"Un Ti Morceau"

"A Little Something," mini-lessons and reflections by our pastor, Father Paul Counce

Powers of a Bishop

Published November 09, 2014 by Fr. Paul Counce

In this series of ti morceaux, I’ve been expounding a bit on leadership in the Church. The ordinary shepherd of a diocese is its bishop. It will be useful to look in a bit more detail about how he fulfills his role.

Here’s a summary statement that we’ll expand over the next few morceaux: bishops fundamentally exercise two types of authority, their “power of holy orders” and their “power of governance” (also called “power of jurisdiction”). Using both kinds of authority, they lead the local Church entrusted to them in three broad areas: they teach, they sanctify and they govern.

The power of holy orders is usually pretty easy to understand. This is the power that a bishop obtains when he is ordained a bishop. By that ordination, bishops possess “the fullness of the priesthood,” so that in addition to those spiritual things which can be done by any priest (saying Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick) he also become the ordinary minister of the sacrament of confirmation and of course the only minister of the sacrament of holy orders. All this is explained in greater detail in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at nos. 1555-1561, esp. no. 1557.

Yet beyond being ordained to this high priesthood, a bishop also enjoys a particular power of governance. He obtains the authority of leadership over a portion of the flock of God, as well as a shared responsibility for the faith and unity of the Church throughout the world. In this role he is truly one of the true “successors of the apostles” (see CCC, nos. 861-862), that original group of witnesses of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection and “the foundation stones of the Church” (no. 860).

This jurisdiction possessed by the bishop means that even when he is not celebrating the sacraments, especially those unique to him, he nonetheless is still the shepherd, that is, the authoritative leader of the Christian faithful. He is the one who properly orders not only the sacred liturgy but also the other ministries and works of the local diocese, and collaborates with other bishops in guiding the wider Church. In my next morceau, I’ll elaborate on this a bit more.

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