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The title "pope" simply means "father". The pope is the spiritual father of Catholics everywhere. He is the pastor of the universal church.
The pope is the Bishop of Rome. This is perhaps his most important title. The first bishop of Rome was St Peter and upon his death the Christians of Rome chose a successor to Peter.....and that has happened for nearly 2000 years -- an unbroken line of bishops of Rome....right down to the current bishop of Rome who is the successor of St Peter as "bishop of Rome" and thus pope.
The pope is Peter's successor as head of the Church.
The pope, who is Bishop of Rome, is the focus of our unity as Catholic believers. He guards and defends the Faith as it has been handed down from Apostolic times. He strengthens and confirms us in the Faith.
The pope is also the sovereign of Vatican City State which is a small independent territory within the city of Rome. The Vatican is its own country with a flag, anthem and a small army (Swiss Guard). It grants its own citizenship, issues passports, mints its own coinage, prints postage stamps and licence plates. And the Vatican exchanges ambassadors with over 150 countries. The Vatican is also represented at the United Nations. The pope then is also a Head of State.
He also confers honours, knighthoods and noble titles, although sparingly.
It is in the Vatican City State that the headquarters of the Catholic Church is found. And because it is within the borders of its own state, the church is free to exercise its ministry around the world without interference from other governments.
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Catholic bishops are successors of the original apostles. They do today what the apostles and early bishops did. They guard the faith, pass it on and care for souls entrusted to their care. The apostles handed on their role and authority, which they received from Jesus, through ordination and the laying on of hands, to others who would succeed them as overseers of the apostolic faith -- as bishops, through the centuries to our own day. So, a Catholic bishop can trace his authority right back to the original Apostles. And of course the pope is a bishop too. This is called apostolic succession -- succeeding from the apostles.
Bishops celebrate and confer all of the sacraments.
A Catholic priest shares in the bishop's apostolic succession and through his ordination is able to assist the bishop in the spiritual and sacramental life of the church. A priest, through ordination by the bishop, can celebrate all the sacraments except Holy Orders. He can, but is limited, in his authority to confer confirmation.
The priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of The Mass and can also forgive sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation as he acts in the very person of Christ.
In the very early church there were no priests but only bishops. And the bishops did all of these things. But, as the church quickly grew in size the bishops needed helpers to fulfill this role. Hence, men were ordained priests to perform much of what the bishops were doing for the greater care of souls.
The order of deacons existed before the order of priests. The deacons were ordained to assist the bishop in administrative matters and to care for the everyday needs of the community. Today, deacons remain closely associated with their bishop and they are ordained to a ministry of service. Deacons can preach, teach, celebrate marriages and baptisms and assist the priests and the bishop in any number of ways. Deacons cannot celebrate Mass, hear confessions or anoint the sick. Deacons, like priests and bishops are ordained to their role and are members of the clergy. A deacon is not a layperson. The Sacrament of Holy Orders confers three ranks -- bishop, priest and deacon. To be a priest or bishop a man must first be ordained a deacon.
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Vatican City in Rome: St Peter's Basilica
A priest celebrates Mass. A priest or bishop wear their stoles over their shoulders unlike a deacon's which is diagonal.
Monsignor Alfred Culmer, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Nassau, stands next to a Vatican owned automobile bearing SCV plates. SCV is the abbreviation for Stato Citta Vaticano [Vatican City State]
Deacons wear their stoles diagonally from their left shoulder. Deacons also wear a distinctive outer vestment with sleves called a dalamatic.
The pope lives here in Vatican City State which is dominated by St Peter's Basilica, built over the tomb of St Peter. From the Vatican territory - an independent country - the pope governs and directs the work and mission of the Catholic Church. The Vatican State is surrounded by the Italian city of Rome. The pope is bishop of Rome and the successor to St Peter who was Rome's first bishop. The title "pope" means "father".
For liturgical services bishops wear a mitre, symbol of the episcopal office.
Bishops wear distinctive dress, which identifies them as bishops. Their waist sash is purple, their cassock buttons are also purple and they wear a pectoral cross. The two bishops in the centre are also cardinals and rank second to the pope. Cardinals are often called "princes of the church". Their colour is scarlet. Monsignors dress like bishops but without the pectoral cross.