There are three different orders or dimensions of ordination in the Catholic Church: bishop, priest and deacon.
In the Roman Catholic Church, bishops and priests are obliged to celibacy, that is, to remain unmarried. Married men may be ordained as deacons.
In the Ordination ceremony, the bishop places his hands on the head of the one being ordained and prays that God will give him the special gifts of the Holy Spirit needed to carry out his ministry.
The bishop, who has the fullest of orders, has a three-fold ministry of prophet, priest and shepherd.
As a prophet, the bishop speaks for God or on behalf of God.
In his priestly role, the bishop has responsibility for the proper celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments in his diocese.
As a shepherd, the bishop cares for all people in the diocese where he is appointed to serve, especially the poor and the suffering. The bishop’s staff (aka Crosier) symbolises his role as spiritual shepherd of his flock.
A priest shares in the ministry of the bishop. The main roles of the priest are preaching , celebrating the sacraments and leadership for building up the community of the church. The priest is called to serve his people in word and in sacrament and by leadership after the model of our Lord.
Becoming a priest
The Catholic Priesthood is second of the three ordained ministries of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The others are Diaconate and Episcopate. All three Orders are reserved by the Church exclusively for men.
The Order of Priesthood gives to the man ordained the office of offering the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist and of forgiving sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation. In and through the exercise of these ministries the ordained priest is further charged with celebrating the sacraments of Baptism, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick.
Priesthood also embraces the exercise of spiritual leadership, the teaching of faith and morals, formation of lay leaders and whatever other duties are deemed necessary by his Bishop or Religious Superior.
Ordination to the Priesthood requires holiness of life, moral integrity and celibacy.
A deacon is ordained to serve the church through ministry of word, worship, pastoral care and charity. A deacon may baptise, preach, officiate at marriages and funerals but cannot preside at Eucharist or give absolution. Before someone is ordained a priest, he is first ordained to the order of deacon. There are also what are called ‘permanent’ deacons who have been ordained and function as deacons who will not be ordained to the priesthood.
Read more about Catholic Deacons in Australia.
Life of the Deacon
Deacons enjoy a special relationship with the Bishop. They serve as he directs. This may be in a parish, or anywhere the Bishop discerns a need. Deacons are called to carry Christ and the Gospel to their workplaces, places of relaxation and to the heart of their family life.
The work of the Deacon has been described as being commissioned by the bishop to discern the needs of people, and bringing back word of needs to the diocesan and/or parish community. Deacons were in early times referred to as “the eyes and ears” of the bishop.
The Permanent Diaconate is an ordained ministry, but the Deacon is not a substitute priest and cannot preside at the celebration of the Eucharist. Nor is he a pastoral associate. Deacons are not in competition with lay ministers, including those in leadership positions.
Diaconal ministry should be in harmony with the ministry of ordained priests and lay leaders. Part of the deacon’s role is to promote and support the apostolic activities of the laity.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic teaching has emphasised a balanced diaconal ministry of preaching and sacramental ministry.
Information for aspirants
It is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop to discern a vocation to the diaconate. To be a suitable candidate for ordination, a person must be a Catholic man of sound moral character and mature faith, who has demonstrated a sense of vocation to service.
He must also demonstrate prayerfulness and an openness to further spiritual formation.
He should be at least 35 years of age at the time of ordination, and should not normally be older than the commonly accepted retirement age.
He should have the ability to complete undergraduate studies and be able to make time for formation without detriment to his family and work commitments. He must have adequate physical and mental health. He must also have the support of the parish priest.