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

We Need Monks for this New Missionary Age Watch

Image of A part of monastic life and spirituality is also labor, immersed in prayer. Monks support themselves through hard work, dedicated to God and caught up in the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ in and through His Church. They follow a

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Monks are a seed of the great renewals of the Catholic Church. Monks are prophetic seeds of the kingdom who always seem to be around right when we need them the most. We need Monks for the authentic renewal of the Church in this hour. Lord, send your Holy ... continue reading


Fr Frank Pavone: Vocations Are All About Life Watch

Image of Fr. Frank Pavone is one of the most prominent pro-life leaders in the world. Originally from New York, he was ordained in 1988 by Cardinal John O'Connor. In 1993 he became National Director of Priests for Life. He is also the President of the National Pro-life Religious Council, and the National Pastoral Director of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and of Rachel's Vineyard, the world's largest ministry of healing after abortion. The Vatican appointed him to the Pontifical Council for the Family, which coordinates the pro-life activities of the Catholic Church. He also serves as a member of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.

By Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life

This week (November 2 - 8) is Vocations Awareness Week. Since I began my full-time work with Priests for Life over 20 years ago, one of the first things I became aware of was that many young people today are finding their vocation precisely because of the ... continue reading


You Go Into the Vineyard Too! Every Christian Has a Vocation Watch

Image of Priesthood, Diaconate in Christ,consecrated or religious life,lay ecclesial movements, consecrated Christian marriage - every Baptized Christian has a vocation. We just have to learn to live it!

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The Church is a seed, sign and beginning of the kingdom, making the kingdom present in a world which is wounded by the effects of sin but waiting to be born anew. The Lord continues His work through us. We are the workers in His vineyard. It matters little what ... continue reading


Leadership Conference of Women Religious taken to task by Vatican for honoring controversial theologian Watch

Image of Conscious evolution is a set of ideas developed in the writings of Barbara Marx Hubbard, who addressed the LCWR annual assembly in 2012

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Using blunt language, the head of the Vatican's doctrinal office Cardinal Gerhard Müller rebuked officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or LCWR for honoring a Catholic theologian judged "seriously inadequate" and for promoting ideas he ... continue reading


A Website for Women to Imagine What a Nun's Life is Like

Image of What's it like? Take a virtual journey as a sister on this new, unique website featuring some of the amazing religious women who provide help to those in need everyday.

By Jennifer Murphy, Communications Specialist, Sisters of Bon Secours

The Sisters of Bon Secours, an international religious congregation of Catholic sisters based in Marriottsville, Md., announce the launch of a unique website, www.LifeAsASister.org. 'Imagine a Sister's Life' allows single Catholic women to imagine what it's like ... continue reading


Trappist monks' spirituality hailed as key to business success

Image of Trappist Monks combine business acumen with spiritual devotion to provide superior workmanship and value to clients.

By (CNA/EWTN News)

A spiritual focus on generous service and community is the key to success for the Trappist monks, not only in their business ventures but in all of their pursuits, said a businessman closely acquainted with the order. WASHINGTON D.C., February 26 (CNA/EWTN News) - ... continue reading


Archbishop José H. Gomez on Praying for Priests and Promoting Vocations

Image of Fathers Manuel Bravo, Chan Woo Lee, Eben MacDonald and Nabor Rios turn to the assembly gathered for their ordination to the priesthood June 2. VICTOR ALEMAN

By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Every priest is a sacrament - a sign and instrument that brings men and women to the encounter with the living God. So in this Year of Faith, we need to refocus ourselves, especially in our families, on helping men to hear this beautiful and noble calling from Jesus. ... continue reading


COL EXCLUSIVE: Fr. Pontifex - See what this priest does to deliver his powerful message Watch

Image of Fr. Pontifex during a recent recording session for

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)

He is a growing personality in the Catholic world and represents a new movement to engage the youth and reconvert the lost. Is he the Pope? A new bishop? A pop star? Well, he's not any of these things - yet. However, Fr. Pontifex, may eventually be all three, God ... continue reading


Sisters of Bon Secours Host Project Good Help to Assist Underserved in Baltimore

Image of Volunteers work side-by-side with the Sisters of Bon Secours to assist the poor of innercity Baltimore by serving in a soup kitchen, women's resource center, a community garden and within senior housing.

By Jennifer Murphy, Communications Associate

The Sisters of Bon Secours, an international community of Catholic women religious (sisters) with ministries in healthcare, human and social services, education and spiritual retreats, is welcoming volunteers to participate in Project Good Help®. This annual ... continue reading


Benedictine Monks from Oklahoma Move to Ireland's Stamullen Priory Watch

Image of Stamullen Priory

By Deacon Keith Fournier

They seek to bring healing to a wounded Irish Church. I believe they are a first fruit of her restoration and a sign of her future contribution in a new missionary age. God has not abandoned the Church in Ireland. The Purification of the Church always precedes her ... continue reading


Latest Vocation News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 11:4-12
4 These are the two olive trees and the two lamps in ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 144:1, 2, 9-10
1 [Of David] Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 20:27-40
27 Some Sadducees -- those who argue that there is no ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Cecilia
November 22: In the fourth century appeared a Greek religious romance on the ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter