When he was ordained a bishop in 1983, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who was named April 4 as the new archbishop of Washington, entered into what the Catholic Encyclopedia calls “the fullness of Christ’s priesthood, having the power and authority to administer all the sacraments, including ordination.”

The word bishop comes from the Greek word episkopos, which means overseer. As an “overseer” of his local Church, or diocese, the bishop is, according to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches... contributing to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body.”

Bishops are successors of the Apostles. St. Clement of Rome, writing in 96 A.D., said the Apostles “laid down a rule once for all to this effect: When these men die, other approved men shall succeed to their sacred ministry.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1292) says that the bishop is a “guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.”

The catechism (paragraph 893) says that the bishop is “the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood, especially in the Eucharist.” The bishop, the catechism continues, joins with priests to “sanctify the Church by their prayer and work, by their ministry of the Word and of the sacraments.”

As a leader of his local Church, the catechism stresses, bishops sanctify the people of God “by their example, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. Thus, together with the flock entrusted to them, they may attain to eternal life.”

One of the most important roles of a bishop is that of teacher. Almost 480 years ago, the Council of Trent decreed that “no one is allowed to preach Christian doctrine without the consent of the bishop, or at least without his knowledge.”

The bishop also functions in what the catechism calls “episcopal communion” with the pope. The catechism – pointing to the same apostolic ancestry St. Clement stressed nearly two millennia earlier – says that a bishop “exercises his ministry from within the episcopal college, in communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter and head of the college” (paragraph 863).

The catechism is clear that a bishop should model his pastoral duties on that of Jesus the Good Shepherd (paragraph 896). It also stresses that bishops must “have compassion for those who are ignorant and erring. He should not refuse to listen to his subjects whose welfare he promotes as of his very own...”

Most importantly, though, the bishop is to bring the faithful to Christ.

“Since it is in the Eucharist that the sacrament of the Church is made fully visible, it is in his presiding at the Eucharist that the bishop’s ministry is most evident, as well as, in communion with him, the ministry of priests and deacons,” the catechism says in 1142.

We welcome our new archbishop and we pray for him as he helps lead us closer to Christ.