Pallium and the Passion

During Holy Week, that week that begins with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem celebrated on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord and culminates one week later on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection, each diocesan church celebrates, in addition to the rites of the Sacred Paschal Triduum celebrated in every parish, the Chrism Mass. At that Chrism Mass the local bishop gathers with all the priests of his diocese who not only renew their priestly promises and concelebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist with their bishop but also join him in blessing the Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick together with the consecration of the Sacred Chrism by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This year, as we prepared for the celebration of this Chrism Mass, which is the largest single celebration for which I am responsible as Director of our Archdiocesan Liturgy Office, I was asked by Archbishop Sartain to prepare his Pallium. You can see at left an image (courtesy of Salt+Light) of our Archbishop Sartain when he was presented with the Pallium, that white woolen garment with five black Maltese Crosses worn like a yoke around his neck. Into three of these five crosses are inserted three nails. In the insertion of the pins into the pallium we see a mimesis or inconographic representation of the crucifixion of Christ whose body was pierced five times by the three nails and Longinus’ lance. The pallium (or omophor in the Byzantine tradition) is the outer garment used since the ninth century by metropolitan archbishops, conferred, twelve per year, once a year on the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul (June 29) directly by the Pope on archbishops. The pallium is made from the wool of lambs raised by the Trappist monks of Tre Fontane who present the wool on St Agnes Day (January 21) to be woven by the Benedictine nuns of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere into the pallium, echoing the agnus Dei, the Lamb who was pierced and slain only to be raised up, and those lost sheep to whom the apostles were sent and who are now placed like a yoke on the shoulders of the metropolitan archbishops as successors to the apostles. As we prepared to enter into the Paschal celebrations of Holy Week, placing the nails in the crosses on that Pallium was a simple yet profound experience for me of entering into the pastoral ministry entrusted to our local shepherd, the chief liturgist of our Archdiocese of Seattle. This imagery is of course recapitulated in every parish as the five pins are inserted into the Paschal Candle at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, as the candle is also scarified with the symbols of eternity, as the wax is consumed to give light to the scriptures, to the world, and to guide us on the way to salvation.

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