Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pope Benedict on Apostolic Succession

Apostolic succession was the subject of Benedict XVI's catechesis at this morning's general audience, held in St. Peter's Square in the presence of 50,000 people.

(Interestingly, I am currently reading the Episcopate and the Primacy which he wrote in 1962 with Karl Rahner)

"The Church, which came into being at Jesus' will and around Him, continues her journey through history," said the Pope. "The Twelve ... involved others in the functions with which they themselves were entrusted, so that those others could continue the ministry. ... Just as at the beginning of the apostolic condition there is a call and an invitation from the Risen One, so the call and invitation of others, ... from those who are already within the apostolic ministry, will be the way by which the ministry of the 'episcope' is passed on."

"In this way," the Holy Father continued, "the succession of the episcopal function is ... a guarantee of the endurance of apostolic tradition. The link between the college of bishops and the original community of the Apostles may be seen, above all, as a form of historical continuity. ... However, continuity may also be considered in a spiritual sense, because apostolic succession in the ministry is a privileged place for the action and transmission of the Holy Spirit."

Benedict XVI then went on to quote the words of St. Irenaeus on the origins of the Church, "founded and constituted in Rome by the most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul," highlighting "the tradition of faith that ... comes down to us from the Apostles through the succession of bishops."

"Episcopal succession - verified on the basis of communion with the succession of the Church of Rome - is therefore the criterion of adherence of individual Churches to the tradition of apostolic faith, ... which has come down to us from the origins."

According to the ancient Church, the Pope explained, "the apostolicity of ecclesial communion consists in faithfulness to the faith and practice of the Apostles themselves, through whom the historical and spiritual link of the Church with Christ is guaranteed. ... What the Apostles represent in the relationship between the Lord Jesus and the early Church, is similarly represented by the ministerial succession in the relationship between the early Church and the modern Church.

"This is not a merely material link," Pope Benedict concluded, "rather it is a historical instrument that the Spirit uses to make the Lord Jesus present as the leader of His people."

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