Sacred symbols of bishops

| May 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

A bishop and archbishop wear special symbols and vestments particular to their office. Drawing from information in “The Church Visible” (1996) by James-Charles Noonan Jr., the following is a short primer on their meaning, history and use.

Miter
The miter’s use in the Church dates to the tenth century, but it likely has roots in headgear worn by Greek athletes. It is most commonly seen in the Gothic style, with pointed peaks and two long fabric strips attached to its back. It is worn by bishops and abbots to symbolize the offices’ dignity and jurisdiction.

Crosier
Officially known as the pastoral staff, the crosier symbolizes a bishop’s pastoral authority and “Christ’s love and protection for his people as a shepherd would watch over his sheep,” Noonan wrote. It can be traced to the walking sticks of the Twelve Apostles and, in the early Church, was made of wood.

Episcopal ring
The episcopal ring signifies the bishop’s authority and dates to the third century. Symbolic of the bishop’s marriage to the Church and “spiritual parentage” of the diocese’s faithful, the ring “binds the priests and the faithful to the bishop and his teaching on all spiritual matters,” Noonan wrote. It is worn on the right hand’s ring finger.

Metropolitan cross
Also known as an “archiepiscopal cross,” the metropolitan cross is carried in procession before an archbishop. It is distinguishable from a typical processional cross by a second cross bar above the arms of the crucifix. Its first recorded use was in 1232.

Pectoral cross
Made of precious metal and worn on a chain around the neck, the pectoral cross is designed to sit near the wearer’s heart (“pectus” is Latin for breast). A pectoral cross is worn at all times by the pope, cardinals, bishops and abbots, and it reflects the dignity of their office. Some pectoral crosses contain a relic of what is
believed to be the true cross.

Pallium
The woolen pallium — a white band worn across the shoulders embroidered with crosses and traditionally beset with three gemmed pins — is a liturgical vestment that represents jurisdictional authority and is worn only by archbishops. Before it was adopted by the Church, the pallium was a simple — and larger — garment worn by the Greeks for warmth. In the early Church, both clergy and lay people wore it as a sign of their fidelity to Christ. It wasn’t until the ninth century that it became a vestment given by the pope to archbishops, as it is today. Its wool comes from lambs blessed annually on the feast of St. Agnes, Jan. 21. In recent decades, new archbishops traveled to Rome to receive pallia from the pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, but last year Pope Francis announced that the trip to Rome is no longer necessary, and archbishops will be vested during a Mass in their own dioceses by an apostolic nuncio. Archbishop Hebda is expected to receive a pallium representing his role as the metropolitan of the archdiocese and its “suffragan sees” — the dioceses of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota — at a later date.

Zucchetto
Also known as a “skullcap,” the zucchetto is worn typically by bishops, but could be worn by priests or deacons. It was created to protect the part of the wearer’s head bared by the tonsure, a hairstyle in which at least the center of the scalp is shaved as a sign of humility and piety. Archbishops and bishops wear an amaranth red zucchetto; the pope wears white. It is worn under the miter.

Illustration by Maria Wiering

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