An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


A sacramental rite of the church by which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by bishops to those being made bishops, priests, and deacons (BCP, pp. 860-861). The three distinct orders of bishops, priests, and deacons have been characteristic of Christ’s holy catholic church. Bishops carry on the apostolic work of leading, supervising, and uniting the church. Presbyters (often known as priests) are associated with bishops in the ministry of church governance, along with the church’s ministry of missionary and pastoral work, in preaching of the Word of God, and in the administration of the sacraments. Deacons assist bishops and priests in all of this work, and have special responsibility to minister in Christ’s name to the poor, the sick, the suffering, and the helpless (BCP, p. 510). The BCP provides rites for the ordination of bishops (p. 512), priests (p. 525), and deacons (p. 537). The earliest known text of ordination rites is in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (c. 215). The 1549 BCP did not include ordination rites. “The Form and Manner of Making and Consecrating of Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons” was published in 1550. Rites for ordination were included in many subsequent revisions of the Prayer Book. The Preface to the Ordination Rites of the Prayer Book notes that the church intends to maintain and continue the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons. The ordination services are therefore appointed by the church. No person is to exercise the office of bishop, priest, or deacon unless he or she has been ordained. The manner of ordination in the Episcopal Church has been generally recognized by Christian people as suitable for conferring the sacred orders of bishop, priest, and deacon.

The services of ordination include a presentation of the ordinand to the ordaining bishop or bishops; the ordinand’s Declaration of Consent that states his or her belief in the scriptures and conformity to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church; the people’s consent to the ordination and their promise to uphold the ordinand in the new ministry; the Litany for Ordinations (BCP, pp. 548-551); lessons and sermon; the examination of the candidate; the singing of the hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” or “Veni Sancte Spiritus”; a period of silent prayer; the prayer of consecration and laying on of hands by the ordaining bishop or bishops; vesting of the newly ordained person according to the new order of ministry; and participation in the eucharist by the newly ordained person in ways that are appropriate to his or her order of ministry. At the ordination of a bishop, the Presiding Bishop and at least two other bishops lay their hands on the ordinand’s head. At the ordination of a priest, the bishop is joined by priests in the laying on of hands. Only the bishop lays hands on the head of the ordinand at the ordination of a deacon. The bishop-elect leads the Creed at the ordination of a bishop after the Examination. The Creed precedes the Examination at the ordination of a priest or a deacon. The newly ordained bishop is the chief celebrant at the eucharist. The newly ordained priest joins in the celebration of the eucharist with the bishop and other presbyters. The newly ordained deacon may prepare the Lord’s table and dismiss the people at the eucharist.

In the Episcopal Church the ordained ministry is normally seen as a life-long vocation. Careful selection, discernment, and preparation are required before ordination takes place. The canons call for theological instruction in the Holy Scriptures; church history, including the ecumenical movement; Christian theology; Christian ethics and moral theology; studies in contemporary society, including racial and minority groups; liturgics and church music; and theory and practice of ministry. The requirements and standards of learning may be modified in the ordination of local priests and deacons. The BOS provides a form for the Reaffirmation of Ordination Vows.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.