On June 29, Pope Francis will bless and give the pallium to new Metropolitan Archbishops to be imposed by the Apostolic Nuncio on their own dioceses. Prior to 2015, the palliums were imposed on Metropolitan Archbishops at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. However, Pope Francis changed the tradition by having the pallium imposed on the Archbishop in their own dioceses, therefore only blessing the palliums and concelebrating Mass with the new Archbishops on June 29.
Many may be asking, “What is a pallium and what does it symbolize?” A pallium is a band of white wool with two pendants embroidered with six black crosses. The ends of the pendant are black. The pallium is worn around the neck with one pendant hanging from the front and one hanging on the back. Special pins are attached onto the crosses on the top cross of the two pendants and the left side cross. The pallium itself have gone through significant development in its shape. In the past, a pallium was a very long stole of wool that was wrapped around the neck with its ends suspended on the left. Then, the ends of the pallium were slowly moved to the centre. Eventually, the pallium became a circular band with the pins added only for decorative purposes, no longer used for its practical purpose. Then, the two pendants became shorter, and shorter to the size it is today.
The pallium used today did go through some interesting times. Once during the Pontificate of John Paul II, he used the pallium with two long pendants and red crosses (see figure 2). However, he used the standard pallium like other Archbishops throughout his Pontificate. The pallium became quite interesting during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. During his installation, Benedict was
given the “old-style pallium” with the ends suspended on his left shoulder (see figure 3) and decorated with five black crosses. That pallium was later changed to a new one that had red crosses in 2008. Pope Francis wore that “revised” papal pallium until June 29, 2014 when he reverted back to the standard pallium that was given to Metropolitan Archbishops and he has kept that style since.
The wool of the lamb traditional comes from two lambs who has been blessed by the Holy Father on the feast of St. Agnes (January 21). The blessing of lambs is to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Agnes whose name means “lamb”. Obviously, the wool must have come from other lambs too since the wool of two lambs would not be enough to make palliums for almost forty bishops.
The pallium bears two meanings. First, it is a symbol of the union of the Pope with its
Metropolitan Archbishops in taking care of the Catholic Church. Metropolitan Archbishops may only wear the pallium in their Metropolitan See, in their boundaries. The Pope however has no boundaries and may wear his pallium universally. The pallium is a symbol of the good shepherd. Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago explained his his Pallium Mass homily, “Made of lamb’s wool, marked with crosses and stained at the ends in black to resemble hoofs of the sheep, it is placed on the shoulders reminding the one who wears it and the entire church he serves that we are a community that goes after the lost sheep.” The pallium is a representation and reminder of the lambs the Archbishop must carry upon his shoulders. In union with the Holy Father, he must guide the church in faith, hope and charity and like Christ the good shepherd, bring home those who have gone astray, therefore ultimately glorifying God.
The pallium is a very interesting vestment and rich in symbolism. We pray that the Archbishops who wear the pallium may be reminded to be like Christ, the good shepherd, seeking out the sheep who have gone astray and with the Holy Father, guide the Church in the right path, the path of faith, hope and charity.