May 2013 Print

Why We Need Bishops

The order of the episcopacy is an integral part of the sacrament of Holy Orders just like the major orders of the Subdiaconate, Diaconate, and the Priesthood.

“The function of episcopal consecration in the Church is the faithful transmission of the sources of grace to the souls of the faithful.” In fact none but the bishop can ordain priests.“The Bishop is the one who gives the priest; the Bishop not only engenders the life of grace, but also the priest who communicates the life of grace; not only is the Bishop the leader of those who believe and obey, but also the leader of those who have the responsibility of preaching and exacting obedience to the Faith.”

From this point of view the bishop is absolutely a father in Holy Mother Church, the father of all fathers—the priests—and thus the very principle of the life of grace and the life of faith. He is the perfect representative of Christ.

Without the bishop, Christ would no longer be present on earth. He is the one who realizes in himself the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “For although you have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet you have not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus through the Gospel did I beget you” (I Cor. 4:15).

So now we understand why we say that the bishop has the fullness of the priesthood; he is fully a father and the source of the sanctification of souls. Priests can only be supernaturally effective in their ministry in dependence upon their bishop who ordained them or his representative in the episcopate. The priest is a father by participation.

The Chrism Mass

During Holy Week, one of the most magnificent liturgical events is the Chrism Mass on the morning of Maundy Thursday, celebrated by the bishop in the presence of his clergy which demonstrates their unity with him. During this splendid ceremony the Holy Oils used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction are solemnly blessed and consecrated by the bishop.

Chrism is the Greek word for “anointing” and now refers to the oil used in the administration of some of the sacraments.

Those to be confirmed by the bishop after the laying on of hands are anointed with Holy Chrism; newly ordained priests are anointed on the palms of their hands with the same oil; bishops on their tonsured heads are anointed during their consecration with chrism. The other oils consecrated on this day are the oil of catechumens and that of the sick.

Chrism is also used to anoint the consecration crosses on the walls of a church and is also poured on the altar when it is consecrated. Chrism is required for the consecration of chalices and patens. Baptismal water also has chrism—olive oil and balsam—poured into it, along with oil of catechumens, on Holy Saturday night.

The Chrism Mass is celebrated by the bishop and in attendance are twelve priests, seven deacons, and seven subdeacons who participate in the elaborate ceremony.

These Holy Oils are in fact employed in almost all the sacraments. They are also used and instituted by the Church for consecrations—the consecration of kings and prophets.

They serve also in the consecration of those things that are closely connected with the confection of the sacraments, such as the chalice, the paten, the altar stone, and the church, because all these objects have a divine character. These things serve to transmit the divine life to us.

—Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

Chrismal Mass in Ecône, April 19, 1984


The sacred duties of a priest mark him as a special man. Catholics trust their priests with the knowledge of their secret sins; they believe in his power to give the pardon of God. Most importantly, the priest works the great miracle of the Mass, changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Where does this power come from? Only God can forgive sins. Only God can work a miracle. Obviously, then, this power comes from God. Jesus Christ instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper when He said to his Apostles: “Do this in commemoration of Me.” The Apostles became priests and bishops.

Today, the bishops of the Catholic Church have this same power. It has been handed down from bishop to bishop since the time of the Apostles in unbroken succession, and they confer power on the men whom they ordain as priests. The candidates are trained for many years. Gradually simple powers are bestowed with the tonsure and the minor orders. The subdiaconate and the diaconate bring a man in close contact with the priests in sacramental actions. Finally, by the imposition of the hands of the bishop, a deacon is raised to the dignity of the sacred priesthood.


In a few moments you will see in the ceremony that the bishop is going to perform a particularly fine expression of the transmission of the gift of fortitude. It is expressed by the imposition of hands. It is conveyed by the sign of the cross the bishop traces on your forehead with the Holy Chrism; this signifies in particular the vigor, the robustness, the Christian needs.

Then the bishop gives you a light slap on the cheek to indicate that you have to resist all the powers of Hell that try to snatch from you this grace.

See how the Church truly is a good Mother who teaches us through her ceremonies, the words she pronounces over those who receive the grace of the sacrament.”

—Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre,

Dec. 7, 1975, Confirmation

Strong in the Faith

Why isn’t every Catholic a saint? It is the goal, definitely, for all Catholics, whatever their walk in life. We live the life of grace after our baptism if we do not lose it by mortal sin. Even such sins are pardoned in confession, and we begin again in grace. But we are weak, and we need extra help.

The sacrament of confirmation aids us in a special way to profess our faith, by words and actions, as perfect Christians. During the ceremony, the bishop takes the holy oil of chrism and rubs a cross on the forehead of the person he confirms. For a moment it shines there, glistening and moist. Oil soaks into the skin; likewise the effects of this sacrament soak into us. Ever after, we ought to show the world that we are Catholics, strong in the Faith.

After we are confirmed, we have more than enough strength to resist temptation, to control our excessive desires, and manifest our love for our neighbors. God will help us, permanently, through the grace of this sacrament. The perfect Christian life is not an option; it is our chief aim in life. Confirmation is a great help on the way to Heaven.

Consecration of Church and Altar — Removed from Common Use

The Council of Trent formally decreed that Holy Mass should not be celebrated in any place except a consecrated or blessed church. It is thus the wish of the Church, despite changing times and circumstances, that at least cathedrals and parish churches should be consecrated in a solemn fashion.

By consecration we mean a liturgical act whereby a thing is removed from common and profane usage and henceforth dedicated solely to the service and worship of God. The ordinary minister of consecration is the bishop of the diocese, but he can delegate another bishop to perform the ceremony.

The essence of the consecration of a church consists in the anointing of the twelve crosses on the inside walls with the form “Let this temple be sanctified and consecrated.” These crosses can never be removed, and beneath each one is fixed a candle holder. On the eve of the consecration the bishop places relics of martyrs in a reliquary. These relics are to be placed in the altar stone along with three grains of incense and a written attestation on parchment. At least two candles are kept alight all night before the reliquary.

On the morrow, at the beginning of the ceremony, the candles beneath the twelve crosses on the inside walls are lighted. The bishop goes around the outside of the church three times sprinkling water and taps three times with the base of the crozier on the main door of the church. He prays a verse of a psalm to which the deacon inside responds.

Once inside the church the bishop traces in the ashes spread on the floor the letters of both the Greek and Latin alphabet. The bishop also traces the form of the cross over the floor of the church. The bishop also blesses the walls with the Gregorian water—a mixture of salt, water, ashes and wine—and this he does three times. The pillars on each side of the main door are anointed three times with the Holy Chrism as well as the twelve candles. The altar in which the relics have been placed and in which five crosses have been traced is sprinkled with water seven times.