Q: Have there always been bishops in the Church?

A: The short answer is “yes.” We know from the Bible that Jesus founded the first bishops, which also were known as the Apostles. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit other bishops followed or succeeded these Apostles as the “first bishops” shared the “episcopal ministry” with the bishops who followed them.

In other words, there is an unbroken chain or tradition between myself and my brother bishops and the Apostles who walked with Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago.This is edifying, for the Eucharist, which we celebrate at Mass, depends on the ministry of bishops. As the priest is an extension of the ministry of the bishop, it is through him that we have Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist at the altar.

How blessed we are to have within Jesus Christ’s Church, the Catholic Church, the great gift of the magisterium, which is made up of Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter, and his brother bishops.

Q: If a person confesses their sins to God by themselves, instead of confessing them to God with a priest, does it still count as the Sacrament of Reconciliation or not?

A: As Jesus established the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Our Lord also founded the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation occurs only through the priest, who represents Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, the answer to your question is “no.”

We should pray every day to God, especially at the end of the day. It is also important to share with Jesus that we are sorry for the sins we committed during the day. However, this is not the same as going to the priest for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Not to simplify the sacrament, but at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have our sins forgiven directly through the priest by Jesus Christ, and, in turn, Jesus fills that void created by sin with his grace. That purifying grace is received through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus not only forgives us our sins, but through the sacrament repairs the damage we have done. How blessed we are that Jesus always wants to heal us.

Q: How do we know about purgatory if no one has been there and come back? We know this is a period of cleansing, but how do we know this?

A: We do have in the Old Testament affirmation of a time of purification and request for mercy and forgiveness of those who have gone before us in the Second Book of Maccabees. In this story, Judas Maccabees and his brothers and friends make an offering to God to have mercy on those of their fellow brothers who died in battle but may not have been completely faithful in their service to God. Since the beginning of the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ in his work with the Apostles, we have believed in the truth of purgatory.

We need not have somebody return from purgatory to tell us it exists, but in truth, it does. You see, while God wants us to be with him forever, we also know that we may not be ready to see him face to face when our time here in this world is over. Referring to the previous question, we have the great gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which provides us the ability to be more like Jesus Christ in this world and for some this also is a sacrament that prepares them to go to God in eternal life.

One way to view purgatory is by looking at our own life with family. For example, perhaps as children, we have misbehaved, and when dinner comes, we simply expect to have dessert. However, our mom or dad tells us that we have not earned that dessert by misbehaving, but if we clean our room before dinner, then we may just get that dessert. Hopefully, this is not an over simplification of purgatory, but a reminder that in his mercy God shows us the way to Heaven, which is only through Jesus Christ.

The point is, we have the responsibility to prepare ourselves for going to heaven, but there are times that additional purification is necessary before we can rightly be with God forever. This is called purgatory in which the word comes from the Latin word “to purify.” We do have a connection with and a responsibility to our brothers and sisters who are in purgatory, as our prayers can free them or expedite their presence there. We are also quite aware that our membership in the Catholic Church extends beyond death.

Together let us pray for the souls in purgatory, that through the mercy of God and our prayers they will quickly have opportunity to be with Jesus Christ in heaven forever. This is done through prayer, as well as almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance in honor of our friends and loved ones who have died. How blessed we are as Catholics to have so many ways in which to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ in showing our world that in Jesus’ holy name there always is hope. After all, we are made in God’s image and likeness, and he wishes us to be with him forever.

To “Ask the Bishop,” write Office of Christian Formation and Schools, P.O. Box 969, Steubenville, OH 43952, attention, Joseph M. Taylor, catechetical consultant and youth ministry coordinator, or email jtaylor@diosteub.org.