“May this pallium be a symbol of unity and a sign of your communion with the Apostolic See, a bond of love, and an incentive to courage.”
This was the prayer and message of Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Pope Francis’ apostolic nuncio to the United States, as he imposed the wool pallium on Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne. The ceremony took place during an evening Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage on Sept. 8 — the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Archbishop Etienne was the principal celebrant, Archbishop Pierre the homilist, and over 400 clergy, religious, and laity were in attendance, among them Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Roger L. Schwietz, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski, Juneau’s Bishop-elect Andrew Bellisario, and Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Canada’s Salt + Light Catholic Media Network.
FROM PETER’S TOMB
The pallium, Latin for “coverlet” or mantle, is a two-inch wide, circular band of white wool, with two foot-long pendants hanging at the front and back. The wool of the pallium is sheared from lambs blessed by the pope every year on the Feast of St. Agnes (Jan. 21) at the church of St. Agnes Outside the Walls in Rome. The pallium is worn over a metropolitan archbishop’s chasuble at liturgical functions conducted within his jurisdiction. It is distinctively black and white with six black Roman crosses.
On June 29 each year, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the pallium are placed on the tomb of St. Peter and blessed by the pope. In former times, a pallium was given to bishops based on personal privilege or other illustrious qualities. However, Pope Paul VI’s 1978 decision changed the practice and it has since been exclusively bestowed by the pope upon metropolitan archbishops.
At the outset of the Sept. 8 Mass in Anchorage, the archbishop’s throne, or cathedra, remained vacant. Archbishop Pierre then summoned Archbishop Etienne to the front of the altar and briefly remarked on the meaning of the pallium. He then reminded the congregation that “life without symbols is meaningless! You know this — you have them in your families. This pallium is a sign of the responsibility that Archbishop Etienne has as shepherd of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, and for his other brother bishops of Alaska.”
Following these comments, Archbishop Pierre recited the formulary prayer, and placed the soft wool yoke over the shoulders of Archbishop Etienne. The congregation applauded and Archbishop Etienne assumed his cathedra while the Gloria was sung.
Marian themes abounded. Under the direction of Kevin Barnett, a 20-member archdiocesan choir and instrumental group sang hymns such as “Song of Mary,” “Hail, Holy Queen,” and “O Holy Dwelling Place of God.” Archbishop Etienne later commented on his blog that “there was a distinct sense . . . that this date was chosen by our Blessed Mother.”
TO LIGHT AND GUARD, TO RULE AND GUIDE
During his homily, Archbishop Pierre likened the bishop’s function in his local church to that of a child’s guardian angel in the simple English prayer: “to light, to guard, to rule and to guide.” Elaborating on this theme, Archbishop Pierre tied each of the four types of action to the cardinal virtues of fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance.
“The bishop lights — he enlightens — by teaching and example,” Archbishop Pierre said. “This demands that he act using the virtue of fortitude. His mission is to lead the community with the heart of the Good Shepherd: firm and tough, but firm in love, always seeking the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
“The bishop guards — he must act with justice,” Archbishop Pierre continued. “He guards the holy church, the spouse of Christ — and the Body of Christ, of which each baptized person is a member.”
“The bishop guides and governs, practicing the virtue of temperance,” he added. “Directing and accompanying the life of the church with a spirit of humility, patience and love.”
A GOOD SHEPHERD
Reiterating the pallium’s symbolism of episcopal authority exercised in unity with the pope, Archbishop Pierre had frequent recourse to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the church (Lumen Gentium).
“The Lord desires that His service of love might be carried on ‘until the end of time,’” he quoted from the document. “After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to Simon Peter, giving him the task of the shepherd: ‘Feed my sheep.’”
That call, Archbishop Pierre said, continues for all bishops who are successors of Christ’s apostles and thus shepherds of the church.
Quoting again from Lumen Gentium, he noted: “The Second Vatican Council also considers bishops, in relationship with other bishops, as members of an episcopal college, within a group of bishops who share in the life of all the churches.”
But ultimately, said Archbishop Pierre, the bishop’s destiny is inextricably tied to that of the Good Shepherd, who is “willing to give the most precious gift: the sacrifice of his own life.”
“Ancient Near East kings often styled themselves, cynically, as shepherds of the people, disposing of them according to their will or whim,” he said. “How different is the shepherd of our humanity, who became a lamb led to slaughter, to redeem us!”
He concluded by exhorting Archbishop Etienne to “take courage,” and entrusting him and his flock to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.