The Catechism of Trent
This explanation will be highly advantageous. First of all to the pastor himself, then to all those who have entered on the ecclesiastical state, and finally to the people in general. To the pastor himself, because by treating of this subject he himself will be more deeply moved to stir up within him the grace he has received in this Sacrament; to those who have been called to the portion of the Lord, partly by animating them with a like spirit of piety, and partly by affording them an opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of such things as will enable them all the more easily to advance to higher orders; to the rest of the faithful, first, because it enables them to understand the respect due to the Church’s ministers, and secondly, because as it often happens that many may be present who have destined their children, while yet young, for the Church’s service, or who desire to embrace that life themselves, it is far from right that such persons should be unacquainted with the principal truths regarding this particular state.
Bishops and priests being, as they are, God’s interpreters and ambassadors, empowered in His name to teach mankind the divine law and the rules of conduct, and holding, as they do, His place on earth, it is evident that no nobler function than theirs can be imagined. Justly, therefore, are they called not only Angels, but even gods, because of the fact that they exercise in our midst the power and prerogatives of the immortal God.
In all ages, priests have been held in the highest honour; yet the priests of the New Testament far exceed all others. For the power of consecrating and offering the body and blood of our Lord and of forgiving sins, which has been conferred on them, not only has nothing equal or like to it on earth, but even surpasses human reason and understanding.
And as our Saviour was sent by His Father, and as the Apostles and disciples were sent into the whole world by Christ our Lord, so priests are daily sent with the same powers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ.
called by the lawful ministers of His Church. It is to those who arrogantly intrude themselves into this ministry that the Lord must be understood to refer when He says: I did not send prophets, yet they ran. Nothing can be more unhappy and wretched than such a class of men as this, and nothing more calamitous to the Church of God.
This subject demands all the greater attention, since in these days the faithful often sin gravely in this respect. Some there are who embrace this state to secure the necessaries of life, and who, consequently, seek in the priesthood, just as other men do in the lowest walks of life, nothing more or less than gain. Though both the natural and divine law lay down, as the Apostle remarks, that he who serves the altar should live by the altar; yet to approach the altar for the sake of gain and money is one of the very gravest of sacrileges.
Some are attracted to the priesthood by ambition and love of honours; while there are others who desire to be ordained simply in order that they may abound in riches, as is proved by the fact that unless some wealthy benefice were conferred on them, they would not dream of receiving Holy Orders. It is such as these that our Saviour describes as hirelings, who, in the words of Ezechiel, feed themselves and not the sheep, and whose baseness and dishonesty have not only brought great disgrace on the ecclesiastical state, so much so that hardly anything is now more vile and contemptible in the eyes of the faithful, but also end in this, that they derive no other fruit from their priesthood than was derived by Judas from the Apostleship, which only brought him everlasting destruction.
But they, on the other hand, who are lawfully called by God, and who undertake the ecclesiastical state with the single motive of promoting the honour of God, are truly said to enter the Church by the door.
This, however, must not be understood as if the same law did not bind all men equally. Men have been created to honour God, and this the faithful in particular, who have obtained the grace of Baptism, should do with their whole heart, their whole soul, and with all their strength.
But those who desire to receive the Sacrament of Orders, should aim not only at seeking the glory of God in all things�an obligation admittedly common to all men, and particularly to the faithful �� but also to serve Him in holiness and justice in whatever sphere of His ministry they may be placed. Just as in the army all the soldiers obey the general’s orders, though they all have not the same functions to discharge, one being a centurion, another a prefect, so in like manner, though all the faithful should diligently practice piety and innocence, which are the chief means of honouring God, yet they who are in Holy Otters have certain special duties and functions to discharge in the Church. Thus they offer Sacrifice for themselves and for all the people; they explain God’s law and exhort and form the faithful to observe it promptly and cheerfully; they administer the Sacraments of Christ our Lord by means of which all grace is conferred and increased; and, in a word, they are separated from the rest of the people to fill by far the greatest and noblest of all ministries.
This power is twofold: the powers of orders and the power of jurisdiction. The power of orders has for its object the real body of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist. The power of jurisdiction refers altogether to the mystical body of (Christ. The scope of this power is to govern and rule the Christian people, and lead them to the unending bliss of heaven.
This power was also possessed by the Jews; but though it was superior in dignity to that with which priests were invested under the law of nature, yet it must be regarded as far inferior to the spiritual power that is found in the New Law. For the latter is heavenly, and surpasses all the power of Angels; it is derived not from the Mosaic priesthood, but from Christ our Lord who was a priest, not according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchisedech. For He it is who, Himself endowed with the supreme power of granting grace and remitting sins, left to His Church this power, although He limited it in extent and attached it to the Sacraments.
In fact, order, when understood in its strict meaning and acceptation, is the arrangement of superior and inferior things so disposed as to stand in mutual relation towards each other. Now as in this ministry there are many grades and various functions, and as all these are disposed and arranged according to a definite plan, the name Order has been well and properly applied to it.
It should be taught, therefore, that these orders are seven in number, and that this has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church. These orders are those of porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, subdeacon, deacon and priest.
That the number of ministers was wisely established thus may be proved by considering the various offices that are necessary for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the consecration and administration of the Blessed Eucharist, this being the principal scope of their institution.
They are divided into major or sacred, and minor orders. The major or sacred orders are priesthood, deaconship and subdeaconship; while the minor orders are those of acolyte, exorcist, lector and porter, concerning each of which we shall now say a few words so that the pastor may be able to explain them to those especially whom he knows to be about to receive any of the orders in question.
The Church teaches that this usage is derived from Apostolic origin, as mention is made of it by the most ancient and authoritative Fathers, such as St. Denis the Areopagite, St. Augustine and St. Jerome.
It is said that the Prince of the Apostles first introduced this usage in memory of the crown of thorns which was put upon our Saviour’s head, so that the devices resorted to by the impious for the ignominy and torture of Christ might be used by His Apostles a sign of honour and glory, as well as to signify that the ministers of the Church should strive to resemble Christ our Lord and represent Him in all things.
Some, however, assert that by tonsure is denoted the royal dignity, that is, the portion reserved especially for those who are called to the inheritance of the Lord. It will readily be seen that what the Apostle Peter says of all the faithful: You are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, applies especially and with much greater reason to the ministers of the Church.
Still there are some who consider that by the circle, which is the most perfect of all figures, is signified the profession of a more perfect life undertaken by ecclesiastics; while in view of the fact that the hair of their heads, which is a kind of bodily superfluity, is cut off, others think that it denotes contempt for external things, and detachment of soul from all human cares.
Thus the Bishop, taking the keys from the altar, hands them to him who is being made porter, and says: Let your conduct be that of one who has to render to God an account of those things that are kept under these keys.
How great was the dignity of this order in the ancient Church may be inferred from a usage which exists in the Church in these times. For the office of treasurer, which is still numbered among the more honourable functions of the Church, was entrusted to porters, and carried with it also the guardianship of the sacristy.
Hence it is that when ordaining him, the Bishop, in the presence of the people, handing him a book in which are set down all that regards this office, says: Take, and be you an announcer of the word of God; if you faithfully and profitably discharge your office, you shall have a part with those who from the be� ginning have well ministered the word of God.
Therefore at the ordination of acolytes the Bishop observes the following rite: First of all he carefully warns them of the nature of their office; then hands to each of them a light, saying: Receive this candlestick and candle, and remember that henceforth you are given the charge of lighting the candles of the church, in the name of the Lord. Then he hands them empty cruets in which are presented the wine and water for the Sacrifice, saying: Receive these cruets to supply wine and water for t) c Eucharist of Christ’s blood, in the name of the Lord.
Now the subdiaconate is the first degree of (major orders). Its function, as the name itself indicates, is to serve the deacon at the altar. It is the subdeacon who should prepare the altar linen, the vessels and the bread and wine necessary for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. He also it is who presents water to the Bishop or priest when he washes his hands during the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is also the subdeacon who now reads the Epistle which in former times was read at Mass by the deacon. He assists as witness at the Holy Sacrifice, and guards the celebrant from being disturbed by anyone during the sacred ceremonies.
The various duties that pertain to the subdeacon are indicated by the solemn ceremonies used at his ordination. In the first place the Bishop warns him that the obligation of perpetual continence is attached to this order, and declares that no one is to be admitted among the subdeacons who is not ready and willing to accept the obligation in question. Then, after the solemn recitation of the Litanies, the Bishop enumerates and explains the duties and functions of the subdeacon. Thereupon each one of those who are being ordained receives the chalice and sacred paten from the Bishop; and, to show that he is to serve the deacon, the subdeacon receives from the archdeacon cruets filled with wine and water, together with a basin and towel with which to wash and dry the hands. At the same time the Bishop pronounces these words: See what sort of ministry is entrusted to you; I admonish you therefore, to show yourself worthy to please God. Other prayers follow, and finally, when the Bishop has clothed the subdeacon with the sacred vestments, for each of which there are special words and ceremonies, he gives kiln the book of the Epistles, saying: Receive the book of the Epistles with power to read them in the Holy Church of God, as well for the living as for the dead.
The Apostle shows the great care that should be taken that no one unworthy of the diaconate be promoted to this order, when in his Epistle to Timothy he sets forth a deacon’s character, virtues and integrity. The same point is also gathered from the rites and solemn ceremonies which the Bishop employs when ordaining him. The Bishop uses more numerous and more solemn prayers at the ordination of a deacon than at that of a subdeacon, and he also adds other kinds of sacred vestments. Moreover, he imposes hands on him, just as we read the Apostles used to do when ordaining the first deacons. Finally, he hands him the book of the Gospels, with these words: Receive the power to read the Gospel in the Church of God both for the living and the dead in the name of the Lord.
Hence we read in the Apocalypse: Christ hath washed us front our sins. in his own blood and hath made us a kingdom, and priests to God and his Father. In like manner was it said by the Prince of the Apostles: Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; while the Apostle exhorts us to present our bodies a living sacrifice holy , pleasing unto God your reasonable service. And long before this David had said: A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humble heart O God thou wilt not despise. All this clearly regards the internal priesthood.
This distinction of the priesthood can be seen even in the Old Law. That David spoke of the internal priesthood, we have just shown. On the other hand, everyone knows the many and various precepts given by the Lord to Moses and Aaron regarding the external priesthood. Along with this He appointed the whole tribe of Levi to the ministry of the Temple, and He forbade by law that anyone belonging to another tribe should dare to intrude himself into that function. Hence it was that King Ozias was afflicted with leprosy by the Lord for having usurped the sacerdotal ministry, and had to suffer grave chastisements for his arrogance and sacrilege.
Now as the same distinction (of a twofold) priesthood may be noted in the New Law, the faithful should be cautioned that what we are now about to say concerns that external priesthood which is conferred on certain special individuals. This alone belongs to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
He next anoints his hands with holy oil, and then gives him the chalice with wine and the paten with a host, saying at the same time: Receive the power to offer Sacrifice to God and to celebrate Masses both for the living and for the dead. By these words and ceremonies the priest is constituted an interpreter and mediator between God and man, which indeed must be regarded as the principal function of the priesthood.
Lastly, placing his hands a second time on the head (of the person ordained the Bishop) says: Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained, thus communicating to him that divine power of forgiving and retaining sin which was given by our Lord to His disciples. Such, then, are the special and principal functions of the sacerdotal order.
From what has been said, therefore, pastors should teach what are the principal duties and functions of the various ecclesiastical orders and degrees, and also who is the minister of this Sacrament.
It is true that permission has been granted to some abbots occasionally to administer those orders that are minor and not sacred; yet there is no doubt whatever that it is the proper office of the Bishop, and of the Bishop alone to confer the orders called holy or major.
To ordain subdeacons, deacons and priests, one Bishop suffices; but in accordance with an Apostolic tradition that has been always observed in the Church, Bishops are consecrated by three Bishops.
From (what we shall lay down concerning the dispositions requisite for the priesthood) it will be easy to determine what ought to be observed in conferring the other orders, due account being taken of the office and dignity of each. Now the extreme caution I hat should be used in conferring this Sacrament is gathered from the fact that, while all the other Sacraments impart grace to the recipient for his own use and sanctification, he, on the other hand, who receives Holy Orders is made partaker of heavenly grace precisely that by his ministry he may promote the welfare of the Church and therefore of all mankind.
Hence we readily understand why it is that ordinations take place only on special days, on which, moreover, in accordance with a very ancient practice of the Catholic Church, a solemn fast is appointed in order that by holy and fervent prayer the faithful may obtain from God ministers who will be well qualified to exercise properly and to the advantage of the Church the power of so great a ministry.
In this connection pastors should set forth the rules which the Apostle laid down to Titus and Timothy, and he should also explain that those bodily defects, which, by the Lord’s command excluded from the service of the altar in the Old Law, should for the most part be understood of deformities of soul in the New Law. This is why the holy custom has been established in the Church that he who is about to be admitted to orders should first take great care to cleanse his conscience in the Sacrament of Penance.
The priest’s duties are twofold. The first is to consecrate and administer the Sacraments properly; the second is to instruct the people entrusted to him in all that they must know or do in order to be saved. Hence the words of the Prophet Malachias: The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the Law at his mouth; because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts.
Now to fulfil the first of these duties it is enough for him to be endowed with a moderate share of knowledge. As for the second, it is no mere ordinary, but very special knowledge that is required. At the same time, however, it should be remembered that a profound knowledge of abstruse questions is not demanded of all priests in an equal degree. It is enough that each one knows all that is necessary for the discharge of his office and ministry.
Slaves also are excluded. He who is not his own master and who is in the power of another, should not be dedicated to the divine service.
Homicides and men of blood are also rejected, because they are excluded by a law of the Church and are declared irregular.
The same must be said of the illegitimate and of all those not born in lawful wedlock. It is only right that those who are dedicated to the divine service should have nothing in them which could expose them to the well�deserved derision or contempt of others.
Finally, those who are notably maimed or deformed should not be admitted. A defect or deformity of this kind cannot but offend the eye and stand in the way of the due administration of the Sacraments.
Another grace is clearly conferred by this Sacrament; namely, a special power with reference to the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. This power is full and perfect in the priest, because he alone can consecrate the body and blood of our Lord; but it is greater or less in the inferior ministers in proportion as their ministry approaches the Sacrament of the Altar.
This power is also called a spiritual character, because those who have been ordained are distinguished from the rest of the faithful by a certain interior mark impressed on the soul, by which they are dedicated to the divine worship. It is this grace which the Apostle seems to have had in view when he said to Timothy: Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with imposition of hands of the priesthood; and again: I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee by the imposition of my hands.