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Thought for the week - 12 September

Last Sunday, Ian asked me “Are you doing a thought for the week next Sunday?” My initial reaction was – No! My Thought for the week is based on my homily for the Sunday. Bishop Philip will be preaching on Sunday. But I thought it might be useful to have a thought about what a bishop actually is and does. So here goes.

Eight bishops in a row wearing white vestments

Bishops are successors of the apostles, and, in their own dioceses, they are the chief teachers, sanctifiers and shepherds of God's people.

“Each bishop works in his particular diocese in a priestly, shepherding and teaching role. He possesses the fullness of the priesthood and so is the principal celebrant of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, by which the Church grows in holiness and union with Christ. He is also the chief shepherd of the diocese and so is responsible for compassionate and loving governance of the people entrusted to him. And he is the chief teacher of his diocese, responsible for authentic proclamation of the Gospel." (USCCA 133)

What is a diocese? What is an archdiocese?

A diocese is a territorial division of the church under the care and authority of a bishop. It is a geographic area and the community of Christians who live there. A diocese is made up of local communities of Christians called parishes. An archdiocese is the chief diocese in a group of neighbouring dioceses. It may be prominent because of its history, large population, or influence. Often an archdiocese is the diocese that first existed in a region before other dioceses were established in the area. A group of dioceses, including the local archdiocese, is called a province. We are in the archdiocese and province of York

Beyond his own diocese, a bishop has a role in the universal Church. Ordination integrates him into the “College of Bishops” in communion with the archbishops and other bishops. He exercises his ministry collegially, and shares with the other bishops, care for the whole Church. This follows the example of the apostles who were chosen and sent out together by Christ. Just as St. Peter and the other apostles formed a single apostolic college, so the bishops, successors of the apostles form one episcopal college to shepherd and teach the Church today.

Bishops are referred to as successors of the apostles, vicars of Christ, and shepherds of the church. A diocesan bishop is the chief teacher and shepherd in a diocese. Each diocese has only one diocesan bishop, but a diocese may have one or more auxiliary (or suffragan) bishops. A suffragan bishop is appointed as a full-time assistant to the diocesan bishop. A suffragan bishop is also called a titular bishop. Not having his own diocese to oversee, he is named as head of a titular see, In Philip’s case, Burnley. He is bishop of that place in title only, thus a titular bishop. His actual ministry and concern is for the diocese in which he is appointed as an auxiliary. Sometimes, like Philip, Suffragan bishops are appointed to care for a particular group of parishes, as Philip is to us and other traditionalist parishes.

A bishop who is entrusted with the pastoral care of a diocese is a diocesan bishop. A diocesan bishop who is entrusted with care of an archdiocese is an archbishop.

An archbishop is also called the metropolitan archbishop when referring to his role as head of the province. In this capacity, he has certain limited obligations and authority with respect to the other dioceses in his province.

Bishops do not act in the name of the archbishops but exercise their ministry personally in the name of Christ. Bishops should not be thought of as vicars or assistants of the archbishops, although they exercise their authority in communion with the whole Church under the guidance of the archbishops.

Ordination is the liturgical rite that confers the sacrament of Holy Orders. In the case of episcopal ordination, it confers the fullness of the sacrament and makes one a bishop.

When a bishop is transferred from one diocese to become the bishop of another diocese, he is received by the community of the new diocese at the cathedral. Already a bishop, he now becomes the bishop or archbishop of that particular diocese. This installation includes his ritual reception in the cathedral and the public reading of his letter of appointment.

Priests are co-workers with the bishops, ordained to preach the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments, and shepherd the faithful. They are united with the bishops in priestly dignity and, at the same time, depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions. The priests of a diocese form around their bishop the presbyterium which shares responsibility with him for the local Church.

A priest is appointed by the bishop to the pastoral care of a parish or to some other ministry. Deacons are assistants to the bishop, ordained for service in the Church. They do not receive the ministerial priesthood, but their diaconal ordination confers on them important functions in the ministries of the word, worship, and charity. They carry out these functions under the authority of their bishop.

The sacrament of Holy Orders is composed of these three degrees – the episcopate, the presbyterate and the diaconate. Thus, the hierarchy of the Church consists of bishops, priests, and deacons.

Bishops, like priests, celebrate the Eucharist, baptise, celebrate the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, witness marriages, and anoint the sick. Bishops confer the sacrament of holy orders and are able to ordain deacons, priests, and bishops. Bishops are the original ministers of confirmation. Only bishops consecrate chrism, the holy oil used at baptism, confirmation, and ordinations.


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