Mission: Impossible premiered in September 1966 on CBS. The show centered on a handpicked team of spies who would take on a dangerous mission in every episode. The show would open with the team leader retrieving an envelope containing a tape recording and photos describing the mission, its importance, and some of the risks. The recording always began with the phrase “your mission, should you choose to accept it…” as though it was an optional mission. The truth is, they always accepted the mission.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus also gave his handpicked “team” a mission. He told his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). They, too, accepted this mission placed before them, and it is their legacy that has been passed on to us. We have also inherited that mission, in which each of us has some unique role to play in making disciples of all the nations. St. John Henry Newman explains that “God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.” In other words, God is calling each of us to something. For some of us, that calling may be found in one of the two Sacraments of Communion and Mission, Holy Orders and Marriage.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders
The Sacrament of Holy Orders is a call to share in and carry on the ministry which Jesus gave to His Apostles. Their responsibilities and authority have been passed down from the Apostles to the pope and bishops today. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is always celebrated by a bishop, and takes place in three degrees: diaconal ordination (deacons), presbyteral ordination (priests), and episcopal ordination (bishops). Deacons are ordained to serve in the Church by preaching, serving at the altar, and taking on some dynamic of the pastoral or social ministry in their community. A priest collaborates with his bishop by proclaiming Christ, administering the Sacraments, and celebrating Mass. A bishop is a successor of the Apostles and is responsible, along with his brother bishops and the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) to teach, govern, and sanctify the whole Church. All who are ordained have been given a mission to stand and serve in the place of Christ in a very particular way:
“Through his ordination, the transforming, healing, saving power of Christ is grafted onto Him. Because a priest has nothing of his own, he is above all a servant. The distinguishing characteristic of every authentic priest, therefore, is humble astonishment at his own vocation.” -YouCat 250
Two questions often come up when we look at the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
- Why does the Church ordain only men for these ministries?The Church ordains men only because Christ only chose men as His Apostles, and only they were present at the last supper for the institution of this Sacrament. In a politically correct society, this seems backwards, but Pope St. John Paul II affirmed“…that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.” It’s not about the Church wanting or not wanting to do something, it’s that (as with all the Sacraments), we can’t change the way Jesus made things. It is important, while affirming this teaching, to also acknowledge that women are equal in dignity to men and that all members of the Church affirm their value. Having worked for the Church in various capacities over the past fifteen years, I would say that our Church could not function (and likely wouldn’t still exist) if women did not play a critical role in all facets of Church life: from great saints like Therese of Lisieux (a doctor of the Church) and St. Teresa of Calcutta to the parish secretaries who are often at the heart of parish life. (If you want to read more on this question, Fr. Mike Mireau addressed this question at length in this article.)
- Why don’t priests get married?In the Roman Catholic Church, those called to be bishops or priests are required to take a vow of celibacy. (Permanent deacons can be married beforehand, but if their wives die they are not permitted to remarry.) People don’t understand why we do this. This doesn’t mean that they are rejecting love or the gift of human sexuality. Instead, they are living a life Pope Benedict XVI describes as being “overcome by a passion for God” in imitation of the life of Christ:
“Jesus lived as a celibate and in this way intended to show his undivided love for God the Father. To follow Jesus’ way of life and to live in unmarried chastity ‘for the sake of the Kingdom’ has been since Jesus’ time a sign of love, of undivided devotion to the Lord, and of a complete willingness to serve.” -YouCat 258
So, our priests and bishops don’t get married. While some argue that a married clergy would be an answer to the shortage of priests we see in many parts of the world, we see the same “vocations crisis” in other denominations (and Catholic rites) who allow married clergy. Pope Benedict XVI and many others have seen the lack of priestly vocations in the western world as a symptom of the struggle our society has with faith in general. We need to pray for our priests, and for vocations to the priesthood & religious life. (If you want to read further on this question, this article on the Vatican website dives into the theological Basis for priestly celibacy.)
The Sacrament of Marriage
When we talk about the Sacrament of Marriage, we are dealing with much more than a civil or social institution. St. John Paul II said that “the future of humanity passes by way of the family.” Sacramental marriage is a safe, secure, and permanent relationship of life and love. It has the goal of uniting the spouses and creating life in the very image of God:
“God disposed man and woman for each other so that they might be ‘no longer two but one’ (Mt 19:6). In this way they are to live in love, be fruitful, and thus be a sign of God himself, who is nothing but overflowing love.” -YouCat 260
The Bible is filled with references to marriage. It begins with a married couple living in the Garden of Eden and ends with the wedding banquet of the Lamb. In between these two moments, God often refers to His relationship with us in terms of a marital covenant. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks to us of God’s intention for marriage from the beginning (Matthew 19) and performs His first miracle at a wedding in Cana (John 2). We believe that Jesus raised the marital covenant to the dignity of a Sacrament, as an icon of his own love for the Church (Ephesians 5:23).
Marriage is unique in that it is the only sacrament in which it is not the ordained minister who administers this sacrament. The couple bestows this sacrament upon one another while the minister witnesses on behalf of the Church and offers God’s blessing on their marriage.
To understand what we believe about marriage, you might look at some of the key moments in our marriage ritual. Immediately prior to professing vows, the priest or deacon asks:
- __________, have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?
- Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?
- Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?
These questions not only verify the fact that the couple wants to get married (and are free to do so), but that they are willing to commit to a marriage that reflects the love of God. Next comes the marriage vows, where each spouse states:
- I ______________, take you ______________, to be my (wife/husband). I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and honor you all the days of my life.
These vows aren’t meant to be a one-off, but something you spend a lifetime trying to understand and to live more fully each day. When a couple lives these well, their marriage becomes as clear an image of the love of God as you will see in this world:
“What the Church is on a large scale, the family is on a small scale: an image of God’s love in human fellowship.” -YouCat 271
Any call God places in our lives is first and foremost a call to love: loving God first, with our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and then a call to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is true of the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders. To many, living out these callings might seem like an impossible mission, but we must remember that we don’t do it alone. If God calls us to something, He also provides grace to help us accomplish that mission:
“The two sacraments have something in common: they are directed to the good of others. No one is ordained for himself, and no one enters the married state merely for his own sake. The sacrament of Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Matrimony are supposed to build up the People of God; in other words, they are a channel through which God pours out love into the world.” -YouCat 248