July 10, 2009

The pallium is an ancient symbol rich in symbolism

By Daniel Conway (Special to The Criterion)

When each archbishop received his pallium, the sign of his new role as a metropolitan archbishop, at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, Pope Benedict XVI invited him to reflect prayerfully on the meaning of this ancient symbol. (Related story: ‘Who touched me?’ Archbishops receive pallium, a sign of unity, from pope)

“The pallium is worn by archbishops as a symbol of their hierarchical communion with the successor of Peter in the governance of God’s people,” the pope said.

The pallium is a band that is worn over the shoulders when a metropolitan archbishop is wearing a chasuble.

As Pope Benedict described it, “It is made of sheep’s wool as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and the Good Shepherd who keeps vigilant watch over his beloved flock.”

The pallium is also said to be a symbolic yoke or burden placed over the archbishop’s shoulders as a reminder that he is called to unite others to Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Only the pope and metropolitan archbishops wear the pallium because they alone have a formal responsibility to promote the Church’s unity beyond diocesan boundaries.

The Holy Father said, “This vestment reminds bishops, as vicars of Christ in their local Churches, that they are called to be shepherds after the Heart of Jesus.”

The Lord invites all his disciples to be one with him—as he is one with his Father and the Holy Spirit.

As the Holy Father placed the pallium on the shoulders of each new archbishop, he imposed on them the burden of being a source of unity, and of hope, in the provinces they serve and in a global, worldwide Church that is faced with many divisions and is frequently tempted to despair.

But the pope, as Vicar of Christ, also touched them with the power of Jesus, and he assured them that, if they have faith enough to preach the Gospel boldly and with love, the Lord will strengthen them with his courage and sustain them with his love.

Promoting unity in diversity. Joining others to Christ in love and in truth. Being a model of wisdom and grace with humility, humor and deep pastoral sensitivity to the needs of their people

These are the charisms that have been given to the new archbishops, under the symbol of the pallium, to help them carry out their distinctive ministry as a sign of unity in their archdiocese, in the provinces they serve and in the universal Church. †

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