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Holy Orders / Ordination

Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church. Through a special gift of the Holy Spirit the ordained man exercises a sacred power in the name and authority of Christ for the service of the People of God.

There are three different degrees of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church: bishop, priest, and deacon. The Church, recognising itself to be bound by Christ’s choice, can only call baptised men to ordination. Bishops and priests promise life-long celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God, while both life-long celibates and married men may be called to the diaconate. 


The bishop, who is appointed by the Pope, has the fullness of orders. He is a legitimate successor of the Apostles and pastor of a particular church or Diocese. He is responsible for the unity of the Church which, importantly, means maintaining communion with the Pope and the other bishops, especially the other bishops in his province and country. 

The Bishop, participating in Jesus’ identity and mission as Messiah, has a three-fold ministry of prophet, priest and shepherd.

As a prophet, the bishop speaks for God, or on behalf of God. He gives teaching and instruction to the flock entrusted to his care.  

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 (Crosier) symbolises his role as spiritual shepherd of his flock.



A priest or presbyter shares in the ministry of the bishop and is his co-worker. Although ordained for a universal mission, he exercises his ministry in a particular Church (Diocese) as the co-worker of a particular bishop. The priests of a particular church or Diocese form the ‘presbyterium’: it is a sacramental and spiritual brotherhood in communion with the Bishop and depending on him which bears responsibility for that particular church (Diocese). 

At ordination, the priest is anointed with the Holy Spirit with an indelible spiritual character that configures him to Christ the priest and enables him to act in the name of Christ the Head of the Church. 

The main roles of the priest are preaching, celebrating the sacraments and leadership for building the community of the church. In a special way, the celebration of the Eucharist is the centre of a priest’s life. The priest is also called to serve his people in Word and in Sacrament and by leadership, after the model of our Lord. He is entrusted with the responsibility of teaching faith and morals, forming lay leaders, and whatever other duties are deemed necessary by his bishop. Although he may be called to work in a great variety of missions or chaplaincies, parish ministry is generally the privileged responsibility of diocesan priests. 



A deacon is ordained to serve the church through the ministry of word, worship, pastoral care and charity.. A deacon may baptise, preach, officiate at marriages and funerals, but cannot preside at Eucharist, give absolution or anoint the sick. Before someone is ordained a priest, he is first ordained to the order of deacon (transitional deacon). There are also permanent deacons who will not be ordained to the priesthood. Permanent deacons may be married or committed celibates. 

At the heart of a deacon’s service is the willingness and devotion to reach out to the poor and marginalised, both materially and spiritually.

The Permanent Deacon is not a substitute priest, nor  a pastoral associate, nor a competitor with lay ministers, including those in leadership positions. He has a special relationship with the Bishop and serves at his direction. This service should be in harmony with ministry of the ordained priests and the laity. 

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 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 and his family.

In our local church, we have four permanent deacons (link to clergy page).

Read more about Catholic Deacons in Australia.