Holy Orders is the means that Christ uses to provide the faithful with true shepherds after His own heart; this Sacrament imprints in the soul a character, a certain spiritual and indelible Sign, and is received only once, but in three degrees: deacon, priest, bishop. The Pope is both a bishop and the leader of all bishops; he is the successor to Saint Peter. By ordination, a bishop becomes a true successor to the first Apostles. The Second Vatican Council teaches that the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by episcopal consecration, the high priesthood. By virtue of the Holy Spirit, bishops are true and authentic teachers of the faith. They are Christ’s vicars, and the pastoral care of the particular Church (diocese) is entrusted to them.
Priests are ordained to be assistants to the bishops, for they are ordained to be his co-workers, especially in the administration of the sacraments to the faithful. They are pastors of their parishes, overseeing them under the direction of the bishop but acting locally in much the same manner as the bishop does in the diocese. The height of their sacred office is the sacrifice of the Mass, where they act in persona Christi to make present again the unique sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Calvary.
Deacons assist both bishops and priests; they are appointed to serve the bishop and the priests at the altar, and they serve the faithful in works of mercy, and they are the ordinary minister who proclaims the Gospel at Mass. Ordained persons have a role in the Church that is not given to the laity. Consecrated persons (monks and nuns) are non-ordained members of the laity.
Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament established by Jesus Christ for the benefit and salvation of the husband and wife, and their children. Marriage as a Sacrament differs from ordinary marriage; it is a true source of grace for the spouses, and unites husband and wife in a holy bond before God.True marriage is only between one man and one woman, and only death can break the bond of this Sacrament. Marital relations is a fundamental part of this Sacrament: “May marriage be honorable in every way, and may the marriage bed be immaculate.” (Heb 13:4).
Whereas in most sacraments the priest is the minister of the sacrament, in Holy Matrimony the bride and groom are the ministers. The priest or deacon is there to receive their consent on behalf of the Church.
Just as Holy Orders is a vocation in which the man responds to God’s call to serve his people in a special way, and in doing so he gives up some of the good things of this life, Holy Matrimony is a vocation in which the man and the woman respond to God’s call to serve their spouses in a special way: it is exclusive, and it is permanent, it is a total partnership of life, and they choose freely to enter into that partnership. They pledge before God to be open to life, which is certainly one meaning of the term, “fruitful.” But they are called to be fruitful in other ways, too.
They are called by God, and they are given the grace to be able to respond, to a life of self-sacrifice, of dying to self to glorify God. Most days, they are dying to self in little ways that bring harmony to the marriage, but that habit – once developed – can spread to every other aspect of their lives. Once they learn how to die to self as a husband or a wife, they can do the same as a son, a brother, a co-working, or a friend. The fruit of their witness is that the spirit of the Gospel flows through their daily lives and touches the lives of others.
In this way, they are the light of Christ in the secular world. Going to the grocery store, standing on the sidelines of the soccer game, their joy — rooted in their vocation of Holy Matrimony — can be the joy of the Gospel that a person with no relationship with Jesus might notice and inquire why they have it. Then can begin a conversation and perhaps a conversion.