Catholic CornucopiadCheney

XVII. The Pallium

The Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church

The Pallium is a sacred band of white wool, adorned with crosses, and worn over the shoulders, so as to hang down a little in front and behind. The extremities consist of thin sheets of lead cased in black silk.

There is a diversity of opinion amongst ecclesiastical antiqurians concerning the origin of the Pallium. Some have held that it was an ornament of imperial dignity, but that the Christian emperors granted to the princes of the ecclesiastical hierarchy the privilege of wearing it. Others deduce it from the Ephod or the Rational of the Jewish high priest, and a third party would ascribe its origin to a design of the church to give to her chief pastors a sacred vestment which would, by its mystic or symbolic meanings, perpetually remind them of their duties. The learned Vespasiani, late professor of ecclesiastical history in the college of the Propaganda, Rome, and at present bishop of one of the sees of Italy, published an essay, last year, in support of the following proposition: “The true signification of the Apostolical Pallium, seems to be the representation of the Pallium or outer garment of St. Peter. The Roman Pontiffs wear it as a mark that they hold the place of Peter. It is granted to other prelates as a sign that their authority emanates from the Pope, the representative of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles.”

The arguments of the learned professor are numerous and solid, and invest his opinion with the highest degree of probability, that, perhaps, can ever be attained on the subject. We present a brief analysis of them to our readers.

The Pallium or himation was to the Greeks and Orientals what the toga was to the Romans. It was a square piece of cloth worn over the shoulders, flowing down behind, and covering the breast and arms of the wearer more or less, at his pleasure.

The Jews also used the Pallium. “Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt tell them, to make to themselves fringes in the corners of their garments, putting in them ribbons of blue: that when they shall see them, they may remember all the commandments of the Lord, and not follow their own thoughts and eyes going astray after divers things.” (Num., xv. 38.)

The word garments in this passage is palliorum in Latin, and himation in Greek. St. Luke tells us of the woman having the issue of blood, “that she touched the hem of Christ’s garment and was cured.” Again the Greek text has himation for garment.

The ancient christians had no peculiar form of dress, but adopted that which was worn at the time; hence they, too, used the Pallium. Moreover it is considered highly probable by Liturgists that their sacred vestments were not different in form, but only in greater neatness, from their ordinary dress. Who, for instance, doubts that the subdiaconal tunic and the diaconal dalmatic originated from garments of that name worn as articles of civil dress in the times of the Roman emperors? In this way the Pallium became an article of ecclesiastical attire, in fact, the chief one because it held the most important and dignified place among the articles of civil dress. Nor was it devoid of sacred significations. It was a memorial of the commandments of God and continence from worldly desires: this is a natural consequence of the text of Deuteronomy already quoted. Christ and the Apostles wore the Pallium and thereby sanctified it.

The present form of the Pallium is, of course much different from what it was anciently. Times and places have changed it just as they have changed the form of the other sacred vestments.

Sacred Scripture and Church History clearly prove the fact that the Pallium, or outer garment, of saintly personages was reverently preserved and sometimes worn by others. To assume the Pallium of another was to imbibe his spirit and profess to be his disciple. Hence among the Romans the phrase ex toga ad pallium transire meant to devote oneself to the study of Greek philosophy; for the Pallium was one of the distinctive articles of dress of the learned men of Greece. “And the Lord said to him (Elias) : “Eliseus the son of Japhat, of'Abelmeula, thou shalt anoint to be prophet in thy room. … And Elias departing from thence found Eliseus, and when Elias came up to him, he cast his mantle upon him.” (III. Kings, xix. 16, 19.) The corresponding word for mantle in the Latin Vulgate is pallium. When Elias was taken up in a chariot of fire, he dropped his Pallium, as a legacy to his faithful disciple, and immediately Eliseus used it as the instrument of his miraculous powers. He struck the waters of the Jordan with the sacred garment, and they were divided, and the prophet passed over dry shod.

St. Jerome relates, in his life of St. Paul the Egyptian Hermit, that the venerable man begged from St Anthony the mantle or Pallium which St. Athanasius, the Patriarch of Alexandria, had given him; St. Paul did it in order that it might serve as a winding sheet for his burial; Thus he professed that he hold the same faith as Athanasius, the intrepid champion of the Divinity of the Eternal Word against the impious Arians.

Nicetes the Paphlagonian says that St. Ignatius of Constantinople was clothed by his domestics with the sacred vestments of the patriarchal dignity; then, with the greatest reverence, they placed on his shoulders the humeral veil of St. James the brother of our Lord. The same author relates that the garment in question had been sent from Jerusalem, and that the Patriarch Ignatius regarded it with as much veneration as if he had seen it on the shoulders of the Apostle James. He ordered that it should be buried with him.

The testimony of the Deacon Liberatus, [Liberatus was a Latin writer of the 6th century.] in his history of the Nestorians and Eutychians, is still more striking; speaking of the consecration of Theodosius as Patriarch of Alexandria, after the death of Timothy, he says: “It is customary at Alexandria that he who succeeds a deceased bishop should keep watch over the corpse, and having applied the right hand of the dead prelate to his own head, should proceed to bury the body, having taken from it and placed round his own neck the Pallium of the Blessed Mark. Then he may legitimately occupy the episcopal throne.” St. Mark, the Evangelist was the founder of the Church of Alexandria and its first bishop. His successors wore his Pallium to testify that they represented him, and had their succession of orders and jurisdiction from him.

Two passages, of similar import with the preceding, the one taken from a sermon on the Epiphany ascribed to Eusebius of Caesarea, the other from a sermon on the sacredotal vestments which bears the name of St. Maximus, make Vespasiani’s argument still stronger.

Eusebius writes thus: “Nothing is more ancient than that priestly garment of our chief Pontiff which has succeeded the Ephod of the Old Testament. Linus was first clad with it, in token of plenary power, and he it was who, according to ancient writers, gave it the name of Pallium and attached to it a typical meaning.”

St. Linus was the immediate successor of St. Peter. He was first clad with it, because he was the first that wore the Pallium of the Prince of the Apostles. That the vestment in question refers to Peter seems evident from the phrase in token of plenary power, and he attached to it a typical meaning: in sigum plenissimæ potestatis—cui et typum dedit. Linus possessed plenary power because he was the successor of St. Peter. He attached a typical meaning to the Pallium, because on St. Peter it was an article of every day dress, on Linus it was a sacred vestment, typical of his apostolic succession.

St. Maximus says: “Our Patriarchs are of opinion that the Pallium was instituted by Linus, the second Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter; and it is given to our prelates, filled with the spirit of God, as a peculiar mark of power.”

The sacred rites connected with the Pallium afford new proofs of its origin from the Pallium of St. Peter. The phrase generally used by Archbishops in petitioning for this holy ornament, and by the Apostolic See in granting it, is Pallium de corpora Sancti Petri—the Pallium, from the body of St. Peter.

It is blessed on the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, by the Sovereign Pontiff, after Vespers on the Feast of St. Peter’s martyrdomt 29th June), the happy day on which the Saint laid aside his earthly Pallium to receive a royal robe of glory in the kingdom of heaven. The hallowed Pallia are then put in a casket and left on the sacred tomb, to be taken thence, as the wants of the Patriarchs and Archbishops of the Church may require.

It has been customary, from ancient times, for the Bishop of Ostia to consecrate the Pope (in case he should not have been a bishop before his elevation to the Papacy) at the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica. The new Pontiff takes his Pallium from the same holy shrine, thus representing to the life what Liberatus relates of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, taking the Pallium of St. Mark from the body of their deceased predecessor. The Papacy never dies; it is ever issuing forth phoenix-like, from the ashes of dead Pontiffs, going through a series of resurrections, the legitimate consequences and perpetual representations of Christ’s Resurrection from the tomb.

The learned author whom we have taken as our guide in what concerns the Pallium has numerous other arguments, drawn from ancient and modern rites connected with the sacred ornament, confirmatory of his proposition. These we pass over, to come to points of more immediate interest.

On the 21st of January, the Feast of the Virgin Saint Agnes, the religious inhabiting the convent bearing the Saint’s name, in Rome, offer two spotless white lambs, at the Agnus Dei of the Solemn Mass, celebrated in the Church of St. Agnes. After the Ite, Missa est, the little animals are placed on the altar, one at the side of the Gospel, the other at that of the Epistle, on cushions of white damask fringed with gold. The celebrant blesses them, and then a master of ceremonies of St. John Lateran, accompanied by a suite of officers, proceeds to the Vatican, and lays the lambs at the feet of the Pope, who gives them a second benediction. They are then confided to the care of the Nuns of the Blessed Sacrament, and at the proper season they are shorn and the wool is woven, by the religious, into Pallia. These insignia are placed on the tomb of St. Peter on the Vigil of his feast, and are blessed the next day, as we have already described.

The white wool is emblematic of the purity and innocence of life of the Prelates of the Church, the anointed wearers of the Pallium. The lambs, from the fleece of which it is made, remind them that they have charge over the lambs and sheep of Christ, the souls of men. They wear the Pallium over the shoulders that they may remember to imitate the Good Shepherd; that they may be faithful to go out into the deserts and thickets of the world in search of the strayed and thorn-entangled sheep, and bring them back on their shoulders to to the sheep fold. The Pallium is marked with six black crosses, to show that the chief pastorship is a weighty burden, a heavy cross: imposuisti homines super capita nostra. These crosses were originally red, but in the middle of the thirteenth century, the present color, black, was substituted.

The Pope, because he is successor of St. Peter, and has universal jurisdiction over the whole Church, wears the Pallium at all times and in all places, over his other sacred vestments. Patriarchs, Primates and Archbishops have, too, the right of wearing the Pallium, but only in the limits of their province and on certain days, a list of which is given in the Roman Pontifical. Some Bishops have the privilege of the Pallium, either because it has been granted to the See, which they occupy, or to themselves personally, as a mark of the peculiar favor and honor in which they are held by the Apostolic See. The dioceses of Ostia, in Italy, of Autun and Puy, in France, are examples of privileged bishoprics. Amongst the acts of the Secret Consistory held by Pope Pius IX., in the palace of St. Michael-in-Bosco, Bologna, on the 3d of August, 1857, was a request for the Sacred Pallium for the Cathedral Church of Volterra in Tuscany, thus privileged by a Bull of His Holiness, under date of the 1st of August, 1856. The occupant of that See, appointed in the same Consistory, is Monsignore Joseph Targioni.

An Archbishop elect cannot take that title before the reception of his Pallium; and although already a Bishop, Canon Law suspends the exercise of many of his episcopal functions. He may, however, in that case, licitly request his suffragans to act for him.

The privilege of wearing the Pallium is a personal one, yet restricted, in its exercise, to a certain place. Pallium datur personæ, sed contemplatione loci. This axiom of the Gloss on Canon Law explains the following disciplinary regulations regarding the Pallium:

An Archbishop cannot allow another prelate to use his Pallium.

When he dies the Pallium must be buried with him.

An Archbishop, translated to another Archiepiscopal See must get a second Pallium, because the first was granted for his first metropolitan church, contemplatione primes ecclesiaæ. Yet he ought to keep his first Pallium. When he dies the second Pallium is put round his shoulders, and the other is laid under his head.

An Archbishop who resigns his See, and is afterwards re-appointed to it, must apply for a new Pallium.

If an Archbishop should, by any chance, lose his Pallium, he may exercise pontifical functions without it, but he must apply for another.

A Pallium which has been granted but never given to a prelate, cannot be given to another. It is to be burned and the ashes thrown into the Sacrarium. [The Sacrarium is a conduit from some part of the church, generally the Sacristry or Vestry, to the blessed ground on which the church is built.]