What is Apostolic succession ?
Apostolic succession is the method whereby the ministry of the Christian Church is held to be derived from the apostles by a continuous succession, which has usually been associated with a claim that the succession is through a series of bishops.
This series was seen originally as that of the bishops of a particular see founded by one or more of the apostles. According to historian Justo L. GonzÃ¡lez, apostolic succession is generally understood today as meaning a series of bishops, regardless of see, each consecrated by other bishops, themselves consecrated similarly in a succession going back to the apostles.
According to the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, "apostolic succession" means more than a mere transmission of powers. It is succession in a Church which witnesses to the apostolic faith, in communion with the other Churches, witnesses of the same apostolic faith. The "see (cathedra) plays an important role in inserting the bishop into the heart of ecclesial apostolicity", but, once consecrated, the bishop becomes in his Church the guarantor of apostolicity and becomes a successor of the apostles.
Those who hold for the importance of apostolic succession via episcopal laying on of hands appeal to the New Testament, which, they say, implies a personal apostolic succession (from Paul to Timothy and Titus, for example). They appeal as well to other documents of the early Church, especially the Epistle of Clement. In this context, Clement explicitly states that the apostles appointed bishops as successors and directed that these bishops should in turn appoint their own successors; given this, such leaders of the Church were not to be removed without cause and not in this way.
Further, proponents of the necessity of the personal apostolic succession of bishops within the Church point to the universal practice of the undivided early Church (up to AD 431), before being divided into the Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Christians of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Old Catholic, traditions maintain that "a bishop cannot have regular or valid orders unless he has been consecrated in this apostolic succession."
Wherefore we must obey the priests of the Church who have succession from the Apostles, as we have shown, who, together with succession in the episcopate, have received the mark of truth according to the will of the Father; all others, however, are to be suspected, who separated themselves from the principal succession.
In Catholic theology, the doctrine of apostolic succession is that the apostolic tradition - including apostolic teaching, preaching, and authority - is handed down from the college of apostles to the college of bishops through the laying on of hands, as a permanent office in the Church. Historically, this has been understood as a succession in office, a succession of valid ordinations, or a succession of the entire college. It is understood as a sign and guarantee that the Church, both local and universal, is in diachronic continuity with the apostles; a necessary but insufficient guarantor thereof.
Catholic Ordination ceremony
Papal primacy is different though related to apostolic succession as described here. The Catholic Church has traditionally claimed a unique leadership role for the Apostle Peter, believed to have been named by Jesus as head of the Apostles and as a focus of their unity, who became the first Bishop of Rome, and whose successors inherited the role and accordingly became the leaders of the worldwide Church as well. Even so, Catholicism acknowledges the papacy is built on apostolic succession, not the other way around. As such, apostolic succession is a foundational doctrine of authority in the Catholic Church.
Catholicism holds that Christ entrusted the Apostles with the leadership of the community of believers, and the obligation to transmit and preserve the "deposit of faith" (the experience of Christ and his teachings contained in the doctrinal "tradition" handed down from the time of the apostles and the written portion, which is Scripture)
The apostles then passed on this office and authority by ordaining bishops to follow after them.
Roman Catholic theology holds that the apostolic succession effects the power and authority to administer the sacraments except for baptism and matrimony. (Baptism may be administered by anyone and matrimony by the couple to each other.) Authority to so administer such sacraments is passed on only through the sacrament of Holy Orders, a rite by which a priest is ordained (ordination can be conferred only by bishop). The bishop, of course, must be from an unbroken line of bishops stemming from the original apostles selected by Jesus Christ. Thus, apostolic succession is necessary for the valid celebration of the sacraments.
On 29 June 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church Vatican II explained why apostolic succession is integral to, and indeed, "a constitutive element" of the Church. In response to the question why the Second Vatican Council and other official statements of the Catholic Church do not call Protestant Christian Communities "Churches", it stated that "according to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense". See Dominus Iesus, Paragraph 18.
Views concerning other churches.
Pope Leo XIII rejected Anglican arguments for apostolic succession in his bull Apostolicae curae.
In the Catholic Church, Pope Leo XIII stated in his 1896 bull Apostolicae curae that the Catholic Church believes specifically that the Anglican consecrations are "absolutely null and utterly void" because of changes made to the rite of consecration during the 16th century under Edward VI, thus denying that Anglicans participate in the apostolic succession.
Anglican clergy, then, are ordained as Catholic priests upon entry into the Catholic Church.
Ordination of an Orthodox priest by laying on of hands. Orthodox Christians view apostolic succession as an important, God-ordained mechanism by which the structure and teaching of the Church are perpetuated.
While Eastern Orthodox sources often refer to the bishops as "successors of the apostles" under the influence of Scholastic theology, strict Orthodox ecclesiology and theology hold that all legitimate bishops are properly successors of Peter.
This also means that presbyters (or "priests") are successors of the apostles. As a result, Orthodox theology makes a distinction between a geographical or historical succession and proper ontological or ecclesiological succession. Hence, the bishops of Rome and Antioch can be considered successors of Peter in a historical sense on account of Peter's presence in the early community.
This does not imply that these bishops are more successors of Peter than all others in an ontological sense.
According to ancient canons still observed with the Orthodox communion, a bishop must be consecrated by at least three other bishops; so-called "single handed consecrations" do not exist. Moreover, bishops are never ordained "at large" but only for a specific Eucharist community, in due historical and sacramental succession.