January 2019 Print

Consecration of a Bishop

by Fr. Christopher Danel


The rite of Consecration of a bishop developed from its germinal phase in the Apostolic age, which one can glimpse even in the Acts of the Apostles regarding the consecration of Sts. Paul and Barnabas at Antioch. By the 10th century, a few elements of Gallican origin had been incorporated, which appear in the Pontificale Romano-Germanicum. This edition was closely followed by Monsignor Guillaume Durand (+1296) in the compilation of his Pontifical which is the immediate predecessor of the Tridentine Pontifical. The gradual and organic development of the rite over the centuries served to bring into greater relief the importance and symbolism of the various elements associated with the Episcopal office and dignity.

Preliminaries of the Rite

It was long the custom at Rome that the pope would consecrate bishops alone, while in other parts of the Church provincial bishops would assist. Thus the Consecrator alone is the essential minister of the Sacrament, as reiterated in 1944 by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Consecrationis, although the Pontifical calls for two assistant bishops to be present in ordinary circumstances. The matter of the sacrament, likewise defined by Pius XII in 1947 in Sacramentum Ordinis, is the imposition of hands (cheirotonía) by the Consecrator, and the form of the sacrament is: Comple in Sacerdote tuo ministerii tui summam, et ornamentis totius glorificationis instructum coelestis unguenti rore santifica (Perfect in Thy priest the fullness of thy ministry and, clothing him in all the ornaments of spiritual glorification, sanctify him with the Heavenly anointing).

The Consecration itself takes place after the Gradual of the Mass. The Consecrator celebrates Mass at the main altar, while the bishop-elect celebrates the beginning of the Mass through the Offertory in a side chapel or at a side altar. For the remainder of the Mass, after his consecration, he concelebrates the Mass standing on the side of the Main altar.

The Postulation and Oath

At the beginning of the ceremony, the bishop-elect, vested in white cope, is led to the main altar between the two assistant bishops, and is then seated at a little distance from the Consecrator, facing him. The Postulation is made by the senior assistant bishop: “Most Reverend Father, our holy Mother the Catholic Church, asks that you promote this priest here present to the burden of the episcopate.” The reading of the Mandate follows, and then the oath of fidelity of the bishop-elect. The elect pledges fidelity to blessed Peter the apostle, to the holy Roman Church, and to the pope and his successors. He pledges to pursue and fight against heretics and schismatics. He pledges to make his ad limina visits and to exercise a careful custody of the ecclesiastical goods entrusted to him.

The Examination

The Consecrator then examines the bishop-elect on his life, on his words and example, his obedience, virtues, chastity, sobriety, detachment from the world, humility, patience, mercy, and charity. He proceeds to examine the bishop-elect more specifically on matters of the Catholic Faith, including precise questions on the Holy Trinity and each Divine Person thereof, and on the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The rejection of some elements of Gnosticism and Manicheism attest to the antiquity of the text, which dates to the 5th or 6th century. The Consecrator continues, “Do you believe that the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is the one true Church in which there is but one true baptism and the true remission of all sins?” “I believe.” “Do you also anathematize every heresy that shall arise against this holy Catholic Church?” “I do anathematize it.” “Do you believe also that God and the Lord Almighty is the sole author of the New and Old Testaments, of the Law, and of the Prophets, and of the Apostles?” “I do believe.”

The assistant bishops then lead the bishop-elect to his side altar, where he is vested in Pontifical vestments and celebrates the first part of the Mass there.

Admonition and Litany

The Gradual being finished, the assistant bishops again lead the bishop-elect to the Consecrator, who gives him the admonition regarding the Order he is to receive. This occurs in ordinations to every rank, with the admonitions of subdiaconate, diaconate, and priesthood being extensive. The admonition in this consecration rite is unusually terse, consisting of only ten words; it is simply a line taken from a letter of St. Isidore of Seville (+636): “A bishop judges, interprets, consecrates, ordains, offers, baptizes and confirms.”

The Litany of the Saints is then sung, with the bishop-elect lying prostrate before the altar. Towards the end, the Consecrator rises, turns towards the bishop-elect, holding the crozier in his left hand and chants in the tone of the litanies, first: That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to + bless this Elect here present. He says a second time: That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to + bless and + sanctify this Elect here present. He says a third time: That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to + bless and + sanctify and + consecrate this Elect here present.

The litany finished, the bishop-elect kneels before the Consecrator at the altar steps. The Consecrator, with the aid of the assistant bishops, taking the open book of the Gospels, saying nothing, lays it upon the neck and shoulders of the bishop-elect, so that the printed page touches the neck. One of the chaplains kneels behind, supporting the book throughout the remainder of the rite until it must be given into the hands of the bishop-elect.

Matter and Form

Then the Consecrator touches with both hands the head of the one to be consecrated saying: “Receive the Holy Ghost.” The assistant bishops then do and say likewise, and then quietly pronounce the remainder of the rite along with the Consecrator. The Consecrator then gives a blessing and proceeds to chant the special Preface which concludes with the form of the Sacrament.

“It is truly worthy and just, right and profitable unto salvation that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, honor of all dignities which serve unto Thy glory in sacred orders.” He extolls the examples of Moses and Aaron in the fulfillment of the ordinances of God regarding divine worship. He continues, “And therefore we beseech Thee, O Lord, give bountifully this grace to this Thy servant, whom Thou hast chosen to the ministry of the supreme priesthood, so that what things soever those vestments signify by the refulgence of gold, the splendor of jewels, and the variety of diversified works, these may shine forth in his character and his actions. Perfect in Thy priest the fullness of thy ministry and, clothing him in all the ornaments of spiritual glorification, sanctify him with the heavenly anointing.”

The Unctions

The Veni Creator is begun, and the head of the bishop-elect is bound with a long linen strip. The bishop-elect comes before the Consecrator, who dips the thumb of his right hand in the holy chrism and anoints the head of the bishop-elect kneeling before him, making first the sign of the cross on the crown, then anointing the rest of the crown, saying in the meanwhile: “May thy head be anointed and consecrated by heavenly benediction in the pontifical order.”

Having completed the anointing, the Consecrator continues in the same tone as before, saying: “May this, O Lord, flow abundantly upon his head, may this run down upon his cheeks, may this extend unto the extremities of his whole body, so that inwardly he may be filled with the power of Thy spirit, and outwardly may be clothed with that same spirit. May constant faith, pure love, sincere piety abound in him. […] Give to him, O Lord, the keys of the kingdom of Heaven […]. Let him who shall curse him, himself be accursed, and let him who shall bless him be filled with blessings. Let him be the faithful and prudent servant whom Thou dost set, O Lord, over Thy household, so that he may give them food in due season, and prove himself a perfect man. […] Let him not put light for darkness, nor darkness for light: let him not call evil good, nor good evil. […]Be his authority, be his power, be his strength. Multiply upon him Thy + blessing and Thy grace, so that by Thy gift he may be fitted for always obtaining Thy mercy, and by Thy grace may be faithful.”

After an antiphon, Unguentum in capite, another long linen strip is placed on the neck of the bishop-elect. The Consecrator anoints with chrism the hands of the bishop-elect in the form of a cross, and afterwards he anoints the entire palms of the bishop-elect, saying: “May these hands be anointed with the sanctified oil and the chrism of sanctification, as Samuel anointed David to be King and Prophet; so may they be anointed and consecrated. In the name of God the + Father, and the + Son, and the Holy + Ghost, making the image of the Holy cross of Our Savior Jesus Christ, Who has redeemed us from death and led us to the kingdom of Heaven. Hear us, O loving, Almighty Father, Eternal God, and grant that we may obtain what we ask for. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Sitting down, he continues: “May God and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath Himself willed to elevate thee to the dignity of the Episcopate, bedew thee with chrism and with the liquor of mystic ointment, and make thee fruitful with the richness of spiritual + benediction: Whatsoever you shall + bless may it be blessed, and whatsoever you shall sanctify may it be sanctified; and may the imposition of this consecrated hand or thumb be profitable in all things unto salvation. Amen.” After this, the one consecrated joins both hands, the right resting upon the left, and places them upon the cloth hanging from his neck.

The Crozier, Ring, and Gospels

The Consecrator then blesses the new bishop’s crozier, saying: “O God, who dost sustain human weakness, bless + this staff: and in the clemency of Thy merciful kindness, operate inwardly in the manners of this Thy servant, what it outwardly designates. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.” He confers it to the one consecrated, who is kneeling before him, and who receives it between the index and middle fingers, the hands remaining joined, while the Consecrator says: “Receive the staff of the pastoral office, so that in the correction of vices you may be lovingly severe, giving judgment without wrath, softening the minds of your hearers whilst fostering virtues, not neglecting strictness of discipline through love of tranquility. Amen.”

The Consecrator blesses the new bishop’s ring, saying: “O Lord, Creator and Preserver of the human race, Giver of spiritual grace, Bestower of eternal salvation, do Thou send forth Thy + blessing upon this ring; so that whosoever shall be adorned with this sign of holiest fidelity, it may avail him by the power of heavenly protection unto eternal life. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.” He places the ring on the ring finger of the right hand of the one consecrated, saying: “Receive the ring, the symbol of fidelity, in order that, adorned with unspotted faith, you may keep inviolably the Spouse of God, namely, His Holy Church. Amen.”

Then the Consecrator takes the book of the Gospels from the shoulders of the one consecrated, and with the aid of the assistant bishops, hands it closed to the one consecrated, the latter touching it without opening his hands, whilst the Consecrator says: “Receive the Gospel and go preach to the people committed to thee, for God is powerful to increase his grace in thee, He who liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.”

Finally the Consecrator receives the one consecrated to the kiss of peace. The assistant bishops each do likewise, saying to the one consecrated: Pax tibi. Then the one consecrated, between the assistant bishops, returns to his side altar, where, while he is seated, his head and hands are cleansed with some bread, lemon, and with a clean cloth. Then he goes on with the Mass up to the Offertory inclusive. The Consecrator does the same at the main altar.

The Oblations

The Offertory having been said, the Consecrator sits at the faldstool before the middle of the altar, and the one consecrated, coming from his side altar, kneels before the Consecrator and offers to him two lighted torches, two loaves of bread and two small barrels of wine, and kisses reverently the hands of the Consecrator receiving the above gifts. The bread and the wine casks are ornamented, two with silver decorations and two with gold, bearing the escutcheons of the Consecrator and of the bishop elect.

Then the Consecrator goes to the altar and the one consecrated also goes to the Epistle side of the same altar: there, standing between the assistant bishops, having before him his Missal, he says and does with the Consecrator everything as in the Missal. One host is prepared to be consecrated for the Consecrator and the one consecrated, and wine sufficient for both is placed in the chalice.

Pax and Communion

After the Agnus Dei, the Consecrator gives the Pax to the one consecrated and to the assistant bishops. Then after the Consecrator has consumed the Body of the Lord, he does not entirely consume the blood, but only a portion, and before he takes the purification, he communicates the one consecrated, who stands with bowed head and not genuflecting, first giving him the Body and then the Blood. After the ablutions, the one consecrated, with his assistant bishops, goes to the other corner of the altar, namely, the Gospel side, and there continues the Mass while the Consecrator does the same at the Epistle side.

The Mitre and Gloves

After the Ite Missa est and the blessing, the Consecrator sits on the faldstool which has been placed before the middle of the altar: the one consecrated kneels before him. The Consecrator blesses the mitre, and then places it on the head of the one consecrated, saying: “We, O Lord, place on the head of this Thy bishop and champion, the helmet of protection and salvation, so that his face being adorned and his head armed with the horns of both testaments, he may seem terrible to the opponents of truth, and through the indulgence of Thy grace may be their sturdy adversary, Thou Who didst mark with the brightest rays of Thy splendor and truth the countenance of Moses Thy servant, ornamented from his fellowship with Thy word: and didst order the tiara to be placed on the head of Aaron thy high priest. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Then the Consecrator blesses the gloves, saying: “O Almighty Creator, Who hast given to man fashioned after Thy image, hands notable for their formation, as an organ of intelligence for correct workmanship: which Thou hast commanded to be kept clean, so that the soul might worthily be carried in them and Thy mysteries worthily consecrated by them, vouchsafe to + bless and + sanctify these hand coverings, so that whosoever of Thy ministers, the holy Bishops, shall humbly wish to cover their hands with these, Thy mercy shall accord to him cleanness of heart as well as of deed. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

The Consecrator places the gloves on the hands of the one consecrated, saying: “Encompass, O Lord, the hands of this Thy minister with the cleanness of the new man who descended from Heaven, so that as Thy beloved Jacob, his hands covered with the skins of young goats, implored and received the paternal benediction, having offered to his Father most agreeable food and drink, so also this one may deserve to implore and to receive the benediction of Thy grace by means of the saving host offered by his hands. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who in the likeness of sinful flesh, offered Himself to Thee for us.”

Enthronement, Blessings, and Conclusion

Then the Consecrator rises and takes the one consecrated by the right hand, and the senior assistant bishop takes him by the left, and they enthrone him by placing him sitting on the faldstool from which the Consecrator has risen, or if the ceremony be performed in the Church of the one consecrated, they enthrone him on the throne, and the Consecrator places in his left hand the pastoral staff.

Then the Consecrator intones the Te Deum. At the beginning of the hymn, the one consecrated is led by the assistant bishops around the Church, and he blesses everyone.

Following the Te Deum, after one final antiphon, Firmetur manus tua, the Consecrator chants a prayer for the newly-consecrated bishop, who then proceeds to give the blessing in the Episcopal form for the first time, beginning with Sit nomen Domini benedictum.

Then the new bishop gives a triple blessing to the Consecrator in an usual form. As the Consecrator stands at the Gospel corner, the one consecrated advances to him from the Epistle side, genuflecting thrice, and auguring each time many years of life to the Consecrator: “Ad multos annos!” This is followed by the kiss of peace and the Mass concludes with the final procession, as both Consecrator and consecrated recite the Last Gospel as they recede.