Consecrating a Bishop

Perhaps the least-often-used portion of any Prayer Book is the liturgy called “The Form and Manner of Ordaining and Consecrating a Bishop“.  Granted, the original Prayer Books actually did not include the Ordinal (saving those liturgies for a separate volume), and perhaps the nomenclature has varied a little over the centuries, but it remains consistently true that the least-often-observed liturgy is that for the consecration of a new bishop.

The Lenten Ember Days are upon us (today, Friday, and Saturday), which are a set of days, quarterly throughout the year, set aside for fasting and prayer for those preparing for ordination.  And because we in my diocese (the Anglican Diocese in New England) are on the cusp of consecrating our second diocesan bishop, this seemed like a good opportunity to look at the liturgy for such an occasion.

The liturgy begins, as for other ordinations and for Confirmation, and even as an option for Holy Matrimony, with a presentation of the candidate: the Bishop-Elect is announced and he is asked to re-state his commitment to the Scriptures and the Church.  The Archbishop (or other Bishop serving as the Chief Consecrator) then makes this statement:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it is written in the Gospel of Saint Luke that our Savior Christ continued the whole night in prayer, before he chose and sent forth his twelve Apostles. It is written also in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples at Antioch fasted and prayed before they sent forth Paul and Barnabas by laying their hands upon them. Let us, therefore, following the example of our Savior and his Apostles, offer up our prayers to Almighty God, before we admit and send forth this person presented to us, to do the work to which we trust the Holy Spirit has called him.

What follows is the Litany for Ordinations, common to the Ordination liturgies for Deacons, Priests, and Bishops, but it should be noted that the repeated Scriptural references to fasting and praying are things that the people should have been undertaking before this point.  If you’re in the New England diocese, you’ve got only a couple days left to meet this biblical expectation before the consecration service is upon us.  If you’re resident elsewhere, you’re certainly welcome to fast and pray for us and with us, also!

The Propers (Collect and Lessons) follow the Litany:

Almighty God, who by your Son Jesus Christ gave many excellent gifts
to your holy Apostles, and charged them to feed your flock;
give your grace to all Bishops, the Pastors of your Church,
that they may diligently preach your Word, duly administer your Sacraments,
and wisely provide godly Discipline;
and grant to your people that they may obediently follow them,
so that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory,
through the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-11; Psalm 100;
1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Acts 20:17-35
John 21:15-19 or John 20:19-23 or Matthew 28:18-20

A Major Feast Day or Sunday may override those lessons, but in our case in New England, with a Saturday ordination scheduled, no such exception applies.

After these readings, the homily, and the Creed, follows the Exhortation and Examination.  Where the Deacon and Priest get a somewhat-lengthy exhortation first, which outlines the definition and duty of those Orders, the Bishop-Elect is brought almost immediately to the Examination.  Curiously the Examination for the new bishop is almost but not quite the same as the Examination for a new priest.  In brief the questions are about:

  1. The supremacy of the Scriptures for doctrine and teaching
  2. The study of the Scriptures in order to teach and correct
  3. The diligent removal of false doctrines
  4. The renunciation of ungodly desires and commitment to being an example of life
  5. The maintenance of peace among all people
  6. The faithful preparation and conferral of Holy Orders upon others
  7. The merciful posture towards the poor and needy

For contrast, the Priest’s vows are

  1. basically the same as #1 above
  2. minister the doctrine, sacraments and discipline of the Church
  3. mostly the same as #3 above
  4. diligence in prayer and study of the Scriptures, like #2 above
  5. personal and family life as examples, like #4 above
  6. mostly same as #5 above
  7. obedience to the bishop and other ministers as appointed

So a progression of duty can be discerned by this comparison.  The authority of the Scriptures, and the teaching thereof, is the utmost priority of the ordained minister.  That is then applied to the correction of false teachers and the living of a godly life to be an example to others and an agent of peace.  The final vow(s) are the most specific to the particular Order.  In general, the Bishop-Elect is subjected to greater scrutiny and stricter vows than the Priest, and it should be remembered that the Bishop has already undertaken the Priestly and Diaconal vows.

Just like in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and most (if not all) of the other sacramental rites, the heart of the Ordination liturgy is summarized in a central prayer and declaration (or speech-act).  The Archbishop prays:

Almighty God, and most merciful Father, of your infinite goodness you have given your only Son Jesus Christ to be our Redeemer, and to be the author of everlasting life. After he had made perfect our redemption by his death and resurrection, and was ascended into heaven, he poured down his gifts abundantly upon his people, making some Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists, some Pastors and Teachers, for edifying and perfecting his Church. Grant to this your servant such grace, that he may be ever ready to propagate your Gospel, the good news of our reconciliation with you; and use the authority given to him, not for destruction, but for salvation; not for hurt, but for help; so that, as a wise and faithful steward, he will give to your family their portion in due season, and so may at last be received into everlasting joy.

This, more than anywhere else in the liturgy up to this point, summarizes the Order of Bishop: he is to be a minister of the propagation of the Gospel, and receives authority that is meant to help people attain to salvation.  The words of consecration are what some call a speech-act, a pronouncement or declaration in God’s name:

Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed to you by the Imposition of our Hands; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

which is then followed by a further prayer:

Most merciful Father, send down upon this your servant your heavenly blessing; so endue him with your Holy Spirit, that he, in preaching your holy Word, may not only be earnest to reprove, beseech, and rebuke, with all patience and Doctrine; but may he also, to such as believe, present a wholesome example in word, in conversation, in love, in faith, in chastity, and in purity; that, faithfully fulfilling his course, at the Last Day he may receive the crown of righteousness, laid up by the Lord Jesus, our righteous Judge, who lives and reigns with you and the same Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

The new Bishop is then handed a copy of the Bible, accompanied by further words of exhortation for his new ministry.  Traditionally (provided for in our liturgy, though not required) he also receives a crosier (pastoral staff) symbolizing the shepherding role, anointing with holy oil on his forehead symbolizing the grace of God upon him as a Spirit-endued leader, a pectoral cross symbolizing the authority whom he will continue to serve, an episcopal ring symbolizing his marriage to Christ, and a miter symbolizing the authority he bears and whence it comes.

The celebration of Holy Communion follows, and that’s that!