Expert Answer Forum

Titles of Religious QUESTION from Jeff Campbell September 10, 1999 In your response on the titles of religious, you mentioned something that brings up an interesting question. You mentioned that the abbott or superior of an order has a position equivalent to that of bishop. This is true, in terms of chain of command. However, it is my understanding that the office of bishop is a greater incremental degree of the sacrament of holy orders. That is to say that the priest (or presbyter) is more ordained, as it were, than a deacon, and a bishop moreso again than a priest. Does an abbott enjoy the same more complete expression of the sacrament of holy orders as does the bishop? Thank you.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on September 12, 1999 Dear Mr. Campbell:
I would not use the phrase more ordained. One is either ordained or they are not. There is only one ordination to Holy Orders.
But there three forms of that ordination: diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate. The episcopate is the highest form.
Perhaps an analogy can be made to the military. Those in Holy Orders are commissioned officers. Regardless of rank, a commissioned officer is a commissioned officer. The deaconate might represent the junior grades (Lieutenants), the priesthood the command grades (Captains, Majors, Colonels depending on assignment), and the bishops are the General Officer grades (the the General Officer grades further categorized in rank -- bishops perhaps in the one and two star ranks, and cardinals in the three and four star ranks). The Pope in this analogy is the Prime Minister/President (the chief executive of the army).
By the way, using this analogy, INSTALLED acolytes and Lectors would be Warrant Officers.
The rest of us are either non-commissioned officers or the rank-and-file depending on our responsibilities as laymen.
This analogy may not fit completely, but perhaps it helps.
As for Abbots, most abbots are not actually bishops, but over the centuries both canon law and tradition have given some abbots quasi-episcopal powers sometimes in a general sense in their territories, but especially in matters of govererance and worship within their Orders. JP
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