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264 • Part II. The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated


The Church adopted the term


from its use in the Roman Empire,

where it referred to a governing group. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders,

there are three degrees or “orders”: bishop, priest, and deacon. The rite

of ordination is the sacramental act that makes this possible. Ordination

“confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a ‘sacred

power’ . . . which can come only fromChrist himself through the Church”

(CCC, no. 1538).

The first priest figure to appear in the Old Testament is Melchizedek,

who offered a sacrifice of bread and wine on behalf of the patriarch

Abraham (Gn 14:18-20). He symbolized the permanence of priesthood:

“Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever” (Ps 110:4). God also chose

Aaron and his sons to be priests (Ex 28:1ff.) and designated the tribe of

Levi for liturgical service. They acted on behalf of the people and offered

gifts and sacrifices for sins. They proclaimed God’s Word and led people

to communion with him through sacrifices and prayers.

But these priests were unable to provide the fullness of salvation or

definitive sanctification for the people. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ

could bring this about. The priesthood of Melchizedek, Aaron, and the

Levites prefigured the priesthood of Christ, as is seen in consecration

prayers for the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons.

The priesthood of the Old Testament found its perfect fulfillment in

the priesthood of Jesus Christ, who is the one mediator between God and

us. Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the Cross was a priestly act of perfect

self-offering accepted by the Father and culminating in his Resurrection

from the dead so that, as Risen Lord and High Priest, he continues to

offer salvation to all.

By Baptism, all the members of the Church share in Christ’s holy

priesthood. It is called “the common priesthood of the faithful” because

the entire Church shares in it. To build up this priesthood, Christ gives

to his Church the ordained ministries of bishops, priests, and deacons

through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Only the ordained bishop and

priest may be ministers of Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist,

the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, and the Sacrament of the

Anointing of the Sick. Only bishops may ordain deacons, priests, and