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Living Vicariously

12 Mar

We’re all accustomed to referring to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. After all, it was Peter who received the keys, and as Catholics we recognize the role of St. Peter’s successor as Christ’s chosen representative to rule and guide the Universal Church until the end of time.

But one teaching that sometimes gets overlooked today is that the bishops are not simply vicars of the Pope, but vicars of Christ Himself in the particular Church (i.e., diocese) assigned to them. They legitimately exercise their role only in communion with the Pope, but nonetheless they personally exercise their office in the name of Christ as a successor of the apostles. He is neither a mere representative of the Pope nor does he legitimately exercise authority apart from the Pope (See Catechism, nos. 880-96, especially 894-95).

Of course we saw all this play out last week when Archbishop Naumann made his ad limina visit to the Holy See with the other bishops from Kansas and Nebraska.

Some may be surprised to know that a number of Popes have even referred to Christian parents as vicars of Christ in the home. For example, Pope Pius XI, in his 1929 encylical Divini Illius Magistri, wrote: “Parents . . . should be careful to make right use of the authority given them by God, whose vicars in a true sense they are.”

Of course this truth connects well with Vatican II’s emphasis on the family as the “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature.”

Now the Pope, the bishops, and Christian parents are all vicars or representatives of Christ in different senses and in different realms, but these roles again need to be understood and exercised in a complementary, not competitive sense. Continue reading