Thursday, June 30, 2011

Episcopal Symbols

With the new appointment of my friend, Fr. Don, as Milwaukee's newest Auxiliary Bishop Hying, I got to wondering about all of the clothes and symbols that a Bishop must don. (Did you catch the pun-heh!) My daughter, Mary, thinks it would be a good idea if someone would make a Bishop Barbie Doll that comes with all of the many vestments. She would like a church dollhouse to go with the doll, complete with an altar, the liturgical elements and pews filled with faithful dolls at worship. Sounds like a great idea to me!






















(picture courtesy of litugical publications)

But what about all of those pontificalia, or items of attire, that Bishops wear? I began to wonder about the significance of the clothes, after all, the clothes do make the man, don't they? And now the man must strive to faithfully live up to the significance of all of the new and wonderful pontificalia of his office.

As a priest is ordained a Bishop, he takes a pectoral cross, a ring, a zuchetto, a mitre and a crozier as the symbols of his office. The pectoral cross comes from the latin, pectus, which means abreast, and it reflects the dignity of his office. The Bishop wears the cross hanging from a cord, close to his heart. Some pectoral crosses are made with relics of the true cross within them. "When putting on the pectoral cross, traditionally the bishop says, "Munire me digneris," asking the Lord for strength and protection against all evil and all enemies, and to be mindful of His passion and cross." (Fr. William Sanders, Symbols of the Office of Bishop, Catholic Education Resource Center)

The ring, worn of the fourth finger of the left hand, symbolizes the union of the bishop with his diocese, in the same way that a marriage ring symbolizes the union of husband and wife. In years past, the ring was dipped in wax to seal documents. Catholics have had a tradition of kissing the bishop's ring as a sign of reverence, and a partial indulgence was given for this act of devotion. I've never kissed a bishop's ring before, but perhaps it's time to start!

When it was the custom for a cleric's head to be tonsured, they took up the practice of wearing a zuchetto, or skull cap, to keep warm in cold and damp churches. The bishop's zuchetto is violet in color and today, out of tradition, is worn during Mass but is removed during the sanctus so that his head won't be covered in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

The mitre is only worn during liturgy and is a symbol of the bishop's authority as head and spiritual pastor. The word "mitre" comes from the Greek meaning "turban." There are three types of mitres known as Simplex, Pritiosa and Auriphrygiata, each made of different materials and used for different types of liturgy.

Fr. William Saunders has an excellent explanation of the significance of the shape of the mitre: "In the Latin Rite, the mitre originally was a headband with a veil, and eventually appeared more in its present triangular form pointing upward with two infulae or fans (two strips of cloth hanging from behind). Some suggest that the infulae originated from the sweatband that Greek athletes wore, which was wrapped around the forehead, tied behind the head in a knot with the two ends hanging down the back; since the victorious athlete was crowned with a laurel wreath, the whole headdress soon was seen as a sign of victory. The mitre took on a similar symbolic meaning. Such symbolism arises from St. Paul's analogy: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on a merited crown awaits me..." (2 Tm 4:7-8). Surely, the bishop should be leading his flock in the race to salvation to final victory in Heaven."

As shepherd of the flock, the crozier is carried during liturgical ceremonies. I like Fr. William Saunders explanation of the meaning behind the crozier: "St. Isidore explained that a newly consecrated bishop received the crozier "that he may govern and correct those below him or to offer support to the weakest of the weak." As one of those "weakest of the weak" I will look to Bishop Hying's crozier as a symbol of great support.

Finally, although it is not part of his pontificalia, the coat of arms is a very significant part of the episcopacy. The purpose of the coat of arms is to identify the bishop and his diocese. "Each coat of arms is personally designed by the bishop upon his nomination and includes his ethnic origin, previous service, devotions and interest. It is adorned with a shield, a galero(hat), tassels, cross, mitre, crozier, mantle and a motto." (Bishop's Insignias) Bishop Hying's motto is "Love never fails." To see Bishop Hying's coat of arms and learn about the significance behind his symbols, visit the Archdiocese of Milwaukee website here. Please keep Bishop Hying in your prayers as he prepares for his day of ordination which will be on July 20th.

Prayer (from Bishop's Insignias)

Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your Apostles to proclaim the Good News with Peter at their head and you strengthened them with the Holy Spirit. Remind us that our bishops are appointed by that same Spirit and are the successors of the Apostles as Pastors of Souls. Together with the Pope and under his authority they have been sent throughout the world to continue your work. Help our bishop to teach all members of his diocese, to sanctify them in the truth, and to give them your nourishment. Make us obey his teachings and love him as the Church obeys and loves you. May we remain united to him, growing in faith and love, and attain eternal life with you. Amen.


For a thorough listing of all Roman Catholic Vestments, visit the Catholic Doors Ministry.

1 comment:

  1. Part of the curriculum for my religious education class is about the garb worn by the leaders of our Church. I was recently reading about the significance and the history of the cardinals wearing red and the Pope white ... it's all so interesting to me.

    My best wished to your new Bishop!

    God bless...

    ReplyDelete