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The Sacrament Of Holy Orders… The Rite Of Ordination To The Episcopate

October 28, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 2

A bishop is a successor of the apostles, of those men who followed Jesus to the end, and began the spreading of the Gospel through the Church founded by the same Master. Some bishops, like most of the apostles, sacrificed their lives for the success of their mission. Others, like Peter, denied it but converted in the end. Others, thankfully in very small numbers, followed Judas and did harm to the Church they were supposed to and expected to defend.
Later in this series, we will investigate this painful issue, since of late there have been many scandals perpetrated by bishops.
The fact is that no one may consecrate a bishop without a mandate from the chief bishop, the Pope. If a priest is consecrated bishop without Rome’s mandate, he excommunicates himself from the Church. It is called the latae sententiae excommunication, whereby the man leaves the Church on his own act, without any direct declaration of the Pope. This is different from the ferendae sententiae excommunication, when it is issued by the Pope, as in the case of Martin Luther and other heretics.
But if the Ordination of priests can be done by one single bishop, the proper consecration of a bishop is not ordinarily done by one single bishop. You may be surprised to know that there must be at least three bishops to lawfully consecrate a new one. The main consecrating bishop must have at least two other consecrating bishops with him. But this is not a new rule: It was made by the Council of Nicea as early as the year 325.
In the absence of others, however, one bishop alone suffices to confer the episcopate. This happens often in countries where there is persecution against the Church, such as those who were oppressed by Soviet Russia, or in Communist China today. Under these exceptional circumstances, one single bishop suffices to properly consecrate a new one. The Chinese bishops who were nominated by the Communist government and consecrated by bishops of the so-called Patriotic Church excommunicated themselves automatically by the latae sententiae excommunication.
How is the rite of conferring the episcopate on a priest who has been deemed worthy of being a successor of the apostles? First of all, there are some preliminary ceremonies, during which the priest chosen to be bishop promises to discharge the episcopal office faithfully. Then he promises obedience to the Successor of Peter, the Pope in Rome. Then the consecrating bishops in turn lay both hands on the head of the priest in silence. The principal consecrator places the open Book of the Gospels upon the head of the bishop-elect; two deacons hold the book above his head while the principal consecrator, with hands extended over the bishop-elect, recites the prayer of consecration.
All the consecrating bishops recite the essential prayer: “And pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from Thee, the governing Spirit, whom Thou didst give to Thy Beloved Son Jesus Christ, whom He gave to the Holy Apostles, who established the Church in every place to be Thy temple for the unceasing glory and praise of Thy name.”
This is the Sacrament of Holy Orders in its plenitude, in its fullness. I fully recommend to anyone who has never seen the consecration of a bishop to make a special effort to be there when it happens. It is a very inspiring experience, to witness the sacrament that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper and gave to the apostles, being given to a priest who was chosen to be a successor of the same apostles.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders, whether given to a bishop in its fullness or to a priest, has some specific effects that would be good for us to know. First of all, the sacrament imprints a character on the person’s soul. This sacrament configures the ordinand (the man receiving it) to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may be Christ’s instrument for His Church. This is no small mission! The priest or the bishop is for us laypeople the instrument of Christ to us: the ordinary conduit whereby we receive Christ’s graces. Woe to the priest or bishop who is not faithful to this mission!
By Ordination he receives the capacity to act as a representative of Christ, who is the Head of the Church, in His triple office of priest, prophet, and king. The sacramental character marks the soul indelibly, forever, so that in Heaven or in Hell, he will always be a priest or a bishop.
But there is more: The sacrament also gives the power required for the exercise of the Order that was conferred, priest or bishop. No one can be ordained twice: once a priest, always a priest; once a bishop, always a bishop. No one can be un-ordained, as it were, to rid his soul of the priestly or episcopal character, and be reduced to the lay state. He may be defrocked, that is, deprived of the authorization to act as a priest or bishop, but he will always have the powers granted by the sacrament. That is why in case of someone’s imminent death, even a defrocked priest my give absolution and confer the Sacrament of the Sick, Extreme Unction.

Pray For Vocations

The three functions, or missions, of the priest or bishop are: to instruct, sanctify, and rule the faithful. A priest has a sacred mission, and will not be saved if he does not fulfill it.
A most important truth to bear in mind is this: A Catholic priest is qualitatively different from a Protestant minister. The sacred character the priest received through the Sacrament of Holy Orders distinguishes him from a Protestant minister in an essential manner. A minister is a layman who holds an office deputed to him by his community; he does not receive Holy Orders, and does not have — nor claim to have — the power to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ or to forgive sins.
The priest receives the power of forgiving sin in the Sacrament of Penance, and of offering the great Sacrifice of the Mass. He is made another Christ, a living representative of the Redeemer whose work he is called to continue.
To God, he offers man’s prayers, petitions, repentance, and needs. From God, he brings Christ’s truth, love, grace, and mercy.
Let us pray more for vocations, especially in our own communities.
Next article: Women priests; why not?

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(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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