Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part 27

27. Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them (58*) by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser and he who is the chief become as the servant.(169) This power, which they personally exercise in Christ’s name, is proper, ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful. In virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate.

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.(59*) Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it,(60*) since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church.

A bishop, since he is sent by the Father to govern his family, must keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister,(170) and to lay down his life for his sheep.(171) Being taken from among men, and himself beset with weakness, he is able to have compassion on the ignorant and erring.(172) Let him not refuse to listen to his subjects, whom he cherishes as his true sons and exhorts to cooperate readily with him. As having one day to render an account for their souls,(173) he takes care of them by his prayer, preaching, and all the works of charity, and not only of them but also of those who are not yet of the one flock, who also are commended to him in the Lord. Since, like Paul the Apostle, he is debtor to all men, let him be ready to preach the Gospel to all,(174) and to urge his faithful to apostolic and missionary activity. But the faithful must cling to their bishop, as the Church does to Christ, and Jesus Christ to the Father, so that all may be of one mind through unity,(61*) and abound to the glory of God.(175)

169 Cf. Lk. 22:26-27.

170 Cf. Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45.

171 Cf. Jn. 10:11.

172 Cf. Heb. 5:1-2.

173 Cf. Heb. 13:17.

174 Cf. Rom. 1:14-15.

175 Cf. 1 Cor. 4:15.

(58) Benedictus XIV, Br. Romana Ecclesia, 5 oct. 1752, p 1: Bullarium Benedicti XIV, t. IV, Romae, 1758, 21: . Episcopus Christi typum gerit, Eiusque munere fungitur. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., p. 211: . Assignatos sibi greges singuli singulos Christi nomine pascunt et regunt.

(59) Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl. Satis cognitum, 29 iun. 1896: ASS 28 (1895-96) p. 732. Idem, Epist. Officio sanctissimo, 22 dec. 1887: AAS 20 (1887) p. 264. Pius IX itt. Apost. ad Episcopol Geraniae, 12 mart. 1875, et alloc. onsist., 15 mart. 187S: Denz. 112-3117, in nova ed. tantum.

(60) Conc. Vat. I, Const. dogm. Pastor aeternus, 3: Denz. 1828 ( 3061) . Cfr. Relatio Zinelli: Mand 1 2, 1114 D.

(61) Cfr. S. Ignatius M., ad ephes. 5, 1: ed. Funk, I, p. 216.

 

Three things strike me, especially, about this paragraph. First is the admonition of Christ that those in leadership in His Church ought to regard themselves as servants, just as He regarded Himself. “I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22:27b). Christ came to serve, to offer His life as a sacrifice for the sake of the entire world. Just so, the bishop is to offer his life – his life of counsel, exhortation, example, authority and sacred power – for the sake of the particular church given to him.

Second, is the fact that bishops are not vicars of the Roman Pontiff. Rather, they are vicars of Christ. They are true successors of the apostles and, as such, hold true authority to teach, govern, and sanctify the faithful in their respective dioceses.

Third is the image of the bishop as the good shepherd of his diocese. In imitation of the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep, the bishop ought to be one who is among his people, as one of them, who walks with them, listens to them, exhorts and encourages them, sometimes admonishes them, but always and in all things desiring only to guide them to Christ. The bishop possesses the full power and authority of the Catholic priesthood. Pope Francis said of priests, “This is what I am asking you – be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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