Chapter 18 -- Holy Orders
Holy Orders is the sacrament of apolstolic ministry. Those who receive the sacrament serve in one of three capacities-bishop, priest or deacon.
The Catechism states that Holy Orders is a sacrament directed towards the salvation of others. It is a service to others that assists in their salvation. Those of us who are married have no confusion regarding the concept of serving others, and all of us can imagine the amount of time and energy spent serving others by bishops, priests and deacons.
God gives the Holy Spirit to His ministers when He ordains them, to empower them for their new ministry. In the New Testament, when Jesus commissioned the apostles to the priesthood, he breathed on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22)
Non-Catholics who challenge this sacrament usually challenge where the three offices are established in Scripture, the hierarchal nature of the three offices (indeed, many challenge any hierarchy within the church at all), why participants must be men, why bishops and priests are called "father", and why bishops and priests must remain celibate.
Sources in Scripture
Jesus spoke these words to the apostles. The word 'apostle' means 'one who is sent'. Jesus sent the apostles into the world to make disciples of all nations, to baptize people and teach them to observe Jesus' commandments, to proclaim the gospel to every creature. This was the great commission and the beginning of apostolic ministry.
The original apostles then sent others as apostles. Here the Church sent Paul and Barnabas. (Recall that 'Paul' is the Greko transliteration of the Hebraic name 'Saul'.)
Few would doubt the office of apostle holds a special place in the Church. The apostles did go out into the world, and did spread the good news. They appointed other converts to further spread the news. Those other converts appointed yet other converts to further spread the news. (Therein lies the hierarchal and successive nature of the ministry.)
Here we see an apostle (Paul) appointing bishops (Timothy and Titus), who further appoint priests (presbyters), who entrust faithful people. The Greek word presbuteros can be translated as elder (which many Protestant faiths accept) or priest.
Paul and Barnabas appointed presbyters (priests).
Paul reminds Timothy that Timothy's office came through the laying of hands on him by Paul, and that God called them to a holy life, they didn't call themselves. Holy Orders is a calling. To receive the sacrament is to accept the calling. In addition, it is not for everyone.
All bishops, priests and deacons receive their offices by the laying-on of hands. Paul admonishes Timothy to not lay hands on anyone that comes along, but show some diligence in determining the individual meets the criteria.
Similarly, deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Moreover, they should be tested first; then, if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
Here, Paul distinguishes the offices of bishop and deacon. The requirements to be a bishop are more stringent than those of a deacon, as would be expected if bishop were a higher rank within the Church. Note also Paul freely states that it is an office, meaning it can be vacated and filled as necessary, and not a one-time position for one particular individual only.
Paul likewise distinguishes the office of presbyter (priest). Thus, we see many examples in Scripture describing the offices of bishop, priest and deacon.
But, what about the following:
Some Protestants argue we are all a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood. There is no longer a need for ministerial priests since we are all priests. They quote passages like this one above from the first letter of Peter.
Peter says "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house". He is not speaking of a single biological family of father, mother and a few kids; he is speaking of the spiritual house of God--the entire Body of Christ. Notice also that Peter says we are to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices. That's what priests do--they offer sacrifices.
When Peter claims we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people of his own, it is all n quotes. Peter is quoting the Old Testament, presumably verses well known by his readers. Peter wanted to emphasize what was promised to ancient Israelites is now the province of Christians.
When Peter says Christians are a chosen race, he is referring to Isaiah 43:20-21. The concept of royal priesthood and holy nation comes from Exodus 19:6. A people of his own comes from Malachi 3:17. Focusing on the royal priesthood, let's look at Ex 19:6. God was speaking to Moses on Mt Sinai and said:
God made the Israelites a kingdom of priests, and Moses told them so. As God commanded in the verses that followed, the people (who, by now, were all part of a royal priesthood) had to sanctify themselves and wash their garments in preparation of meeting the Lord on the third day. But, in verses 22 and 24, God points out that the priests (in addition to the people) must also sanctify themselves and wash their garments. This suggests the people were a nation of priests, but there existed a ministerial office of priesthood as well.
This transpired before the Levitical priesthood was established, which occurs later in Exodus. This confirms there was a priestly ministry in place that pre-dated Mosaic law. A priestly ministry as evidenced by Melchizedek, and even Moses' father-in-law, Jethro. Thus, when the Levitical law is abolished, as expressed so often by Paul in his letters, the prior priestly ministry was not abolished with it.
So it is in the New Testament, as Peter tells us. We are a kingdom of priests, with Jesus as our high priest, but we also have a mid-level ministerial office of priesthood.
Christians serve and worship God, thus performing the priestly functions of the life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus.
Hierarchy of the Offices
The bishops are the successors of the apostles. We saw in the chapter on Apostolic Succession the clear succession of the offices. We do not need to repeat it here, and I encourage you to review that chapter to refresh your understanding.
The word 'hierarchy' literally means 'priestly rule'. Throughout time, it came to define any kind of rule, at any civil, military or liturgical level. But its source is 'priestly rule'.
The Catholic Church is steadfast in their support of hierarchy in all walks of life-government, military, family, Church. Most non-Catholic Christians are steadfast in their support of hierarchy in government, military and family, but not the Church.
Did God set up a hierarchy in the apostolic ministry?
The author of Hebrews takes for granted there are leaders in the Church. At the time Hebrews was written, the leaders were successors to the original apostles, as explained above. He admonishes his readers to remember and obey their leaders. There is no suggestion that there is no place for a ruling body within the faith.
Why Men Only?
In 21st Century America, it is difficult for us to understand why the apostolic ministry is restricted to men only. It doesn't appear to be politically correct, and it counters the notion many of us have about an impartial, just God. Let's explore the reasons behind the Church's teaching.
Today's society has all but demolished the hierarchal authority of men. It is no more apparent than in the family. To suggest that a man is king of his own castle is sexist at best, and otherwise undeserving of a second consideration when stated. Men are no longer providers for the family first and foremost; indeed it is more frequent that women are the primary bread-winners. Some women prefer to have a partner to get them started with a family, then pursue a family life without a husband/father figure around (that is not to suggest most single-parent households fall into this stigma). Today, the view is more egalitarian, wherein both partners share in domestic/familial responsibilities and decision-making on an "equal" level. There is no assumption of roles, and no one has the ultimate authority to call the shots. There is dual-authority or no authority at all.
A natural consequence of the challenge of authority is the 'no authority at all' concept. If no spouse should be subjected to the authority of the other spouse, then why must the children be subjected to the authority of either parent? If one spouse can not make the decisions that bind the other spouse, why can either bind the children? With greater frequency, society tells children their parents have no authority to tell them what to do, what to believe, what to wear, what to smoke/not smoke, whether to have sex before marriage, and whether they have the right to keep it all secret from their parents. Schools dispense condoms without parents' knowledge. Young girls get abortion counseling without their parents even knowing they are pregnant. If their parents restrict their activities, the children can seek redress with school counselors and nurses. Parents can lose their legal rights to be parents if they are deemed too authoritarian with their kids (meaning they don't allow the kids to do what they want).
And this spills out into social programs backed by government authorities (which are increasingly trying to usurp the family authority). Pregnancy and child-rearing are presented as avoidable burdens, so naturally abortion, sterilization and contraception are the preferred alternatives. If a heterosexual lifestyle is presented as stifling, then naturally experimenting in homosexuality is the answer. Marriage itself is an experiment, not a commitment. If you find yourselves incompatible or even just bored, get a divorce.
The error in this evolution is the assumption it is somehow special or more important to be the one that calls the shots. God shows us time and time again how it is the one who is lowly in the eyes of the world who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. That which is important to the world is just not important to God. If we truly seek God, if we truly want to do His will, we will delight in that which pleases Him.
This is God's plan. It is balanced, complex yet simple, and it works. God does everything for a reason. In the long run, it always turns out to be the right thing to do. God shows us the way He set it up, and then patiently lets us depart from that way if we so choose. He wants men to fulfill certain tasks and women to fulfill other tasks for a reason. It is not because women are more important than men, or visa versa. It is not because women are smarter than men, or visa versa. It is not because women are more holy than men, or visa versa. It is not because of any earthly, vain reason--it is because He set it up that way. He gave each of us talents to do our tasks, and everything works best when we stick to His plan.
Sticking to His plan requires us to use our talents to further His will. If we use our talents for our own selfish gain, then we oppose His plan. If we abuse our authority by selfishly serving our own needs and desires at the expense of those of the family, then we oppose His plan.
Sticking to His plan also requires us to fulfill the roles He made for us. If we vainly prefer to do it our own way, then we oppose His plan. The burdens of pregnancy and child-rearing are not subordinated to enslaved wives so husbands can pursue their own chauvinistic lifestyle. The beauty of pregnancy and child-rearing are elevated to the enlightened wife so the husband can love and serve the family as provider and protector.
In any case, the family will suffer the consequences of our choices.
So it is with society as well. If God gives us the talents and opportunity to serve (which is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven), but we prefer instead to be served (which is greatest in the world), then we oppose His plan. We are seeking the wrong prize, and the community will suffer the consequences of our choices.
Jesus had the opportunity to name anyone as His apostles. There were many women in the discipleship that travelled with Him, and one, Mary Magdalene, is mentioned prominently throughout the Gospels. Other faiths of the time, particularly Greko/Roman pagan faiths, had priestesses, so it would not have been unthinkable for Jesus to do the same. Besides, Jesus was never one to avoid controversy in his ministry. If Jesus had wanted female priests, He would have made it so. For whatever reason, Jesus chose all males.
In all of the Bible verses quoted above, Paul addresses apostles/bishops, priests and deacons in the masculine. For example, here Paul is speaking of bishops:
If the Holy Spirit inspired Paul when this was written, then the Word of God addresses the apostolic ministry in the masculine.
Ordination is a gift, not a right. God calls you, and you either accept or reject the gift. Women are called by God, and serve Him in many capacities, including as nuns. There are saints, theologians and doctors of the Church who were women. The only restriction seems to be on the priestly office or apostolic ministry.
The priest is said to act in persona Christi, or literally, in the person of Christ. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. A man is the symbol for a bridegroom.
Recall also that Jesus commissioned the original apostles with the power "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven". (Matt 18:18) Previously He stated that the netherworld shall not prevail against His Church. (Matt 16:18) Therefore, Jesus would make sure that whatever the Church chose to bind on Earth and Heaven would be bound for all eternity. If the Church taught one truth as dogma, then later changed their minds and reversed that truth, then the netherworld would have prevailed in that one or the other dogma would not have been true. Many centuries ago, for the reasons stated above and others, the Church declared as unchangeable dogma that the offices of bishop, priest and deacon are open to males only. The Church can not now change that dogma. Even if they wanted to change it, Jesus would not allow it.
This points to the necessity to do it God's way. It is not up to us to challenge why God does it the way He does. We are only to follow His plan.
Why Call Priests 'Father'?
Many Protestants claim when Catholics give their priests/bishops the title of "father", they are in direct opposition to Scripture. Jesus said to call no one on earth your father, so Catholics violate that mandate in addressing their priests. Let's investigate Jesus' words in this matter.
Reading the verse highlighted in bold above by itself leaves the reader with a rather straight-forward interpretation--we are not to call anyone on earth our father. I have shown several verses before and after this verse to give it to you in context, where it expresses a slightly different message.
Jesus is speaking of the Pharisees who love places of honor, seats of honor, greetings and salutations of stature. Jesus is telling his followers not to be like them. The Pharisees like to be called 'Rabbi' because it is a title of honor. Jesus says his followers should not seek the honor of the title since there is only one deserving of the honor (Jesus Himself), and they are all brothers, meaning equal in stature. The Pharisees like to be called "father" since Jews held fathers of the faith in high esteem. Jesus says not to seek the honorable title since there is only one deserving of the honor (God Himself).
The Holy Spirit is the inspiration of Scripture. The Holy Spirit would not note Jesus commanding to call no one "father", then have others called "father" in Scripture.
Here Paul calls himself "father". In Luke 16:24,30, Jesus addresses Abraham as "Father Abraham". Similarly in John 8:56, Philemon 1:10, 1 John 2:13-14, and Acts 7:1-2, the Holy Spirit inspired the authors to use the word "father". There are many other instances in both the Old and New Testaments where the Holy Spirit inspired the word "father" to appear. Is the Holy Spirit confused? Does He contradict Himself in this regard?
In Matthew 18:8-9, Jesus says we are to gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands and feet if they cause us to sin. Most theologians, both Catholic and Protestant, agree Jesus is speaking in hyperbole to exaggerate the seriousness of avoiding sin. When Jesus spoke the words to call no man father, He likewise spoke in hyperbole, as explained above. If we could not call our own biological male parents "father", then calling God by the title of "Father" would have no meaning.
Do Protestants call no one on earth "father"? Do they call their own male parent "father"? The passage above says to call no one "rabbi". Rabbi means "teacher". Do Protestants call no one on earth "teacher"? If we can't use the words "father" and "teacher", then we will have to invent new words to express the meaning. It is a stretch to think Jesus meant to change our vocabularies. It makes perfect sense that He meant to minimize seeking honor, and simply serve in the capacity.
We note in the verses above (under the category of Sources in Scripture) that when Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus regarding the qualifications of bishops, priests and deacons, he always included the condition of being married only once. If bishops, priests and deacons can be married only once, it would seem they could be married. Why the current restriction on celibacy?
The restriction is a discipline, not a dogma. The Church does not claim that God demands all priests to be celibate; the Church imposes that rule because it is a good idea. The rule can be changed at any time (disciplines can be changed, as compared to dogmas which cannot), It is similar to a rule that all priests must first complete seminary before they become ordained (or that Protestant ministers must first complete seminary before they become preachers in their congregations). Nowhere does God state there a requirement for a priest (or minister) to attend seminary.
Still, if Paul allowed it, why does the Catholic Church have a discipline against being married?
I would like to mention, as is true of most rules, there are exceptions. For instance, a priest in an Eastern Rite Catholic Church can be married. A priest who is ordained in another faith (such as Anglican) and is married, can convert to the Roman Catholic faith, remain married, and become a Roman Catholic priest.
Paul recognizes how marriage, although it is proper and holy, can greatly interfere with dedication to the Lord. He mentions it is not an official requirement from him, but he is telling them for their own benefit. The Roman Catholic Church agrees.
Jesus preached that it is good to renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Roman Catholic Church agrees.
Paul confirms he was chaste, and it is better for all (not just priests) to remain single. (Note that Jesus was also chaste.)
Paul is admonishing Timothy not to become entangled in the business affairs of life. Timothy is to be as free as he can be to serve God and the Church.
These all point to the wisdom of remaining chaste if you are to serve the Lord as a priest or bishop.
There is plenty of support in Scripture for the sacrament of Holy Orders. Scripture describes the hierarchy of the offices, why only men can serve as priests, the permission to call priests 'father', and the advantages of celibacy.
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