MY CATHOLIC FAITH
LIX. The Hierarchy
The Church is a closely organized and united society, including the hierarchy and the faithful. All members render loving obedience to the infallible Vicar of Christ. The Pope does not rule as a proud monarch, but as a Father, the representative of God; as a good Shepherd, solicitous for each member of the great flock. The unquestioning obedience of the faithful is responsible for the wonderful unity among the members of the Church throughout the world. There are about four hundred twenty-five million Catholics, all submitting to the hierarchy, at the head of which is the Pope.
What is the hierarchy? –The hierarchy is the organization in successive grades of the ruling powers of the Church.
The hierarchy is the “teaching Church,” the ruling body composed of the priests with their bishops and the Pope above all. It is an army of leaders having care and control of the holy and sacred things of the Church.
Under this army of the “teaching Church” is the “hearing Church–the faithful, the laity.
The members of the hierarchy differ in two ways: in the power of orders, and in the power of jurisdiction.
The power of orders is given by the sacrament of ordination, It is the power to sanctify, a permanent spiritual power that no earthly authority can take away. The power of jurisdiction is given by a superior, to enable a subject to exercise his spiritual authority lawfully. This power may be limited and revoked by legitimate authority.
How do the members of the hierarchy differ in their power of orders? –The members of the hierarchy are divided into three classes with different power of orders: deacons, priests, and bishops.
This order of rank and power has been in force in the Church from the time of the Apostles. These three classes were foreshadowed in the high priest, priests, and Levites of the Old Law. They also had counterparts in Our Lord, the Apostles. and the disciples. Our Lord gave full powers to the twelve Apostles, but only limited power to the disciples.
Deacons can baptize, preach, and give Holy Communion.
The Apostles ordained the first deacons. The deacons were appointed by the Apostles to distribute alms and were consecrated by the laying on of hands accompanied by prayers (Acts 6:6).
Priests have higher orders than deacons. They can offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and forgive sins in the Sacrament of Penance. They can administer all sacraments except those of Confirmation and Holy Orders. With special faculties they may even administer Confirmation, in the Catholic Eastern Rites priests administer Confirmation immediately after Baptism.
Priests were prefigured in the seventy-two diciples of Our Lord. The word “priest” is derived from the Greek presbyter, which means “the elder” a term used by the first converted Jews.
Bishops have full power of orders; they are the successors of the Apostles. A bishop administers all the sacraments; he alone administers Holy Orders. He consecrates holy oils, churches, chalices, etc.
Archbishops, primates, patriarchs, and even the Pope himself have no fuller power of orders than a bishop of a missionary diocese.
How do the members of the hierarchy differ in the power of jurisdiction? –The members of the hierarchy are divided into many ranks according to the power of jurisdiction, the chief ranks being those of Pope, bishops, and parish priests.
These differences of rank and power are necessary for the proper government of the Church just as there are differences of rank and power in the civil government. Without them the Church would be a society without organization.
In organization the Church is like a vast army; the Pope, its visible head, is commander-in-chief of this army. He has jurisdiction and supreme and sovereign power and authority over the entire Church. He is formally addressed “Your Holiness.”
This is how one can easily find the True Church: “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” To show the variety and extent of the interests of the Church, in 1953 at the Vatican there are diplomatic representatives from forty-four nations.
The Cardinals are the Pope’s advisers and assistants; they are his ministers. He appoints them, and the number is not to exceed seventy. Together they form the Apostolic or Sacred College; it is this body that, in solemn conclave, chooses a new Pope when the See falls vacant.
The cardinals form the various congregations or committees in the Papal court, such as the Congregations of the Religious, of Rites, of the Sacraments, etc. In the past many cardinals only had the orders of deacon. The cardinals are distinguished by a red hat and mantle, as a sign that they will be loyal to the Pope at the cost of their blood. A cardinal is addressed “Your Eminence.”
Nuncios, internuncios, legates, and apostolic delegates are representatives or ambassadors of the Pope to different countries, courts, or occasions.
Minor representatives of the Holy See, sent for some special purposes to different places, are termed Apostolic Visitors. In the United States we have an Apostolic Delegate. Besides the ordinary powers he has as Apostolic Delegate, the Holy See has delegated to him extraordinary powers.
A patriarch is a bishop, successor of the Apostles, who holds the highest rank after the Pope, in jurisdiction. Patriarchs are independent of any ecclesiastical authority save that of the Pope, who is not only Patriarch of Rome, but Sovereign Pontiff, successor of Peter.
A patriarch ordains all the bishops of his patriarchate, summons synods, legislates on fasting and abstinence, reception of the sacraments, liturgy and ritual, and other observances. At present there are only five major or Greater Patriarchs; those of Rome, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. The title “Patriarch” is however given as an honorary title to archbishops of certain places.
Archbishops, bishops, and vicars-apostolic possess varying jurisdictions. They rule over archdioceses, dioceses, vicariates.
An archbishop and bishop are entitled “Most Reverend,” and formally addressed “Your Excellency.” The term Primate is now only an honorary title; formerly a Primate exercised jurisdiction over whole countries or several provinces.
Ordinarily an abbot is the superior of an abbey of Benedictines, Cistercians, or other monks. He is elected for life, and has complete authority in the abbey in accordance with the rules of his order.
Today the title “abbot” is also granted as a sign of honor; the benefice is some extinct foundation.
A monsignor is one who for some special merit has been raised above the ranks of the ordinary clergy, and thus joins the prelates; the title is honorary.
The term Monsignor is often used in addressing different degrees of prelates. But of the Monsignori proper there are several ranks: protonotaries apostolic, domestic prelates, etc. These are addressed “Right Reverend”; lower ranks, “Very Reverend.”