Pope's Processional Cross

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Pope's Processional Cross

ROME, 13 MAY 2008 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I noticed that the Holy Father is carrying a new processional cross. Can you tell us about that new cross and perhaps why the Holy Father made the decision to carry this new cross rather than the one that he has carried for the past several years — the same one that Pope John Paul II carried? Are there norms and guidelines for what type of shepherd's staff the Holy Father can carry? — B.D., Columbia City, Indiana

A: I too have noticed this new pastoral cross used by Benedict XVI. While I have no particular insights into the Holy Father's mind, I doubt that we need to try to dig out profound theological motives. The most probable reason is that he found this cross more to his taste than the other one.

The slightly abstract pastoral staff that John Paul II carried all over the world was first designed for Pope Paul VI, a connoisseur and promoter of modern sacred art. The Italian Pope established a modern arts gallery in the Vatican Museums and commissioned the huge Risen Christ bronze sculpture in the Paul VI audience hall.

Before the conciliar reform the use of a crosier or pastoral staff was almost unknown in papal liturgies.

This was because the practice of assigning the pastoral staff to a bishop did not originate in Rome but, probably, in Spain during the seventh century from whence it spread to the rest of Europe.

The popes never adopted the use of the crosier. Even today the new rite for installing a pope foresees the imposition of the pallium and placing of the Fisherman's Ring, but not the handing over of the pastoral staff.

Among the reasons adduced for this omission during the Middle Ages was that it would be improper since the reception of the pastoral staff implied investiture on behalf of a superior whereas the popes received their power from God alone.

On some rare occasions, however, such as the opening of the Holy Door and the consecration of a church, the popes did use a staff surmounted by a cross and this custom was adopted after the liturgical reform which foresaw a much more frequent use of the pastoral staff in papal liturgies.

The cross that Benedict XVI has been using belonged originally to Pope Blessed Pius IX and is much lighter than it looks. This is another plus, considering Benedict XVI's age.

There is no particular law that would oblige the Holy Father to choose one design of cross over another, and it is entirely a question of pontifical artistic sensibility.

* * *

Follow-up: Pope's Processional Cross [5-27-2008]

Along the lines of our May 13 column on the Holy Father's processional cross, several readers have sent queries about some “new” aspects of papal celebrations that they have noted.

For example, a Rochester, Minnesota, reader asks: “It seems to me that the degree of solemnity at papal liturgy has increased. Certainly, there has been no wholesale restoration of old ceremonial, but music, ceremony and setting seem more dignified. I have also noticed a few other things:

"1. The camauro appeared before Christmas, although this Pope does not seem to use the broad Roman hat which matches his red cloak. This made a splash in the news.

"2. The Pope seems to use the state stole more than his predecessor.

"3. At the meeting with the diplomats for the New Year the Pope used the velvet-and-fur mozzetta (I think this was for winter and seems to have disappeared since Paul VI).

"4. Prelates of honor seem to be resuming the mantelletum and all sorts of clergy are using the biretta, rather openly at papal functions. During the last pontificate these were invisible, although I understand permitted. I do not know what to make of all of this. Is a signal being sent? Is there a move to what my mother called "a touch of class"? Indeed, what are the usual rules for customary "choir dress" for diocesan clergy?”

There are several questions involved. But first a distinction must be made between liturgical vesture and the non-liturgical vesture that popes traditionally wear and those that form part of papal protocol due to his role as a head of state.

Among traditional papal garments are the camauro (a red, fur-lined cap), the broad red-and- gold trimmed hat, and the several formal stoles and mozzettas used when receiving civil dignitaries.

Their use often depends on papal taste. For example, Pope Blessed John XXIII revived the use of the camauro which his predecessors had largely abandoned. Pope John Paul II rarely used the more formal vestures, and since he was Pontiff for so long perhaps many came to believe that they had somehow been abolished.

This was not the case, however, and Pope Benedict XVI has simply opted to use some of the more formal attire that remains part of papal protocol.

Thus he has used both the broad-brimmed hat and the camauro on some occasions. Apart from his personal taste, it must also be remembered that the Holy Father began his ministry when he had already turned 78 and probably needs more protection from heat and cold than the athletic John Paul II did when called to be Peter’s Successor at age 58.

Keeping warm was also a motivation for John XXIII’s use of the camauro. He was also elected as an elderly man.

The increase in some aspects of solemnity in papal liturgies is perhaps even more noteworthy. The Holy Father and his personally appointed master of liturgical celebrations have clearly opted to restore some elements that had fallen into disuse, in order to give more splendor to the rites.

This can be seen in the style of albs, surplices and vestments used in the celebrations. In some cases this means using older vestments from the pontifical sacristy such as the magnificent golden miter used in the elevation of new cardinals. This miter, emblazoned with the figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe, had been a gift from Mexican Catholics to Blessed Pope Pius IX.

The violet cope used for this year’s Palm Sunday procession was a new and faithful replica of one that had belonged to the renaissance Medici Pope Leo X. The custom has also been revived of having two cardinal deacons, in miter and dalmatic, accompany the Pope in these processions to hold the cope.

The practice of placing the crucifix at the center of the altar in front of the celebrant is certainly a personal initiative of Benedict XVI.

He had already made this suggestion as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy.” For him this practice is a means of creating a “liturgical east” that helps the celebrant to concentrate on the essential meaning of the sacrifice of the Mass even when celebrating facing the people.

Finally, the vesture of cardinals, bishops, canons and other honorary prelates is still determined by the norms emanated by Paul VI in the 1969 instruction of the Secretariat of State “Ut Sive Sollicite,” substantially repeated in the Ceremonial of Bishops, Nos. 1199-1210.

These norms cover most cases although a few classes of honorary prelates continue to jealously guard some age-old privileges allowing them to wear miters, pectoral crosses and the like on special occasions.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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