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Confusion – are bishops consecrated, or ordained? – ANSWERED November 19, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Christendom, Dallas Diocese, episcopate, General Catholic, Glory, Grace, priests, Sacraments, true leadership.

A commenter asked about the “ordination” of Bishop-elect Olson of Fort Worth.  I replied that the proper term, at least in the tradition, is consecration.  But there is actually confusion about this.  Prior to Vatican II, it was 100% clear that bishops were consecrated.  This term had been used for many centuries prior, going back at least to the early Middle Ages.  The Catholic Encyclopedia from 1913 defines the “plenitude of the priesthood” that a newly installed bishop receives as being a consecration.

But since Vatican II, a new term, “episcopal ordination” has come into use.  In the 1997 English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – NOT a dogmatic  or formally defining document – the terms episcopal ordination and episcopal consecration are used interchangeably (CCC 1556-1558).  The 1983 Code of Canon Law also uses both terms.

Referring to more doctrinal sources, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy produced at Vatican II, states in number 76:

Both the ceremonies and texts of the ordination rites are to be revised. The address given by the bishop at the beginning of each ordination or consecration may be in the mother tongue. [Interesting.  Just the address in the vernacular.  So, the rest was to be in Latin?  It’s not clear.]

When a bishop is consecrated, the laying of hands may be done by all the bishops present.

Now, I think in the above, the “ordination” rite refers to the ordination of a priest, while the second paragraph, plainly broken out from the previous one, refers to consecration of bishops.

Theologically, ordination, or Holy Orders, is a Sacrament that leaves an indelible mark on the soul, like Baptism, and it can only be performed once. So, I’m not certain I understand the “modern” usage of “episcopal ordination.”  A consecration is a setting aside, which makes perfect sense in reference to a bishop, and is a direct reference to the “setting aside” of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas in Acts of the Apostles.  But so far as I know, a bishop receives no special additional mark or change to his soul as he did when he was ordained a priest. So, the terminology seems confusing.

But, then again, bishops are the fullness of the priesthood, with the ability to ordain priests and, normally, perform Confirmations.  So, there is certainly an additional influx of Grace, and extra gifts provided by the Holy Spirit, but I’m still not certain if “ordination” is the right term for what a priest undergoes when ascending to the episcopate.

Your comments are welcome.  Any further thoughts on the post Vatican II change, the reasons for it, or the history of the prior practice?  As far as I can tell, the term and concept of “episcopal ordination” was not used prior to the most recent Council.

So, reader JLG had the following explanation:

I would argue that the terminology of consecrate is ambiguous at best ultimately meaning to make holy… the consecration of bread and wine, the consecration of ones family to the Sacred Heart, entering into a consecrated life as a religious. I would say that while it may be common to use the term consecrate for a person that becomes a bishop is actually consecrated through the sacrament of Holy Orders via the rite of ordination.

FYI – I remember as a kid that one year Bishop-elect Orson was a Lenten speaker after Stations. He is an expert on Catholic morality of death, dying, and end of life issues.


1. Konstantin - November 20, 2013

From looking at my “Ott” I gather that it is sententia certa that diaconate and episcopacy are sacraments, while it is de fide that the Priesthood is a sacrament. They are not three different sacraments, but part of the same sacrament called “Ordo”. As you have mentioned, the Bishop has the Fullness of the Priesthood.

tantamergo - November 20, 2013

I really need to get that book. I have some goofy gaps in knowledge because I just haven’t studied systematic theology enough.

But I should have reasoned this one out. I do that from time to time, just throw something out I should have/could have figured out for myself.

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