Holy Orders


What is the role of a priest?

When considering the role of a priest, we cannot just outline the things he does; it is what he is that matters first and foremost.

A priest first of all is a baptised man who has heard God calling him to a particular role in the Church – that of ministerial priesthood. After usually about six or seven years training he is ordained. Being ordained, or ordination, is a sacrament; that is a special blessing from God which makes an inner change in the man. Another word for this sacrament is ‘Holy Orders’.

When a man receives Holy Orders, he is configured to Christ, which means that when he carries out his ministerial work he is acting in the power of Christ, and not in his own power. We call this a special grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could be described as God’s power, energy and wisdom. In the most profound way possible, ordination creates a new man, one who, if living his vocation (calling) faithfully, can say with St. Paul: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20). He is changed not because of what he can do, but because of what he has become. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes Holy Orders as ‘The sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time…’ (CCC 1536).

‘Everything a priest does in his ministry flows from what he becomes at his ordination: presiding at Mass, absolving sinners, anointing the sick, proclaiming and explaining the Gospel, giving blessings, and his whole pastoral leadership of building up a local community of faith.. The priest does what he does because of what he is: a priest of Jesus Christ.’ (Diocese of Arundel and Brighton leaflet on vocations to the priesthood)

Normally priests are ordained by the bishop of the diocese they will be serving in or the religious order of which they will be a part. They are the bishop’s co-workers, and when priests are ordained, they make a promise of obedience to their bishop. Priests may be given responsibility for any of a bishop’s works or for parishes under his authority. One of the main things a priest does as a co-worker with his bishop, is to carry out the Church’s mission to: proclaim, teach, and guard the word of God found in Scripture and authentic Catholic tradition. A priest with the authority of Christ carries on the priestly ministry of Jesus in a number of ways in his parish, or local area he is looking after. Chiefly he celebrates the Mass (which is the central worship of the Church) while acting in the person of Christ. He will also celebrate some of the other sacraments; baptism, confession (often called reconciliation) marriage, and the sacrament of the sick (anointing and praying for those who are sick). He is also charged with shepherding (caring for and looking after) and governing God’s people in his parish or wherever he is placed by his bishop.

The priest, therefore, living in the midst of the people, is called to teach, sanctify and lead through service. He is called to serve others and will be involved in the many various circumstances of life. The priestly ministry is as varied as those men who are called to live this way of life. No two parishes are the same and other ministries such as university and military chaplaincies are often undertaken by diocesan priests. Like Christian marriage, the Sacrament of Holy Orders also provides a special grace (help from God) to enable the priest to carry out his vocation faithfully and successfully.

St. John Vianney ‘knew how to “live” actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organised popular missions and patronal feasts (feasts of the patron saint of a church, a group, or an individual person); collected and managed funds for his charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the “Providence” (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities (a group of people meeting with a common aim), and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.’ (Pope Benedict XVI, Year for Priests, p. 6, Catholic Truth Society) [St. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests]

To obtain more information on how to become a priest in our Diocese please visit the Diocese of Stockton website at: 


Permanent Diaconate

Who is a Deacon?

A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three
groups,or "orders," of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops,
presbyters and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the
Church and to the world of Christ,who came "to serve and not to be served."
The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue
of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries,
is to be a servant in a servant-Church. 

What are these "various ministries" of the Deacon?

All ordained ministers in the Church are called to functions of Word,
Sacrament,and Charity, but bishops, presbyters and deacons exercise these
functions in various ways. As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the
Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of
Sacrament,deacons baptize,lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages,
and conduct wake and funeral services As ministers of Charity, deacons are
leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church's
resources to meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to eliminating
the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. But no matter what
specific functions a deacon performs, they flow from his sacramental
identity. In other words, it is not only WHAT a deacon does,but WHO a
deacon is,that is important.

Why do some deacons become priests?

For many years ordained ministers "ascended" from one office to another,
culminating in ordination to the presbyterate, or priesthood. The Second
Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), however, authorized the restoration of the
diaconate as a PERMANENT order of ministry. So, while students for the
priesthood are still ordained deacons prior to their ordination as priests,
there are more than 13,000 deacons in the United States alone who minister
in this Order permanently. There is no difference in the sacramental sign
or the functions between these so-called "transitional" and "permanent

May married men be ordained deacons?

Yes. The Second Vatican Council decreed that the diaconate, when it was
restored as a permanent order in the hierarchy, could be opened to "mature
married men,"later clarified to mean men over the age of 35. This is in
keeping with the ancient tradition of the Church, in which married men were
ordained into ministry. Also in keeping with ancient practice is the
expectation that while a married man may be ordained, an ordained man, if
his wife should die, may not marry again without special permission.

"Celibacy Affects Every Deacon: In one way or another, celibacy affects
every deacon,married or unmarried. Understanding the nature of celibacy
—its value and its practice—are essential to the married deacon. Not only
does this understanding strengthen and nurture his own commitment to marital
chastity, but it also helps to prepare him for the possibility of living
celibate chastity should his wife predecease him. This concern is
particularly unique within the diaconate. Tragically, some deacons who
were married at the time of ordination only begin to face the issues involved
with celibacy upon the death of their wives. As difficult as this process
is,all deacons need to appreciate the impact celibacy can have on their lives
and ministry."
-- National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent
Deacons in the United States, par. 72.

Is a Deacon ordained for the Parish or the Diocese?

Whenever a person is ordained, he is to serve the diocesan Church. Deacons
are no different in this regard: they are assigned by the bishop to ministries
for which the bishop perceives a great need, and for which the deacon may have
special gifts or talents. Most often, this will be within a parish setting,
just as most priests serve in a parish. Once assigned to the parish, the deacon
and any other clergy assigned to the parish minister under the immediate
supervision of the pastor. However, this assignment may be changed at the
request of the deacon or the initiative of the bishop. 

How do I find out more about becoming a Deacon?

To obtain information about becoming a Deacon, please visit the Diocese of Stockton's website at: