The Priesthood

The 3rd and highest of the Major Orders

The Order of PriestThis is the great sacrament by which the deacon becomes a priest of the New Testament, another Christ. The word priest is derived from the Greek word presbyteros, which means elder; the term "elder" designates a person holding an office which usually is conferred only on such as are distinguished by age, experience, nobility of character and life. The priest is distinguished from the rest of the people by the dignity and authority inherent in the very nature of the priesthood. 

Priests were typified in the Old Testament by the seventy elders, who were chosen by Moses in the desert to assist him in the government of the people. At what time the first priests were ordained in the church of the New Testament cannot be established with certainty. However, it is probable that when St. Paul wrote to Timothy: "Lay not thy hands lightly on any man." (1 Tim. 5, 22), he had in mind the ordination of priests. 

Of the awe-inspiring powers vested in the priesthood three are conferred by a special ceremonial act, i.e.: the power to offer up the Holy Sacrifice, the power to forgive sins, and the power to bless. The indelible character of the priesthood is impressed upon the priest's soul: and for all eternity he shall be "priest according to the order of Melchisedech" (Ps. 109, 4). 


The rite of the ordination of priests is truly sublime. Of the many new ceremonial acts which appear in the rite, the following call for brief explanation. 
  1. The Anointing of the Hands of the Priest - Holy oil was used extensively in the liturgical functions of the Old Testament. The high priest and the priests, the Tabernacle and is furniture, prophets and kings, were anointed. Christ Himself is announced as the Messias, which means the Anointed. He is the supreme prophet, king, and priest. It is fitting, therefore, that the priest of the Christian Dispensation, the "other Christ," should also be anointed. The anointing symbolizes the dedication of a person to the service of God, and the bestowal of grace.
  2. The Concelebration - Concelebration denotes the celebration of the same Mass by more than one priest. From the Offertory on, the newly ordained priests say the Mass together with the bishop, so that their ordination Mass is really their first Mass. According to the present discipline of the Latin Church, concelebration takes place only on the occasion of ordination; but it was common in ancient times and is so to the present day in the Eastern churches. Concelebration beautifully expresses the truth that there is but one priesthood and one sacrifice.
  3. The Profession of Faith -- Toward the end of the Mass, all newly ordained priests recite together the Apostles' Creed. It is fitting that, as they enter upon their mission of teaching, they should solemnly profess the faith which they will announce to the world.
  4. The Promise of Obedience - This promise of obedience is not a vow like the vow of obedience made by religious, but it imposes upon the priest the solemn obligation to administer his office in faithful obedience to his ecclesiastical superiors. Without obedience the Church could not carry on her work. And after all, how fitting it is that the priest, who is "another Christ," should distinguish himself and merit the blessing of God for his work by the practice of that virtue which may be called the characteristic virtue of our Savior Jesus Christ, who "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philipp. 2,8).
The priesthood is conferred before the last verse of the Tract or paschal Alleluia, before the Alleluia of the Gradual, before the last stanza of the Sequence, as the case may be. 

Deacons present themselves for ordination to the priesthood dressed in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, and stole. On their left arm they carry a folded chasuble and in their right hand a burning candle. 

The Rite

The Call. The bishop, with his miter on, sits on the faldstool before the middle of the altar. The archdeacon bids the candidates come forward; the notary reads their names:  Each one answers: adsum, goes before the altar and kneels, holding the burning candle in his right hand. 

The Postulation. The archdeacon presents the candidates to the bishop, requesting him to ordain them: 

If the ordaining bishop is a cardinal, the archdeacon says:  The Scrutiny. The bishop inquires:  The archdeacon answers:  The bishop says:  Consultation of the People. The bishop, with his miter on, makes to the clergy and people the following announcement:  The Instruction. The bishop makes a short pause; then he addresses to the ordinands the following instruction:  The Prostration and the Litany of the Saints. If no subdeacons or deacons have been ordained, there follows now the touching ceremony of the prostration. The ordinands prostrate themselves on the floor of the sanctuary, as a sign of their unworthiness and need of divine assistance. The bishop, with his miter on, kneels at the faldstool; all others who assist kneel in their places. The chanters begin the Litany of the Saints; the choir answers. If there is no choir, the bishop recites the litany, and all assisting clerics answer. The whole Church Triumphant is called upon to intercede with God that He may give worthy ministers to the Church Militant. 

The Litany of the Saints is prayed here. 

After the litany the ordinands rise. 

The Bestowal of the Office. The most solemn moment of the rite of ordination has now arrived, the moment in which that wonderful transformation takes place in the soul of the ordinand, which makes him "Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech." The bishop imposes both his hands upon each ordinand without saying any prayer, and after him all priests present do the same; then the bishop and all priests raise their right hands and hold them extended over the candidates. All is hushed in silence - it is as if the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit come down in visible form to take possession of His elect: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me" (Is. 61, 1). 

Holding his right hand extended, the bishop prays: 

Prayer. The bishop, with his miter off, turns to the altar and says:  Again the bishop turns to the ordained and prays:  The following is said by the bishop, with his arms extended:  What follows is said in a low voice but loud enough to be heard by those standing about.  Investiture with the Priestly Vestments. The bishop sits, with his miter on. The ordained are now vested with the priestly vestments. The bishop arranges to stole of each one, which up to now was worn over the left shoulder, in the manner in which it is worn by the priest at Mass, i.e., in the form of a cross. In doing this he says:  Then the bishop vests the candidates with the chasuble in such a manner that only the front part hangs down and the back part remains folded, saying at the same time:  The ordained answers:  Prayer. While all are kneeling, the bishop, with his miter off, prays:  The bishop, with his miter off, turns to the altar, kneels and intones the following hymn, which is then continued by the choir. 

Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, come…) 

The Anointing of the Hands. After the first stanza the bishop seats himself and receives the miter. He takes off his gloves, and a cloth or towel is spread over his lap. The candidates approach, and kneeling before him, one by one, they hold their hands for the anointing in such a manner that the palms are turned upward and the sides and the little fingers touch each other. The bishop dips his thumb into the holy oil, draws a line from the thumb of the right hand to the index finger of the left and from the thumb of the left hand to the index finger of the right, and then anoints the whole of both palms. While doing this he pronounces the following prayer: 

Then, keeping his hands joined, he goes to the side of the altar, where one of the assisting priests binds them together with a white cloth, leaving the fingers free. When all have been anointed, the bishop purifies his thumb with crumbs of bread. 

Bestowal of the Power to Offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By the preceding rite of the imposition of hands the candidates have been made priests and possess all priestly powers. But the power to celebrate Mass, to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is such a tremendous, awe-inspiring power that a special rite is employed to express its bestowal and to bring more fully into realization what has been received. 

The ordained again approach the bishop and kneel before him. A chalice containing wine and water, and the paten with a host lying on it, is presented to each; whereupon the ordained takes the paten between the index and the middle finger, touching with the index finger the paten and host and with the middle finger the cup of the chalice, while the bishop says: 

The bishop washes his hands and continues the Mass. After the Offertory the bishop puts on the miter and takes his seat before the middle of the altar. All the ordained now approach in due order, two by two, and, kneeling, offer to the bishop a burning candle, at the same time kissing the bishop's ring. If the number of the ordained is very great, only one of each order offers a candle. 

Having received this offering, the bishop washes his hands, and the Mass is continued. From now on all the newly ordained priests say the Mass together with the bishop, and all prayers, even those usually said in a low voice, are said aloud. 

The Mass here continues with the Offertory.
The Communion of the Ordained. After the bishop has consumed the sacred species, the newly ordained priests receive Holy Communion at his hands, but under one species only. However, since the young priests were also celebrants of the ordination Mass, the customary prayers, Confiteor, Misereatur, etc., are not said; neither does the bishop say any prayer when distributing Holy Communion. But each one, before receiving the sacred host, kisses the ring of the bishop. 

Now the others who have been ordained approach the altar. Confiteor, Misereatur, etc., are said in the usual way but when giving Holy Communion the bishop uses the formula: 

After receiving Communion -- The newly ordained priests have finished their first holy Mass. They are other Christs and in a very special manner the friends of Jesus. Now the mission of Jesus is theirs in the fullest sense of the word. As they will daily offer the Holy Sacrifice, so their endeavor must be to apply to the world the merits of the death of the Savior. This is done especially by announcing to the world the true faith and by forgiving sins. But that in the exercise of these offices they may truly advance the glory of God, they must act in obedience to their lawful superiors. These are the thoughts expressed in the following ceremonies. 

After the bishop as taken the ablution, he washes his hands; with miter off and, standing on the epistle side, he intones the following responsories, which are then continued by the choir. If there is no choir present, the bishop reads these responsories. 

The alleluia is omitted from Septuagesima to Easter. 

The Profession of Faith. Having said this responsory, the bishop, with his miter on, goes to the middle of the altar and turns to the newly ordained priests. These, standing before the altar, now recite the Apostle's Creed, thus publicly professing the faith which they will preach to the world. 

Bestowal of the Power to Forgive Sins. It must be remembered that the ordained were made priests and received all priestly powers by the imposition of the hands of the bishop. However, because of the excellence of the power to forgive sins, a special ceremony is employed to express its bestowal upon the priest. It is particularly fitting that this should be done after the offering of that Holy Sacrifice by which Christ has made atonement for the sins of men and reconciled us with His heavenly Father. 

The bishop, with his miter on, seats himself. The newly ordained come up and kneel before him; he lays his hands on each one and says: 

The Unfolding of the Chasuble. Then the bishop unfolds the back part of the chasuble, saying:  The Promise of Obedience. Now the bishop takes both hands of the ordained into his own and asks for the promise of obedience. If he is the Ordinary of the ordained, he says:  If the bishop is not the Ordinary of the ordained, he says:  Then the bishop, still holding the newly ordained priest's hands within his own, kisses him on the right cheek, saying:  Instruction. The bishop, having received the crozier, now addresses to the newly ordained priests the following exhortation:  The Solemn Blessing. The bishop rises and blesses the priests kneeling before him:  The bishop lays aside miter and crozier and continues the Mass prayers (the Communion verse and Post Communion verse) together with the newly ordained. 

The Final Admoniton. (After the Last Blessing) With miter on and crozier in hand, the bishop seats himself and addresses all the ordained kneeling before him. If all orders have been conferred, the following admonition is read as it stands; if not, reference to the orders not received is left out. 

The Last Gospel. The bishop having put aside crozier and miter goes to the gospel side of the altar and, together with the newly ordained priests, begins the Last Gospel.


Indulgences. On the day of a first Mass: 

A plenary indulgence may be gained: 

  1. by the newly ordained priest under the usual conditions.
  2. by the relatives of the priest within the third degree of consanguinity if they assist at the first Mass, receive the sacraments and pray for the intention of the Holy Father; one Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be is sufficient.

A partial indulgence of seven years may be gained by all the faithful who assist at the first Mass and pray for the intention of the Holy Father. (Raccolta, 629 and 684).