I often think about why apostolic succession makes sense, but also why it is the only thing that really makes sense when trying to identify authentic Christianity.
There is no doubt that out of all of Jesus’ followers, 12 stood out. We know them as the disciples. We also know that three of them were even closer to Christ than the other 9, Peter, James, and John. While all of Jesus’ followers were equal in that if they obeyed, they would enter the Kingdom, some are obviously given special tasks, as is illustrated by the 12. After Christ dies and is Resurrected, he gives the disciples a new task, they are to become Apostles. Their duty is to go to all the nations and make them disciples. They are to administer the sacraments, such as Baptism. They are to perform the institution of the Eucharist.
Why did Jesus appoint the 11 (minus Judas)? Because the Church would need guidance. He was leaving, to come back later, but while he was gone he needed leaders. In the gospels he tells his apostles that whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven. Anyone who they forgive their sins for are forgiven and anyone that they do not forgive is not forgiven. He gives his Apostles authority over his Church. Why? To protect it. They are the ones he was most close to. They received special graces by being so close to our Lord. They knew him better than anyone. He gave them the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. When disputes would come up, the Apostles would settle it. Their duty was to keep the Truth. And Simon himself was given the unique role as head Apostle. He became Rock, Cephas, Peter. He was instructed by Jesus three times to feed and tend to his flock.
Why was this so important? Because with Jesus gone, the Church needed visibility. If the Church needed visible leadership minutes after Christ left to prevent confusion, why would we think it doesn’t need it today, thousands of years after he left? We do! And apostolic succession is just the way that occurs. It was instituted by Jesus himself and the book of Acts illustrates it when Mathias is chosen by the Apostles to replace Judas. The authority of the Apostles did not come from themselves, but from the “chair” that Christ created through them. Thus, Judas’ chair needed to be filled. And when Saul had his conversion, he became an Apostle only after conferring with and being sent out by the 12.
Apostolic succession has been the cornerstone for keeping the Church on earth uncorrupted for almost 2,000 years now. It protected the Church from heresy for centuries and continues to do so to this day. And as is evident with Judas, no matter how corrupt an Apostle or their successor is, the “chair” is bigger than them because the chair is instituted by Christ himself. So when disagreements arise, where can we look? The Apostles. Where are the Apostles? Sitting on the cathedras all around our world. And those that are in union with the head apostle, Peter, his successor, who resides in Rome, can be sure to speak the truth of faith.
Today is as the early days. If you want to know the truth, look to the ones Christ gave us, the Apostles. They have been given authority by Christ, not by men or by themselves as other leaders claim.