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Bishops are stewards of God's grace

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 11 November 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In speaking of the bishop's functions, the Second Vatican Council attributes to the bishop himself a beautiful title taken from the prayer of episcopal consecration in the Byzantine rite: "The bishop, marked with the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, is 'the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood'" (LG 26). Today's catechesis will treat this topic. It is related to that of the preceding catechesis on bishops as "heralds of the faith." Indeed, the service of proclaiming the Gospel is ordered to the service of grace in the Church's holy sacraments. As a minister of grace, the bishop exercises in the sacraments the service of sanctification ( munus sanctificandi ) which is the aim of the service of teaching ( munus docendi ) he fulfills among the People of God entrusted to him.

2. At the center of this sacramental service of the bishop is the Eucharist "which he offers or causes to be offered" (LG 26). The Council teaches: "Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop, to whom is committed the office of offering the worship of Christian religion to the divine majesty and of administering it in accordance with the Lord's commandments and the Church's laws, as further defined by his particular judgment for his diocese" (LG 26). The bishop thus appears to his people primarily as the man of the new and eternal worship of God that was instituted by Jesus Christ through the sacrifice of the cross and of the Last Supper; as the sacerdos et pontifex, in whom is seen the figure of Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharistic sacrifice, which the bishop, and the priest with him, offer in persona Christi [1] ; as the hierarch, concerned with celebrating the sacred mysteries of the altar, which he proclaims and explains in his preaching [2] .

3. In his function of celebrating the sacred mysteries, the bishop builds the Church as a communion in Christ. The Eucharist is the essential principle of life not only for the individual members of faithful, but also for the community in Christ itself. The faithful, gathered together by the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, form communities in which the Church of Christ is truly present, because they find and show forth their full unity in celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice. We read in the Council: "In any community of the altar, under the sacred ministry of the bishop, there is exhibited a symbol of that charity and "unity of the Mystical Body, without which there can be no salvation" [3] . In these communities, though frequently small and poor, or living in the Diaspora, Christ is present, and in virtue of his presence there is brought together one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. For 'the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ does nothing other than make us be transformed into that which we consume' [4] " (LG 26).

4. Consequently, among the bishop's basic tasks is that of providing the various communities of his diocese with the celebration of the Eucharist, according to the circumstances of time and place, in recalling Jesus' statement: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (Jn 6:53). We know the difficulties that are encountered in many regions of both the ancient and the new Christian churches in satisfying this need, due to a shortage of priests and for other reasons. But this fact makes the bishop, who is aware of his own duty to organize worship in his diocese, even more attentive to the problem of vocations and the wise distribution of available clergy. It is necessary to enable the largest number of the faithful to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration, which culminates in Communion. It is the bishop's responsibility also to care for the sick and the disabled who can receive the Eucharist only at home or wherever they are being cared for. Among all the demands of the pastoral ministry, diligent concern for the celebration and for what we might call the "apostolate of the Eucharist" is the most compelling and important.

5. What we said in regard to the Holy Eucharist can also be said of the whole sacramental service and sacramental life of the diocese. As we read in Lumen Gentium, the bishops "direct the conferring of Baptism, by which a sharing in the kingly priesthood of Christ is granted. They are the original ministers of Confirmation, dispensers of sacred Orders and the moderators of penitential discipline, and they earnestly exhort and instruct their people to carry out with faith and reverence their part in the liturgy and especially in the holy sacrifice of the Mass" (LG 26).

6. This conciliar text distinguishes between Baptism and Confirmation, two sacraments that are differentiated on the basis of the account in the Acts of the Apostles. This book says that the Twelve, still gathered together in Jerusalem, on hearing "that Samaria had accepted the word of God," sent them Peter and John, who "went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-17; cf. 1:5, 2:38). The imposition of hands by the two apostles for conferring the "gift of the Spirit," which Acts also calls the "gift of God" (Acts 8:20; cf. 2:38; 10:45; 11:17; Lk 11:9-13), is the basis for the Western Church's tradition which preserves and reserves the ministerial role in Confirmation to the bishop. As a successor of the apostles, the bishop is the ordinary minister of this sacrament and he is also its original minister, because chrism (the matter), which is an essential element of the sacramental rite, can be consecrated only by a bishop. In regard to Baptism, which the bishop usually does not administer personally, it should be remembered that this sacrament too comes under his effective direction.

7. Another duty of bishops is to confer sacred Orders and regulate the discipline of Penance, as the Council says in describing their pastoral responsibilities (cf. LG 26). According to this conciliar text, the bishop confers Holy Orders in the sense that he has the power to ordain. However, since this power is linked with the bishop's pastoral mission, he consequently has the responsibility, as we said, of promoting the development of priestly vocations and of providing good discipline for candidates to the priesthood. In regulating the discipline of Penance, the bishop oversees the conditions for administering the sacrament of forgiveness. We mention especially that he is supposed to enable the faithful to receive this sacrament by making confessors readily available.

8. Finally, the Council shows bishops the need of being examples and models of Christian life: "By the example of their way of life they must be an influence for good to those over whom they preside, refraining from all evil and, as far as they are able with God's help, exchanging evil for good, so that together with the flock committed to their care they may arrive at eternal life" (LG 26). This example of life is guided completely by the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. It is a way of living and acting based on the power of divine grace. It is a contagious, attractive and persuasive model that truly corresponds to the recommendations in the First Letter of Peter: "Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock" (1 Pet 5:2-3).

9. This last point is especially important in regard to selflessness, concern for the poor, total dedication to the good of souls and that of the Church. It is the example which, according to the Acts of the Apostles, was given by Paul, who said of himself: "In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35). In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians he also wrote: "In toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us" (2 Thess 3:8-9). Lastly, he urged the Corinthians: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1).

10. The bishop's mission as a "steward of grace" is great but arduous. He cannot fulfill it without prayer. We conclude, then, by saying that the bishop's life is made of prayer. He does not give merely a "witness of prayer," but of an interior life invigorated by the spirit of prayer as the source of all his ministry. No one is as aware as the bishop of the meaning of Christ's words to the apostles and through them to their successors: "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).

[1]   cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 78, a. 1; q. 82, a. 1
[2]   cf. Dionysius, De ecclesiastica hierarchia, p. III, 7; PG 3, 513; St. Thomas, Summa Theol., II-II, q. 184, a. 5
[3]   cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 73, a. 3
[4]   St. Leo the Great, Serm. 63, 7; PL 54, 357C

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je salue avec joie le groupe international de Frères des Écoles chrétiennes qui réfléchissent à la pastorale des vocations à partir de la pastorale des jeunes; je les encourage dans leur vie religieuse et dans leur tâche éducative qui est un précieux service ecclésial.

J’accueille aussi avec plaisir les pèlerins venus de Côte d’Ivoire et je leur offre mes vœux amicaux pour eux-mêmes et leurs communautés chrétiennes.

À toutes les personnes de langue française présentes ce matin, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am happy to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrimage groups from England, Scotland, the Philippines, Korea and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit der Bitte, Euren Bischöfen bei der Erfüllung ihrer Sen dung durch Gebet beizustehen, grübe ich Euch herzlich, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher. Einen besonderen Willkommensgrub richte ich an die Blindengruppe aus dem Internationalen Blindenzentrum Landschlacht in der Schweiz, an die Teilnehmer der Club 50 Seniorenreise aus Österreich sowie an die Studiengruppe der Katholischen Akademie in Hamburg.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Ahora deseo saludar cordialmente a todos los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular, al grupo de sacerdotes españoles de Valencia, ordenados por mí hace diez años. Saludo igualmente a los grupos de Argentina y Guatemala, así como al coro procedente de México y de Sudamérica. Aliento a todos a amar al propio Obispo y a colaborar activamente en su ministerio pastoral. Con afecto os imparto mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os fiéis de língua portuguesa aqui presentes, nomeadamente os Directores dos Institutos de Formação Profissional de Angola, Guiné-Bissau, Moçambique e São Tomé, e faço votos por que esta passagem por Roma traga benefício para o seu progresso humano e espiritual, e ao mesmo tempo reforce a própria fé na Igreja e nos seus Bispos que legitimamente representam o Papa, Vigário de Cristo na terra. 

Ai fedeli polacchi 

Pielgrzymi i uczestnicy tej audiencji z Polski są w następujących grupach: z Wadowic - z parafii św. Józefa ojców karmelitów, z Lublina - parafia św. Józefa i również parafia Dobrego Pasterza, z Rumii (archidiecezja gdańska) - parafia Św. Krzyża, z Opola-Szczepanowic - parafia św. Józefa, z Brzegu - parafia Miłosierdzia Bożego, prócz tego grupa z Domu Pomocy Społecznej w Brosławicach, grupa pracowników Zakładów “Centro-Stal” z Wrocławia oraz grupy turystyczne z Bielska-Białej, z Opola, z Katowic, z Warszawy i poza tym inni uczestnicy tej audiencji, pochodzący z kraju lub z emigracji. 

Ai pellegrini italiani 

Rivolgo ora il mio cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini italiani. In particolare, saluto le Suore Capitolari di Santa Elisabetta, riunite a Roma per il Capitolo Generale: lo Spirito Santo illumini le vostre menti e sostenga il vostro lavoro per un sempre più generoso servizio ai fratelli ammalati o bisognosi.

Accolgo, inoltre, con gioia i membri della Pia Opera “La Piccola Casetta di Nazareth”, nel ricordo della mia visita, due anni or sono, al Santuario mariano di Casapesenna. Maria Santissima e San Giuseppe assistano sempre la vostra attività in favore dei bambini più disagiati. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Carissimi giovani, malati e sposi novelli. Oggi la Liturgia celebra la memoria di San Martino, Vescovo di Tours. Desidero richiamare alla vostra mente la figura di questo grande Pastore della Chiesa antica, il quale si distinse per l’evangelica carità verso i poveri e gli emarginati. San Martino insegni a voi, giovani, ad essere sempre più generosi e coraggiosi nella fede; lui, che operò tante guarigioni, conforti e sostenga voi, malati; e illumini anche voi, sposi novelli, per costruire la vostra famiglia sul fondamento della verità e della carità. A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

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