As was shown in the first installment on the sacrament of holy orders, Christ gave this sacrament to the Church to make His saving works available through all the sacraments. Accordingly, as we turn our attention to the minister and recipients of holy orders to consider “who” is able receive and administer this particular sacrament, it is of utmost importance to remain rooted in basic truths that those who receive holy orders are called to be servants of Christ and His Church in the name of making His salvation available. Thus, they do not receive it for their own sake; it is for the sake of the salvation of many.
Acknowledging again that holy orders configures the recipient unto Christ who is priest, prophet, and king, and that Jesus’ foundation of this sacrament took place by initially ordaining the twelve apostles, we want to speak first of the ministers of the sacrament as those who are like unto the apostles: the bishops. In the Code of Canon Law, canon 1012 is straight forward: “The minister of sacred ordination is a consecrated bishop.” To the bishops is given the fullness of holy orders and the configuration unto Christ that was first given by Jesus to the apostles. The apostles, in ordaining their successors, have passed on this fullness of priesthood through the centuries, continuing down through our own day. As we have shown in the last installment on the ritual for conferring holy orders, it is an ordaining bishop who imposes hands on the head of each candidate and then prays a prayer of ordination over them invoking the power of the Holy Spirit – minding that: at a diaconate ordination only one bishop imposes hands; at the ordination of priests it is also only one bishop who is joined by other priests who are present; and at the ordination of a bishop it is the principal-ordaining bishop along with at two co-consecrating bishops, followed by all other bishops who may be present that impose hands on he that is ordained. That bishops are the ministers of holy orders is founded upon what they themselves receive in ordination as the fullness of the sharing in the priesthood of Christ.
Turning then to the recipients of this sacrament, it is first to be clearly stated that no one has a “right” to holy orders. Canon 1024 begins a detailed set of canons on recipients of orders by showing the most basic requirement: that “a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.” Know that the question of why only men are able to be ordained will be taken up as a special consideration in another installment. Noting that this canon is the most basic requirement, canons 1025-1052 go to great depth to speak of such areas as the proper freedom of the candidate, the prerequisites for ordination, the proper training and approval by those who oversee this training, and even any circumstances that prevent a man from ordination (what are properly called “impediments”). While each degree of orders has particular requirements that must be met that are beyond our scope here, the most important truth that needs to be said regarding recipients is that they are to be men who have received all the sacraments of initiation and who freely respond to a “call” as we often consider it to serve in the place of Christ. Thus, the most important truth we can say about the recipient of holy orders is to say they receive grace to serve Christ and His Church through the configuration of their lives unto Christ through proclaiming the faith, administering the sacraments and shepherding Christ’s flock toward eternal salvation.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paragraphs 1575-1580 give information on the minister and recipients. In addition, 1554-1571 are worth review on each of the three degrees of holy orders.