at work, at school and in our social lives. The man who is ordained as deacon, priest or bishop is called to an even more complete life of service to the rest of the church in imitation of Christ who gave of himself that we might live.
The ordained deacon is called to serve the church in works of charity. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the early church set aside deacons to care for widows and orphans so that the Apostles could devote themselves to studying and preaching the word of God. Deacons also are called to assist in the liturgical assemblies, preaching the word, baptizing, witnessing Christian marriage and burying the dead.
The ordained priest is the co-worker of the bishop. Priests continue Christ’s work of forgiving sins, nourishing the church with the body and blood of Christ in the eucharistic assembly and teaching the faith. In collaboration with their bishop, priests build up the community of the local parish inviting all into the community of the church.
Ordained bishops are shepherds of the flock entrusted to them. They are successors of the 12 apostles who were commissioned by Jesus to teach everything He had commanded them, baptizing the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is the most sacred duty of the bishop to ensure that the faith of the Apostles is faithfully transmitted in his diocese and that the sacraments are available to all who are entrusted to his care. The bishop is even called to reach out to those not of the Catholic faith or who have no faith to build up the body of Christ who prayed that there be one flock and one shepherd.
Through holy orders, Jesus Christ remains present in His redeeming work building the kingdom of God.
The Most Rev. J. Douglas Deshotel is an auxiliary bishop, vicar general and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Dallas.