At any given time, there are roughly 5,000 Catholic bishops in the world. Collectively known as the College of Bishops, these men—the heirs to the apostles—are responsible for the shepherding of souls. It's a breathtakingly awesome responsibility, and we lay Catholics all too often forget what it means to say that God has called a man to the episcopate.
There's nothing quite like an episcopal ordination to remind you.
On May 14, 2012, the Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle, my son Stephen and I had the privilege of attending the episcopal ordination and installation of Bishop David J. Malloy as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. In the presence of somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 faithful from the diocese, 28 bishops, 200 priests, and 150 deacons gathered to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders on Monsignor Malloy. The chief consecrator was Francis Cardinal George, metropolitan archbishop of Chicago, with Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukeee and Bishop Emeritus Thomas Doran of Rockford as co-consecrators.
The ordination and installation took place in the BMO Harris Bank Center, a sporting arena in downtown Rockford, and featured a choir of almost 400 voices. For an event its size, and given the venue, it was remarkably reverent and beautiful. The procession of clerics, led by over 100 Knights of Columbus, lasted at least 20 minutes, and perhaps closer to half an hour.
It is customary, when possible, to hold episcopal ordinations on the feast of an apostle. Among all the possible feasts, that of Saint Matthias struck me as particularly appropriate. Matthias, of course, was the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:21-26), which means that he was the first apostle to whom apostolic succession applied. Or, to put it another way, Matthias's story is the basis for the Church's doctrine of apostolic succession. For a man who is already a bishop and is simply being installed in a diocese, the feast of another apostle would work just as well; but for a man being elevated from the priesthood to the episcopacy, as Monsignor Malloy was, the Feast of Saint Matthias provides a certain symbolism that no other feast of an apostle could provide.
I cannot do the ordination and installation justice through mere words, nor properly express my deep gratitude at having been able to be present on this momentous occasion. One image will remain forever in my mind: Monsignor Malloy, prostrate before the altar for several minutes, while all of the assembled prayed for him as he prepared to receive his episcopal ordination. It is hard to imagine what joy he must have felt in those minutes, nor the burden that he must have felt descending upon his shoulders. He had entered the arena as a pastor of St. Francis de Sales parish in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; he would leave as the shepherd of over 450,000 Catholics in 11 counties covering almost 6,500 square miles between the Fox River and the Mississippi.
The crozier—the staff that every bishop receives as a symbol of his office—is meant to signify his duty as shepherd of our souls; it is not a walking stick. Yet every bishop I have ever seen seems to lean, however slightly, on the crozier, and as he left the arena, Bishop Malloy was no exception. Is it any wonder?
May God grant Bishop David J. Malloy many happy years, as he faithfully preaches the Word of His Truth!