Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 31:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
Hierarchy comes from two Greek words, hieros, meaning sacred, and archein, meaning rule or order. Hierarchy, therefore, means sacred order. It is essential to the Church. We have spoken of it before.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, whose cause is underway in Rome, used to speak on the three signs of the diabolic, three signs which accompany the presence of the devil. Can you imagine what they might be? Archbishop Sheen said they were nudity, violence, and confusion (disorder). Without delaying to go into the first two let’s look at the last one because that touches on our subject of sacred order.
Wherever the devil is there is confusion. In fact, one of the classic ways of discerning whether a supernatural experience or vision or locution is of God or of Satan is to discern whether it brought peace or confusion. Satan does not like hierarchy because the peace which sacred order brings makes it easier to recognise truth and he passionately hates truth. So in order to successfully spread error he needs to first create confusion.
Now we may need to pause here and let this sink in. Order makes it easier to see truth, to recognise it, and to immediately identify its opposite - falsehood. Hans Urs von Balthazar said that truth is much like a symphony. All the notes have their proper place - all are arranged in order. It is precisely because of this order that a false note can be easily spotted. It draws attention to itself because it is not 'in order', so to speak.
If all the notes of the music were scrambled up and confused so that each musician played them in whatever order he liked, the false note would be almost impossible to spot.
Everything in the world is hierarchical because God made it so.
The plants are higher than the rocks and the water; the animals are higher than the plants; humans are higher in the hierarchy than animals; angels higher than humans - and all are infinitely lower than God himself.
And everything in the Church is hierarchical - because Jesus made it so. The Church has the sacred order Jesus gave to it - to his teaching, to the Mass, to authority, the Magisterium, prayer, and so on; it’s all hierarchical.
The opposite of hierarchy is either anarchy, or dictatorship.
Anarchy is no order at all and dictatorship is a false order, usually imposed with the gun. Naturally enough, Satan loves both anarchy and dictatorship. Hierarchy is true order and it alone leads to peace, health and growth. Therefore we should love hierarchy and protect it and thank God for it.
Remember I told you on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul how when the Anglicans first started the debate on the ordination of women my Anglican minister friend told me with great distress: It's tearing our communion apart and we have no one with the authority to stop it.
Today we see Jesus in the Gospel giving Peter hierarchical authority in the Church. Peter professes the truth of who Jesus is and this becomes the foundation of our Catholic faith: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
This truth came to Peter from above – hierarchically - from God the Father himself. The democratic, consultative model with which some of us want to adorn the Church failed dismally to recognise who Jesus was: Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. In other words: we haven't got the foggiest idea who he really is.
Truth, like revelation, true authority and true communion, comes from above.
Jesus gave Peter custody of the Church and sole authority over it - and what a great blessing it has proved to be down the centuries! With one word the Pope can settle any dispute or doctrinal debate. When he teaches ex cathedra, i.e. from the chair of Peter, on a matter of faith or morals, he cannot be contradicted. When he speaks definitively, as he has on a whole range of issues, his teaching must be assented to.
At times this can be difficult for some but this hierarchical authority of the Pope has ensured the survival of the Catholic Church down through the ages and given it a guarantee of truth for those seeking full communion.
The Pope can make mistakes in his private life. He can do all sorts of things that show he is only a human being. Benedict's glasses, sitting very crookedly on his nose when he read his first speech after becoming Pope, made me smile with the realisation, ‘Yes, he’s just a man, but given an extraordinary task.’ Crooked glasses, or even actual sins, will not spoil the guarantee God has given in the gift of the papacy: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.