Understanding our church

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Fr. Danny Ferrandiz

By Father Danny Ferrandiz
For the Umatuna Si Yu’os

The church founded by Christ is a dynamic church. This means that this is a church meant to be in motion. A church that is transformative from within and expanding in the outside. The Acts of the Apostles narrates this dynamic motion in the travels of St. Paul and Barnabas. Visiting different cities, these disciples continue to provide us with the picture of the Church in the early stages. This is important because it provides us with the structure of the Catholic Church. It tells us how the Church in her early stages struggled and remained strong. It tells us of the seeds of faith planted, her growth and fruitfulness. All these are given to us because of the structure or the hierarchy. That’s what St. Luke describes when he writes that Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders” for them in each church, and with prayer and fasting, entrusted them to the Lord.

In the Bible, people don’t go around starting their own churches. There is only one Church, the one started by Christ which he entrusted to the Twelve Apostles with Peter as the head. The sending forth of the disciples resulted in the ordinations of local church leaders who cared for the small Christian communities. From the very beginning, then, we see that the Church has a hierarchy – a pope, bishops, and priests. This is part of God’s plan from the beginning, not a later human invention.

Through symbols, this hierarchy is shown so that we will be reminded of our beginnings. And Christ reminds us that although our church is run by humans who are imperfect, their ministry will not fail because this ministry or priesthood flows from Christ’s ministerial priesthood. Many of these symbols are linked to the ministry of the bishop, the successors to the Apostles. For example: 

The Miter – the hat that a bishop wears is formed by two hard boards front and back which are put together with two tassels, or lappets, that hang down from the back. The miter represents the glory of God while the two boards symbolize the Old and New Testaments. This means that the ministry of the bishops and priests has its roots in both the Old and New Testaments. 

The Bishop’s Crozier – the crozier, or crosier, is the staff looks like a big walking stick. It’s modeled after the tool that shepherds use. The top is curved to look like the letter C. Shepherds use this part to grab a sheep around the neck to pull it to safety out of pits, swamps, or brambles or when the sheep wanders away. The other end was straight and sharp, useful for directing and guiding the sheep forward. These are works entrusted to a bishop – to protect and to guide. This ministry of bishop is echoed in the Gospel of John describing the good shepherd, “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:11). A bishop is to be Christ in the midst of people leading them to him. 

The Bishop’s Ring – this shows his loving dedication to his local church. In the Scripture, Christ is described as the groom while the church is the bride. The ring symbolizes the church, represented by the bishop, as a faithful bride to Christ.

The Bishop’s Pectoral Cross – Finally, the bishop wears a large pectoral cross – a necklace with a big cross on it. It is a plain cross, not a crucifix. This symbolizes the bishop’s vocation sacrifice for the local church just as Christ gave his life for the church. The cross doesn’t have the figure of Christ on it, because the bishop himself is supposed to climb onto the cross in Christ’s place and show Christ’s love.

In a few weeks, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Archbishop Byrnes will go to Rome to join other newly appointed bishops and archbishops to receive the “pallium” from the pope. The pallium is an ecclesiastical vestment in the Roman Catholic Church that signifies the conferral of the jurisdictional authority of a bishop in his diocese. With the conferral of this papal emblem, Archbishop Byrnes shall become the new Archbishop of Guam. 

The symbols that Archbishop Byrnes wears, his miter, crozier, ring, and pectoral cross reflect the beauty and richness of God’s plan for his church which will never fail from the beginning to the end. The pallium that he wears symbolizes his unity with the pope and the authority entrusted to him as the shepherd of the church of Guam. 

As our new archbishop, he belongs to the hierarchy which hands down to us the truths of our faith and morals. Jesus wants us to know for certain where to find him and how to follow him – that’s why he gave his Church a solid, dependable structure which will continue to stand with the test of time. 

These structures are symbols of our faith. And the devil will try to destroy these structures, be it the building or people as what’s happening in many areas in the world where churches are set on fire and the hierarchy demoralized because of the clergy abuses. But our faith is not only built on external structures but inner structures as well – formidable structures in our hearts and minds. And we believe that these structures are not easily brought down. As Jesus said to Peter: “You are Peter and upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).

Invitation: Those interested in joining our November 2019 Holy Land-Biblical Turkey Pilgrimage can contact Mario Celis at 788-1628 or me, Father Danny, at 797-9968