With the pending installation of Bishop Paul Etienne of Cheyenne, Wyoming, as the new archbishop of Anchorage, the unique role of a bishop in the Catholic Church will be visibly celebrated in the Nov. 9 installation Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage. There, Archbishop Etienne will assume leadership of the Anchorage Archdiocese as the faithful acknowledge the ancient Catholic teaching that the fullness of holy orders, in all its powers and responsibilities, rests in the hands of the local bishop.
“Amongst those various offices which have been exercised in the church from the earliest times, the chief place, according to the witness of tradition, is held by the function of those who, through their appointment to the dignity and responsibility of bishop, and in virtue consequently of the unbroken succession going back to the beginning, are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line,” teaches the Second Vatican Council document, “Lumen Gentium.”
In the earliest days of the church there were only bishops. As the church expanded, however, bishops needed assistance and therefore ordained men to help them meet the sacramental needs of a growing church. These assistants served under their bishop as priests.
But still, today, only bishops can ordain men priests or fellow bishops.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in order to fulfill their mission, the Twelve Apostles were “endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and by the imposition of hands they passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit, which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration.”
When a priest is elevated to the role of a bishop, “the grace of the Holy Spirit is given, and a sacred character is impressed in such wise that bishops, in an eminent and visible manner, take the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd, and priest, and act as his representative,” the Catechism explains.
The collegial role of bishops around the world, acting in unison to pass on the faith to each generation is “evidenced among other ways by the church’s ancient practice which calls for several bishops to participate in the consecration of a new bishop,” the Catechism notes.
In order to be lawfully ordained, a bishop must also be approved by the pope “because he is the supreme visible bond of the communion of the particular churches in the one church and the guarantor of their freedom,” the Catechism teaches.
Furthermore, as Christ’s vicars on earth, each bishop has the pastoral care of the particular region entrusted to him, but at the same time bears collegially with all his brother bishops to bring the good news of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
The relationship between bishops is born out of this unity which the church aims to foster.
While all bishops govern their own dioceses independently, the nearby archbishop helps to ensure that individual dioceses are in unity with one another and with the pope in Rome.
Generally, nearby dioceses are grouped together around a local archdiocese. In Alaska the bishops in Juneau and Fairbanks are linked with the Anchorage archbishop.
Together, these men are the apostles to Alaska and embody the highest expression of holy orders in the state.
Because of these considerations, the church teaches that when the Eucharist is celebrated by a bishop or archbishop it “has a quite special significance as an expression of the church gathered around the altar, with the one who represents Christ, the Good Shepherd and Head of his Church, presiding.”