Catholic CornucopiadCheney

III. The Bishops and the Diocesan Clergy

The Externals of the Catholic Church

The Archishops. After the Cardinals come the Archbishops, and of these there are several grades. Certain prelates have the rank of “Greater Patriarchs”; they are the Archbishops of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. Besides these there are several others to whom the honorary title of Patriarch is given, such as the Archbishops of Venice and of Lisbon. A step lower in dignity than these come the “Primates,” or Archbishops to whom this honorary rank has been given; they formerly exercised authority over the dioceses of a whole country or over several provinces. A “Metropolitan” is an Archbishop who has certain rights and jurisdiction over a province, that is, a number of dioceses, and over the bishops who rule them. A “Titular Archbishop” is one who rules a single diocese only, or who has merely the title of some extinct archdiocese.

All these grades of dignity, of course, add nothing to the sacred Order which the holder has received. He is a Bishop, whether he bear the title of Patriarch, Primate, Metropolitan, Archbishop or simple Bishop.

The Archbishop’s Insignia The heraldic arms of an Archbishop are surmounted by a double or four-armed cross, and this form of cross is carried before him in solemn processions. After his elevation to the archiepiscopal rank he receives from the Sovereign Pontiff the “pallium,” a vestment consisting of a band of white wool worn on the shoulders, having two pendant ribbons hanging therefrom, and ornamented with four purple crosses.

An Archbishop is spoken of as “Most Reverend,” and is addressed as “Your Grace.”

The Bishops. Next come the Bishops, who preside over the individual dioceses, and this they do by divine right, for the Episcopate of our Church, as well as the Papacy, was instituted by Jesus Christ. Bishops are divided into two classes —"Diocesan Bishops,” who rule a certain allotted territory called a diocese, and “Titular Bishops,” who bear the title of a diocese but have no jurisdiction over it. These latter may be commissioned by the Holy See as “Auxiliary Bishops” or “Coadjutors,” to assist the Bishop of a diocese. The term “Coadjutor Bishop” is usually employed to designate one who has the right to succeed the Bishop whom he is appointed to aid. Archbishops and Bishops who are merely “Titular” receive their titles, in many cases, from ancient sees in regions that are not now Catholic; therefore they are known as Archbishops or Bishops “in partibus infidelium” — that is, in infidel lands. The Bishop of a diocese which is a part of a province is called a Provincial or “Suffragan” Bishop. In countries having no dioceses, the territory is governed by a “Vicar Apostolic” or a “Prefect Apostolic.” Any ruler of a diocese is called its “Ordinary.”

The Visit “Ad Limina.” Every Archbishop and Bishop in charge of a diocese is obliged at certain intervals to visit Rome and make a report to the Pope. This rendering an account of his stewardship is known as the visit “ad limina,” or to the threshold, and is to be made every three years by Bishops who live near Rome; every four years by other Europeans, and every five years by those who rule over more distant sees. Our American Bishops were, until lately, obliged to make their visit only every tenth year, but they have been notified to do so hereafter at intervals of five years.

The Choosing of a Bishop. In the first days of the Church, and for some time afterward, the appointing of a Bishop was a very simple matter. The Acts of the Apostles tell us of the first election to the episcopate. When the place of the traitor Judas was to be filled, the eleven Apostles selected two candidates, and then left the result to God’s providence, drawing lots to see who was to be the new shepherd of the flock of Christ; “and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven Apostles.” But in later ages it was seen that there was great need of care and deliberation in choosing these rulers in the Church of God, these guardians and leaders of His flock.

The Election of Bishops. The method of choosing bishops varies in different countries, and, by a recent decree, has been changed in regard to the United States of America. Formerly the nomination of candidates was made by a “terna,” or list of three names, proposed and voted on at a meeting of the diocesan consultors and permanent rectors, presided over by the administrator of the vacant diocese, and afterward by a meeting of the bishops of the province. These proceedings necessarily entailed much delay; and hence the new method has been put into effect, as follows:

The bishop of each diocese secretly communicates with each of the consultors and permanent rectors, and (if he wishes) with other priests, and obtains from each the name of the priest who is, in the opinion of the proposer, worthy of the episcopal dignity. Every second year, about the beginning of Lent, the bishop sends the said name or names to the archbishop of the province, who adds his own candidates, arranges the list in alphabetical order, and sends it to each bishop.

After Easter, a private meeting of the bishops is summoned by the archbishop, and all are put under oath to observe the strictest secrecy. The names and qualifications of the candidates are considered, and each is voted on — the balloting being made by using balls of different colors, indicating approbation, disapprobation, or abstention from voting. In case of a tie vote, a further ballot is made. The result (usually with all obtainable information as to the qualifications of the candidate) is sent to the Sacred Consistorial Congregation through the Apostolic Delegation. And thus, when a vacancy occurs in any diocese, the Holy See is well provided with a list of candidates and with testimony as to their fitness for the place to be filled. The ultimate choice, of course, rests with the Holy See.

The garb of a bishop and his special insignia—the mitre, the pectoral cross, the ring, the pastoral staff, etc. — are tolerably familiar to all, and are described elsewhere in this work, in the chapter on “Vestments.” A Bishop is entitled “Right Reverend,” and in some countries is addressed as “My Lord.” In our Republic, where temporal lords are not, it is customary to address him simply as “Bishop.”

The Monsignors. This title denotes the rank of Protonotary Apostolic. These are Prelates of a lower order than Bishops. Prelates properly so called are the Pope, the Cardinals, the Patriarchs, the Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and Abbots; but the name of “Domestic Prelate” is also given to certain officials who have received this dignity from the Pope. These are commonly called Monsignors, and are of three grades; and the same name is given also to a fourth grade of Protonotaries who are not Domestic Prelates.

The grades are as follows: 1. Protonotaries Apostolic “de numero participantium” (of the number of the participating), of whom there are only seven, forming a College of Notaries to the Sovereign Pontiff. 2. Protonotaries Apostolic Supernumerary — Canons of certain Roman basilicas. 3. Protonotaries Apostolic “ad instar participantium” (resembling the participating), who are either the Canons of certain cathedrals or have been raised to this dignity by the Pope. The clergy who are known as Domestic Prelates in this country belong to this third class of Protonotaries. 4. Titular Protonotaries Apostolic, called also Honorary or “Black” Protonotaries. These are not members of the pontifical household, and enjoy their rank as Prelates only outside of Rome. Since 1905, Vicars General, by virtue of their office, belong to this class of Protonotaries, unless they are of a higher rank.

Members of the first three classes of Protonotaries have the right to use and wear some of the insignia of Bishops, and are addressed as “Right Reverend.” Those of the fourth class wear black, without any red or purple, and are addressed as “Very Reverend.” Protonotaries of all grades are addressed as “Monsignor.”

A Bishop, in the administration of his diocese, is assisted by priests who have various offices and duties. We shall confine our attention to the list of such officials as are found in the dioceses of the United States.

The Vicar General. Chief among the officers of any diocese is the Vicar General, who is, as canonists say, the “other self” of the Bishop. Consequently, he takes precedence over all the other clergy of the diocese. The official acts which he performs have the same force as those of the Bishop — so much so that the latter cannot receive an appeal from a decision of the Vicar General; it must be made to the higher tribunal of the Metropolitan, the Archbishop of the province.

Being a Monsignor, the Vicar General is so addressed, and is designated, according to his rank as Protonotary, by the title “Right Reverend” or “Very Reverend.” There may be more than one Vicar General if the size of the diocese requires it.

Other Officials. Each diocese has a Chancellor, whose office is the channel for nearly all diocesan business; and there is also, usually, a Bishop's Secretary. There are also the “Diocesan Consultors,” usually six in number, who form an advisory board for the Bishop, for the discussion of important matters; the Diocesan Attorney, or “Procurator Fiscalis,” the legal advocate for the Bishop and the prosecutor in ecclesiastical trials; a board for the administrative removal of pastors, consisting of Examiners and Consultors, two of each being chosen for action on each particular case; the Matrimonial Court, consisting usually of a judge, a notary and the “Defender of the Marriage Tie;” the Board of Examiners for the clergy, a similar Board for schools, and the Censor of Books, who examines all works published in the diocese and dealing with matters of faith or morals. A decree of Pope Pius X also provides for a Committee of Vigilance, to guard against the danger of “modernistic” errors.

In some dioceses there is a “Board of Deans,” each of whom has supervision over a certain number of parishes and their clergy. In many there are directors of the Priests’ Eucharistic League and of other devotional associations, and sometimes there are other officials, committees and boards for various purposes.

The Clergy of Parishes. Over each parish the Church places a Pastor or Rector, who is its ruler both in spiritual and temporal things, subject, of course, to the authority of his Bishop and the restrictions of Church law. Each parish has a certain designated territory, and the Pastor is responsible for the care of souls within its limits as well as for its financial management. Each parish, legally considered, is generally a corporation, of which, in some States, the Bishop is the president and the Pastor the treasurer, the Vicar General and two lay members known as trustees forming the rest of the corporation.

In the diocese of the United States a certain number of the larger parishes have “irremovable” or “permanent” rectorships. A vacancy in these is filled by a “concursus,” or competitive examination. By the new code of Canon Law (1918) all parishes hereafter created will have irremovable rectorships. And after the Pastor, whether “permanent” or not, come the Curates, the assistant clergy of the parish, who are (theoretically at least) subject to the Pastor and act under his direction in the care of souls.

A priest who has the spiritual care of soldiers or sailors, or who officiates in a hospital or other institution, is called a Chaplain.

Our Church is a spiritual kingdom, indeed, but it is a society as well. Even considered as a mere worldly institution, it is truly a remarkable example of efficiency and orderly development. No other society on earth is so well and thoroughly organized — so well adapted to its work. Some of the parts of the governmental system of the Catholic Church are of Divine origin; many of them are human institutions; and these are a grand monument to the wisdom of the saintly men who through twenty centuries have sat in the chair of Peter as vice-gerents of Jesus Christ.