Along the Way Deacon Rohrbacher Local News and Stories

Understanding the Rite of Ordination

By: Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

In the lead up to Bishop Andrew Bellisario’s ordination on October 10th, I heard a lot of people frequently refer to this event as his consecration or his installation. Not a huge deal of course, because in fact, in one of those great both/and moments for which the Church is famous, he was at once consecrated and ordained as a bishop and by virtue of his ordination and consecration, installed as the sixth bishop of Juneau.

But it got me thinking about why the Church in its wisdom speaks of ordaining and consecrating its bishops, especially given that a bishop has already been ordained first as a deacon, and then as a priest. If he has already been ordained twice, why ordain him a third time?

The answer takes us back to the ancient Church, when presbyters (and in some instances, deacons) were consecrated as bishops, that is, set aside by the power of the Holy Spirit through the laying-on of hands for the office of bishop. Although our bishops have always been consecrated, it was only after the Second Vatican Council that the Church has stressed that a new bishop is ordained a bishop, receiving through his episcopal ordination, the fulness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) at no. 28 states:

“The divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different Orders by those who even from antiquity have been called Bishops, Priests and Deacons.” The Dogmatic Constitution goes on to state: “[Bishops], through the Holy Spirit who has been given them [at Ordination] have been made true and authentic teachers and shepherds of the faith.”

The ordination rite for bishops has a number of elements that are common to the ordination of deacons and priests (such as the presentation of the candidate to the ordaining or consecrating bishop; the Promises of the Elect; the Litany of Supplication during which the clergy and faithful kneeling in prayer alongside the prostrate candidate pray for the intercession of Mary and the saints; the laying-on of hands; the Prayer of Consecration, the Presentation of the Gospel and the Kiss of Peace.

However, there are several elements of the rite that are unique to the ordination of a bishop. To begin with, the ordination itself does not occur simply within the context of the local diocese or even the United States. Rather, it is a matter involving the universal Church, as it is the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, who has selected (through his representatives) and appointed the new bishop. For this reason, his ordination requires the written mandate of the Apostolic See, which, following a set formula spells out the one appointed as bishop of the local Church, in Bishop Andrew’s case, of the Diocese of Juneau.

In the ordination of a deacon or a priest, those responsible for the formation of the candidate testify in the rite to his worthiness. But in the ordination of a bishop, the apostolic mandate itself testifies to the worthiness of the candidate, as determined by the Holy Father himself.

As with the ordination of a deacon or a priest, the gift of the Holy Spirit is called down upon the one being consecrated by the laying-on of hands. This imposition of hands, done in complete silence by each of the bishops, one-by-one, confers upon the new bishop the grace he will need to be a good and wise shepherd to the people of his diocese.

Then follows (as is the case with the ordination of deacons and priests) the Prayer of Ordination. For the rest of the rite, the bishop-elect kneels as a sign of humility and devotion, even as he is being elevated, as it were, to a new dignity of service in and for Christ.

It is through the laying-on of hands and consecration that the new bishop, through the power of the Holy Spirit and as a successor to the apostles, receives the fulness of Holy Orders and the authority to teach, govern and sanctify. At Bishop Andrew’s ordination, the conferral of the fulness of Holy Orders was signified by his being vested in the distinctive vestment of the deacon, the dalmatic, worn underneath the chasuble and stole worn by priests and bishops.

At his ordination as a priest, Bishop Andrew’s hands were anointed by the consecrating bishop with sacred chrism. The bishop then placed the chalice and paten, containing the elements of bread and wine in his hands, symbolizing his new role as a priest sharing in the ministry of the bishop in offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.

At his episcopal ordination, after the laying-on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination, the principal consecrating bishop then anointed Bishop Andrew’s head with sacred chrism, while saying these words: “May God, who has made you a sharer of the High Priesthood of Christ, himself pour out upon you the oil of mystical anointing and make you fruitful with an abundance of spiritual blessings.” Called from among the holy people of God, each of whom was anointed priest, prophet and king with sacred chrism at baptism and confirmation, the new bishop by this anointing will act in the person of Christ the High Priest on behalf of the people entrusted to him by God.

When Bishop Andrew was ordained a deacon, his bishop placed the Book of the Gospels in his hands and said to him:

“Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

To underscore the pre-eminent obligation of the bishop to proclaim and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, the principal consecrating bishop once more presents the Book of the Gospels to the new bishop, instructing him to “receive the Gospel and preach the word of God with all patience and sound teaching.”

The principal consecrating bishop then placed the insignia of the office of bishop on Bishop Andrew. First the ring, a symbol, as in marriage and religious profession, of lifelong fidelity. Then the miter, a symbol of the “splendor of holiness” that should characterize a bishop’s life as well as the crown of glory to which he and all the faithful aspire to deserve in the world to come.

Lastly, he placed the shepherd’s staff (or crosier) in his hands, symbolizing his duty to “keep watch over the whole flock” entrusted to his care. Then, wearing his pontifical insignia of ring, miter and crosier, Bishop Andrew was escorted to his chair (cathedra) to take possession of his diocese as its new bishop. In this, as in every diaconal or priestly ordination, one is ordained, not for oneself but to serve a particular community, in communion, both with those who one is called to serve, with one’s bishop or superior (or the Holy Father in the case of bishops) and with one’s brother deacons, priests and bishops.

So for this reason, Bishop Andrew’s ordination rite concluded with the Kiss of Peace exchanged with his brother bishops, as a sign sealing and confirming his admittance into the College of Bishops.

At each step of the Rite of Ordination, Bishop Andrew and all of the clergy and faithful in attendance were reminded continually that every bishop is consecrated to be a servant-leader, meant to embody in his words, actions and example, right doctrine, right conduct, compassion, mercy and above all, charity. As St. Augustine famously told the people entrusted to him, “With you I am a Christian. For you, I am a bishop.” May God bless Bishop Andrew as he begins this new chapter in his long service to Christ and his holy people.

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