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The Authority Of Bishops . . . The Hierarchy Of Orders In The Catholic Church

January 13, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 8

It is a well-known fact that the Church today is going through a crisis, especially in faith, as can be seen as early as 1985 when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger allowed the publication of The Ratzinger Report. I believe that Benedict XVI was the only Pope in Church history whose mind was already well-known a quarter century prior to his election at a conclave. One of today’s gravest crisis is the ambiguity about moral issues, such as contraception, divorce and remarriage, and the Eucharist.
In The Ratzinger Report, page 150 of the American edition by Ignatius Press, Cardinal Ratzinger clearly states that “ambiguity is the mark of the demonic,” and recommends devotion to the Angelic Hosts against the onslaughts of the Devil in our days.
And yet, in spite of all the miseries that afflict the Bride of Christ today, it is important for us to keep in mind her beautiful hierarchy of Orders, as instituted by her Founder, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and as it was lived in the past, in better times, where she will be again when the present crisis has passed.
The hierarchy of Orders (spiritual power) consists of bishops, priests, and deacons. All the three degrees were possessed by each of the apostles, the first bishops of the Church, and later, according to the ordinance of Christ, were given by them, in whole or part, to others as need arose.
In this article I will ignore the current crisis and consider the Church in her order and beauty, as willed by Christ, to encourage us to know her, love her, and defend her to the end.
In the Church there must always be bishops, but there need not be priests or deacons as such. Jesus instituted bishops at the Last Supper, and gave to those bishops, especially to Peter, the power to bind and to loosen. He gave them authority to teach, govern, and sanctify the flock. But He did not give them the authority to teach, make laws, and administer the sacraments in any way they pleased according to their whims or caprices. A bishop does not have absolute power in a diocese. A hierarchy of jurisdiction is necessary for the good order of the Church.
The Pope receives his jurisdiction directly from Christ. There is no doubt about that. The bishop receives jurisdiction from the same divine source, upon his consecration as a bishop. The bishop retains his jurisdiction as long as he remains loyal to the Holy See and to its teaching. If the bishop becomes schismatic or heretical, and is cut off from the Church by solemn condemnation, he loses all authority. He loses this authority, but not his priestly power.
Yes, a bishop, or a priest for that matter, will always retain his power, in this life and in the hereafter. In his famous painting of the Final Judgment, Fra Angelico depicted a number of priests, monks, and bishops going to Hell, as well as others going to Heaven.
Contrary to what some misinformed Catholics believe, a bishop is not infallible as an individual. Episcopal mistakes have been made, even grave ones. But collectively, and in union with the Pope, they constitute “The Church Teaching,” and can be infallible under very specific circumstances:
When they are assembled under papal authority in a general council to treat of matters involving faith and/or morals; and when, though dispersed throughout the world, they are at one with the Pope in teaching that a doctrine forms part of the Deposit of Faith or is to be held definitively.
Of course, unlike the bishops whom they consecrated, the apostles were unique, in that they were appointed directly and personally by Christ our Lord. They were the original eyewitnesses of His life, works, and Resurrection, and were each filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Church is built on the apostles, her foundation stones; it is not said to be built on the bishops who followed them. The bishops have received none of the uniqueness of the apostles.
They also differ from the apostles in that, as individuals, they have restricted jurisdiction and limited teaching power. Nevertheless, we call them, collectively, the “successors of the apostles,” for their power comes in a line of succession from the apostles.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. His command of “Do this in memory of me” conveyed to the apostles a divine power to consecrate the Eucharist, which is His greatest gift to mankind after the redemption. Later, after the Resurrection, He gave them the power to forgive sins and to preach in His Name.
These three powers distinguish the Church of Christ from the man-made denominations of Protestantism: their ministers are appointed by men, without any special power, authority, or grace coming from the apostles.
We read in the Acts of the Apostles that “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia” (Acts 13:2-4).
Therefore, through this rite of prayer and the imposition of hands, Saints Paul and Barnabas were made the envoys of the Holy Spirit, that is, they were empowered by Him to preach and sanctify. They were bishops in our sense of the word — they were immediate successors of the apostles who had received at their Ordination the power to ordain others in the Apostolic Succession.

Teach, Sanctify, And Rule

They were consecrated bishops. St. Paul says to St. Timothy: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). St. Paul had consecrated St. Timothy a bishop.
It is a remarkably beautiful thing to realize that the divine powers to consecrate, forgive sins, and preach in Jesus’ Name were passed on from apostle to apostle, from bishop to bishop, from apostolic times till our days in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Those who received this rite had authority to teach, sanctify, and rule. They had to teach and preach (1 Tim. 5:17), administer sacraments (Acts 19:4-6; James 5:14-5; 1 Cor. 1:16), care for the flock of Christ (Acts 15:22; 20:28), give directives (Acts 15:6ff.; 1 Cor. 5:3-4; 11:17, 33-34), receive obedience from the faithful, watch over their souls, and render an account for them (Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 3:1-6). The deacons instructed and gave Baptism (Acts 8:26-38). This rite is the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Next article: Answering objections leveled against the priesthood.

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www. RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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