The Catechism of Trent 2500



Importance Of Instruction On Extreme Unction

In all thy works, the Scriptures teach, remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin, words which convey to the pastor a silent admonition to omit no opportunity of exhorting the faithful to constant meditation on death. The Sacrament of Extreme Unction, because inseparably associated with recollection of the day of death, should, it is obvious, form a subject of frequent instruction, not only because it is right to explain the mysteries of salvation, but also because death, the inevitable doom of all men, when recalled to the minds of the faithful, represses depraved passion. Thus shall they be less disturbed by the approach of death, and will pour forth their gratitude in endless praises to God, who has not only opened to us the way to true life in the Sacrament of Baptism, but has also instituted that of Extreme Unction, to afford us, when departing this mortal life, an easier way to heaven.

Names of this Sacrament

In explaining what is more necessary on this subject we shall follow almost the same order observed in the exposition of the other Sacraments. Hence we shall first show that this Sacrament is called Extreme Unction, because among all the unctions prescribed by our Lord to His Church, this is the last to be administered.

For this reason it was also called by our predecessors in the faith, the Sacrament of the anointing of the sick, and also the Sacrament of the dying, names which easily turn the minds of the faithful to the remembrance of that last hour.

Extreme Unction Is a True Sacrament

That Extreme Unction is strictly speaking a Sacrament, is first to be explained; and this the words of St. James the Apostle, promulgating the law of this Sacrament, clearly establish. Is any man, he says, sick amongst you ? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. When the Apostle says that sins are forgiven, he ascribes to Extreme Unction the nature and efficacy of a Sacrament.

That such has been at all times the doctrine of the Catholic Church on Extreme Unction, many Councils testify, and the Council of Trent denounces anathema against all who presume to teach or think otherwise. Innocent I also recommends this Sacrament with great earnestness to the attention of the faithful.

Extreme Unction Is But One Sacrament

Pastors, therefore, should teach that Extreme Unction is a true Sacrament, and that, although administered with many anointings, each given with a peculiar prayer, and under a peculiar form, it constitutes not many, but one Sacrament. It is one, however, not in the sense that it is composed of inseparable parts, but because each of the parts contributes to its perfection, as is the case with every object composed of many parts. As a house which consists of a great variety of parts derives its perfection from unity of plan, so is this Sacrament, although composed of many and different things and words, but one sign, and it effects only that one thing of which it is the sign.

Essential Parts of Extreme Unction

Pastors should also teach what are the component parts of this Sacrament, its matter and form. These St. James does not omit, and each is replete with its own peculiar mysteries.

The Matter Of Extreme Unction

Its element, then, or matter, as defined by Councils, particularly by the Council of Trent, consists of oil consecrated by the Bishop. Not any kind of oil extracted from fatty or greasy substances, but olive oil alone (can be the matter of this Sacrament).

Thus its matter is most significant of what is inwardly effected in the soul by the Sacrament. Oil is very efficacious in soothing bodily pain, and the power of this Sacrament lessens the pain and anguish of the soul. Oil also restores health, brings joy, feeds light, and is very efficacious in refreshing bodily fatigue. All these effects signify what the divine power accomplishes in the sick man through the administration of this Sacrament. So much will suffice in explanation of the matter.

The Form Of Extreme Unction

The form of the Sacrament is the word and solemn prayer which the priest uses at each anointing: By this Holy Unction may God pardon thee whatever sins thou hast committed by the evil use of sight, smell or touch.

That this is the true form of this Sacrament we learn from these words of St. James: Let them pray over him . . . and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man. Hence we can see that the form is to be applied by way of prayer. The Apostle does not say of what particular words that prayer is to consist; but this form has been handed down to us by the faithful tradition of the Fathers, so that all the Churches retain the form observed by the Church of Rome, the mother and mistress of all Churches. Some, it is true, alter a few words, as when for God pardon thee, they say (God) remit, or (God) spare, and sometimes, May (God) remedy all the evil thou hast committed. But as there is no change of meaning, it is clear that all religiously observe the same form.

It should not excite surprise that, while the form of each of the other Sacraments either absolutely signifies what it expresses, such as I baptise thee, or I Sign thee with the sign of the cross, or is pronounced, as it were, by way of command, as in administering Holy Orders, Receive power, the form of Extreme Unction alone is expressed by way of prayer. Wisely has it been so appointed. For since this Sacrament is administered not only for the spiritual grace which it bestows, but also for the recovery of health, which, however, is not always obtained, therefore use a deprecative form, in order to implore of God's mercy what the virtue of the Sacrament does not always and uniformly effect.

The Ceremonies Of Extreme Unction

In the administration of this Sacrament special rites are also used, consisting principally of prayers offered by the priest for the recovery of the sick person. There is no Sacrament, the administration of which is accompanied with more numerous prayers; and with good reason, for at that moment more than ever the faithful require the assistance of pious prayers. All who may be present, and especially the pastor, should pour out their fervent aspirations to God, and earnestly commend to His mercy the life and salvation of the sufferer.

Institution of Extreme Unction

Having thus proved that Extreme Unction is truly and properly to be numbered among the Sacraments, we rightly infer that it owes its institution to Christ our Lord. It was subsequently made known and promulgated to the faithful by the Apostle St. James.

Our Saviour Himself, however, seems to have given some indication of it, when He sent His disciples two and two before Him; for the Evangelist informs us that going forth, they preached that all should do penance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

This anointing cannot be supposed to have been invented by the Apostles, but was commanded by our Lord. Nor did its power arise from any natural virtue. Its efficacy, we must believe, was mystical, having been instituted to heal the maladies of the soul, rather than to cure the diseases of the body. This is the doctrine taught by St. Denis, St. Ambrose, St. Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Great; so that it cannot be at all doubted that Extreme Unction is to be recognised and venerated as one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

The Subject of Extreme Unction

But although instituted for the use of all, Extreme Unction is not lo be administered indiscriminately to all.

The Subject Must Be In Danger Of Death

In the first place, it is not to be administered to persons in sound health, according to these words of St. James: Is anyone sick amongst you? This is also proved by the fact that Extreme Unction was instituted as a remedy not only for the diseases of the soul, but also for those of the body. Now only the sick need a remedy, and therefore this Sacrament is to be administered to those only whose malady is such as to excite apprehensions of approaching death.

It is, however, a very grievous sin to defer the Holy Unction until, all hope of recovery being lost, life begins to ebb, and the sick person is fast verging into a state of insensibility. It is obvious that if the Sacrament is administered while consciousness and reason are yet unimpaired, and the mind is capable of eliciting acts of faith and of directing the will to sentiments of piety, a more abundant participation of its graces must be received. Though this heavenly medicine is in itself always salutary, pastors should be careful to apply it when its efficacy can be aided by the piety and devotion of the sick person.

The Danger Must Arise From Sickness

Extreme Unction, then, can be administered to no one who is not dangerously sick; not even to those who are in danger of death, as when they undertake a perilous voyage, or enter into battle with the sure prospect of death, or have been condemned to death and are on the way to execution.

The Person Anointed Must Have Attained The Use Of Reason

Furthermore, all those who have not the use of reason are not fit subjects for this Sacrament; and likewise children who, having committed no sins, do not need the Sacrament as a remedy against the remains of sin. The same is true of idiots and insane persons, unless they give indications in their lucid intervals of a disposition to piety, and express a desire to be anointed. To persons who from their birth never enjoyed the use of reason this Sacrament is not to be administered; but if a sick person, while in the possession of his faculties, expresses a wish to receive Extreme Unction and afterwards becomes delirious he is to be anointed.

Administration of Extreme Unction

The Sacred Unction is to be applied not to the entire body, but to the organs of sense only, ­­ to the eyes, on account of sight; to the ears, on account of hearing; to the nostrils, on account of smell; to the mouth, on account of taste and speech; to the hands, on account of touch. The sense of touch, it is true, is diffused throughout the entire body, yet it is more developed in the hands.

This manner of administering Extreme Unction is observed throughout the universal Church, and is in keeping with the medicinal nature of the Sacrament. As in corporal disease, although the malady affects the entire body, yet the cure is applied to that part only which is the seat and origin of the disease; so likewise this Sacrament is applied not to the entire body, but to those members in which the power of sensation is most conspicuous, and also to the loins, which are, as it were, the seat of concupiscence, and to the feet, by which we move from one place to another.

Here it is to be observed that, during the same illness, and while the danger of dying continues the same, the sick person is to be anointed but once. Should he, however, recover after he has been anointed, he may receive the aid of this Sacrament as often as he shall have relapsed into the same danger of death. This Sacrament, therefore, is evidently to be numbered among those which may be repeated.

Dispositions for the Reception of Extreme Unction

As all care should be taken that nothing impede the. grace of the Sacrament, and as nothing is more opposed to it than the consciousness of mortal guilt, the constant practice of the Catholic Church must be observed of administering the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist before Extreme Unction.

And next, let parish priests strive to persuade the sick person to receive this Sacrament from the priest with the same faith with which those of old who were to be healed by the Apostles used to present themselves. But the salvation of his soul is to be the first object of the sick man's wishes, and after that the health of the body, with this qualification, if it be for the good of his soul.

Nor should the faithful doubt that those holy and solemn prayers which are used by the priest, not in his own person, but in that of the Church and of our Lord Jesus Christ, are heard by God; and they are most particularly to be exhorted on this one point, to take care that the Sacrament of this most salutary oil be administered to them holily and religiously, when the sharper conflict seems at hand, and the energies of the mind as well as of the body appear to be failing.

The Minister of Extreme Unction

Who the minister of Extreme Unction is we learn from the same Apostle that promulgated the law of the Lord; for he says: Let him bring in the priests (presbyters). By which name, as the Council of Trent has well explained, he does not mean persons advanced in years, or of chief authority among the people, but priests who have been duly ordained by Bishops with the imposition of hands.

To the priest, therefore, has been committed the administration of this Sacrament; not, however, to every priest, as holy Church has decreed, but to the proper pastor who has jurisdiction, or to another authorised by him to discharge this office.

In this, however, as also in the administration of the other Sacraments, it is to be most distinctly remembered that the priest is the representative of Christ our Lord, and of His spouse, holy Church.

The Effects of Extreme Unction

The advantages we receive from this Sacrament are also to be accurately explained, so that if nothing else can allure the faithful to its reception, they may be induced at least by its utility; for we are naturally disposed to measure almost all things by our interests.

Pastors, therefore, should teach that by this Sacrament is imparted grace that remits sins, and especially lighter, or as they are commonly called, venial sins; for mortal sins are removed by the Sacrament of Penance. Extreme Unction was not instituted primarily for the remission of grave offences; only Baptism and Penance accomplish this directly.

Another advantage of the Sacred Unction is that it liberates the soul from the languor and infirmity which it contracted from sins, and from all the other remains of sin. The time most opportune for this cure is when we are afflicted with severe illness and danger to life impends, for it has been implanted in man by nature to dread no human visitation so much as death. This dread is greatly augmented by the recollection of our past sins, especially if our conscience accuses us of grave offences; for it is written: They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins, and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them. Another source of vehement anguish is the anxious thought that we must soon afterwards stand before the judgment seat of God, who will pass on us a sentence of strictest justice according to our deserts. It often happens that, struck with this terror, the faithful feel themselves deeply agitated; and nothing conduces more to a tranquil death than to banish sadness, await with a joyous mind the coming of our Lord, and be ready willingly to surrender the deposit entrusted whenever it shall be His will to demand it back. To free the minds of the faithful from this solicitude, and fill the soul with pious and holy joy is, then, an effect of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

From it, moreover, we derive another advantage, which may justly be deemed the greatest of all. For although the enemy of the human race never ceases, while we live, to meditate our ruin and destruction, yet at no time does he more violently use every effort utterly to destroy us, and, if possible, deprive us of all hope of the divine mercy, than when he sees the last day of life approach. Therefore arms and strength are supplied to the faithful in this Sacrament to enable them to break the violence and impetuosity of the adversary, and to fight bravely against him; for the soul of the sick is relieved and encouraged by the hope of the divine goodness, strengthened by which it bears more lightly ail the burdens of sickness, and eludes with greater ease the artifice and cunning of the devil who lies in wait for it.

Finally, the recovery of health, if indeed advantageous, is another effect of this Sacrament. And if in our days the sick obtain this effect less frequently, this is to be attributed, not to any defect of the Sacrament, but rather to the weaker faith of a great part of those who are anointed with the sacred oil, or by whom it is administered; for the Evangelist bears witness that the Lord wrought not many miracles among His own, because of their unbelief.

It may also be truly said at the Christian religion, since it has struck its roots more deeply in the minds of men, stands now less in need of the aids of such miracles than it did formerly, at the commencement of the rising Church. Nevertheless, faith should be strongly excited in this respect, and whatever it may please God in His wisdom to do with regard to the health of the body, the faithful ought to rely on a sure hope of attaining, by virtue of this sacred oil, health of the soul, and of experiencing, should the hour of their departure from life be at hand, the fruit of that glorious assurance: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.


We have thus explained briefly the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. But if these points are developed by the pastor at greater length and with the care the subject demands, it is not to be doubted that the faithful will derive very great fruit of piety from his instruction.



Importance Of Instruction On This Sacrament

If one attentively considers the nature and essence of the other Sacraments, it will readily be seen that they all depend on the Sacrament of Orders to such an extent that without it some of them could not be constituted or administered at all; while others would be deprived of all their solemn ceremonies, as well as of a certain part of the religious respect and exterior honour accorded to them. Wherefore in continuing the exposition of the doctrine of the Sacraments, it will be necessary for pastors to bear in mind that it is their duty to explain with even special care the Sacrament of Orders.

This explanation will be highly advantageous. First of all to the pastor himself, then to all those who have entered on the ecclesiastical state, and finally to the people in general. To the pastor himself, because by treating of this subject he himself will be more deeply moved to stir up within him the grace he has received in this Sacrament; to those who have been called to the portion of the Lord, partly by animating them with a like spirit of piety, and partly by affording them an opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of such things as will enable them all the more easily to advance to higher orders; to the rest of the faithful, first, because it enables them to understand the respect due to the Church's ministers, and secondly, because as it often happens that many may be present who have destined their children, while yet young, for the Church's service, or who desire to embrace that life themselves, it is far from right that such persons should be unacquainted with the principal truths regarding this particular state.

Dignity of this Sacrament

In the first place, then, the faithful should be shown how great is the dignity and excellence of this Sacrament considered in its highest degree, the priesthood.

Bishops and priests being, as they are, God's interpreters and ambassadors, empowered in His name to teach mankind the divine law and the rules of conduct, and holding, as they do, His place on earth, it is evident that no nobler function than theirs can be imagined. Justly, therefore, are they called not only Angels, but even gods, because of the fact that they exercise in our midst the power and prerogatives of the immortal God.

In all ages, priests have been held in the highest honour; yet the priests of the New Testament far exceed all others. For the power of consecrating and offering the body and blood of our Lord and of forgiving sins, which has been conferred on them, not only has nothing equal or like to it on earth, but even surpasses human reason and understanding.

And as our Saviour was sent by His Father, and as the Apostles and disciples were sent into the whole world by Christ our Lord, so priests are daily sent with the same powers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ.

Requirements in Candidates for Orders

Holiness, Knowledge, Prudence

The burden of this great office, therefore, should not be rashly imposed on anyone, but is to be conferred on those only who by their holiness of life, their knowledge, faith and prudence, are able to bear it.

Divine Call

Let no one take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God as Aaron was; and they are called by God who are

called by the lawful ministers of His Church. It is to those who arrogantly intrude themselves into this ministry that the Lord must be understood to refer when He says: I did not send prophets, yet they ran. Nothing can be more unhappy and wretched than such a class of men as this, and nothing more calamitous to the Church of God.

Right Intention

In every action we undertake it is of the highest importance to have a good motive in view, for if the motive is good, the rest proceeds harmoniously. The candidate for Holy Orders, therefore, should first of all be admonished to entertain no purpose unworthy of so exalted an office.

This subject demands all the greater attention, since in these days the faithful often sin gravely in this respect. Some there are who embrace this state to secure the necessaries of life, and who, consequently, seek in the priesthood, just as other men do in the lowest walks of life, nothing more or less than gain. Though both the natural and divine law lay down, as the Apostle remarks, that he who serves the altar should live by the altar; yet to approach the altar for the sake of gain and money is one of the very gravest of sacrileges.

Some are attracted to the priesthood by ambition and love of honours; while there are others who desire to be ordained simply in order that they may abound in riches, as is proved by the fact that unless some wealthy benefice were conferred on them, they would not dream of receiving Holy Orders. It is such as these that our Saviour describes as hirelings, who, in the words of Ezechiel, feed themselves and not the sheep, and whose baseness and dishonesty have not only brought great disgrace on the ecclesiastical state, so much so that hardly anything is now more vile and contemptible in the eyes of the faithful, but also end in this, that they derive no other fruit from their priesthood than was derived by Judas from the Apostleship, which only brought him everlasting destruction.

But they, on the other hand, who are lawfully called by God, and who undertake the ecclesiastical state with the single motive of promoting the honour of God, are truly said to enter the Church by the door.

This, however, must not be understood as if the same law did not bind all men equally. Men have been created to honour God, and this the faithful in particular, who have obtained the grace of Baptism, should do with their whole heart, their whole soul, and with all their strength.

But those who desire to receive the Sacrament of Orders, should aim not only at seeking the glory of God in all things­an obligation admittedly common to all men, and particularly to the faithful ­­ but also to serve Him in holiness and justice in whatever sphere of His ministry they may be placed. Just as in the army all the soldiers obey the general's orders, though they all have not the same functions to discharge, one being a centurion, another a prefect, so in like manner, though all the faithful should diligently practice piety and innocence, which are the chief means of honouring God, yet they who are in Holy Otters have certain special duties and functions to discharge in the Church. Thus they offer Sacrifice for themselves and for all the people; they explain God's law and exhort and form the faithful to observe it promptly and cheerfully; they administer the Sacraments of Christ our Lord by means of which all grace is conferred and increased; and, in a word, they are separated from the rest of the people to fill by far the greatest and noblest of all ministries.

The Twofold Power Conferred by this Sacrament

Having explained all this, the pastor should now turn his attention to the special properties of this Sacrament, so that the faithful who desire to enter into the ecclesiastical state may understand the nature of the office to which they are called and the extent of the power bestowed by God on the Church and her ministers.

This power is twofold: the powers of orders and the power of jurisdiction. The power of orders has for its object the real body of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist. The power of jurisdiction refers altogether to the mystical body of (Christ. The scope of this power is to govern and rule the Christian people, and lead them to the unending bliss of heaven.

The Power Of Orders

The power of orders not only embraces the power of consecrating the Eucharist, but also fits and prepares the souls of men for its reception. It also embraces all else that can have any reference to the Eucharist. Regarding this power numerous passages of Sacred Scripture may be adduced; but the weightiest and most striking are those which are read in St. John and St. Matthew: As the Father, says our Lord, hath sent me I also send you. .... Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained; and: Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed a also in heaven. These texts, when expounded by pastors, in accordance with the teaching and authority of the Fathers, will throw great light on this truth.

Greatness Of This Power

This power far excels that given under the law of nature to certain ones who had charge of sacred things. The period previous to the written law must have had its priesthood and its spiritual power, since it is certain that it had its law; for these two, as the Apostle testifies, are so closely connected that if the priesthood is transferred, the law must necessarily be transferred also. Guided, therefore, by a natural instinct, men recognised that God is to be worshipped; and hence it follows that in every nation some, whose power might in a certain sense be called spiritual, were given the care of sacred things and of divine worship.

This power was also possessed by the Jews; but though it was superior in dignity to that with which priests were invested under the law of nature, yet it must be regarded as far inferior to the spiritual power that is found in the New Law. For the latter is heavenly, and surpasses all the power of Angels; it is derived not from the Mosaic priesthood, but from Christ our Lord who was a priest, not according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchisedech. For He it is who, Himself endowed with the supreme power of granting grace and remitting sins, left to His Church this power, although He limited it in extent and attached it to the Sacraments.

Names of this Sacrament

Hence to exercise this power certain ministers are appointed and solemnly consecrated, which consecration is called the Sacrament of Orders, or Sacred Ordination. The Fathers used this word, which in itself has a most extensive signification, to show the dignity and excellence of God's ministers.

In fact, order, when understood in its strict meaning and acceptation, is the arrangement of superior and inferior things so disposed as to stand in mutual relation towards each other. Now as in this ministry there are many grades and various functions, and as all these are disposed and arranged according to a definite plan, the name Order has been well and properly applied to it.

Holy Orders Is a Sacrament

That Sacred Ordination is to be numbered among the Sacraments of the Church, the Council of Trent has established by the same line of reasoning as we have already used several times. Since a Sacrament is a sign of a sacred thing, and since the outward action in this consecration denotes the grace and power bestowed on him who is consecrated, it becomes clearly evident that Order must be truly and properly regarded as a Sacrament. Thus the Bishop, handing to him who is being ordained a chalice with wine and water, and a paten with bread, says: Receive the power of offering sacrifice, etc. In these words, pronounced along with the application of the matter, the Church has always taught that the power of consecrating the Eucharist is conferred, and that a character is impressed on the soul which brings with it grace necessary for the due and proper discharge of that office, as the Apostle declares thus: I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee, by the imposition of my hands; for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of sobriety.

Number of Orders

Now, to use the words of the holy Council: The ministry of so sublime a priesthood being a thing all divine, it is but befitting its worthier and more reverent exercise that in the Church's well ordered disposition there should be several different orders of ministers destined to assist the priesthood by virtue of their office, ­­ orders arranged in such a way that those who have already received clerical tonsure should be raised, step by step, from the lower to the higher orders.

It should be taught, therefore, that these orders are seven in number, and that this has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church. These orders are those of porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, subdeacon, deacon and priest.

That the number of ministers was wisely established thus may be proved by considering the various offices that are necessary for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the consecration and administration of the Blessed Eucharist, this being the principal scope of their institution.

They are divided into major or sacred, and minor orders. The major or sacred orders are priesthood, deaconship and subdeaconship; while the minor orders are those of acolyte, exorcist, lector and porter, concerning each of which we shall now say a few words so that the pastor may be able to explain them to those especially whom he knows to be about to receive any of the orders in question.


In the beginning should be explained first tonsure, and it should be shown that this is a sort of preparation for the reception of orders. As men are prepared for Baptism by exorcisms and for Matrimony by engagement, so to those who dedicate themselves to God by tonsure the way is opened that leads to the Sacrament of Orders; for by the cutting off of hair is signified the character and disposition of him who desires to devote himself to the sacred ministry.

The Name "Cleric"

Regarding the name cleric, which is then given him for the first time, it is derived from the fact that he thereby begins to take the Lord for his lot and inheritance, just as those, who among the Jews were attached to the service of God, were forbidden by the Lord to have any part of the ground that would be distributed in the land of promise: , he said, am thy portion and inheritance. And although these words are true of all the faithful, yet it is certain that they apply in a special way to those who consecrate themselves to the service of God.

Origin And Meaning Of Tonsure

The hair of the head is cut off in the form of a crown. It should be always worn thus, and should be enlarged according as one is advanced to higher orders.

The Church teaches that this usage is derived from Apostolic origin, as mention is made of it by the most ancient and authoritative Fathers, such as St. Denis the Areopagite, St. Augustine and St. Jerome.

It is said that the Prince of the Apostles first introduced this usage in memory of the crown of thorns which was put upon our Saviour's head, so that the devices resorted to by the impious for the ignominy and torture of Christ might be used by His Apostles a sign of honour and glory, as well as to signify that the ministers of the Church should strive to resemble Christ our Lord and represent Him in all things.

Some, however, assert that by tonsure is denoted the royal dignity, that is, the portion reserved especially for those who are called to the inheritance of the Lord. It will readily be seen that what the Apostle Peter says of all the faithful: You are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, applies especially and with much greater reason to the ministers of the Church.

Still there are some who consider that by the circle, which is the most perfect of all figures, is signified the profession of a more perfect life undertaken by ecclesiastics; while in view of the fact that the hair of their heads, which is a kind of bodily superfluity, is cut off, others think that it denotes contempt for external things, and detachment of soul from all human cares.

The Minor Orders


After tonsure it is customary to advance to the first order, which is that of porter. The function (of porter) is to guard the keys and doors of the church, and to allow no one to enter there to whom access has been forbidden. Formerly the porter used to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to see that no one approached too near the altar, or disturbed the priest during the celebration of the divine mysteries. Other duties were also assigned to him, as may be seen from the ceremonies used at his ordination.

Thus the Bishop, taking the keys from the altar, hands them to him who is being made porter, and says: Let your conduct be that of one who has to render to God an account of those things that are kept under these keys.

How great was the dignity of this order in the ancient Church may be inferred from a usage which exists in the Church in these times. For the office of treasurer, which is still numbered among the more honourable functions of the Church, was entrusted to porters, and carried with it also the guardianship of the sacristy.


The second degree of orders is the office of reader, whose duty it is to read in the church in a clear and distinct voice the books of the Old and of the New Testament, and especially those which are read during the nocturnal psalmody. Formerly it was also his duty to teach the faithful the first rudiments of the Christian religion.

Hence it is that when ordaining him, the Bishop, in the presence of the people, handing him a book in which are set down all that regards this office, says: Take, and be you an announcer of the word of God; if you faithfully and profitably discharge your office, you shall have a part with those who from the be­ ginning have well ministered the word of God.


The third order is that of exorcists, to whom is given the power to invoke the name of the Lord over those who are possessed by unclean spirits. Hence the Bishop when ordaining them presents to them a book in which the exorcisms are contained, and at the same time pronounces this form of words: Take, and commit to memory, and have the power of imposing hands over the possessed, whether baptised or catechumen.


The fourth degree is that of acolytes, and it is the last of the orders that are called minor and not sacred. Their duty is to attend and serve the ministers who are in major orders, that is, the deacon and subdeacon, in the Sacrifice of the altar. They also carry and attend to the lights during the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and especially during the reading of the Gospel, from which fact they are also called candle­bearers.

Therefore at the ordination of acolytes the Bishop observes the following rite: First of all he carefully warns them of the nature of their office; then hands to each of them a light, saying: Receive this candlestick and candle, and remember that henceforth you are given the charge of lighting the candles of the church, in the name of the Lord. Then he hands them empty cruets in which are presented the wine and water for the Sacrifice, saying: Receive these cruets to supply wine and water for t) c Eucharist of Christ's blood, in the name of the Lord.

The Major Orders


From the minor orders, which are not sacred, and of which we have been speaking until now, one lawfully enters and ascends to major and Sacred Orders.

Now the subdiaconate is the first degree of (major orders). Its function, as the name itself indicates, is to serve the deacon at the altar. It is the subdeacon who should prepare the altar linen, the vessels and the bread and wine necessary for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. He also it is who presents water to the Bishop or priest when he washes his hands during the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is also the subdeacon who now reads the Epistle which in former times was read at Mass by the deacon. He assists as witness at the Holy Sacrifice, and guards the celebrant from being disturbed by anyone during the sacred ceremonies.

The various duties that pertain to the subdeacon are indicated by the solemn ceremonies used at his ordination. In the first place the Bishop warns him that the obligation of perpetual continence is attached to this order, and declares that no one is to be admitted among the subdeacons who is not ready and willing to accept the obligation in question. Then, after the solemn recitation of the Litanies, the Bishop enumerates and explains the duties and functions of the subdeacon. Thereupon each one of those who are being ordained receives the chalice and sacred paten from the Bishop; and, to show that he is to serve the deacon, the subdeacon receives from the archdeacon cruets filled with wine and water, together with a basin and towel with which to wash and dry the hands. At the same time the Bishop pronounces these words: See what sort of ministry is entrusted to you; I admonish you therefore, to show yourself worthy to please God. Other prayers follow, and finally, when the Bishop has clothed the subdeacon with the sacred vestments, for each of which there are special words and ceremonies, he gives kiln the book of the Epistles, saying: Receive the book of the Epistles with power to read them in the Holy Church of God, as well for the living as for the dead.


The second degree of Sacred Orders is that of the deacons, whose functions are much more extensive and have always been regarded as more holy. His duty it is to be always at the side of the Bishop, guard him while he preaches, serve him and the priest during the celebration of the divine mysteries, as well as during the administration of the Sacraments, and to read the Gospel in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In former times he frequently warned the faithful to be attentive to the holy mysteries; he administered our Lord's blood in those churches in which the custom existed that the faithful should receive the Eucharist under both species; and to him was entrusted the distribution of the Church's goods, as well as the duty of providing for all that was necessary to each one's sustenance. To the deacon also, as the eye of the Bishop, it belongs to see who they are in the city a that lead a good and holy life, and who not; who are present at the Holy Sacrifice and sermons at appointed times, and who not; so that he may be able to give an account of all to the Bishop, and enable him to admonish and advise each one privately, or to rebuke and correct publicly, according as he may deem more profitable. He should also read out the list of the catechumens and present to the Bishop those who are to be admitted to orders. Finally in the absence of a Bishop or priest, he can explain the Gospel, but not from the pulpit, thus letting it be seen that this is not his proper office.

The Apostle shows the great care that should be taken that no one unworthy of the diaconate be promoted to this order, when in his Epistle to Timothy he sets forth a deacon's character, virtues and integrity. The same point is also gathered from the rites and solemn ceremonies which the Bishop employs when ordaining him. The Bishop uses more numerous and more solemn prayers at the ordination of a deacon than at that of a subdeacon, and he also adds other kinds of sacred vestments. Moreover, he imposes hands on him, just as we read the Apostles used to do when ordaining the first deacons. Finally, he hands him the book of the Gospels, with these words: Receive the power to read the Gospel in the Church of God both for the living and the dead in the name of the Lord.


The third and highest degree of all Sacred Orders is the priesthood. The Fathers of the first centuries usually designated those who had received this order by two names. At one time they called them presbyters ­­ a Greek word signifying elders, not only because of the ripe years very necessary for this order, but much more on account of their gravity, knowledge and prudence; for it is written: Venerable old age is not that of long time nor counted by the number of years; but the understanding of a man is grey hairs and an unspotted life is old age. At other times they call them priests, both because they are consecrated to God, and because to them it belongs to administer the Sacraments and take charge of things sacred and divine.

Twofold Priesthood

But as Sacred Scripture describes a twofold priesthood, one internal and the other external, it will be necessary to have a distinct idea of each to enable pastors to explain the nature of the priesthood now under discussion.

The Internal Priesthood

Regarding the internal priesthood, all the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of Baptism. Especially is this name given to the just who have the Spirit of God, and who, by the help of divine grace, have been made living members of the great High­priest, Jesus Christ; for, enlightened by faith which is inflamed by charity, they offer tip spiritual sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts. Among such sacrifices must be reckoned every good and virtuous action done for the glory of God.

Hence we read in the Apocalypse: Christ hath washed us front our sins. in his own blood and hath made us a kingdom, and priests to God and his Father. In like manner was it said by the Prince of the Apostles: Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; while the Apostle exhorts us to present our bodies a living sacrifice holy , pleasing unto God your reasonable service. And long before this David had said: A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humble heart O God thou wilt not despise. All this clearly regards the internal priesthood.

The External Priesthood

The external priesthood, on the contrary, does not pertain to the faithful at large, but only to certain men who have been ordained and consecrated to God by the lawful imposition of hands and by the solemn ceremonies of holy Church, and who are thereby devoted to a particular sacred ministry.

This distinction of the priesthood can be seen even in the Old Law. That David spoke of the internal priesthood, we have just shown. On the other hand, everyone knows the many and various precepts given by the Lord to Moses and Aaron regarding the external priesthood. Along with this He appointed the whole tribe of Levi to the ministry of the Temple, and He forbade by law that anyone belonging to another tribe should dare to intrude himself into that function. Hence it was that King Ozias was afflicted with leprosy by the Lord for having usurped the sacerdotal ministry, and had to suffer grave chastisements for his arrogance and sacrilege.

Now as the same distinction (of a twofold) priesthood may be noted in the New Law, the faithful should be cautioned that what we are now about to say concerns that external priesthood which is conferred on certain special individuals. This alone belongs to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Functions of the Priesthood

The office of a priest, then, is to offer Sacrifice to God and to administer the Sacraments of the Church. This is proved by the very ceremonies used at his ordination. When­ordaining a priest, the Bishop first of all imposes hands on him, as do all the other priests who are present. Then he puts a stole on his shoulders and arranges it over his breast in the form of a cross, declaring thereby that the priest is clothed with power from on high, enabling him to carry the cross of Christ our Lord and the sweet yoke of God's law, and to inculcate this law not only by words, but also by the example of a most holy and virtuous life.

He next anoints his hands with holy oil, and then gives him the chalice with wine and the paten with a host, saying at the same time: Receive the power to offer Sacrifice to God and to celebrate Masses both for the living and for the dead. By these words and ceremonies the priest is constituted an interpreter and mediator between God and man, which indeed must be regarded as the principal function of the priesthood.

Lastly, placing his hands a second time on the head (of the person ordained the Bishop) says: Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained, thus communicating to him that divine power of forgiving and retaining sin which was given by our Lord to His disciples. Such, then, are the special and principal functions of the sacerdotal order.

Degrees of the Priesthood


Now although (the sacerdotal order) is one alone, yet it has various degrees of dignity and power. The first degree is that of those who are simply called priests, and of whose functions we have hitherto been speaking.


The second is that of Bishops, who are placed over the various dioceses to govern not only the other ministers of the Church, but the faithful also, and to promote their salvation with supreme vigilance and care. Hence it is that in Sacred Scripture they are often called pastors of the sheep. Their office and duty has been well described by St. Paul in his sermon to the Ephesians, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles; while St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, has also laid down a divine rule for the exercise of the episcopal office. And if Bishops strive to conform their actions according to this rule, there can be no doubt that they will be good pastors and will be also esteemed as such. Bishops are also called pontiffs. This name is derived from the pagans, who thus designated their chief priests.


The third degree is that of Archbishops, who preside over a number of Bishops and who are called Metropolitans, because they are Bishops of those cities which are regarded as the metropolis of their respective provinces. Hence they enjoy greater dignity and more extensive power than Bishops, although their Ordination is the same.


In the fourth degree come Patriarchs, that is to say, the first and highest of the Fathers. Formerly, besides the Roman Pontiff, there were in the universal Church only four Patriarchs, who, however, were not of equal dignity. Thus Constantinople, though it reached the patriarchal honour only after all the others, yet it obtained a higher rank by reason of being the capital of the Empire. Next in rank came the Patriarch of Alexandria, which Church had been founded by St. Mark the Evangelist by order of the Prince of the Apostles. The third was that of Antioch, where Peter fixed his first See. Finally, that of Jerusalem, a See first governed by James, the brother of our Lord.

The Pope

Above all these, the Catholic Church has always placed the Supreme Pontiff of Rome, whom Cyril of Alexandria, in the Council of Ephesus, named the Chief Bishop, Father and Patriarch of the whole world. He sits in that chair of Peter in which beyond every shadow of doubt the Prince of the Apostles sat to the end of his days, and hence it is that in him the Church recognises the highest degree of dignity, and a universality of jurisdiction derived, not from the decrees of men or Councils, but from God Himself. Wherefore he is the Father and guide of all the faithful, of all the Bishops, and of all the prelates, no matter how high their power and office; and as successor of St. Peter, as true and lawful Vicar of Christ our Lord, he governs the universal Church.

From what has been said, therefore, pastors should teach what are the principal duties and functions of the various ecclesiastical orders and degrees, and also who is the minister of this Sacrament.

The Minister of Holy Orders

Beyond all doubt, it is to the Bishop that the administration (of orders) belongs, as is easily proved by the authority of Holy Scripture, by most certain tradition, by the testimony of all the Fathers, by the decrees of the Councils, and by the usage and practice of Holy Church.

It is true that permission has been granted to some abbots occasionally to administer those orders that are minor and not sacred; yet there is no doubt whatever that it is the proper office of the Bishop, and of the Bishop alone to confer the orders called holy or major.

To ordain subdeacons, deacons and priests, one Bishop suffices; but in accordance with an Apostolic tradition that has been always observed in the Church, Bishops are consecrated by three Bishops.

The Recipient of Holy Orders

We now come to indicate who are fit to receive this Sacrament, and especially the priestly order, and what are the principal dispositions required of them.

From (what we shall lay down concerning the dispositions requisite for the priesthood) it will be easy to determine what ought to be observed in conferring the other orders, due account being taken of the office and dignity of each. Now the extreme caution I hat should be used in conferring this Sacrament is gathered from the fact that, while all the other Sacraments impart grace to the recipient for his own use and sanctification, he, on the other hand, who receives Holy Orders is made partaker of heavenly grace precisely that by his ministry he may promote the welfare of the Church and therefore of all mankind.

Hence we readily understand why it is that ordinations take place only on special days, on which, moreover, in accordance with a very ancient practice of the Catholic Church, a solemn fast is appointed in order that by holy and fervent prayer the faithful may obtain from God ministers who will be well qualified to exercise properly and to the advantage of the Church the power of so great a ministry.

Qualifications for the Priesthood

Holiness Of Life

The chief and most necessary quality requisite in him who is to be ordained a priest is that he be recommended by integrity of life and morals: first because, by procuring or permitting his ordination while conscious of mortal sin, a man renders himself guilty of a new and enormous crime; and secondly, because the priest is bound to give to others the example of a holy and innocent life.

In this connection pastors should set forth the rules which the Apostle laid down to Titus and Timothy, and he should also explain that those bodily defects, which, by the Lord's command excluded from the service of the altar in the Old Law, should for the most part be understood of deformities of soul in the New Law. This is why the holy custom has been established in the Church that he who is about to be admitted to orders should first take great care to cleanse his conscience in the Sacrament of Penance.

Competent Knowledge

In the second place there is required of the priest not only that knowledge which concerns the use and administration of the Sacraments; but he should also be versed in the science of Sacred Scripture, so as to be able to instruct the people in the mysteries of the Christian faith and the precepts of the divine law, lead them to piety and virtue, and reclaim them from sin.

The priest's duties are twofold. The first is to consecrate and administer the Sacraments properly; the second is to instruct the people entrusted to him in all that they must know or do in order to be saved. Hence the words of the Prophet Malachias: The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the Law at his mouth; because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts.

Now to fulfil the first of these duties it is enough for him to be endowed with a moderate share of knowledge. As for the second, it is no mere ordinary, but very special knowledge that is required. At the same time, however, it should be remembered that a profound knowledge of abstruse questions is not demanded of all priests in an equal degree. It is enough that each one knows all that is necessary for the discharge of his office and ministry.

Canonical Fitness

This Sacrament should not be conferred on children, nor on the insane or mad, because they are devoid of the use of reason. Yet if it does happen to be administered to them, we must unhesitatingly believe that the sacramental character becomes impressed on their souls. As for the precise age requisite for the reception of the various orders, this will easily be found in the decrees of the Council of Trent.

Slaves also are excluded. He who is not his own master and who is in the power of another, should not be dedicated to the divine service.

Homicides and men of blood are also rejected, because they are excluded by a law of the Church and are declared irregular.

The same must be said of the illegitimate and of all those not born in lawful wedlock. It is only right that those who are dedicated to the divine service should have nothing in them which could expose them to the well­deserved derision or contempt of others.

Finally, those who are notably maimed or deformed should not be admitted. A defect or deformity of this kind cannot but offend the eye and stand in the way of the due administration of the Sacraments.

Effects of Holy Orders

This much being explained, it now remains for pastors to point out the effects of this Sacrament. It is evident that the Sacrament of Orders, while mainly concerned, as already explained, with the welfare and beauty of the Church, nevertheless also confers on the soul of him who is ordained the grace of sanctification, fitting and qualifying him for the proper discharge of his functions and for the administration of the Sacraments, in the same way as by the grace of Baptism each one is qualified to receive the other Sacraments.

Another grace is clearly conferred by this Sacrament; namely, a special power with reference to the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. This power is full and perfect in the priest, because he alone can consecrate the body and blood of our Lord; but it is greater or less in the inferior ministers in proportion as their ministry approaches the Sacrament of the Altar.

This power is also called a spiritual character, because those who have been ordained are distinguished from the rest of the faithful by a certain interior mark impressed on the soul, by which they are dedicated to the divine worship. It is this grace which the Apostle seems to have had in view when he said to Timothy: Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with imposition of hands of the priesthood; and again: I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee by the imposition of my hands.


This much will suffice for the Sacrament of Orders. We have aimed at presenting nothing more than the principal points that bear on the subject, so as to supply the pastor with sufficient matter for instructing the faithful, and directing them to Christian piety.

The Catechism of Trent 2500