Happy and joyous Easter to all our parishioners! This year, our bulletin articles have been focusing on the theme of the seven sacraments to correspond with our Family of Faith formation program. The final two sacraments that we are going to reflect on are the two sacraments at the service of communion: Holy Orders and Matrimony. These two sacraments are for the building up of the Church. And while those individuals in each of these vocations certainly become holier through fidelity to these sacraments, the primary reason these sacraments exist is for the good of others.
Easter is a very appropriate time to reflect on Holy Orders. The time surrounding the Passover was when Jesus chose to institute several of the sacraments: Holy Orders and Eucharist on Holy Thursday, and Penance on Easter Sunday. In fact, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday focuses almost exclusively in its prayers on the gifts of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.
Jesus began the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders on the same evening because they are so closely interconnected. The Church has always believed that the Eucharist can only be consecrated by a priest, whose authority has been passed down through the generations, from Christ and the Apostles, to the present day. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave the Apostles the Eucharist and commanded them to repeat this action in memory of him. It is not a coincidence that Jesus said this only to his twelve apostles at the Last Supper, and not to all of his disciples, when he taught them for three years during his ministry. Here is Luke’s account of this event: “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given up for you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you’” (Luke 22:19-20). Jesus could only command them to “do this in memory of me” if they had the power to do so.
Another gift that Jesus gave his apostles on the night of the Last Supper was an example of humble service. The authority of the priesthood is not to be lorded over others, and Jesus made this clear when he washed the feet of his apostles before the Last Supper: “[Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist…When he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:5, 12-15).
Later in the scriptures, we see the Apostles already passing on the authority they received from Jesus. Shortly after Pentecost, the Apostles were moved by the Holy Spirit to find a replacement for Judas, and Matthias was then counted as the twelfth apostle (Acts 1:15-26). A short time later, the first seven deacons were chosen to help with the practical administration of the Church: “They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6). In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul encouraged Timothy, “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.”
All of these are example of the Apostles handing on the ministry that they received from Jesus. This sacrament is known as Holy Orders.