The Bishop

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"See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the priests as ye would the Apostles; and reverence the deacons as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop... Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

S. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, IN HIS EPISTLE TO THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA, CHAPTER EIGHT

The office of a bishop of the Church is not difficult to describe, because it has been defined in the texts of the early Church, by Fathers of the Church and has been a constant feature of the Church in every century of its existence. When S. Paul instructed the new bishop Timothy that he is to be blameless, prudent, chaste, hospitable, modest, a good ruler, and so on (cf. 1 Timothy 3), he was likely not making new rules up, but already handing on what was apostolic tradition. These rules were the ideal for the bishops and the priests of succeeding generations. Most recently, the pastoral dimension of this ancient ecclesiastical order was given much time and space by the Second Council of the Vatican in the decree Christus Dominus, proclaimed in 1965.

Effectively, it is Christ who rules his Church, with his own authority and mission, but it was the group of Apostles and their successors (whom we now call bishops) who served to make known the figure, mission and mandate of Christ to the Church and to the world. They would speak in the name of Christ, becoming channels of grace, authorised and empowered by Christ himself. The early priest-bishops were thus able to act in persona Christi capitis, through the sacrament of Orders, as do the bishops and priests of today (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 874-875).

Therefore, we may examine today what this means for us in our own time and in our own place, in this our diocese. The Bishop is our visible and tangible link, through many generations, to Christ and his apostles, a teacher and a leader, a 'steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood' (CCC, 893), and therefore a governor of the local church. Above all, he is to us a friend and a guide in the ways of the Gospel, making visible to us today the circle of the Twelve, standing around the Lord.