Apostolic Succession/ Divorced And Extraordinary Minister
Q. My understanding is that the church teaches that bishops and priests are the successors of the apostles. Can this line really be traced back to one of the original apostles? (Lancaster, Ohio)
A. The Twelve Apostles were the privileged eyewitnesses sent to proclaim the teachings of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew (28:19-20) reflects the fact that Christ, following the resurrection, commissioned the apostles and guaranteed his help:
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
It is the further belief of the church, in what is known as the doctrine of apostolic succession, that bishops and priests today are linked in an unbroken line to those same original apostles.
St. Ignatius of Antioch -- who died in the year 108 and is believed to have been a disciple of the apostle John -- wrote in a letter to the Ephesians: "For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over his household, as we would do him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord himself."
The visible sign of ordination, from the New Testament onward, has been the imposition of hands. Thus, the transmission of the apostolic ministry is achieved by that ritual, together with the prayer of the celebrant that the ordinand be granted the gift of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the ministry for which he has been chosen.
Q. Can a divorced person serve as a eucharistic minister, or do you need to get your marriage annulled first? I have no intention of remarrying, nor am I living with a partner or having a sexual relationship with anyone. What is the Catholic Church's rule on this? (Trinidad and Tobago)
A. Yes, you absolutely can serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion -- and no, you do not need to get your marriage annulled first. (You would only need to do that if you wanted to remarry.)
Your question reminds me that there is a fair amount of misunderstanding among Catholics about divorce. Sad to say, some Catholics who have been divorced -- sometimes through little or no fault of their own -- feel that they have thereby separated themselves from the church and may even stop coming to Mass.
So it is helpful when a parish explains on their website, as does the parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Niagara Falls, New York, that "Catholics who are separated or divorced, and who have not remarried outside of the church, are in good standing in the church and can receive the sacraments, including holy Communion.
"(They) are encouraged to fulfill their Catholic commitment by attending church on a weekly basis ... (and) to fully participate in all aspects of parish life. (They) are invited to serve in any ministries -- including lectors, eucharistic ministers and catechists. (They) may serve as godparents for baptism or sponsors for confirmation. Catholics who are separated or divorced are not excommunicated."
Similarly, St. John Paul II said in his 1981 apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" – "I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life" (No. 84).
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.