ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
41. The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent.
Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God's holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers .
I had to do some scurrying about the library and the internet for follow-up to Paragraph 41 on the identity and function of bishops. The best summary for further reading is Chapter XII of our old friend Joseph Martos’ Doors to the Sacred (2014) which hopefully you own or have read. Martos provides an excellent bibliography for those undertaking deeper research or analysis. Martos notes in his work (pp. 528-31) that the Catechism, with its emphasis on the powers of Holy Orders, does not do full justice to the Council’s teachings on the service involved in episcopal and priestly ministry, something for catechists and teachers to bear in mind.
Given the nature of this stream as an introduction to Sacrosanctum Concilium, I will contain myself to the debate and the document which is supposed to be guiding the apostolic governance of the Church today. Every objective study of the Council takes note of the matter of “unfinished business” dating back to 1870, when the Council Vatican I declared the infallibility of the papacy. Pius IX had hoped to reconvene the Council; it was abruptly halted due to the Franco-Prussian War and the seizure of Rome by the King of Italy. There is, in fact, documentation that Otto von Bismarck entertained the idea of continuing Vatican I in the relative safety of Germany, but Pius IX never reconvened it. The “unfinished business” was a document on the nature of the Church, including the exercise of episcopal ministry.
Thus, for about a century the centralizing of Church governance from Rome on all matters—juridical and doctrinal—went forward with no formal theology or organizational participation of the local churches around the world. Bishops may have enjoyed prestige in their home dioceses, but there was not widespread contentment with their individual dealings with Rome. There was distress that the theology in play prior to Vatican II placed all Apostolic power in the hands of the pope, and that bishops enjoyed their authority purely at the pleasure of the pope. Many bishops and theologians at Vatican II noted correctly that the “great commissioning[TB1] ” to preach the Gospel to the whole world had been conferred upon all the apostles, not just Peter. Their argument rested on the premise that ordination brought to the bishop a share in the Apostolic authority of the Church by ordination itself, and not simply by papal designation.
There was a human component of tension among the bishops as well, specifically their treatment by the Curia. The centralization of papal power at Vatican I led, not surprisingly, to the enhancement of the Vatican bureaucracy. The Curia outlasted its popes and became something of an entity of governance almost exclusive of the sitting pope, and certainly independent of the universal college of bishops. One need only remember the 1959 day when Pope John XXIII announced the calling of the Second Vatican Council to his curial cardinals, who responded in the dead silence of disapproval. Local bishops depended upon the Curia for a wide range of matters, and in the minutes of the Council we see complaints about what Americans would call “red tape.” The response to such complaints was the standard answer that the Curia was updating its technology, i.e., adding phones.
Aside from the fact that the Curia had no demonstrable standing in Scripture or Tradition, the fathers of Vatican II turned to the roots of Church history. Paragraph 41 of SC cites St. Ignatius of Antioch (footnote 35) as its primary source here. St. Ignatius (d. 107 A.D.), one of the most authoritative and revered leaders of the early post-apostolic era, is credited by many as the primary advocate of the “monarchical episcopate,” the idea of a local urban church governed by a bishop, true successor of the apostles, in the fashion that para. 41 describes here.
The Encyclopedia Britannica summarizes Ignatius’ theology of episcopal call: “On this earth the bishop represents to his church the true bishop, Christ. Union with the bishop in belief and worship means union with Christ. Those who in a spirit of pride break away from the bishop destroy that union. The unity of the church with its monarchical structure is for Ignatius a concrete realization already on earth of the future life in Christ; authority within the church has not yet become for him a principle of institutional discipline. Ignatius used, for the first time in Christian literature, the expression “catholic church,” meaning the whole church that is one and the same wherever there is a Christian congregation.” During Vatican II there was considerable discussion about how much weight should be afforded Ignatius, given that the Catholic Church’s authority structure had grown considerably more centralized after the Reformation. Ignatius is given preeminence here in SC as a counterbalance to extreme centralization.
SC makes the point that a local church (what we would call a diocese today) finds its center at the Eucharistic banquet presided over by the bishop, “the high priest of his flock.” There is considerable emphasis upon the “wholeness” of the local church. A diocese is a self-sustaining entity in which all the necessary components of the Apostolic mission and the means of redemption are present. This is not congregationalism, because all local bishops exercise their ministries in communion with fellow bishops around the world, in union with the bishop of the Mother See of the Church, the Bishop of Rome. Para. 41 places emphasis upon the sacramental sign of the bishop as a successor to the apostles gathering his ministers and people about him in a true unity of faith.
Unfortunately, multiple factors make the episcopal sacrament of orders a difficult one to visibly manifest. In the fourteen years of growing up in Buffalo, I never laid eyes on Bishop Burke, and I lived in the city limits. (I was confirmed by a visiting missionary bishop raising funds to buy a new jeep; my pastor paid him $5/head.) My catechesis emphasized the priesthood, not the episcopacy. This was not unusual for the time; the bishop’s public dealings were limited to Confirmations (which in Buffalo could be celebrated by auxiliaries or “sub-contractors), major fund campaigns, and perhaps most of all, transfers of pastors and associates. It is literally true that the nexus of bishop and clergy is the stuff of novels, from The Edge of Loneliness to The Cardinal Sins.
At the time of Vatican II priests defined themselves in part by their relationship with their bishops. As an impressionable altar boy, I can recall one associate telling me he was not going to repay his seminary student loan to the sitting bishop; another, sadly, told me he was now the oldest assistant pastor in the diocese [i.e., passed over for promotion by the bishop.] Clearly the symbol of para. 41—the bishop sharing the Body of Christ with his priests and ministers—is intended to convey the model of episcopal leadership as intimate and fraternal, and at the time of its promulgation in 1963 indicated a sea change in the episcopal model from administrator to servant. The bibliography of Martos’ book includes a wide variety of assessments as to how para. 41 has changed or not changed the atmosphere of diocesan life. In the United States, I think, a good number of bishops exercise a warm and pastoral approach to ministry; there are a fair number, too, who approach their responsibilities with varying degrees of narcissism.
I can add this postscript: this coming week I will be on retreat with the senior and retired priests of this diocese, by invitation of my bishop. So, in case he’s reading, “You’re one of the good guys!” And he is.