It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors,that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.
The Ordinal 1662
From Apostolic times the Church, at the hands of the Apostles and empowered by the Holy Spirit, has made provision for the proclamation of the Gospel, the celebration of Baptism and Eucharist and the pastoral care of the Church. Matthias and others were added to their number and Deacons were appointed to assist in pastoral care in the context of the life of the Body of Christ centred on the Breaking of Bread and the Prayers. The ministry of oversight, episcope, early became shared with the Elder – Presbyteros in the Church in a shared and complementary apostolate.
Within a century the work of Christ the Good Shepherd was represented by the Bishops as the successors of the Apostles; the priestly ministry of the People of God was enabled by ordained Priest-Presbyters who participated in the sacramental, teaching and pastoral ministry of the Bishop; the vocation of the Church to proclaim the good news and build up the Body of Christ found its focus in the ministry of Deacons. The three orders of the Sacred Ministry do not exclude or replace the vocation of the whole Church but guarantee and enable them. All Christians are called to safeguard the faith of Christ, live lives of priestly sacrifice and praise in union with the Christ the Eternal High Priest and to engage in the work of the Servant King. Holy Orders enable, guarantee and focus these ministries.
Vocation to Holy Orders is the initiative of Almighty God, heard by the individual and recognised and authenticated by the Church. The People of God invite the Bishops to ordain other Bishops, to join with the presbyterate in ordaining priests or to act in making deacons.
The Church of Ireland maintains the historic understanding of Holy Orders shared from Apostolic times by the Orthodox, Oriental and Roman Catholic Churches and those of the Lutheran Churches in the PORVOO agreement. Churches of the Reformation participate in many of these understandings and the work of growing into unity remains a journey into fullness for us all.