In concluding our look at the Sacrament of Matrimony in the previous article, we’ve now covered six of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ. That leaves us to discuss one last sacrament which falls into the same category as Matrimony/Marriage. It is the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Holy Orders, like Marriage, is also a “Sacrament at the service of communion.” As was stated before, this means that these two sacraments are aimed at fostering communion (relationship) at either the level of the family (Marriage) or at the level of the local church/diocese (Holy Orders).
But there is another important piece that is distinct for these two sacraments. Unlike the other five sacraments we’ve looked at, Marriage and Holy Orders are unique in that they aren’t directly aimed at the salvation of the individuals who receive them but rather, at the salvation of others. The Catechism states that “Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God” (CCC, 1534).
We see this in Marriage through the husband and wife loving one another for the salvation of their spouse and children. So too, with Holy Orders, those who receive it, are not (or should not), receive it primarily for the sake of their own salvation but for the salvation of the members of the Church.
Saint Augustine, one of the bishops in the early Church and one of the greatest, most influential, and heroic saints of the Church, expresses this in one of his homilies. He preached the following to his people: “I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the Lord has given me…The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage” (Liturgy of the Hours, Volume IV, 255).
In other words, Saint Augustine is pointing out that his role as a bishop, his role as someone who has received Holy Orders, is primarily aimed at the service of members of the Church. The fact that he’s a Christian is for the sake of his own salvation but the fact that he’s a bishop is for the purpose of helping others to be saved.
Therefore, there is a greater similarity than we might think between those who receive Holy Orders (deacons, priests, and bishops) and those who are married. Both married persons and those who receive Holy Orders are called to give themselves generously in love for the salvation of others. This is the Christ-like kind of love that Saint Paul exhorts Christian husbands to in his letter to the Ephesians: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:25-27).
The sacrificial love that Saint Paul exhorts Christian husbands to is similar to the kind of sacrificial love that deacons, priests, and bishops are likewise called to. Husbands are to lay down their lives for their wives, while those in Holy Orders are to lay down their lives for the Church and her members. Truly, this is Christian love…to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13).
Next month we’ll conclude Holy Orders by looking at the matter and form that are proper to it.
Fr. Michael Bovino