From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
℣. In resurrectione tua, Christe, alleluia.
℟. Cœli et terra lætentur, alleluia.
℣. In thy resurrection, O Christ, alleluia.
℟. Let heaven and earth rejoice, alleluia.
WE have reverently followed our Redeemer in his institution of the sacramental helps, whereby man is placed and kept in the state of sanctifying grace, from his first entrance into this life to his leaving it for the eternal enjoyment of the beatific vision. We must now speak of that sublime sacrament, which was instituted by Jesus as the source whence mankind is to receive the other sacraments.
This sacrament is Holy Orders, and it is so called because of its being conferred in several distinct degrees upon those who receive it. As in heaven the angels are arranged in different ranks according as they have been endowed with a greater or less degree of light and power, in such wise that they who are higher act upon those that are lower; so it is in the sacrament of Holy Orders; there is order in the several ranks, and the higher act upon the lower by the communication of light and power. It is this that constitutes the hierarchy of the Church. Hierarchy means Sacred Government. It comprises three degrees: the episcopate, priesthood, and diaconate, in which last are included the Orders below it. This is called the hierarchy of Order, to distinguish it from the hierarchy of Jurisdiction. This second, which is entrusted with the government of the Church, is composed of the Pope, of the bishops, and of the inferior clergy to whom the Pope and bishops delegate a part of their power of government. We have already seen how this hierarchy takes its origin from that sovereign act whereby our Lord Jesus, the shepherd of men, gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom of God. The hierarchy of Order is intimately connected with the second, and its object is the sanctification of men by the administration of the treasures of grace confided to its keeping.
As we have already said, Jesus appeared to his Apostles on the day of his Resurrection, and said to them: As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. Now the Father sent his Son that he might be the Shepherd of men; and we have heard Jesus bidding Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep. The Father sent his Son that he might be the Teacher of men; and we have seen Jesus entrusting to his Apostles the truths which were to be proposed to us as the object of our faith. But the Father sent the Son that he might also be the High Priest of men; Jesus must, therefore, leave this same priesthood on earth, that it may be continued among us to the end of time. Now what is a priest? He is the mediator between heaven and earth; he reconciles man to his God, by offering a sacrifice that gives infinite honour to God and atones for man's sin; he cleanses the sinner's conscience, and makes him a just man; he, in a word, unites man to his God by the mysteries of which he is the dispenser.
Jesus exercised all these functions of a priest agreeably to the mission given him by the Father; but the Father would have them to be continued, even after his Son should have ascended into heaven. For this it was necessary that Jesus should communicate his priestly character, by a special sacrament, to a few chosen men, just as by baptism he conferred upon all his faithful the dignity of being his members. Here again, it will be the Holy Ghost that will act, in each stage or degree of the sacrament. It was by his divine operation that the Incarnate Word entered into Mary's womb; it is his action that will imprint on the souls of them that are presented the priestly character of this same Jesus our Lord. Hence, after using the words just cited, Jesus breathed on his Apostles, and said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost! hereby showing that it is by a special infusion of him who is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, that men are fitted for being sent by the Son, as the Son was sent by the Father.
And yet the Apostles and their successors are to confer this sacrament, not by a breath—that is the prerogative of the Word, the author of life—but by the imposition of hands. It is at the solemn moment of the imposition of the bishop's hands over them who are to be ordained, that the Holy Ghost comes down upon them. Thus will be transmitted the heavenly gift from generation to generation. It will be conferred in its several degrees, according to the will of the hierarch, by and with whom the Holy Ghost acts. So that when Jesus comes on the last day to judge the world, he will find on earth the sacred character which he conferred upon his Apostles when he gave them the Holy Ghost.
Let us attentively and devoutly contemplate the mystic ladder of the hierarchy, established by our Jesus, whereby we might ascend to heaven. At the very summit is the bishop, having in himself the plenitude of Holy Orders and the power to produce other pontiffs, and priests, and deacons. He has the power of offering up the Holy Sacrifice; he holds the keys whereof our Lord speaks, when he says: Whatsoever ye shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven; he can administer all the sacraments; the consecration of the Chrism and Holy Oils belongs to his office; he can not only bless, he can also consecrate.
Next comes the priest, who truly looks upon the bishop as his spiritual father, seeing that it was by the imposition of the bishop’s hands that he received the dignity and character of priesthood. The priest, however, does not possess the plenitude of Jesus’ priesthood. His hands, though most holy, have not the power to produce other priests; he blesses, but he does not consecrate; he must look to the bishop for holy Chrism, for he himself cannot make it. Notwithstanding this, his dignity is great, for he has power to offer the Holy Sacrifice, and his offering is the same as that of the bishop. He forgives the sins of those whom the bishop has put under his care. The solemn administration of baptism is entrusted to him, when the bishop himself does not perform it: and as to extreme unction, it is essentially a priest’s function.
The next lower order is that of deacon, who is, as the Greek name implies, the servant of the priest. Not having the priesthood, he cannot offer sacrifice, nor remit sins, nor give extreme unction to the dying: but he assists and serves the priest at the Altar, and stands by his side during the solemn moment of consecration. He reads the holy Gospel, from the ambo, to the people. The Blessed Sacrament is entrusted to his care, and, failing a priest, he is allowed to distribute it to the faithful. In similar circumstances, he could solemnly administer baptism. He has also the power of preaching the word of God to the people.
These are the three degrees of the hierarchy of Order. They correspond, as the great St Denis teaches, with the three degrees whereby man attains to union with God: namely, purification, illumination, and perfection. The deacon prepares the catechumen and the sinner, by instructing them in the word of God, which will purify their minds from error, and incite them to the repentance of their sins and to a desire of being freed from them. The priest enlightens these same by the illumination of holy baptism, by the remission of their sins, and by admitting them to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. The bishop pours out upon them the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and raises them, by their seeing his own supereminent prerogatives, to union with Christ. Such is the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is the essential means established for the salvation of mankind, the channel through which God has ordained that the infinite graces of the Incarnation should flow upon the earth, and the medium whereby is perpetuated among us the presence and action of our Redeemer.
Let us give thanks to our Jesus for this unspeakable blessing. Let us honour the priesthood of the New Law; it is Jesus who inaugurated it in his own person, and who afterwards entrusted it to men, chosen by him for continuing the mission given to him by his Father. The sacraments are the true life of the world; but who are the ministers of these sacraments? The priests of the Church. Let us pray for those who are in Holy Orders; for their responsibilities are great, their dignity is divine, and yet they themselves are but men. They are not a tribe or a caste, as were the priests in the Old Law; but they are taken from every race and family. Finally, a priest, though inferior to the angels by nature, is, by the office he holds, superior to these blessed spirits.
Let us celebrate, to-day, the Resurrection of our eternal High Priest, by this joyous canticle of the ancient Missal of Liége:
Eia dic nobis
Quibus e terris
Nova cuncto mundo
Respondens placido vultu,
Dulci voce dixit: Alleluia.
Angelus mihi de Christo indicavit
Cecinit voce laudanda.
Mox ergo pennas
Dirigens laeta per auras:
Ut dicam vacuatum legem veterem,
Et novam regnare gratiam.
Itaque plaudite, famuli, voce clara:
Christus hodie redemit nos a morte dira.
Pater Filium tradidit servis,
Ut interimerent pro salute nostra.
Sponte subiit Filius mortem,
Ut nos redimeret morte ab aeterna.
Nunc requiem capere licet ovibus,
Et frui vita perpetua.
Hunc colite pariter mecum famuli
Celebri laude sanctum Pascha.
Christus est Pax nostra.
Tell us, O Magdalen!
from what land comest thou,
announcing new joy
to the whole world.
And visiting once
more our country?
She answered with a placid look,
and sweet voice, saying: ‘Alleluia!
‘An angel hath told me of the
dear prodigies wrought by Christ:
‘He sang forth with a voice of praise,
that the Lord hath risen from the tomb.
‘Whereupon, I swiftly took wing,
and joyfully sped my way through the thin air:
‘I have returned to you,
servants of God!
that I may tell you that the Old Law is made void,
and the New Law of grace hath begun its reign.’
Sing then, O servants of God! sweetly sing:
‘This day hath Christ delivered us from cruel death.
‘The Father hath delivered up his Son to his creatures,
that they might slay him for the sake of our salvation.
‘The Son, of his own free will, suffered death,
that he might redeem us from eternal death.’
Now may the sheep take their rest,
and enjoy never-ending life.
O ye servants of God! unite with me in celebrating
the praise of this holy Pasch.
Christ is our Peace.
 St John xx 21.
 St Matt. xviii 18.
 The exception of the act of Consecration in the Mass is, of course, understood. —Tr.