Holy Orders

There is only one Sacrament of Holy Orders, but there are three levels:

The first is that which Christ Himself bestowed upon his Apostles: a bishop is a man who is ordained by another bishop. He stands in 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. Because of the grave nature of this responsibility, all these ordinations must be approved by the Pope.

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, in the works of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as "co-workers of the bishops." They exercise their power lawfully only in communion with their bishop, and so they promise obedience to their bishop at the time of their ordination. The chief duties of the priesthood are the preaching of the Gospel and the offering of the Eucharist.

The third level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the diaconate. Deacons assist priest and bishops, but beyond the preaching of the Gospel, they are granted no special charism or spiritual gift.

Originally the office of deacon was reserved for men who intended to be ordained to the priesthood. After the second Vatican Council, married men were allowed to become deacons.