The Roman Catholic Church is a worldwide church. There are more than 1 billion Catholics on the planet earth. Vatican City is where the Pope lives and where dicasteries and offices that serve the entire church on a global level are located.
Each country has a conference of bishops which helps guide and focus the church’s mission on national levels. In the United States the conference is called the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The conference of bishops is divided into regions for the purpose of addressing the church’s mission on a smaller level. The Diocese of Jackson is in Region V, which consists of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Every five years all bishops make what is called an “ad limina” visit to the Vatican to meet with various offices to share the church’s ministry on the local level. The bishops also meet with the Holy Father in smaller groups and individually to discuss the life of the church.
Regions are further divided into provinces. See Metropolitan below for an explanation of this.
The essential unit of the church is the diocese. This is a geographic region under one bishop. In essence the church revolves around the bishop. The Diocese of Jackson is the largest diocese geographically east of the Mississippi River.
Pastors serve as an extension of the bishop in local parishes. The local parish is the lifeblood of the church where laity together with their pastor bring the Gospel message to the world.
Though it is a worldwide institution, the organization of the Roman Catholic Church is rather simple. Church structure centers on the bishop, who is the head of a diocese. A diocese is a geographical region. In each diocese there are parishes and missions, which have priests as pastors. the bishop is the pastor of the whole diocese and ultimately the pastor of all the faithful in the diocese. The pastor is an extension of the bishop and assists him in his ministry as shepherd of the diocese by serving as shepherd on the local parish level.
The hierarchy, which literally means ‘sacred origin’, for the church is also very basic. A pastor is appointed by the bishop to lead a parish or mission; a bishop leads a diocese, which consists of many parishes and missions; and the pope, who is the bishop of Rome, leads the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. The basic structure therefore is pastor, bishop, pope.
Deacons are men who have received the first rank of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Deacons may serve at the altar, read the Gospel, baptize and officiate at weddings and funerals.The traditional role of the deacon is one of service in the community. This is found in the Acts of the Apostles when several men were chosen to minister to widows and others on the margins of society.
There are two types of deacons – transitional and permanent.
Transitional deacons are men preparing to be ordained priests. Permanent deacons are married or single men who do not seek ordination to the priesthood and have committed themselves to serving the church in this unique role. Single men must make a promise to live a celibate life. A man must be married before he is ordained. If his wife dies then he may be ordained a priest. He is normally not allowed to remarry.
Other Titles in the Church
- A Cardinal is usually a bishop whom the pope has elevated to the College of Cardinals. These bishops serve on various congregations and committees for the Vatican. These are the men entrusted with the election of a new pope. It should be noted that the bird was named for the position and not vice versa.
- An archbishop is simply a bishop who leads an archdiocese. An archdiocese is a larger or historic diocese such as Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Milan, Krakow, etc.
- Each archdiocese, which is normally a large diocese or one of historic relevance in the life of the church, is the center of a province and surrounded by what are called suffragan sees. The Diocese of Jackson belongs to the Mobile province along with the Biloxi and Birmingham dioceses. Up until Dec. 12, 2013, Bishop Joseph Latino was the senior suffragan. That title now belongs to Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham.
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi is the current Archbishop of Mobile and therefore is the Metropolitan. He has the honor of being able to celebrate Mass in any of the parishes and cathedrals of the dioceses in the province and sit in the cathedras of those cathedrals. The metropolitan also is responsible for gathering the suffragan bishops annually to discuss matters of importance to the province and to surface names of priests who could be possible candidates to be considered for the episcopacy.
- Monsignor is a honor given by the pope to a priest who has served the diocesan church in many capacities such as Vicar General or Rector of the Cathedral. The request for the honor is made by the local bishop normally.
- Many countries including the United States maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See (Vatican). There is a U.S. Embassy to the Vatican in Rome and the Vatican has an embassy that is known as a nunciature in Washington. The Apostolic Nuncio is basically the papal ambassador to the United States. A main responsibility is to coordinate the selecting of bishops for dioceses in the U.S. with the local church and the Congregation for Bishops in Rome and ultimately the Pope who makes the final decision from the terna – list of three names – submitted to him.
Since 2011, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a native of the region near Milan, Italy, has served as the Nuncio to the United States. He was previously serving as Secretary General in the Vatican City State’s governor’s office. Prior to that he had served as Nuncio in Nigeria and worked in nunciatures in Baghdad as well as in London.
- The Nuncio has an important role in the Rite of Ordination of Bishops as he is the official representative of the Holy Father and reads the mandate (bull as it is called) from the Holy Father announcing the new bishop’s appointment as Bishop of Jackson. He actually brings the original handwritten document on parchment paper with him to the Mass. The bull is then shown to the diocesan college of consultors for acceptance and validity.