We’ve begun a consideration of the ministry of governance – in Latin, the munus regendi – which is exercised by bishops in the Church. This is in addition to the ministries of teaching and of sanctifying. It is also shared by the bishops with the priests who are subject to them in their apostolic work.
In our last morceau we pointed out that this ministry of governance is exercised using divine authority, not merely human wisdom and power. In a sense, we can say that it really is not Church leaders who govern the Church, but Christ Jesus who does. Remember, the Lord Himself said that “all authority both in heaven and on earth” had been given to Him (see Mt 28:18). It is really He who tends His flock, acting through the bishops and priests of the Church. It is He who guides, protects and corrects the sheep, out of deep love for them. Indeed, it is the teaching of the Church that the Lord Jesus, as supreme Shepherd of our souls, willed that the apostles and their successors, the bishops, in communion with both the pope and their closest collaborators, the priests, participate in His mission of caring for God’s people, of leading them in the faith, and of guiding and nurturing the entire Christian community.
You might ask if it’s really true that priests exercise divine authority in the Church? Yes. While bishops do indeed possess the fullness of the priesthood – they can ordain other bishops and priests, for example, something ordinary presbyters cannot do – the priesthood possessed by “simple priests” is nonetheless real. As the Catholic bishops of the world said in 1965 when together they issued a formal Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, “spiritual power is conferred upon them for the building up of the Church” (Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 6).
We’ll keep exploring this in the next few morceaux.