Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

What is ordination?

Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop and enabled to minister in Christ's name and that of the Church. There are three ordinations in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: deaconate; priesthood; and Episcopal. The ordination ceremony includes various rituals, rich in meaning and history, e.g., the prostration, laying on of hands, anointing of hands, giving of the chalice and paten, sign of peace.

When does the ordination actually take place?

The essential rite of the sacrament, i.e., when it takes place, is the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration. This is an ancient tradition in the Church, mentioned in the Bible.

Who can ordain priests?

Only a bishop can ordain a priest because he shares in the ministry of Jesus passed down through the apostles.

What is the meaning of the laying on of hands?

By this ritual the ordaining bishop and the other priests invoke the Holy Spirit to come down upon the one to be ordained, giving him a sacred character and setting him apart for the designated ministry.

Why does the ordinand lie prostrate during the ordination?

It symbolizes his unworthiness for the office to be assumed and his dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community.

What is the meaning of the newly ordained priest receiving the stole and chasuble?

These are vestments which pertain to his office and have symbolic meaning. The stole symbolizes the authority and responsibility to serve in imitation of Christ. It reflects the line from Scripture: "For my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11:30). The chasuble is the principal garment of the priest celebrating the Eucharist and is the outermost vestment.

What does the anointing of the hands signify?

Anointing with oil stems from the Old Testament and indicates that someone or something is being set apart for a sacred task or duty. The anointing of the hands signifies that the hands of the newly ordained priest are being prepared for the sacred duties and vessels which will be part of the priestly ministry, for example, offering the bread and the wine, anointing the sick and blessing people. The bishop says as he anoints the hands: "The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God."

Why does the ordaining bishop hand the ordinand a chalice and paten?

The Eucharist is at the heart of the priesthood and this ritual highlights the importance of celebrating the Eucharist in the life of the priest and its meaning, as seen in the words which are spoken by the bishop: "Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross."

How does one prepare for ordination to the priesthood?

A man has to engage in a challenging program of priestly formation which lasts from five to thirteen years, depending upon his background and the seminary he attends. There are three levels of seminary: high school; college or pre-theology; and theology.

Seminaries address four types of formation: human; spiritual; academic (intellectual); and pastoral. In addition to the academic course work, seminarians participate in a full schedule of spiritual activities, e.g., daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer), and spiritual direction and retreats. At each level of seminary training, the seminarian prepares for future pastoral ministry in various settings, such as schools, religious education programs, hospitals and parishes. All of the formation takes into consideration the human person; human growth and development is fostered by community living, workshops and other programs. The formation of future priests includes practical learning, too, for example, preaching, saying Mass, and pastoral counseling.

Do priests take vows?

Priests who belong to a religious order (e.g., Benedictine, Dominicans, Franciscans, etc.) take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Diocesan priests make two promises, celibacy and obedience; these promises are part of the ordination ceremony. It is also expected that diocesan priests will lead a life of simplicity consonant with the people they serve.

For recent statistics on seminaries and seminary students, please call the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What is a Missionary?

A missionary is called to proclaim Christ through helping to create new Christian communities or assisting those that are just beginning in many parts of the world. The missionary also engages in the interreligious and intercultural dialogue of the Church worldwide. Finally, the missionary lives in solidarity with the poor through the work of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Missionaries collaborate with the populations they serve to work for the common good in communion and solidarity with the local Church and in fidelity to the universal Church.

Provided by: Father Carl Chudy, SX , Provincial, United States Province, Xaverian Missionaries.

Vocations & Priestly Formation | 3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington DC 20017-1194 | (202) 541-3000 © USCCB. All rights reserved.


More Vocations


Latest Vocation News

Nun numbers on the rise - Young women flock to the church Watch

Image of More young women have joined the religious life (fiathouse).

By (CNA/EWTN News)

There is a young and vital presence of religious sisters, novices and postulants in U.S. Catholic life, a new survey has found. Washington D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) - The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious has released its latest survey of its 120 member ... continue reading


Friars inspired to take pilgrimage after viewing Hollywood drama 'The Way' Watch

Image of Friars begin 478-mile pilgrimage on foot across United States (@friarsonfoot/Twitter).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Dominican Fathers Francis Orozco and Thomas Schaefgen were inspired to make a 478-mile pilgrimage from New Orleans to Memphis, Tenn. entirely on foot and without a single dollar between them. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Fathers Francis Orozco, of the Catholic ... continue reading


'A sign of the love of God': Why nuns wear religious habits Watch

Image of

By Ann Schneible (CNA/EWTN News)

As Pope Francis' year dedicated to consecrated life comes to a close, one nun shared her thoughts on the how her religious garb serves as a "visible sign" that God exists and loves every person. Rome, Italy (CNA/EWTN News) - Though the official Year for Consecrated ... continue reading


LISTEN NOW: Benedictine nuns release new album Watch

Image of Nuns record new album to promote faith (Churchpop).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Benedictine nuns in Missouri recently released their latest album <i>Adoration at Ephesus</i> - and it is amazing! LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Mother Cecilia, the prioress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, told <a ... continue reading


A powerful MUST-READ call for prayers of priestly vocations Watch

Image of Bishop Mark O'Toole asks to pray for priestly vocations (Mazur).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Bishop Mark O'Toole, the Bishop of Plymouth, has called for a prayer of priestly vocations in a pastoral letter, which was read in all parishes across the diocese earlier this month. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The letter was simple and read: "To encourage an ... continue reading


'Chosen, don't forget this. Chosen!:' Pope Francis sends amazing message to priests Watch

Image of Pope Francis calls for prayer to bring more young men to priesthood vocations (@franciscus/Instagram).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

On the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis ordained eleven men into the priesthood at St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday - then had plenty to say on the subject. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis spoke to the newly ... continue reading


'He will be sorely missed:' Missing Florida priest's body found in Georgia Watch

Image of Florida priest Rev. Rene Robert's body was discovered in Georgia (actionnewsjax).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Church officials reported a Florida priest went missing last week. After following a trail of clues, investigators believe they found Rev. Rene Robert's body in Georgia. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When church officials noticed Rev. Robert missed a funeral in ... continue reading


Who are the Red Nuns and what are they doing in Thailand? Watch

Image of Thailand's Red Nuns open up to share their spiritual ventures (Alex Proimos/Flickr).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

A new monastery has been opened by an American group of cloistered nuns in Thailand in pursuit of planting an aura of "contemplative monastic spirituality." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Sister Joan Claver O.Ss.R. has been a nun for 63 years and has moved to the ... continue reading


The 'reality of the Eucharist': Don't let it become a meaningless gesture Watch

Image of The Bishop of Shrewsbury believes the Eucharist is the key to priestly vocations (Al Riccio/Corbis).

By Monique Crawford (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

During the Chrism Mass homily at Our Lady and the Apostles Church, Stockport, Bishop Mark Davies related the Eucharist to the Catholic Priesthood. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A Chrism Mass usually takes place Holy Thursday morning, though it can also occur any ... continue reading


What Catholic Girl Scouts and Vocations have in common Watch

Image of

By CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis on Friday praised Catholic girl scout leaders' "absolutely crucial" role in educating women for their vocation and responsibilities in a world of ideologies that work against God and treat women as inferior. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - "Today it is very ... continue reading


Latest Vocation News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Kings 19:16-21
16 You must anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
1 [In a quiet voice Of David] Protect me, O God, in you is my ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:51-62
51 Now it happened that as the time drew near for him to be taken up, he ... Read More

Reading 2, Galatians 5:1, 13-18
1 Christ set us free, so that we should remain free. Stand firm, then, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for June 26th, 2016 Image

St. Anthelm
June 26: Carthusian monk and bishop, defender of papal ... Read More