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Holy Orders

And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists,

others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for

the work of ministry,” Ephesians 4:11-12

The Sacrament of Holy Orders in the church is the continuation of Christ’s priesthood, which he bestowed upon his Apostles.  A holy order is simply a group with a hierarchical structure that is set apart for ministry in the Catholic Church. It includes three orders: Bishop, Priest and Deacon.


"Ordination" comes from the Latin word ordination, which means to incorporate someone into an order. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a man is incorporated into the priesthood of Christ, at one of three levels: the episcopate, the priesthood, or the diaconate.  There is only one Sacrament of Holy Orders, but there are three levels: the episcopate, the priesthood, and the diaconate.

Level One: The Ordination of Bishops (The episcopate)

The episcopate is the level of Holy Orders which Christ Himself bestowed upon His Apostles. The bishop is ordained to the episcopate by another bishop (in practice, by several bishops). He stands in a direct, unbroken line from the Apostles, a condition known as “apostolic succession”. Ordination as a bishop confers grace to sanctify others, as well as the authority to teach the faithful and to bind their consciences. Because of the grave nature of this responsibility, the Pope must approve all episcopal ordinations.

Bishops can celebrate Mass and all seven sacraments.

Level Two: The Ordination of Priests

No bishop can minister to all the faithful in his diocese, so priests act, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as “co-workers of the bishops”. In this second level of ordination, priests exercise their powers lawfully only in communion with their bishop, to whom they promise obedience at the time of their ordination.

Priests can celebrate the Mass, preach the homily and celebrate six of the sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation ("hear confessions"), Marriage, and Anointing of the Sick. At Easter and in emergencies they can celebrate Confirmation. They cannot ordain priests or deacons.

Level Three: The Ordination of Deacons

The third level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the diaconate. There are two kinds of deacons.

1. Permanent Deacons live in the parish and are usually married and have families. They spend five years in discernment and formation. Deacons can preach the homily, and celebrate two sacraments; Baptism and Marriage. They may be assigned to a parish or some specialized ministry, by the Bishop.

2. Transitional Deacons are preparing to be priests. They are single and celibate. They serve in the ministries of a deacon while they are completing their studies for the priesthood.

If you feel called to serve God as a priest or a deacon, or have questions regarding vocations, please contact the Diocesan Vocations office. 

Most Rev. W. Shawn McKnight

Fr. Dan Vacca

Deacon Stan Buczko

Deacon Richard Von Gunten