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As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20)

Jesus calls summons disciples to share in His ministry.  These men, leaving their occupations in the world, follow Jesus as He preaches and heals.  They observe Him closely and receive special instructions.  At the Last Supper, Jesus confers upon the twelve apostles, the power to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Thus, as Jesus institutes the Holy Eucharist, he also institutes the priesthood.  Moreover, after the Resurrection, the apostles receive the power to forgive sins and the commission to baptize.

In our times, Jesus still calls men to share in His priesthood for the salvation of souls.  This call, or vocation, to the priesthood is discerned by the Church.  As Jesus summoned the apostles for a special time of instruction and formation before they were send out, the Church now has seminaries where men preparing for the priesthood study and receive priestly formation.

The successors to the apostles are the bishops.  Bishops have the fullness of the priesthood, and it is only the bishop who can ordain men to the priesthood or diaconate.  The parish priest represents the bishop in his parish community.

Because of the needs of the Christian community, the apostles summoned certain men to be deacons (cf. Acts 6).  Deacons continue to fulfill an integral role in the life of the Church through their assistance at the liturgy and in the charitable works of the Church.

Regarding Holy Orders, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following:

  • The ministerial priesthood differs in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful because it confers a sacred power for the service of the faithful. The ordained ministers exercise their service for the People of God by teaching (munus docendi), divine worship (munus liturgicum) and pastoral governance (munus regendi). (#1592)
  • Since the beginning, the ordained ministry has been conferred and exercised in three degrees: that of bishops, that of presbyters, and that of deacons. The ministries conferred by ordination are irreplaceable for the organic structure of the Church: without the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, one cannot speak of the Church. (#1593)
  • The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which integrates him into the episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church under the authority of the Pope, successor of St. Peter. (#1594)
  • Priests are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity and at the same time depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions; they are called to be the bishops’ prudent co-workers. They form around their bishop the presbyterium which bears responsibility with him for the particular Church. They receive from the bishop the charge of a parish community or a determinate ecclesial office. (#1595)
  • Deacons are ministers ordained for tasks of service of the Church; they do not receive the ministerial priesthood, but ordination confers on them important functions in the ministry of the word, divine worship, pastoral governance, and the service of charity, tasks which they must carry out under the pastoral authority of their bishop. (#1596)
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