As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.” (1536) Ordinations always take place during a special Mass celebrated by a bishop. Although each degree of Holy Orders has distinct ceremonies, the essential rite for every degree of Holy Orders is the imposition of the ordaining bishop’s hands on the head of the person being ordained and the prayer of ordination that follows.
The first degree of Holy Orders is the diaconate. Future priests spend a brief period of time as deacons just before their ordination to the priesthood. These are called transitional deacons. Since the Second Vatican Council, men are also ordained to remain deacons. These are called permanent deacons. A married man may be ordained a permanent deacon. Every deacon is committed particularly to works of charity and service. During Mass, the deacon is the immediate assistant to the priest celebrant. As such, he instructs the assembly, proclaims the Gospel, prepares the altar, and helps the celebrant in whatever way possible. He is an Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion and is particularly entrusted with the care and distribution of the Precious Blood. Deacons may also baptize solemnly, officiate at weddings and funerals outside of Mass, preside at communal celebrations of the Divine Office, give Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and lead devotions and prayers.
The second degree of Holy Orders is the priesthood. Every diocese has a group of priests that are dedicated to the service of the people of that territory. Some members of religious orders are also ordained priests. They will be discussed below. Diocesan priests promise to be obedient to the bishop and to remain celibate (unmarried). However, they do not take a vow of poverty; they receive a modest salary and are able to own property. Most diocesan priests are assigned to serve a particular parish. They reside in a rectory near the church so that they can be totally available to the people that they serve. At the heart of every priest’s life is the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which he offers in the person of Christ. Every other aspect of his ministry flows from and leads back to the Eucharist. After the Mass, the most important work of a parish priest is the celebration of the sacraments. He baptizes children and sometimes adults; he officiates at the Sacrament of Marriage; he anoints the seriously ill and the elderly; he hears confessions and imparts the Lord’s mercy. He officiates at funeral rites. He leads devotions and prayer services. He coordinates the teaching of the Catholic faith in his parish through the religious education program, RCIA, and possibly a parish school or affiliated academy. He prepares homilies and other talks to teach the faithful and to urge them to live their faith more deeply. He counsels individuals that seek his advice. He assists couples preparing for marriage and parents preparing for the Baptism of their children. Pastors especially oversee the administration of the parish, which consists of fundraising, maintenance of buildings and grounds, human resource management, coordination with diocesan officials, and other responsibilities. In short, every day in the life of a parish priest is different. Every day brings different joys and different challenges.
Some priests are given the title “Monsignor” by the Holy Father. This is only an honorary title. It does not correspond with being the pastor of a parish or holding a special diocesan position.
The highest degree of Holy Orders is the episcopate. Roman Catholic bishops in the United States are chosen directly by the Holy Father from among priests. They are then ordained by at least three bishops. Some bishops are auxiliary bishops, meaning they assist a diocesan bishop in his duties. The diocesan bishop is the shepherd and source of unity of all the Catholic faithful within the boundaries of the diocese. His three principal functions are teaching, sanctifying, and governing. Sometimes bishops are transferred from one diocese to another. All bishops must submit a letter of resignation to the pope when they turn 75. Even when they retire, however, bishops remain bishops, and many continue to assist the diocesan bishop in his duties. Some bishops are called archbishops because they lead an archdiocese or a special office in the Church. This is only a title; it does not require another ordination. Likewise, some bishops are made cardinals by the pope. Again, this is a title; it does not require another ordination.
Aside from diocesan bishops, priests, and deacons, there are members of religious orders. Some of the better-known religious orders are the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Jesuits. Members of these orders commit themselves to growing in holiness through the particular way of life of their community. They typically make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Some members of religious orders are priests and (transitional) deacons. Non-ordained members of male communities are often called “brothers.” Similarly, members of female communities are usually called “sisters.” Every religious community is unique. Some are contemplative, meaning their members are primarily devoted to prayer. Some are active, meaning their members undertake certain work outside of the community, such as teaching and healthcare.
The privilege of serving God’s people as a priest, deacon, religious sister or brother is personally fulfilling and spiritually exciting. Anyone who feels they might be interested in the priesthood, diaconate, or religious life should speak to a parish priest.
Prayer for All Vocations
Gracious God, You gift us with your son, Jesus.
At his baptism you affirmed him as your beloved son and Jesus
responded by proclaiming the Good News about your reign.
Help us realize that by our baptism we are each called
to continue the mission of Jesus by proclaiming the Good News.
You call people to married life.
Bless them with love, understanding, and fidelity
as they proclaim the Good News.
You call people to the single life.
Bless them with compassion, joy, and dedication
as they proclaim the Good News.
You call people to the consecrated life.
Bless them with courage, commitment, and passion
as they proclaim the Good News.
You call people to the ordained life.
Bless them with faith, integrity, and zeal
as they proclaim the Good News.
May we accept and acknowledge the dignity of our vocation.
Guide those discerning your call and give them the support they
need. Gift us all with open and generous hearts to further your
reign here on Earth.
With gratitude we offer this prayer through Jesus and the Spirit.
Good Shepherd Statue
Each week a family generously agrees to take home the Good Shepherd Statue to pray in a special way for vocations. Prayers and suggestions are sent home with the statue. If your family is interested in participating as a “Good Shepherd” family, please call the rectory at 718-738-1616, ext. 210.
The Process of Becoming a Priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn
Some men experience the call to priesthood at a young age. Cathedral Preparatory High School and Seminary provides such men an atmosphere to explore and discern their vocation without pressure.
Young men graduating high school who feel called to the priesthood can apply to what is called the college seminary. The Diocese of Brooklyn operates Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, New York. About 70 students from several different dioceses attend this seminary. College seminarians take most of their classes at St. John’s University or other local colleges and universities. Cathedral Seminary House of Formation also hosts a “Pre-Theology” program for those seminarians who have already completed a bachelor’s degree, but require additional philosophy studies. All of the seminarians at Douglaston, aside from their academic work, participate in daily Mass, other forms of prayer in common, regular spiritual direction, and conferences that help to prepare them in many different ways to be ready for ordination.
The final level of seminary is called the theologate or the major seminary. Most seminarians at this level from the Diocese of Brooklyn attend St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, NY or the Pontifical North American College in Rome. The bishop makes the final decision about which seminary each student will attend. But regardless of the place, the life of every major seminarian is one of formation, prayer, and the study of theology, Scripture, canon law, church history, and related topics.
|Christian Brothers||Daughters of Wisdom||Franciscan Third Order|
|Dominicans – Order of Preachers||Daughters of Saint Paul|
|Franciscan Brothers||Little Sisters of the Sick Poor|
|The Passionists||School Sisters of Notre Dame|
|Society of Jesus||Sisters of Charity of Halifax|
|Sisters of Charity of New York|
|Sisters of Mercy|
|Sisters of Saint Dominic, Amityville, NY|
|Sisters of Saint Joseph, Brentwood, NY|
|Sisters of the Good Shepherds|
|Sisters of the Presentation|
|Sisters of the Visitations of Holy Mary, Brooklyn|
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