+ A.M.D.G. +


1. The bishops are the successors of the apostles.

This is the express teaching of the Vatican Council. The bishops differ only from the apostles in having a limited jurisdiction, while the mission of the apostles was to the whole world; moreover the apostles were personally infallible in their teaching, and having an extraordinary mission they had extraordinary gifts, such as infallibility, the gift of tongues, and miracles.

The bishops have the following powers: They guide that portion of the Church assigned to them by the Pope, and assist him in the government of the universal Church.

From apostolic times bishops were appointed to single sees, e.g., Titus to Crete (Tit. i. 5). These divisions of the Church are called sees or dioceses; some of them are very large. Paris, for example, contains more than 3,000,000 souls. The duties of a bishop are to educate candidates for the priesthood, to create and confer offices in the Church, to gave faculties to confessors, to see to the religious education of his flock, to revise books written on religious subjects, to settle the days of fasting, etc. In addition he confers the Sacraments of Confirmation and Orders, reserves certain sins to his own jurisdiction, consecrates churches, chalices, the holy oils, etc. Each bishop has also the right of voting in general councils.

The bishops are not merely assistants to the Pope, but they are actually guides of the Church.

They are the shepherds of their respective flocks (Vatican Council, 4, 3) and are appointed by the Holy Ghost to rule the Church of God (Acts xx. 28). They are also called “princes of the Church,” and since they have ordinary or immediate jurisdiction they are often called “Ordinaries.” They are assisted by a number of canons, who make up the body called the chapter; one of these canons becomes vicar capitular if the see becomes vacant, and governs the diocese till a new bishop be elected. The bishop himself usually appoints the chapter, in rare instances the Pope or the archbishop. Many bishops have an assistant in the form of a coadjutor-bishop or a vicar-general. “The dignity of a bishop,” says St. Ambrose, “is higher than that of a king.” The privileges of the order are as follows: The right to wear a mitre, the sign of his leadership, and to carry a crosier, which is curved at the end in sign of his limited jurisdiction. He also wears a ring, symbolical of his union with the diocese, and a pectoral cross. The faithful kiss his hand, and he is addressed by the Pope as brother, because as bishop he has the same rank as the Pope.

The bishops are subject to the Pope and owe him obedience.

The Pope gives their jurisdiction to the bishops; and no bishop may exercise his office before being recognized and confirmed by the Pope. He is obliged also to go to Rome (ad limina apostolorum) to report on the state of his diocese. An appeal may always be made from a bishop to the Pope. Bishops, such as the Greek or Anglican, who decline submission to the Pope, are neither members of the Church, nor have they jurisdiction, even where they have valid orders.

Archbishops or metropolitans are bishops who have powers over other bishops.

Some have the privilege of wearing the pallium, a white strip of wool on the shoulders symbolical of gentleness and humility. The Primate is a still higher dignitary, and is the bishop of the whole nation. Above him in rank is the Patriarch or Exarch, who in former times was set over the metropolitans. The Bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome were patriarchs, because these sees were founded by St. Peter. In our days the titles patriarch and Primate signify nothing more than a precedence of dignity; they are not of divine institution. There are also others of the clergy who are termed prelates; some of them enjoy most or all of the powers of bishops, and are called vicars apostolic. There are others whose title is merely honorary.

2. The priests are the assistants of the bishops.

They receive their Orders from the bishop, and so are his spiritual sons; and their business is to carry out the commands of the bishop; even when called in to assist at councils, they do not vote as judges but only as counsellors, nor have they powers to excommunicate.

The priests have only a portion of the episcopal power, and their office may be exercised only with sanction from the bishop.

This sanction is called the canonical mission (missio canonica). The dress of the priest is a soutane, or black garment reaching to the feet.

Parish priests are those to whom the bishop has confided permanently the charge of a district.

The district is called a parish. Dean is the title given to parish priests of larger districts. In the assignment of a parish the bishop usually shows some consideration for the wishes of the patron or patrons, i.e., the person or persons who have been and are conspicuous benefactors in the district. The parish priest is the representative of the bishop, and no one may, without his leave, exercise spiritual functions in the parish, such as preaching, baptizing, giving extreme unction, marrying, and burying.

Parish priests who are appointed by the bishop over the priests of a large district are called rural deans.

They make a visitation of the parishes and act as intermediaries with the bishop.

Parish priests of larger districts have assistants, or curates.
3. A Catholic is one who has been baptized and professes himself to be a member of the Catholic Church.

The Church is a community into which admittance is gained by Baptism. Thus the three thousand baptized on the first Pentecost became members of the Church (Acts ii. 41). Moreover a man must make external profession of being a member of the Church, so that any one who breaks away, for instance, by heresy, no longer belongs to the Church in spite of his baptism, though he is not thereby freed from his obligations to the Church. Neither heathens, Jews, heretics, nor schismatics are members of the Church (Council of Florence), though children baptized validly in other communions really belong to it. “For,” as St. Augustine says, “Baptism is the privilege of the true Church, and so the benefits which flow from Baptism are necessarily fruits which belong only to the true Church. Children baptized in other communions cease to be members of the Church only when, after reaching the age of reason, they make formal profession of heresy, as, for example, by receiving communion in a non-Catholic church.” The Christians were at first known by the name of Nazareans, from Nazareth, or Galileans, from Galilee; it was first in Antioch that the name Christian came to be in use (Acts xi. 26), and the name Christians is appropriate. We are followers of Christ, willing to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. viii. 29). “We receive our name,” says St. John Chrysostom, “not from an earthly ruler, nor from an angel, nor from an archangel, nor from a seraphim, but from the King of all the earth.”

A true Catholic is not only one who has been baptized and belongs to the Church, but who also makes serious efforts to secure his eternal salvation; who believes the teaching of the Church, keeps the commandments of God, and of the Church, who receives the sacraments, and prays to God in the manner prescribed by Christ.

He is not a true Christian who is ignorant of his faith. Such a one might as well call himself a doctor though knowing nothing of medicine. “Nor is he a true Christian,” says St. Justin, “who does not live as Christ taught him to live.” Our Lord said to the Jews: “If you be the children of Abraham do the works of Abraham” (John viii. 39), and He might say to the Christians “If you be Christians do the works of Christ.” “If you want to be a Christian,” says St. Gregory Nazianzen, “you must live the life of Christ;” and St. Augustine: “A true Christian is the man who is gentle, good, and merciful to all, and shares his bread with the poor.” Christ Himself said that His disciples should be known by their love one for another (John xiii. 35). A Christian who neglects the sacraments is like a soldier who has no weapons; what a responsibility he incurs! Louis of Granada says, “A field which is well tended is expected to yield a richer harvest; so more good works are expected from a Christian than from a heathen, because the Christian has greater graces.”

Every Catholic has rights and duties. He has an especial claim to the means of grace supplied by the Church, and he is obliged to obey his ecclesiastical superiors in spiritual matters, and to make provision for their support as well as for that of God’s service.

A good Catholic ought also to hear the word of God, receive the necessary sacraments, take part in divine service, and he has a right to Christian burial, etc. The Church forces nobody to enter its pale, but whoever becomes a member of his own free will, and remains so, must be subject to the laws of the Church. Under certain circumstances those who disobey the laws of the Church are excommunicated or shut out from the Church. They lose their claim to the spiritual goods of the Church; they may not join in the divine service, nor receive the sacraments, nor an office in the Church, nor Christian burial. Some offenses involve excommunication ipso facto; for instance, apostasy, dueling, freemasonry (Pius IX., October 12, 1869). In other cases the excommunication must be formally pronounced, and that, too, after warning and trial, as in the case of the Old Catholic bishops Eeinkens and Bellinger. St. Ambrose for bade the Emperor Theodosius to enter the Church after the latter had, by his orders, caused the slaughter of some seven thousand people in Thessalonica; and it was only after doing severe penance that he was admitted. We know, too, that St. Paul cut off from the Church a vicious Corinthian (1 Cor. v. 13). The State exercises a similar power in banishing criminals.


This article, 3. BISHOPS, PRIESTS, THE FAITHFUL is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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