Author: Dr Jenny O'Brien
In the Catholic Church there are three ‘levels’ ordination within the sacrament of Holy Orders: deacon, priest and bishop. The Second Vatican Council spoke of the bishop as having ‘the fullness of the sacrament of Orders and dedicated an entire Decree to the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church. So, as we prepare to welcome our new Archbishop, Patrick O’Regan, into the archdiocese of Adelaide we might be wondering exactly what a Bishop is, and how an Archbishop differs from an “ordinary” Bishop.
The primary role of any Bishop is to ensure that the work of Christ is carried on at the local level by caring for all the faithful entrusted to him in his particular diocese. Often the Bishop is referred to as the Chief Shepherd, since his ministry is modelled on that of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Immediately we can see that the role of the Bishop is not simply that of ‘governing’ a local Church, but of caring for it and nurturing it and enabling it to grow and flourish.
The ceremony in which a priest is ordained bishop contains a number of beautiful and very significant prayers. The open Book of the Gospels is placed upon the head of the Bishop-elect throughout the Prayer of Consecration, symbolising the primary place that the Word of God will have in the bishop’s life and his desire to put on completely the mind of Christ in everything that he does. The Prayer asks that he might carry out his office as a shepherd who cares for his flock, showing God’s mercy and compassion in the way that he forgives, assigns ministries within the diocese, and displays a gentle disposition.
Following the Prayer of Consecration the new bishop’s head is anointed with oil and then he is handed the Book of the Gospels with the mandate to “Receive the Gospel and preach the word of God with unfailing patience and sound teaching.”
So we see that the role of the Bishop is that of guardian, teacher and preacher. The “signs” of the Bishop’s office are the ring, the mitre and the pastoral staff or crozier. The ring indicates his commitment to be a faithful pastor and shepherd; the mitre is simply a special headdress that is worn during liturgical ceremonies; the crozier represents the shepherd’s crook and reminds the Bishop that he has been appointed to watch over the entire flock of the diocese.
Within every cathedral is the Bishop’s Chair (or cathedra from which we actually get the word ‘cathedral.’) This has a special significance since the person who sits in this chair is the one who unites this diocese with every other diocese in the universal Church. While we might be the diocese of Adelaide, we are part of the entire Catholic Church, and it is the Bishop who is the sign of this unity. (The presider’s chair in each of our parish churches similarly reminds us that through our parish priest we are united to our bishop and through the bishop to the rest of the world.)
So then, how does an Archbishop differ from a Bishop? Basically, it is because he heads a ‘team’ of bishops in a particular geographical area or province. In our case, Adelaide, Port Pirie and Darwin form such a province. Because Adelaide is the chief diocese, the Bishop of this diocese is given the title “Metropolitan Archbishop” and Bishops O’Kelly and Gauci are known as “Suffragan Bishops”(while still retaining full authority in their respective dioceses.)
Other symbols of the episcopate (the word that refers to being a bishop) are the pectoral cross, the magenta zucchetto (skullcap) and soutane. Every Bishop also has his own coat of arms, incorporating elements of the history of the diocese, his own family history and his spirituality. The motto that Archbishop O’Regan adopted when he became Bishop of Sale was “That God may be all in all.” This will now be altered to include references to the Church of Adelaide and to increase the number of tassles from six to ten on either side of the shield.
One particular insignia of the office of Archbishop is the pallium, a loose white band worn around the neck, made of lamb’s wool and decorated with a black cross on the front and the back, on each shoulder and on the ends of the two strips about 30 cm long that extend down the front and back. The pallium is worn over the chasuble and symbolises the link between the Pope and all the Archbishops around the world. It is normally presented to an Archbishop by the Pope on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (June 29).
There is a long tradition concerning the weaving and blessing of the pallia. Each year on the feast of St Agnes (January 21) two lambs are brought from Tre Fontane, the site of St Paul’s martyrdom, to the Basilica of St Agnes where they are blessed before being presented to the Pope. He in turn hands them over to the care of the Sisters who live next to the Basilica of St Cecilia in Trastevere. Just before Easter, the lambs are shorn and their wool is used to make the pallia for newly-appointed Archbishops.