Friday, October 2, 2020
"Only Through These Hands" by Bishop Theas of Lourdes

Some years ago I got a copy of a small booklet called "Only Through These Hands: A Treatise of the Office of the Bishop in the Catholic Church" by Bishop Pierre-Marie Theas of Lourdes. The booklet was translated from French into English by Geraldine Carrigan who lived until the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 2000. The booklet was published by Pio Decimo Press, which is now out of business. It would be wonderful to see this back in print again.

A few days ago, I picked up the copy from my bookshelf again and read through its 32 pages. Despite its small size, "Only Through These Hands" is a succinct yet insightful explanation of the authority, importance, and role of Bishops. 

The booklet begins by quoting the Preface used during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the Consecration of Bishop. That traditional Preface with its beautiful symbolism worth repeating. It states in part:

It is truly fitting and just, right and profitable unto salvation that, at all times and in all places, we should give thanks to Thee, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, source of honor to all dignitaries who in their sacred orders serve Thy glory. Thanks to Thee, O Lord Who, in the privacy of familiar conversation, didst instruct Moses Thy servant, concerning, among other things of divine worship, the nature of sacerdotal garments, and Who didst order that Aaron, Thy chosen one should be clad in mystic robes during sacred functions, so that generation after generation might learn from the example of their forebears, and so that knowledge derived from Thy instruction be not wanting in any age. Among our forebears the very display of symbols would excite reverence; among us, however, the realities themselves mean more than the symbols. Whereas the garb of the ancient priesthood is merely a display for our mind, now the splendor of souls rather than of vestments makes the pontifical glory attractive; because even those things which then were pleasing to the eyes of the flesh had to be grasped by the mind as to their inner meaning. Therefore, we beseech Thee, O Lord, shower upon this Thy servant, whom Thou hast chosen for the ministry of the highest priesthood, this grace, namely, that whatever those garments signify in the lustre of gold, the beauty of jewels, and the varied skill of craftsmanship, may shine forth in their conduct and deeds. Give to thy priests the perfection of ministry, and sanctify them, decked out in ornaments of glory, with the dew of Thy heavenly ointment.

The book is divided into 8 short chapters which each describe the Office of the Bishop:

  1. According to the Gospels
  2. According to St. Paul and St. John
  3. According to St. Ignatius of Antioch
  4. According to St. Thomas Aquinas
  5. According to the Pontifical
  6. According to Leo XIII
  7. According to Pius XII
  8. In God's Eyes
Some of Bishop Theas' remarks worth repeating from the book:

"The episcopacy is not a human institution. It was not established because there was a need for good management, nor because the Bishops are delegates whom the Pope chooses to exercise his office. Rather the episcopacy has a divine origin - instituted by Christ: no one may suppress it, not even the Pope."

The mission of the Bishop is accomplished by "exercising his doctrinal authority," by "the ministry of sanctification, through which the Bishop dispenses divine life," and by "governing, whereby the Bishop instructs, commands, forbids, or permits certain actions." 

There are seven points of certain regarding the episcopacy in the early history of the Church. The first: "The Apostles possess two prerogatives which they do not transmit to Bishops: personal infallibility and universal jurisdiction." The second: "In the first century of Christianity there were Christian communities instead of dioceses. Ecclesiastical authority was exercises over persons rather than a territory."

And after discussing the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Theas writes, "The Bishop is primarily a sanctifier, a fact which trends the episcopal state superior to the religious state, where one engages oneself to receive perfection, not to communicate it."

And Bishop Theas in a beautiful chapter on the insights from the Pontifical, referencing the Preface which was quoted at the beginning of the booklet states, "This sacramental formula is preceded by a text which answers an objection rather wide-spread today: Why all the elaborate vestments for a Bishop - the purple cassock, the cape, the ring, the precious stones? It is in remembrance of the Pontiffs of the Old Law, clothed by the will of God in the finest dress. But especially it is that the Bishop comprehends the symbol of the external magnificence of his ornaments. It is his soul which must be resplendent, for it is interiorly that true beauty is found - the beauty of grace."

"The responsibility of the Bishop is sublime and the charge which the Church imposes on him is very heavy. Pray for your Bishops and look on them with the faith of the Church."

A Prayer For Holy Bishops As Composed by St. John Fisher:

Lord, according to Your promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the whole world, raise up men fit for such work. The Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost.

So, good Lord, do now in like manner again with Thy Church militant; change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stone; set in Thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labours, watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold and heat; which also shall not fear the threatening of princes, persecution, neither death but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments, for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of Thy Gospel shall be preached throughout all the world.

Therefore, merciful Lord, exercise Thy mercy, show it indeed upon Thy Church.

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