We are approaching Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the frightened apostles and fulfilled the Lord’s ordination of the priesthood. With the strength of God's grace and spirit, they went out and preached the Gospel to the people. They baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They brought the people the Sacraments, the Mass and the hope of new life in Jesus Christ.
Looking around the church today, I saw signs of the continued Apostolic Succession all around me. The departed priest’s sister shared a letter he wrote the day before his ordination. He reflected on becoming a priest and his gratitude to his parents who gave him the example of a faithful Catholic life and marriage. His sister spoke of the nuns who taught and inspired him. The Bishop sat by and nodded. I am sure he was reflecting upon his own faith journey.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, defines Apostolic Succession as, “The handing on of apostolic preaching and authority from the Apostles to their successors the bishops through a laying on of hands, as a permanent office in the Church.” (77,861)
As Christ ordained Peter as pope, Peter would lay his hands on the priests and the bishops who followed. So it has gone on for over 2000 years. Each passing the faith and laying hands on the next one, including Father John.
I looked again and saw further evidence of this passing down of the faith. The catechist that I had once studied under, became an aid for, and eventually took over (his class) for sat in front of me. Behind me, sat the man who was my classroom aide and has recently taken over that class from me. We pass the faith, we pass the torch.
I glanced to my left and saw a couple that my husband and I had the privilege of teaching pre-Cana classes. Father John then married that couple. The faith continued on again. I looked down at my littlest daughter sitting next to me. Father John had baptized her, given her the sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Communion. I was awestruck at how intertwined all our lives and our faith journeys were. It started with Christ, continued with the apostles and today, through our priests along with the rest of us, the apostolic succession is still evident. As catechists, we are encouraged to continue teaching the faith and passing the torch.
My mentor, Tom, used to teach the 8th graders about apostolic succession by lining the students in a row and having each lay a hand on the next one’s shoulder. He would then tell the first that they represented Jesus, the second one Peter, then follow the line down and tell the last one that he was the current pope (it was John-Paul II at that time). He demonstrated how the pope lays hands on each bishop. Then he explained that at their Confirmation the bishop would lay hands on them. They could trace this physical contact all the way back to Christ! It really brought the point home to them.