The Sacrament of Holy Orders is the continuation of Christ's priesthood, which He bestowed upon His Apostles; thus, the Church refers to the Sacrament of Holy Orders as "the sacrament of apostolic ministry.""Ordination" comes from the Latin word ordinatio, which means to incorporate someone into an order.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a man is incorporated into the priesthood of Christ, at one of three levels: the episcopate, the priesthood, or the diaconate.
The Priesthood of Christ
The priesthood was established by God among the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt. God chose the tribe of Levi as priests for the nation. Their primary duties were the offering of sacrifice and prayer for the people. Christ, in offering Himself up for the sins of all mankind, fulfilled the duties of the Old Testament priesthood once and for all. But just as the Eucharist makes that sacrifice present to us today, so the New Testament priesthood is a sharing in the eternal priesthood of Christ. While all believers are, in some sense, priests, some are set aside to serve the Church as Christ Himself did.
The Ordination of Bishops
There is only one Sacrament of Holy Orders, but there are three levels. The first is that which Christ Himself bestowed upon His Apostles: the episcopate. A bishop is a man who is ordained to the episcopate by another bishop (in practice, by several bishops). He stands in a direct, unbroken line from the Apostles, a condition known as "apostolic succession.”
Ordination as a bishop confers the grace to sanctify others, as well as the authority to teach the faithful and to bind their consciences. This is a grave responsibility which must be born with much faith and grounding in the teachings of the Church.
The Ordination of Priests
The second level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the priesthood. No bishop can minister to all of the faithful in his diocese, so priests act as "co-workers of the bishops." They exercise their powers lawfully only in communion with their bishop, and so they promise obedience to their bishop (in all things lawful and honest) at the time of their ordination.
The chief duties of the priesthood are the preaching of the Gospel, the absolution of sins, and the offering of the Holy Eucharist.
The Ordination of Deacons
The third level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the diaconate. Deacons assist priests and bishops, but beyond the preaching of the Gospel, they are granted no special charism or spiritual gift.
There are both ‘transitional deacons’, those who are to be ordained as priests following a period as a deacon; and there are ‘permanent deacons’ who remain in the Order of deacons. All priests and bishops are deacons as well!
Eligibility for the Sacrament
In the Anglican Communion, and indeed in the diocese of Newcastle, ordination as bishop, priest, and deacon, is open to both men and women. The ordination of women is a recent development in the life of the Church and is not universally accepted by all Anglicans; the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Communions ordain only baptised men.
Ordination cannot be demanded, but is a free gift of the Church who may assess candidates by her own criteria.
The Form of the Sacrament
The essential rite of the sacrament of Holy Orders for all three degrees consists in the bishop's imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand and in the bishop's specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained.
Other elements of the sacrament, such as holding it in the cathedral (the bishop's own church); holding it during Mass; and celebrating it on a Sunday are traditional but not essential.
The Minister of the Sacrament
Because of his role as a successor to the Apostles, who were themselves successors to Christ, the bishop is the proper minister of the sacrament. The grace of sanctifying others that he receives at his own ordination allows him to ordain others.
The Effects of the Sacrament
The Sacrament of Holy Orders, like the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation, can only be received once for each level of ordination. Once a man has been ordained, he is spiritually changed, which is the origin of the saying, "Once a priest, always a priest." He can be dispensed of his obligations as a priest (or even forbidden to act as a priest); but he remains a priest forever.
Each level of ordination confers special graces, from the ability to preach, granted to deacons; to the ability to act in the person of Christ to offer the Mass, granted to priests; to a special grace of strength, granted to bishops, which allows him to teach and lead his flock, even to the point of dying as Christ did.