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The role of a shepherd


In the Catholic Church there are three ‘levels’ of ordination within the sacrament of Holy Orders: deacon, priest and bishop. The Second Vatican Council spoke of the bishop as having ‘the fullness of the sacrament of Orders’ and dedicated an entire decree to the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church.

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So, as we welcome our new Archbishop, Patrick O’Regan, into the Archdiocese of Adelaide we might be wondering exactly what a bishop is, and how an archbishop differs from an ‘ordinary’ bishop.

The primary role of any bishop is to ensure that the work of Christ is carried on at the local level by caring for all the faithful entrusted to him in his particular diocese. Often the bishop is referred to as the Chief Shepherd, since his ministry is modelled on that of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Immediately we can see that the role of the bishop is not simply that of ‘governing’ a local Church, but of caring for it and nurturing it and enabling it to grow and flourish. The role of the bishop is that of guardian, teacher and preacher.

So how does an Archbishop differ from a Bishop? Basically, it is because he heads a ‘team’ of bishops in a particular geographical area or province. In our case, Adelaide, Port Pirie and Darwin form such a province. Because Adelaide is the chief diocese, the bishop of this diocese is given the title ‘Metropolitan Archbishop’ and Bishops O’Kelly (Port Pirie Diocese) and Gauci (Darwin Diocese) are known as ‘suffragan bishops’ (while still retaining full authority in their respective dioceses.)


The ‘signs’ of the bishop’s office are the ring, the mitre and the pastoral staff or crozier. The ring indicates his commitment to be a faithful pastor and shepherd; the mitre is simply a special headdress that is worn during liturgical ceremonies; the crozier represents the shepherd’s crook and reminds the Bishop that he has been appointed to watch over the entire flock of the diocese.

Within every cathedral is the bishop’s chair (cathedra). This has a special significance since the person who sits in this chair is the one who unites this diocese with every other diocese in the universal Church. While we might be the diocese of Adelaide, we are part of the entire Catholic Church, and it is the bishop who is the sign of this unity. The presider’s chair in each of our parish churches similarly reminds us that through our parish priest we are united to our bishop and through the bishop to the rest of the world.

Other symbols of the episcopate are the pectoral cross, the magenta zucchetto (skullcap) and soutane (a type of cassock or gown).

One particular insignia of the office of archbishop is the pallium, a loose white band worn around the neck, made of lamb’s wool and decorated with a black cross on the front and the back, on each shoulder and on the ends of the two strips about 30cm long that extend down the front and back. The pallium is worn over the chasuble and symbolises the link between the Pope and all the archbishops around the world. It is normally presented to an archbishop by the Pope on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (June 29).

There is a long tradition concerning the weaving and blessing of the pallia. Each year on the feast of St Agnes (January 21) two lambs are brought from Tre Fontane, the site of St Paul’s martyrdom, to the Basilica of St Agnes where they are blessed before being presented to the Pope. He in turn hands them over to the care of the Sisters who live next to the Basilica of St Cecilia in Trastevere. Just before Easter, the lambs are shorn and their wool is used to make the pallia for newly appointed archbishops.

Jenny O’Brien is manager of the Office for Worship.



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