The validity of the Sacraments, indeed, the foundations of the Church itself, is dependent upon the unbroken connection to our Lord: Apostolic Succession.
Apostolic Succession is not an accident or an invention of the Christian Church. It draws upon the priestly succession of the Old Testament, which validated the actions performed by the priests in the temple, as the model for the Apostolic Succession of the New Testament era. As St. Paul has stated in his Epistles, Christ became the High Priest when He offered Himself up as a Sacrifice before God the Father for all of humankind.
Since the earliest days, the ministry of the Church has been defined in three orders: bishops, priests, and deacons.
Clearly, the bishop is the successor to the Apostles and a shepherd of Christ’s flock. Only the bishop can confer Holy Orders and administer Confirmation. It is said that “where the bishop is, there also is the Church.”
The subordinate orders of priest and deacon exist as extensions of the bishop, their functions defined and limited.
Though a priest may be indelibly marked through ordination, his authority is dependent upon the bishop without whom he cannot function. He ministers to the people committed to his care, celebrating the Holy Eucharist, spreading the Word of God through teaching and preaching, and pronouncing God’s Absolution and Blessing.
Deacons assist priests under the direction of the bishop. They have limited sacramental authority and are excluded from celebrating the Holy Eucharist and pronouncing God’s Absolution and Blessing.