Share this story

 | By Father John G. McDonald

‘A Vehicle of Jesus’ Mercy and Love’

The Sacrament of Holy Orders

A seven-part series on the sacraments of the Catholic Church

For the last 2,000 years, there has been constant controversy surrounding the sacrament of holy orders, through which men are consecrated and set apart as bishops, priests, and deacons. History is full of stories of those who received this sacrament, sinners who abused it, and saints who allowed its grace to conform their lives to Christ. There is, in fact, only one priest in the Catholic Church, and that is our high priest, Jesus Christ. Those who receive holy orders are called to order their lives according to the model of Christ. By conforming their lives to His, they lead others to salvation, finding their own salvation by doing so.

The Holy Spirit confers on bishops, priests, and deacons a sacred power to make Christ visible in the midst of this world. In the case of bishops and priests, they are given the sacred power to sanctify, teach, and govern the community of believers who make up the Church.

In the case of deacons, they are ordained to serve the needs of the community and to support the work of the bishops and priests. Being the visible sign of Christ in the midst of this world is often an intimidating and overwhelming experience.

Just like Christ, those who are conformed to Him will experience not only rejection, animosity, and even violence, but also deep consolation, joy, and satisfaction at doing the Father’s will.

At a recent ordination, our bishop reminded the young man to be ordained that he was “not a spirit, not divine, but a man like any man.” The bishop then added: “But as a priest you will become a vehicle of Jesus’ mercy and love.” That is a beautiful and hopeful summary of the sacrament of holy orders. Hearing those words, one realizes how much the world needs priests in its midst. So often, individuals and society work to make religion, and Christ in particular, more invisible, more hidden, and harder to find. The priest, however, with both his human gifts and the grace of the sacrament of holy orders, makes Him visible — and hard to ignore.

Our Lord Jesus, in a revolutionary way, called 12 men from different social classes and backgrounds to be His unique companions on a three-year journey of learning how to worship the Father in Spirit and Truth with their whole lives. Jesus shared everything with them, and, above all, at the end of His earthly ministry, He sat down at the Passover meal to share with them the sacrifice of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Jesus asked those apostles to continue that action according to His instructions. That same apostolic work continues unchanged today in the Church through the successors of the Twelve Apostles — the bishops, and their priests and deacons. In union with their bishop, those in holy orders are called to faithfully make Christ visible in this world, opening wide the doors of His mercy and love to those who seek Him.

Father John G. McDonald is currently pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Anniston. He was principal and then president of John Carroll Catholic High School from 2008 to 2016, and he served as the Carl J. Peter Chair of Homiletics at the Pontifical North American College in Rome from 2016 to 2019.