Parsing the pope’s pallium

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis gave 24 new archbishops a pallium yesterday, it generated a bit of Twitter chatter … because of the pallium he was wearing.

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Conn., and Pope Francis -- wearing matching palliums --greeted each other yesterday. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Conn., and Pope Francis — wearing matching palliums –greeted each other yesterday. (CNS/Paul Haring)

It was the same as the pallium he gave to the archbishops, although his already had the three jeweled pins pushed through three of the six crosses. The new archbishops are given a nice box with their pins in it.

At least in the Vatican’s official version, the length and width of the papal pallium has been subject to change and development over centuries, usually for very practical reasons having to do with historical changes in the other liturgical vestments over which it was worn.

Pope Benedict XVI initially used a pallium based on the most ancient existing depiction of the garment’s design — those seen in the 6th-century mosaics in the churches of Ravenna, Italy.

Pope Benedict XVI wearing the long pallium on Christmas Eve 2007. (CNS/pool)

Pope Benedict XVI wearing the long pallium on Christmas Eve 2007. (CNS/pool)

However, just a little more than three years into his papacy, Pope Benedict gave up the long, over-one-shoulder stole. Instead, he chose a pallium similar to that worn by archbishops — and by Pope John Paul II and dozens of popes before him — except that Pope Benedict’s had six red crosses instead of black crosses.

For the first 15 months of his pontificate — basically, until yesterday — Pope Francis wore a pallium of the same design as Pope Benedict used beginning with the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in 2008.

Archbishop Maximian in a 6th-century mosaic in Ravenna. (Wiki Commons)

Archbishop Maximian in a 6th-century mosaic in Ravenna. (Wiki Commons)

When people on Twitter began commenting on Pope Francis’ choice and asking questions about it, I turned to the one man who could settle the question, Msgr. Guido Marini, the papal master of liturgical ceremonies. However, he didn’t make it clear whether the change was permanent.

He simply said the pope wore the pallium with black crosses “to not differentiate himself from the other metropolitans.”

(Not all archbishops receive the pallium. For example, nuncios and the archbishops who secretaries of Vatican congregations or presidents of pontifical councils do not have one. The pallium goes only to those who lead archdioceses that are main see of a metropolitan province. As the bishop of Rome, the pope is the archbishop and metropolitan of the province of Rome.)

Pope Francis wearing the pallium with red crosses at Mass in southern Italy June 21. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis wearing the pallium with red crosses at Mass in southern Italy June 21. (CNS/Paul Haring)

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