... it is not a question of apostolic succession in the sense of an historical chain
of laying on of hands running back through the centuries to one of the apostles;
this would be a very mechanical and individualistic vision, which by the way
historically could hardly be proved and ascertained.
Catholic view is different from such an individualistic and mechanical approach.
Its starting point is the collegium of the apostles as a whole; together they
received the promise that Jesus Christ will be with them till the end of the
world (Matt 28, 20). So after the death of the historical apostles they had to
co–opt others who took over some of their apostolic functions. In this sense
the whole of the episcopate stands in succession to the whole of the collegium
of the apostles. To stand in the apostolic succession is not a matter of an
individual historical chain but of collegial membership in a collegium, which as
a whole goes back to the apostles by sharing the same apostolic faith and the
same apostolic mission. The laying on of hands is under this aspect a sign of
co-optation in a collegium.
(At Saint Alban's Abbey,
Hertfordshire, England, on May 17, 2003)