The homily will give us many insights as to the Church’s notion of episcopal ministry. Notice how many times the pope is mentioned in comparison to the college of bishops and other theological realities.
18. Then the principal consecrator, while all are sitting, briefly addresses the clergy, people, and the bishop-elect on the duties of a bishop. He may use these words:
Consider carefully the position in the Church to which our brother is about to be raised. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father to redeem the human race, in turn sent twelve apostles into the world. These men were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and gather every race and people into a single flock to be guided and governed in the way of holiness. Because this service was to continue to the end of time, the apostles selected others to help them. By the laying on of hands which confers the sacrament of orders in its fullness, the apostles passed on the gift of the Holy Spirit which they themselves had received from Christ. In that way, by a succession of bishops unbroken from one generation to the next, the powers conferred in the beginning were handed down, and the work of the Savior lives and grows in our time.
Note a few things. The homily begins with a brief history, the rootedness of the episcopal ministry in the office of the apostles. Episcopal succession is mentioned, less a hereditary or nepotistic tradition, but more a linking to the actual ministry and intent of Christ. The centrality of Christ is preached:
In the person of the bishop, with his priests around him, Jesus Christ, the Lord, who became High Priest for ever, is present among you. Through the ministry of the bishop, Christ himself continues to proclaim the Gospel and to confer the mysteries of faith on those who believe. Through the fatherly action of the bishop, Christ adds new members to his body. Through the bishop’s wisdom and prudence, Christ guides you in your earthly pilgrimage toward eternal happiness.
Read how the ministry of the bishop unfolds: Jesus is present in the bishop when he stands with his priests. The first ministry is to believers, “conferring the mysteries of faith.” (The celebration of the sacraments, primarily.) The second is evangelization. The third is spiritual guidance.
Let’s keep reading, as the homilist continues with a personal message to the people:
Gladly and gratefully, therefore, receive our brother whom we are about to accept into the college of bishops by the laying on of hands. Respect him as a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. He has been entrusted with the task of witnessing to the truth of the Gospel and fostering a spirit of justice and holiness. Remember the words of Christ spoken to the apostles: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me.”
He then addresses the bishop-elect:
You, dear brother, have been chosen by the Lord. Remember that you are chosen from among men and appointed to act for men and women in relation to God. The title of bishop is one not of honor but of function, and therefore a bishop should strive to serve rather than to rule. Such is the counsel of the Master: the greater should behave as is he were the least, and the leader as if he were the one who serves. Proclaim the message whether it is welcome or unwelcome; correct error with unfailing patience and teaching. Pray and offer sacrifice for the people committed to your care and so draw every kind of grace for them from the overflowing holiness of Christ.
Function and service rather than honor and rule. Even in prayer, the bishop is to be solicitous of grace for the faithful in his care.
The bishop exercises an authentic pastoral care:
As a steward of the mysteries of Christ in the church entrusted to you, be a faithful overseer and guardian. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, always be mindful of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.
Then a list of specifics, starting with three calls to love:
As a father and a brother, love all those whom God places in your care.
Love the priests and deacons who share with you the ministry of Christ.
Love the poor and infirm, strangers and the homeless.
What is the bishop’s posture with his laity? Encourage them and listen to them:
Encourage the faithful to work with you in your apostolic task; listen willingly to what they have to say.
Never relax your concern for those who do not yet belong to the one fold of Christ; they too are commended to you in the Lord.
The emphasis is on the college of bishops, not the bishop as branch manager under a pope-CEO:
Never forget that in the Catholic Church, made one by the bond of Christian love, you are incorporated into the college of bishops.
What does the college of bishops mean? It certainly isn’t a conference of parochial interests:
You should therefore have a constant concern for all the churches and gladly come to the aid and support of churches in need.
A connection between the function of the bishop and the Holy Trinity:
Attend to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit appoints you an overseer of the Church of God-in the name of the Father, whose image you personify in the Church-and in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, whose role of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd you undertake–and in the name of the Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church of Christ and supports our weakness with his strength.
No doubt, the Catholic Church suffers from a certain disconnect between what is preached in this particular homily and how the ministry of the bishop is perhaps undermined by certain ecclesial developments: an over-powered curia, the minimizing of episcopal conferences, usurpation of the proper role of bishops overseeing liturgy. Of course, the bishops as a group hav emostly allowed this to happen. And they have been beset by a timid management style. Not to mention occasional immoral and criminal misconduct.
Yet the ideals remain.