The hierarchy of the ministers of the Sacraments

In Baptism, the ordinary ministers are the bishop, priest and apparently the deacon and the extraordinary minister is anyone else.
In Confession, the Eucharist and the Anointing of the sick the minister is the priest.
In Confirmation the ordinary minister is the bishop and the extraordinary is a priest.
In Marriage it is a priest and apparently a deacon as witnesses to the contract of the spouses.
In Ordination it is the bishop.

How did the Church determine this? Through Scripture or Tradition or did the Magistereum make it up?
Why can every one baptize but not administer the other Sacraments?
Why can only a bishop or priest Confirm, when I can lay hands and pray for the Holy Ghost to descend?
Why can deacons baptize and witness marriages?

In the prior code of canon law, the bishop was the ordinary minister of Holy Orders, and the priest was the extraordinary minister.

Some aspects of the sacraments come from divine law, others from changeable church law, as evidenced by the various changes in canon law over the centuries.

The situation of who could perform what sacrament grew so complex in the middle ages that in order to get all the various rules giving the right answer it was necessary to formulate a power of jurisdiction in addition to the power of Holy Orders. The concept of the power of jurisdiction is so lacking in theological basis that the Second Vatican Council completely avoided any discussion of it in Lumen Gentium. However, it is still present in the current canon law inspired by Vatican II as it remains the only way to get all the right answers as to who can perform what sacrament.

FYI, the Ministers of Marriage are the spouses themselves. The necessity of witnesses is a matter of discipline.

In Baptism, the true minister is Christ himself, that is why even a non-Christian may validly Baptize. The preference for priests or deacons is, again, a matter of discipline related to the symbolism of the newly Baptized entering the Body of Christ.

A priest, a deacon AND a lay person may receive the exchange of consent of the couple. Granted a lay person is a rarity in most places, but Canon Law allows for the bishop to appoint such a person – with Rome’s approval – in places where priests and deacons are not readily available because a couple should not be denied marriage for long periods of time because of the unavailability of clergy.

In the prior code of canon law, the bishop was the ordinary minister of Holy Orders, and the priest was the extraordinary minister.


An abbot could bestow minor orders to those under is jurisdiction, but since when were presbyters the extraordinary minister of major orders?

From the older (1918) canon law:

Canon 949. In the canons that follow, by the name of major orders or sacred orders are understood presbyterate, diaconate, and subdiaconate; while minor orders are acolyte, exorcist, lector, and doorkeeper.

Canon 951. The ordinary minister of sacred ordination is a consecrated Bishop; the extraordinary [minister is one who], although lacking episcopal character, either by law or by special indult of the Apostolic See takes up the power of conferring certain orders.

See here for a thread on medieval examples of abbots bestowing the diaconate and the presbyteriate.

The Code did not say that the priest was the extraordinary and should a priest have happened to laid hands and recited the prayer of ordination over anyone, such an ordination would have been treated as invalid. It did say that the bishop was the ordinary minister which left open the *possibility *that a priest *might be the extraordinary minister, in the light of certain historical cicumstances and the opinions of some theologians. However, such a possibility is even more remote today and the constant and overwhelming practice of the Church has been to regard bishops as the sole ministers of sacred ordination.

*I’m excluding the consideration of non-sacramental minor orders here.

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