One of the defining features of being a member of one of the catholic churches (Orthodox, Roman & Anglican) is Apostolic Succession. As I understand it, Apostolic Succession IS the defining principle of being Catholic. It is not so, if you only understand Apostolic Succession as the lineage of bishops over the centuries who have had hands laid upon them in unbroken succession since the first apostles. That in itself, is a remarkable fact, but it is what was conveyed upon them through the laying on of hands that makes this great ancient tradition the defining feature of what it means to be a Catholic within Apostolic Succession. A man who is consecrated as a bishop receives much more than just hands laid upon him; he receives the authority of the Church through the action of the Holy Spirit. The bishops of the Church who are consecrating their brother are praying for the Holy Spirit to set him aside for a unique and holy work because they believe that Christ Himself has called the ordinand to carry on the ministry of the Universal Church by means of the Holy Spirit and the Apostolic Tradition. This holy work that the bishop is called to carry on is not a new work, nor a new truth, nor a new church; it is the Faith once received by the apostles who conveyed it into the future by the command of Christ and the laying on of hands.
Apostolic Succession is not merely a romantic historic anchronism of the old liturgical churches - it is the very fiber of the Church. Apostolic Succession is the conduit for ensuring that the Faith received by Jesus' disciples is the same faith that is taught today. We would not have Bibles in our homes and churches without Apostolic Succession. Jesus entrusted his teaching to the Apostles, who entrusted it to their disciples, who entrusted it to the first bishops of the Church, who carried it through the many decades of martyrdom and persecution until the point that the Church as a whole had the opportunity to codify it into a unified body of writings which we now call Holy Scripture, or the Bible. Even the new non-denominational churches who no longer have the corporate memory of the Church, are the blessed beneficiaries of this fact.
I am so awed by this, that I have made it a point to mention in a number of my sermons, that "I do not have permission to preach anything new." The responsiblity of both the clergy and the laity is to know the difference between the Faith once delivered to the Apostles and something new. The clergy must study and preach the Received Faith, and the laity must search the Scriptures to see if the preaching is true. When this is done faithfully and energetically by both clergy and laity, our Faith is transferred to the next generation and we are fullfilling the Great Commission. Conversely, when we hear bishops and priests teaching a "new tradition" that is different than the recieved Faith, we know that something is not right. Those bishops and priests may have recieved the laying on of hands within the human lineage of Apostolic Succession but they are not following the commission that they vowed to keep when they were ordained. Apostolic Succession without the Received Faith is empty. It is a lifeless shell. In fact, Apostolic Succession without the Received Faith is NOT a true succession. It is a masquarade. In the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21.28-32), Jesus made it clear that it was the son who finally went as his father bid him, who did the will of his father, not the one who said he would go and then did not obey.
A bishop vested in cope and mitre, who holds a crozier, and wears a brilliant ring with the seal of the diocese is a very imposing figure. But only the one who protects and conveys the Faith once Received - the Good News of Jesus - only that bishop is bearing witness to the full measure of Apostolic Succession.