Ascension, Cardinal Dolan, Mary, Prayer, Episcopacy & The New Bishop of Brentwood

At this stage, I hope you've read the title of this post and are thinking to yourself, "I can't wait to see how he joins these things together!". I've given myself a bit of a job eh? In reality, this may well provide you with some insight as to the way in which my mind wanders from one thing to another, as it sketches out my thoughts over the course of a couple of days.

If you enjoyed Father Kevin's homily on the Ascension, as well as my own, rather melancholic reflections, you might well be interested in the irrepressible, rambunctious, Cardinal Timothy Dolan's blog from yesterday:
What did the bewildered, scared, confused apostles do upon Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven? They took our Blessed Mother Mary, locked themselves into a room, and . . . prayed! That prayer demanded perseverance, because it took nine days for Jesus to reply. The response He gave to that patient prayer of His Mother and best friends was beyond their most exalted hopes: the Holy Spirit! God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit, and, the Church was born on Pentecost.
That’s what prayer can accomplish. The Church was founded by Jesus as a reply to the trusting prayer of His disciples; The Church is in the business of prayer.
Our Pentecost Prayer – - “Come, Holy Spirit!” – - will be particularly fervent, as we hold up the needs of these three leaders.
His words particularly struck me as we in Brentwood Diocese await the episcopal ordination of our new Bishop, Alan Williams, on the 1st of July.

You see, I continue to ponder, with great fascination, the Marian link; Walsingham, The Ordinariate, the Marists, England's return to Mary, to Walsingham, to pray...Our diocese will, going forward, have a Marian Bishop, who's devotion to, and trust in, our blessed Mother is widely attested to by all who know him.

This is hugely important because a Marian dimension and Mariology in the Church are simply another expression aspect of the centrality of Christ in the faith and life of the Church. One needs only examine the early Church councils to see the way in which complex Christological doctrine was often illuminated through a study or consideration of the Marian dimension (for more on this, type Theotokos into the search bar at the top of my blog, or see here for example). Mariology helps us to comprehend what is truly unique about the Incarnation.

We all prayed so hard for this, and it is very difficult for me to be cynical about the outcome. Perhaps the fact that Bishop-elect Alan was such a surprise choice for the diocese serves to double my confidence that our prayers have indeed been answered?

In many ways, the bishop is more important for a diocese than even the pope. He is our Apostle, a successor to the Apostles. Ordained by fellow bishops, who were themselves ordained by fellow bishops, each of whom can trace a direct, unbroken line of ordination back to the Apostles, a condition known as "apostolic succession."

Just as each of the Apostles went forth from Jerusalem to spread the Word of God by founding local churches, of which they became the head, so, too, the bishop today is the visible source of unity in his diocese, his local church. He is responsible for the spiritual and, to a certain extent, even the physical care of those in his diocese—first the Christians, but also anyone residing therein. He rules his diocese as a portion of the universal Church.

The first duty of the bishop is the spiritual welfare of those who reside in his diocese. That includes preaching the Gospel not only to the converted but, even more importantly, to the unconverted. In the day-to-day matters of life, the bishop guides his flock, to help them better understand the Christian faith and concretely translate it into action. He ordains priests and deacons to assist him in preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments.

Vatican II examined the nature of the episcopacy and, in The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, implied a return to the patristic ecclesiology according to which each local church (that is, each community celebrating an authentic Eucharist, is the Catholic Church (L.G. 26). The universal Church is the communion of all these local churches, the koinonia (κοινωνία - Gk, "communion") of all the Catholic Churches.

This is crucial for the theology of episcopacy. Where the dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus of Vatican I explained the church in its earthly form starting from its "head" the bishop of Rome, Vatican II examines it starting from the bishops who, taken together as a whole, comprise the foundation of the universal Church (L.G. 19). The local bishops are the authentic vicars of the Church:
"The bishops, as vicars and legates of Christ, govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations and example, but over and above that also by the authority and sacred power which indeed they exercise exclusively for the spiritual development of their flock in truth and holiness, keeping in mind that he who is greater should become the lesser, and he who is the leader as the servant (cf. Luke 22: 26-27). This power, which they exercise personally in the name of Christ, is proper, ordinary, and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church and can be confined within certain limits should the usefulness of the Church and the faithful require that. In virtue if this power bishops have a sacred right and a duty before The Lord of legislating for and of passing judgement on their subjects, as well as of regulating everything that concerns the good order of divine worship and of the apostalate.
The pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted to them completely; nor are they to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called "prelates," heads of the people whom they govern. Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it, since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church."
(LG 27).
Accordingly, the bishops are the "heads" of the Church (LG18), the pontiffs (LG 21), the "shepherds" (LG 20). The fullness of the ministry which builds, leads and guides the whole Church belongs to the college of bishops as such, following in the wake of the mission entrusted to the apostles as a group (LG 20, 21).

Historically, Ignatius of Antioch (around 105) is perhaps the oldest source who attributes to the bishop (episkopos) the key office in the life of the local church. His articulation of the service (episkopē) that bishops are supposed to accomplish is coherent with the view we find in the other documents of the immediate post-apostolic period which emphasise three essential elements of the Christian κοινωνία which had to be preserved in every local church:
  • The apostolic teaching (grounded in the apostolic witness), grounded in a faithful preservation and transmission of what had been "received" since the beginning: the deposit of faith or fides quae--the faith of those who had seen the Lord, received, and "understood" His teaching. From the beginning the bishop appears as the guardian of the apostolic tradition in his local church. He has the mandate to remain in the faith it recognised in him when it chose him to be its pastor.
  • The bishop also has to keep the local church in the real communion of life and mission, crucial especially for two reasons. First, the great variety of charisms given by the Spirit to different members of the community. All these gifts were for the service and common good  of the local church. They needed to be tested, coordinated, kept in harmony. The other reason was the presence in the community of members of diverse social classes, ages, races, professions, sexes, cultures. Being baptised they had to be one, in order to love concretely as reconciled children of God. Given the evident link between the essential message of the apostolic tradition and the life in communion--grounded in the fact that Christ Jesus had been at the same time the one who preached the Gospel of God and the one who gathered together in unity the scattered children of God--it was normal to have the same person as guardian of the apostolic faith in the local church and focus of its life in reconciliation and unity.
  • Eucharist: there is only one true Eucharist; the one over which the bishop (or one of his delegates) presides (cf Ignace, Smyrn VIII, 2; Magn VII, 2; Philad IV, 1). For where the Eucharist is celebrated, the true nature and structure of the local church is manifested, this church, which is the κοινωνία in the body of Christ of all Christians of this place, with their gifts and their differences. The role of the bishop in the Eucharist is so important that, during the first centuries, when the Sunday Eucharist was presided over in a parish by one of the presbyters, a portion of the Eucharistic bread consecrated by the bishop in his cathedral (and sent to the parish) was put into the chalice. Even today the name of the bishop has to be mentioned in the Canon.
The Pope's mission is unity in faith "in order that reat really (ut vero) the episcopate itself be one and undivided," and consequently the churches (Vatican I, cf DS 3050). He is the first among the bishops precisely because he is the servant of the local church which is the guardian of the supreme confession of the apostolic faith. And this faith is the ultimate ground of Christian κοινωνία. A local bishop, then, is not the vicar of the bishop of Rome. He is, strictly speaking, a member of the episcopal college, serving his local church in full fidelity to the apostolic faith confessed by Peter and Paul and over which the bishop of Rome has to watch in order to preserve and foster Christian κοινωνία.

The bishop, then, can, in a most profound way, cause his diocese; his local church, to flourish, confident and vibrant in the faith, or whither and die in disarray and confusion, overcome by Pope Francis' three "half-hearted" groups: the "uniformists," "alternativists" and "businessists." I know from the little bit of work I have done for the diocese how everyone looks to the bishop for pretty much everything! He must find a way to love the people (agape) and most importantly, his priests. He must inspire us, keep us from error, lead us to God.

I do not envy bishop-elect Alan, do you? To rise to this challenge will require, more than anything else, our love, support, and prayer. So I ask everyone reading this to spare even a moment and offer a prayer for Alan Williams, bishop-elect of Brentwood Diocese. I feel a growing sense of joy surrounding this appointment and I do honestly believe it is going to be brilliant for Brentwood. Thank you Alan Williams for having the courage to answers God's call, and thanks be to God for sending you to us!


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