The sacrament of Holy Orders was discussed at both the Council of Trent, and also at Vatican II.
Here we must pause and consider the nature of a General Council. Its doctrinal and moral teachings are, of course, usually considered infallible. But how does one define a teaching at a Council? In the past, there has been a sort of preamble, and then a series of ‘canons’ , to which the assent of faith is required, using the phrase ‘if anyone should say………anathema sit’. Presumably the preamble was not considered similarly binding under the penalty of anathema. Now Trent used this format, like all the other councils except Vatican II, which had the preamble (in the form of long documents) but had no canons attached. Are we then to presume that the entire text is infallible? That would seem unreasonable. It would be logical to assume that the text has the same status as the preambles in other councils. And we also have the assurance of Blessed Pope John, who said that his council would define no new doctrines. I find this reassuring, because it seems to me that between Trent and Vatican II there is not one mind on a subject concerning Holy Orders.
It concerns the nature of the Episcopate. Is it a completely separate grade of order to which one is promoted in the same way that one is promoted from Diaconate to Presbyterate? Or is the making of a bishop the unfolding, authorizing, releasing of the fulness of the priesthood which one received in potential at one's priestly ordination, but the exercise of which was inhibited by ecclesiastical authority.
In other words, is a priest an inhibited bishop, or is a bishop another thing entirely?
The Scriptures (Pastoral Epistles) write of three orders; Bishop, Presbyter and Deacon. The earlier NT scriptures, if my memory serves me well, though, speak only of bishops and deacons. Ignatius of Antioch (died around 112) mentions only Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons. Some communions of the Reformation (like the Church of England), because of scripture and Ignatius, affirmed a threefold ministry. Against this, Trent (session 23) also had something to say.
It affirms, with an anathema, that the Sacrament of Holy Orders consists of both major and minor orders, but does not list them here, presumably because the East has a different list.
CANON II.--If any one says, that, besides the priesthood, there are not in the Catholic Church other orders, both major and minor, by which, as by certain steps, advance is made unto the priesthood; let him be anathema.It also adds, in another canon:
Now this latter canon seems to suggest that there is a real difference between bishop and priest. However, in an official footnote which I remember reading, but can't find on the net it lists these orders as being sevenfold, and lists them thus: porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, subdeacon, deacon and priest. Not bishop. This same list appears in the preamble, chapter 2, 'On the seven orders'.CANON VII.--If any one says that bishops are not superior to priests; or that they have not the power of confirming and ordaining; or that the power which they possess is common to them and to priests…let him be anathema.
And whereas the ministry of so holy a priesthood is a divine thing; to the end that it might be exercised in a more worthy manner, and with greater veneration, it was suitable that, in the most well-ordered settlement of the church, there should be several and diverse orders of ministers, to minister to the priesthood, by virtue of their office; orders so distributed as that those already marked with the clerical tonsure should ascend through the lesser to the greater orders. For the sacred Scriptures make open mention not only of priests, but also of deacons; and teach, in words the most weighty, what things are especially to be attended to in the Ordination thereof; and, from the very beginning of the church, the names of the following orders, and the ministrations proper to each one of them, are known to have been in use; to wit those of subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, and door-keeper; though these were not of equal rank: for the subdeaconship is classed amongst the greater orders by the Fathers and sacred Councils, wherein also we very often read of the other inferior orders.Seven. No room for a separate order of the Episcopate. So Canon 7 must refer to the jurisdiction of a bishop and a priest, or authority to exercise their powers, not their actual powers themselves, whether activated or latent.
And thus it was that in the past one spoke of the 'ordination' of a priest, but the 'consecration' of a bishop.
However, Vatican II in Lumen Gentium #28, seems to imply a threefold sacrament of order, since it mentions only the Episcopate, Presbyterate and Diaconate:
Thus the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised on different levels by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons.(63*)The footnote, 63, refers us to exactly the paragraph from Trent quoted above as if it said the same thing!
Now, of course, the two things are not exclusive, or we would have to do some fast talking to explain the difference. Vatican II simply did not list the other orders; it never asserted their non-existence. But one might be forgiven for thinking that the implication is there.
And it developed. Now, bishops are 'ordained', not 'consecrated'. I wish I had the introduction to the new pontifical to hand; it would be interesting to see what it said. The interrogation of a bishop-elect at his consecration/ordination refers to working with priests and deacons 'who share your ministry'. If priests share his ministry in the same (extraneous) way as deacons, then it clearly does imply a difference of kind.
Pope Paul VI, in the Apostolic Constitution establishing the new rites of ordination has this to say:
For from tradition, expressed in liturgical rites and in the usage of the Church of both East and West, it is clear that the laying on of hands and the words of consecration bestow the grace of the Holy Spirit and impress a sacred character.Which is clear enough. Paul VI believes that Episcopal consecration imposes a sacred character, like ordination to the priesthood. And he argues that the new prayer of consecration is better, being taken from the Apostolic Constitutions of (the anti-Pope) Hippolytus, still used in the rites of the West Syrians and Copts. He continues
Thus in the very act of ordination there is a witness to the harmony of tradition in East and West concerning the apostolic office of bishops.Yeah, right. If he means by the East two non-Chalcedonian churches, and the West not at all!
I'm told that all this was enthusiastically supported, if not actually initiated by Karl Rahner. Certainly in the seminary I was taught that one actually stops being a deacon when one is ordained priest, and presumably one stops being a presbyter/priest when one is ordained bishop. That is why priests 'dressing up' (as it was elegantly put) as deacons is not allowed. And yet, even when a priest says Mass without deacon, when he reads the Gospel, by tradition he does not open his hands at the Dominus vobiscum, because he is exercising the diaconal ministry at that point.
And the implication is that whereas a bishop is a successor of the apostles, a priest is not.
And there are some difficulties here.
1) If a priest is not an apostle, albeit one with some of his powers inhibited by the authority of the Church, then how can he validly absolve? He can only validly do so when granted faculties by his bishop, certainly, but the granting of faculties surely does not grant the power: that is something given at ordination. The faculties 'release' the latent power.
2) If a priest does not share the power of a bishop to ordain, how is it that he lays hands on at priestly ordinations? In the old rite, he continued to extend his hand throughout the prayer of ordination, whereas that is now not done (officially, at any rate, though I have seen it plenty of times).
3) Ditto the co-consecration of the chrism with the bishop.
4) There is also the problem that there are two or three instances from the middle ages when abbots (who were not bishops) ordained their own monks. The Abbey of St Osyth in England was given this privilege, for instance.
With regard to minor orders, one has to conclude not that they have been abolished, because Trent teaches with an anathema that they exist. It is simply that they are not given in the Latin Rite, except, as it were, per saltem at ordination to the diaconate. And to me it is truly strange that the lay ministries of acolyte and lector, intended to bring the concept at least of the minor orders back to the parish, are rarely, if ever, given in the parish, but only in the seminary where they fulfil roughly the same role as the minor orders used to. We might as well have the minor orders back for seminaries (conferring the clerical state) and keep the ministries for parishes.
Oh, I've rambled on for long enough. If you're still with me, what do you think? It seems to me that, at the least, the Church has some clarification to make concerning the apparent shift in the theology of holy orders over the last forty years.
Or perhaps I've just missed the whole point.