In this post I wish to examine the sacrament known as Holy Orders. You probably guessed that from the title. Most Christian denominations do not recognize orders as a sacrament. Their ministers attend a type of seminary, or go through some other training; but orders is not usually considered a sacrament. In the Catholic Church, however, Holy Orders is just that…holy.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told His Apostles, “Do this in memory of me.” He gave His Apostles the power and duty to change the bread and wine into His body, blood, soul, and divinity. Furthermore, in John 20, we see Jesus giving His Apostles the authority to forgive sins. Jesus Himself elevated orders to a sacrament. Well, really, Jesus just confirmed orders as a sacrament.
When we look at the Old Testament, we find that the Hebrews already had a sacramental view of “orders”. When Aaron and the Levites were consecrated as priests, it was considered a holy thing. There was a ceremony for Aaron in which he was vested with some of Moses’ authority. Now, where did Moses get his authority from? In Exodus, when sending Moses on his mission to Pharaoh, God tells Moses he will be as God for the Hebrews. Aaron, in turn, is said to be Moses’ mouthpiece. In other words, Moses had authority from God. Aaron had authority from Moses. This gives Aaron some of the authority God gave Moses.
We know that God is holy. His authority is holy. Therefore, the reception of God’s authority is holy. Having some of God’s authority does not make the one possessing that authority holy. The authority itself, and its reception, is holy. So we see that in the Old Testament, the Hebrews had a sacramental view of orders.
Jesus confirmed this sacramental view of orders when He added the elements of consecrating the bread and wine, and the forgiveness of sins, to orders. One can see that the orders of Judaism contained these things, as well. Jewish priests were responsible for offering sacrifices for sins. One could only obtain the forgiveness of their sins in Judaism by having the priest offer a sacrifice for them.
It is the same under the New Covenant. The priests offer a sacrifice for our sins. We are united with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross during the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. But there is also now a confessional element to the forgiveness of sins.
Surely, one can see the reasonableness of considering Holy Orders a sacrament. Whether or not you agree with the Catholic view, Holy Orders as a sacrament makes sense in light of our sacrificial view of the priesthood. Hopefully this short post helped to clarify why Holy Orders is considered one of the seven sacraments.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity