Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis)

Chapter One of the decree is entitled ‘The Priesthood in the Ministry of the Church’. It consists of paragraphs two and three. In n.2 the general calling of all people to share in the life of the Church is referred to at first and then the difference of function within the Church is brought up: ‘ “The same Lord, however, has established ministers among his faithful to unite them together in one body in which, not all the members have the same function” (Rom 12:4). These ministers in the society of the faithful are able by the sacred power of orders to offer sacrifice and to forgive sins, and they perform their priestly office publicly for people in the name of Christ. Therefore, having sent the apostles just as he himself had been sent by the Father, Christ, through the apostles themselves, made their successors, the bishops, sharers in his consecration and mission. The office of their ministry has been handed down, in a lesser degree indeed, to the priests. Established in the order of the priesthood they can be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfilment of the apostolic mission entrusted to priests by Christ.’

When ordained, bishops and priests share in the ‘sacred power of Orders’. This understanding of power is different to what is often thought the power of the bishop or priest has. It is not a power of ‘being in charge’, it is the power of sacrifice and the power to forgive sins. The Pope, the Bishop of Rome, has different titles. Pope Saint Gregory the Great probably came up with the best of all from the point of view of the true nature of sacred power — he called himself ‘the Servant of the servants of God’.