There are three levels of Holy Orders – bishop, priest and deacon. The Bishop leads a diocese and is the principal teacher in the diocese. He is first among preachers and governs the people as the Vicar of Christ. All the bishops of the world form a “college” or united group by virtue of their being successors to the apostles. The principal bishop is the pope, the Bishop of Rome.
In the early Church, the bishops ministered to everyone. As the number of believers grew the bishops were unable to care for all of them. They ordained men to serve in their place and these men were called priests. The Second Vatican Council noted that the priest’s chief responsibilities are to bring about the presence of Christ in the Church and to share in Christ’s mission as teacher, sanctifier and leader. He is chosen to act in the person of Christ. He is to preach the gospel, give pastoral service to his community, and celebrate the Mass and sacraments. His ministerial priesthood is distinct from the universal priesthood of the faithful who called to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.
The word deacon comes from a Greek word that means “servant” or “helper.” There are two types of deacons. The transitional diaconate is the step before priesthood. The permanent diaconate is made up of men who are called by God to serve the faithful on a permanent basis. Deacons can baptize, distribute the Eucharist, be the ministers of the Word and officiate at weddings and funerals. Permanent Deacons may be married.
Just as Jesus came to ‘serve not to be served’ these men are called by God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be servant leaders for the faithful. Their powers and responsibilities are conferred through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Feeling the call to service? Contact the diocesan Office of Vocations for additional information.