Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
We profess in the Creed that the Church is apostolic, as well as being one, holy and catholic. By describing one of her essential marks as apostolic, we mean that she owes her origins to the Apostles, those original Twelve whom the Lord Jesus chose to be his closest companions and disciples.
As privileged eye-witnesses, they received and handed on the account of the words and deeds of the Lord which we call the ‘deposit of faith’, and what theologians often term ‘Scripture and Tradition.’
Those who follow and succeed the Apostles are responsible in their turn for safeguarding the integrity of this deposit of faith, and for passing it on to succeeding generations of believers. With Pope Francis, the successor of Peter, the ‘college of bishops’ takes the place of those first Apostles and continue their work of proclaiming and witnessing to the gospel of Christ.
I was reminded of this essential truth of our faith when I attended, for the Diocese of Lancaster, the ordination of two new auxiliary bishops last Monday for the Diocese of Westminster. Cardinal Vincent Nichols was the chief celebrant at the ordination Mass of Bishops John Wilson and Paul McAleenan in a packed Westminster Cathedral.
The rite of episcopal ordination is rich in symbols, each of which conveys an important aspect of the office of bishop. After the invocation of the saints, each concelebrating bishop lays his hands in silence on the head of the candidate, a gesture signifying that the person is now becoming part of that college of bishops, and who will continue the apostolic succession.
The ‘laying on of hands’ is a very old religious rite and dates back to biblical times, signifying membership of a body.
The new bishop is anointed on the head with the oil of chrism, configuring him in a particular way to Christ who is the anointed one of God. As Christ was anointed for his mission by the Holy Spirit, the bishop likewise shares in that same spiritual anointing.
A profoundly impressive symbol takes place when the book of the gospels is held over the head of the person made bishop, meaning that his rule of life must be first and foremost to teach the gospel.
The bishop is also given a ring and told to care for the bride of Christ, to whom he is now betrothed, reflecting Christ as the spouse of the Church. The mitre, representing a priestly headdress going back to the days of Moses and Aaron, is placed on his head as a sign that as bishop he represents an ancient priestly and biblical tradition in his office as bishop.
Finally, the newly ordained bishop is given a staff or crozier, to remind him that he will stand in the place of the Good Shepherd, Christ himself, in his selfless care and protection for the particular portion of Christ’s flock entrusted to him.
The ordination of a new bishop is always an occasion of grace, joy and hope, and the happy ceremony in Westminster Cathedral on Monday was no exception. Christ continues to be present in the life of his Church and his people.
The ministry of bishops guarantees that the truth and salvation he came to bring us, and won by his cross, is constantly made offered to each passing generation of believers until he finally returns in glory. We wish the newly-ordained Bishops Wilson and McAleenan every blessing as they assume their ministry of chief shepherds after the heart of Christ.
An occasion and ceremony of an altogether different kind took place last Wednesday afternoon at Cardinal Newman (Sixth Form) College in Preston when I blessed a new extension, dedicated to the patronage of St. Francis.
This recent addition will serve as a centre for the teaching of Maths and Sociology, with other amenities for the rapidly expanding student body, not least a fine cafeteria!
I had the pleasure of cutting the ribbon of the new building with a distinguished past student of the College and a graduate of Cambridge University, and who is now a veterinary surgeon.
Given St. Francis’ affection for animals, it was highly appropriate that someone who cares professionally for the welfare of animals should have a role in the opening of this new block. The fact that she was a past pupil enhanced the occasion.
Although these two events – the ordination of bishops and the blessing of a college extension – appear to unrelated, that is not quite the case. Christ was present and very much part of both!
The new bishops will have the task of passing on the Christian Catholic faith, while Newman College will continue to teach many different subjects to present and future students but always within the context of our Catholic faith and tradition. May the life and work of the Church in all its spheres continue to flourish!
With every good wish and prayer for the week ahead,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster