Sacraments of Vocation

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Through holy orders and matrimony, Christians are given special graces and a particular mission

by Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

The 25th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 321-353 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Knights of Columbus is rightly known for its unflagging support of the priesthood and marriage. These vocations are rooted in two sacraments, holy orders and matrimony. They are called sacraments of “communion and mission” because they equip married couples and the ordained for their missions of service in building up the Church (Compendium of the Catholic Church, 321).


Christ instituted the sacrament of holy orders to continue his saving work. Bishops, priests and deacons are ordained to exercise “a sacred power” in the name and authority of Christ to the sanctification of others (322-3).

The book of Genesis mentions the royal priesthood of Melchizedek, whose priesthood was not inherited but was given directly from God. His offering clearly foreshadowed the priesthood of Christ (cf. Heb 7). Jesus, the “one mediator” between God and men, offered himself in obedient love on the cross to reconcile sinners to God (1 Tim 2:5). This is the heart of his priesthood, and the ministerial priesthood is, in turn, a sacramental sharing of Christ’s gift (Compendium, 324).

Holy orders has three ranks or degrees: the episcopate (bishop), the presbyterate (priest) and the diaconate (deacon) (325). The bishop shares the fullness of the priesthood and is a successor to the Apostles. He is part of the college of bishops united under the pope in caring for particular churches (dioceses), with the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling (326).

Priests are the bishops’ closest co-workers. Through ordination, the Holy Spirit transforms the priest by indelibly fashioning in his soul the image of Christ. Thus empowered to act in the very person of Christ and in the name of the Church, the priest re-presents the Lord’s saving deeds (336). He does this by preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments — especially the Eucharist.

Deacons are configured to Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve” (Mt 10:28; 330). They are charged with preaching the Word, assisting at the altar and in the Church’s sacramental life, and serving those in need. Those preparing for priestly ordination are called “transitional” deacons; others are called “permanent” deacons.

Only bishops can validly confer the sacrament of holy orders. The bishop lays his hands on the head of those to be ordained and prays the solemn prayer of consecration, asking the Holy Spirit to pour out his gifts (331-2).

In the Latin (Western) Church, priests are called to celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12). Married men are eligible to become permanent deacons. In the Eastern churches, married men may become priests, but marriage is not permitted after one has been ordained. In both East and West, bishops are always chosen from among celibate priests (Compendium, 334).


We turn now to the sacrament of matrimony, which is critically important for both the Church and society. The marriage of man and woman is fundamental in God’s plan. It is an institution older than all organized religion and is part of every civilization.

Created in the divine image, male and female are different, yet complementary — made for each other. This unity-in-difference is at the heart of marriage. In God’s plan, marriage exists both for the union and good of the spouses, and for the procreation and education of children.

From the beginning, God’s plan for marriage was disrupted by sin. Throughout history, marriage has been affected by conflict and infidelity. In our time, it is threatened by the widespread practice of divorce, contraception and current legislative efforts for same-sex “marriage” (cf. 347).

God has sought not only to repair the damage of sin, but also to make marriage the sign of his love. The Old Testament taught that God’s covenant with Israel was nuptial — a marriage of God and his people. That “nuptial covenant” foreshadowed the new covenant of Christ and his bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:22). The Lord’s love helps us to understand the fidelity, permanence and fruitfulness that are integral to marriage, as well as the sacrificial love that is required (Compendium, 340-1). Spouses, united to Christ and to the Church, are called and given the grace to form a family that is a community of faith, prayer and virtue.

The sacrament of matrimony is normally celebrated before a priest or deacon. Matrimonial consent is given when a man and a woman willingly give themselves to each other irrevocably in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love (344). For the sacrament to be valid, this consent must be given freely and consciously. A valid marriage that is ratified and consummated can never be dissolved.

A marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic is called a “mixed marriage.” A marriage between a Catholic and a non-Christian is called “disparity of cult” and a dispensation is required for validity. In both cases, the non-Catholic party is advised of the obligation of the Catholic to see that their children will be baptized and formed in the faith of the Church (345).

Recognizing the challenges married couples face, the Church seeks to help them remain faithful. Sadly, this sometimes proves all but impossible. After a divorce, neither spouse is free to marry again unless the previous marriage has been declared null by the Church authority. Those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment cannot receive sacramental absolution or holy Communion, but the Church urges and helps them to lead a life of faith, prayer, generosity toward those in need and attentiveness to their children (349).

Finally, those who are called to the consecrated life or priestly celibacy do not denigrate marriage by renouncing it. Rather, they are a sign of the supremacy of Christ’s love as we look to the wedding feast of heaven (342).