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Bishops are consecrated by a Sacrament

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 30 September 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In talking about the bishops as successors of the apostles, we have noted that this succession entails their participation in the mission and powers that Jesus conferred on the apostles themselves. In treating this subject, the Second Vatican Council highlighted the sacramental nature of the episcopacy, which reflects the priestly ministry of those who were appointed apostles by Jesus himself. This determines the specific nature of the responsibilities which bishops have in the Church.

2. We read in Lumen Gentium that Jesus Christ, "sitting at the right hand of God the Father, is not absent from the gathering of his high priests," for through their sublime ministry:

a) He first of all "preaches the word of God to all nations" (LG 21). Thus, it is the glorious Christ who acts with his sovereign power of salvation through the bishops, whose ministry of evangelization is rightly called "sublime." The bishop's preaching not only prolongs the Gospel preaching of Christ, but is the preaching of Christ himself in his ministry.

b) Furthermore, through the bishops (and their co-workers), Christ is "constantly administering the sacraments of faith to those who believe; by their paternal functioning (cf. 1 Cor 4:15) he incorporates new members in his body by a heavenly regeneration" (LG 21). All the sacraments are administered in the name of Christ. In a special way the spiritual paternity signified and realized in the sacrament of Baptism is tied to the rebirth which comes from Christ.

c) Lastly, Christ, "through the wisdom and prudence [of the bishops], directs and guides the people of the New Testament in their pilgrimage toward eternal happiness" (LG 21). Wisdom and prudence belong to the bishops, but they come from Christ who governs the People of God through them.

3. At this point we should note that the Lord, when he acts through the bishops, does not remove the limitations and imperfections of the human condition, which find expression in temperament, character, behavior and the influence of the historical factors of culture and life. In this regard we can also refer to what the Gospel tells us about the apostles chosen by Jesus. These men certainly had flaws. During Jesus' public life they argued about the first place, and they all abandoned their Master at the time of his arrest. After Pentecost, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, they lived in a communion of faith and love. But that does not mean that all the weaknesses inherent in the human condition disappeared. We know that Paul rebuked Peter for being too accommodating toward those who wanted to retain in Christianity the observance of the Jewish law (cf. Gal 2:11-14). Paul himself did not have an easy disposition and there was a serious disagreement between him and Barnabas (cf. Acts 15:39), even though the latter was a "good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith" (Acts 11:24). Jesus knew the imperfections of those he had chosen and he kept to his choice even when imperfections appeared in serious ways. Jesus wanted to act through imperfect and at times reprehensible men, because the power of grace given by the Holy Spirit would triumph over their weaknesses. It can happen that with their imperfections, or even their faults, bishops too can fail to fulfill the demands of their mission and bring harm to the community. Therefore, we must pray for bishops so that they will always strive to imitate the good shepherd. Indeed, the face of Christ the shepherd has been apparent in many of them and is so in an obvious way.

4. It is not possible here to list the holy bishops who have guided and formed their churches in ancient times and later ages, even most recently. Let a brief mention of the spiritual greatness of some eminent figures suffice. Think of the apostolic zeal and martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the doctrinal wisdom and pastoral fervor of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, the commitment of St. Charles Borromeo to true reform of the Church, the spiritual teaching of St. Francis de Sales and his struggle to maintain the Catholic faith, the dedication of St. Alphonsus Liguori to the sanctification of his people and to spiritual direction, the unblemished fidelity of St. Anthony Mary Gianelli to the Gospel and the Church! However, so many other pastors of the People of God should be remembered and celebrated, who belong to all the nations and churches of the world! Let us be content to express our homage and gratitude to the many bishops of the past and present who by their actions, prayer and martyrdom (often that of the heart and sometimes that of blood) have continued the witness of Christ's apostles. Certainly, their responsibility as "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1) corresponds to the greatness of the "sublime ministry" they received from Christ as successors of the apostles. As stewards who are responsible for the mysteries of God in order to dispense them in the name of Christ, bishops must be closely united and steadfast in fidelity to their Master, who did not hesitate to give them, as he gave the apostles, a decisive mission for the life of the Church in every age--the sanctification of God's people.

5. After affirming Christ's active presence in the ministry of bishops, the Second Vatican Council taught the sacramentality of the episcopacy. For a long time this point was the subject of doctrinal controversy. The Council of Trent asserted the superiority of bishops over presbyters; this superiority appears in the power reserved to bishops of confirming and ordaining (DS 1777). But it did not assert the sacramentality of episcopal ordination. Therefore, we can see the doctrinal progress made on this point by the last Council, which declared: "The Sacred Council teaches that by episcopal consecration the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred, that fullness of power, namely, which both in the Church's liturgical practice and in the language of the Fathers of the Church is called the high priesthood, the supreme power of the sacred ministry" (LG 21).

6. To make such an affirmation the Council bases itself on Tradition and states the grounds for affirming that episcopal consecration is sacramental. It is in fact to confer the capacity to "represent Christ the Teacher, Shepherd and High Priest and act in His person" (LG 21). Moreover, the liturgical rite of ordination is sacramental: "By means of the imposition of hands and the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is so conferred, and the sacred character so impressed" (LG 21). In the Pastoral Letters (cf. 1 Tim 4:14) all of this was already considered as an effect of the sacrament which bishops receive and, in turn, presbyters and deacons from the hands of bishops. On this sacramental basis the hierarchical structure of the Church, the body of Christ, is formed.

7. The Council attributes to bishops the sacramental power to "admit newly elected members into the episcopal body by means of the sacrament of Orders" (LG 21). This is the greatest expression of hierarchical power, inasmuch as it concerns the nerve centers of the Body of Christ, the Church: the establishment of leaders and shepherds to continue and perpetuate the work of the apostles in union with Christ and under the action of the Holy Spirit. Something similar can be said about the ordination of presbyters. This is reserved to bishops on the basis of the traditional concept connected with the New Testament, which endows them, as successors of the apostles, with the power to "lay on hands" (cf. Acts 6:6; 8:19; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6), to establish in the Church ministers of Christ closely joined to those who rightfully exercise the hierarchical mission. This means that the activity of priests finds its meaning in one, sacramental, priestly and hierarchical whole, within which that activity is meant to take place in the communion of ecclesial charity.

8. At the summit of this communion is the bishop, who exercises the power conferred on him by the "fullness" of the sacrament of Orders, which he received as a service of love, in his own way sharing in the love poured out in the Church by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). Moved by his awareness of this love, the bishop, and the priest in a similar fashion, will not act in an individualistic and absolutist way, but "in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the [episcopal] college" (LG 21). It is certain that the communion of the bishops, united among themselves and with the Pope, and analogously that of the presbyters and deacons, shows in the highest way the unity of the whole Church as a community of love.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Schwestern der ”Kongregation vom Göttlichen Heiland“, den Pilgern ”Leser der Kirchenzeitung“ aus der Diözese Linz unter der Leitung des Diözesanbischofs Maximilian Aichern, den Teilnehmern der 13. Pilgerwallfahrt ”Rom im Rollstuhl“ aus der Schweiz sowie den Novizen der ”Barmherzigen Brüder von Mariahilf“ aus Trier. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir les pèlerins de langue française. Et je vou drais adresser un salut particulier aux animateurs des sociétés de protection des animaux qui s’apprêtent à fêter François d’Assise. Ils trouveront dans la vie de ce grand saint une inspiration pour promouvoir le respect de créatures qui sont souvent d’utiles compagnons de l’homme.

Que le Seigneur vous accorde à tous de le servir fidèlement, en communion avec vos évêques, dans son Église! De tout cœur, je vous donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the new students of the Venerable English College in Rome. As you begin your studies for the priesthood, may you seek each day to be conformed in mind and heart to Jesus Christ, the obedient Son of the Father and the model of all priestly service. My greeting also goes to the priests attending the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the student groups from Japan and Thailand, I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings of grace and peace.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana 

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana e, in particolare, al gruppo dei Padri Capitolari della Congregazione dei Missionari Oblati di Maria Immacolata, che hanno voluto partecipare a questa Udienza Generale per rinnovare al Successore di Pietro i loro sentimenti di affetto e di profonda comunione ecclesiale. Esprimo auguri di ogni bene al Reverendo Padre Marcello Zago, che è stato confermato nell’incarico di Superiore Generale; invoco su tutti i membri della Congregazione, per intercessione di Maria Immacolata, un rinnovato e generoso impegno di testimonianza cristiana, specialmente in terra di missione. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Un pensiero particolare giunga, ora, ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli. Carissimi! Ciascuno, nella situazione in cui si trova, sappia essere generoso sia nell’impegno per un futuro migliore, sia nell’accettazione del dolore, sia nel mutuo amore per l’edificazione di una famiglia concorde e vera. La Vergine Santissima vi ottenga il bene che desidera il vostro cuore per voi stessi e per quanti vi sono vicini nel cammino della vita. A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

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