Meaning of priesthood
The word derives ultimately from the Greek presbuteros meaning "elder." The Church of England sees the priesthood as both a reflection of the ancient Temple priesthood of the Jews and the person of Jesus, as does the Church of Rome. The liturgy of ordination recalls the Old Testament priesthood and the priesthood of Christ. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, "Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a prefiguration of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ" Summa Theologica.
Process and sequence
The arrangement given above, "bishops, priests, and deacons" is in the reverse order of ordination. For Catholics, it is typically in the last year of seminary training that a man will be ordained to the diaconate, called by Catholics in recent times the "transitional diaconate" to distinguish men bound for priesthood from those who have entered the "permanent diaconate" and do not intend to seek further ordination. Deacons, whether transitional or permanent, are licensed to preach sermons (under certain circumstances a permanent deacon may not receive faculties to preach), to perform baptisms, and to witness Catholic marriages, but to perform no other sacraments. They may assist at the Eucharist or the Mass, but are not the ministers of the Eucharist. Orthodox seminarians are typically tonsured as readers before entering seminary, and may later be made subdeacons or deacons; customs vary between seminaries and between Orthodox jurisdictions.
After six months or more as a transitional deacon a man will be ordained to the priesthood. Priests are able to preach, perform baptisms, witness marriages, hear confessions and give absolutions, anoint the sick, and celebrate the Eucharist or the Mass.
For Anglicans, a person is ordained a deacon once they have completed their training at a theological college. They then typically serve as a curate and are ordained as priest a year later. Deacons must be at least 21 years old, and priests 22. Anglican deacons can preach sermons, perform baptisms and conduct funerals, but, unlike priests, cannot conduct marriages or celebrate the Eucharist. In most branches of the Anglican church, women can be ordained as priests, and in some, can be ordained a bishop. Anglican priests have to be at least 30 before they can be chosen to become a bishop.
Bishops are chosen from among the priests in churches that adhere to Catholic usage.
In the Roman Catholic church, bishops, like priests, are celibate and thus unmarried; further, a bishop is said to possess the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, empowering him to ordain deacons, priests, and- with papal consent-other bishops. If a bishop, especially one acting as an ordinary- a head of a diocese or archdiocese- is to be ordained, three bishops must usually co-consecrate him with one bishop, usually an archbishop or the bishop of the place, being the chief consecrating prelate. Among Eastern Rite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, which permit married priests, bishops must either be unmarried or agree to abstain from contact with their wives. It is a common misconception that all such bishops come from religious orders; while this is generally true, it is not an absolute rule. In the case of both Catholics, Eastern Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox, they are usually leaders of territorial units called dioceses. Only bishops can validly administer the sacrament of holy orders.
In Latin-rite Catholic churches and also in Anglican churches, only bishops (and priests with authorisation by the local bishop) may lawfully administer the sacrament of confirmation, but if an ordinary priest administers that sacrament illegally, it is nonetheless considered valid, so that the person confirmed cannot be actually confirmed again, by a bishop or otherwise. Latin rite priest with special permission of the diocesan bishop or the Holy See can lawfully administer confirmation; every Catholic priest must administer confirmation, even without permission, to children in danger of death. In Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, confirmation is done by parish priests via the rite of chrismation, and is usually administered to both neonates and adults immediately after their baptism.
It has been discussed whether a priest with special faculties and possibly Pontifical (Papal) permission, e.g. an abbot, could validly ordain another male to the priesthood or the diaconate. The opinions of the theologians differ on this issue. Historical precedents indicate, that this may very well be true for abbots and priests in emergency situations. The matter is uncertain though, and most apostolic churches do not accept the validity of ordinations conferred by priests. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, in the Roman Catholic Church it is a point of discipline and certain faith though, that an abbot, or a regular or diocesan priest with special faculties, could initiate males to the minor orders, including to the subdiaconate.
Marriage and holy orders
The rules discussed in this section are not considered to be among the infallible dogmas of the Catholic Church, but are mutable rules of discipline. See clerical celibacy for a more detailed discussion.
Married men may be ordained to the diaconate as Permanent Deacons, but in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church generally may not be ordained to the priesthood. In the Eastern Catholic Churches and in the Eastern Orthodox Church married deacons may be ordained priests, but may not become bishops. Bishops in the Eastern Rites and the Eastern Orthodox churches are almost always drawn from among monks, who have taken a vow of celibacy. They may be widowers, though; it is not required of them never to have been married.
In some cases widowed permanent deacons have been ordained to the priesthood. There have been some situations in which men previously married and ordained to the priesthood in an Anglican church or in a Lutheran Protestant church have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood, sometimes sub conditione (conditionally), and allowed to function much as an Eastern Rite priest but in a Latin Rite setting; however, this may only happen with the approval of the priest's Bishop and a special permission by the Pope.
Anglican clergy may be married and may marry after ordination.
Chastity and celibacy
There is a difference between chastity and celibacy. Celibacy is the state of not being married, so a promise of celibacy is a promise not to enter into marriage but instead to consecrate one's life to service (in other words, "married to God"). Chastity, a virtue expected of all Christians, is the state of sexual purity; for a vowed celibate, or for the single person, chastity means the avoidance of sex. For the married person, chastity means the practice of sex only with the spouse, and can carry the expectation of intercourse with the spouse that is open to reproduction.
Traditionally, celibacy was the male counterpart to female virginity. Implying that the celibate was not only not married, but that he had never been married. That usage is no longer common today.
Ordination of women
The Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women to any of the orders and has officially declared that it does not have authority to ordain women as priests or bishops. Ordaining women as deacons, however, appears to remain a possibility. Many Orthodox, Old Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches ordain women, but in many cases, only to the office of deacon or deaconess. Whether the Catholic Church historically ordained, or simply "set apart", women as deaconesses is a matter of theological and historical investigation. Various branches of the Orthodox churches, including the Greek Orthodox, currently ordain woman as deaconesses. Some churches are internally divided on whether it is scripturally permissible to ordain women. When one considers the relative size of the churches (1.1 billion Roman Catholics, 300 million Orthodox, 590 million Anglicans and Protestants), it is a minority of Christian churches that ordain women. Protestants constitute about 27 percent of Christians worldwide and most which do ordain women have only done so within the past century.
In some traditions women may theoretically be ordained to the same orders as men. In others women are restricted from certain offices. The Church of England (in the Anglican Communion), for example, does not permit the consecration of women as bishops. Similarly, in some Protestant denominations, women may serve as assistant pastors but not as pastors in charge of congregations. In some denominations women can be ordained to be an elder or deacon. Some denominations allow for the ordination of women for certain religious orders. Within certain traditions, such as the Anglican and Lutheran, there is a diversity of theology and practice regarding ordination of women.
The Roman Catholic Church, in accordance with its understanding of the theological tradition on the issue, and the definitive clarification of the issue found in the encyclical letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) written by Pope John Paul II in 1994, officially teaches that it has no authority to ordain women as priests and thus the possibility of female priests is unlikely in the foreseeable future if ever, even íf the majority of Roman Catholics were to be in favour.