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Preface I of the Apostles
This preface it used on feast days celebrating the Apostles, especially Saints Peter and Paul.
The Apostles, shepherds of God’s people
When we profess our faith every Sunday and Solemnity we express our faith that the Church is “apostolic.” One of the reasons we say the Church is Apostolic is because she is built on the foundation of the apostles, with Our Lord as the cornerstone (see Ephesians 2:20). When you lay the foundation for a building it is not something you remove upon the completion of construction; it supports the whole structure for as long as the structure endures, and can even exist well beyond it.
It’s no coincidence that when Our Lord entrusted the “keys” to Peter (see Matthew 16:16-19) he also said that Peter was the rock on which he would build his Church. “Peter” (Πέτρος, Petros) is literally derived from the Greek word for “rock” that Our Lord used in this passage: (τῇ πέτρᾳ, petra), and Paul at times refers to him as “Cephas,” which is Aramaic for “rock.”
The Apostles are an irreplaceable, structural part of the Church, but in this preface we don’t remember them as the “rocks” of the Church (even though they are), but, rather, as the “shepherds” of the Church. Among the prophecies of the Messiah Ezekiel described the Lord coming as a “shepherd” for the people of God since their “shepherds” (their kings) had let them down, neglected them, and abused them (see Ezekiel 34:1-16). Our Lord described his care and concern for us in John’s Gospel as the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11–16): he is the Good Shepherd. He is our Good Shepherd.
“For you, eternal Shepherd, do not desert your flock, but through the blessed Apostles watch over it and protect it always, so that it may be governed by those you have appointed shepherds to lead it in the name of your Son.”
After the Resurrection Our Lord entrusted his flock, the Church, to the pastoral care of Peter and, by extension, to the Apostles. Our Lord remains shepherd-in-chief; he tells Peter to tend and care for his sheep, and so the apostles became our shepherds too. Our Lord has always envisioned his care for us as pastoral, and that’s why we too see it that way: our bishops caring for dioceses and priests caring for parishes are called “pastors.”
Our Lord entrusted the Apostles with a great responsibility that would extend beyond their lifetime. So the apostles passed on the “crook” (shepherd’s staff, also known as a crosier), so to speak, to their successors, whom today we call bishops. Their mitres (hats used in the liturgy) represent the flame of the Holy Spirit that descended on the Apostles’ heads at Pentecost, and their crosiers represent that pastoral authority they hold for the good of the flock entrusted to them by Christ and the apostles and bishops who came before them.
As successors of the Apostles the bishops, aided by priests and deacons, continue to teach us, to sanctify us, and to guide us, just as the original Apostles did. The ministry they all have in common is the one ministry and mission of Christ, a single ministry and mission in which they all participate: the care and feeding of souls.
Even today we are shepherded thanks to the Apostles. They laid down their lives for Christ’s sheep, and our bishops, aided by our priests and deacons, continue to do so. Let’s thank Our Lord today for the gift of all our pastors, be they bishops or priests, and pray for them and their ministry.