to a crowd of some 50,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope
Benedict XVI used his General Audience today to stress the importance
of Episcopal succession, saying that the lineage of today’s faithful
bishops is a historical guarantee of the authentic passing down of the
He began by saying that "The Church, which came into being at Jesus' will and around Him, continues her journey through history,” and that “The Twelve ... involved others in the functions with which they themselves were entrusted, so that those others could continue the ministry.”
“Just as at the beginning of the apostolic condition there is a call and an invitation from the Risen One,” the Holy Father went on, “so the call and invitation of others....from those who are already within the apostolic ministry, will be the way by which the ministry of the 'episcope' is passed on."
Pope Benedict called "the succession of the episcopal function is ... a guarantee of the endurance of apostolic tradition” saying that “The link between the college of bishops and the original community of the Apostles may be seen, above all, as a form of historical continuity.”
He added however, that “continuity may also be considered in a spiritual sense, because apostolic succession in the ministry is a privileged place for the action and transmission of the Holy Spirit."
The Pope then quoted St. Irenaeus, who wrote that the Church was "founded and constituted in Rome by the most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul," and highlights "the tradition of faith that ... comes down to us from the Apostles through the succession of bishops."
"Episcopal succession”, Benedict said, “verified on the basis of communion with the succession of the Church of Rome - is therefore the criterion of adherence of individual Churches to the tradition of apostolic faith, ... which has come down to us from the origins."
He went on to explain that according to the ancient Church, "the apostolicity of ecclesial communion consists in faithfulness to the faith and practice of the Apostles themselves, through whom the historical and spiritual link of the Church with Christ is guaranteed.”
“What the Apostles represent in the relationship between the Lord Jesus and the early Church,” he explained, “is similarly represented by the ministerial succession in the relationship between the early Church and the modern Church.”
He stressed in conclusion that "This is not a merely material link…rather it is a historical instrument that the Spirit uses to make the Lord Jesus present as the leader of His people."