The Pallium Mass is no more

Today, 29 January 2015, Monsignor Guido Marini (Master of Pontifical Ceremonies) informed all the Apostolic Nuncios of the Holy Father’s decision to not grant the pallium to new metropolitan archbishops in Rome. With today’s decision, Apostolic Nuncios will now bestow the pallia in the name of the Pope to each new metropolitan archbishop in their respective archdioceses. This is a return to the practice in force from medieval times up to the 20th century. In those times, the pallium was simply sent from Rome to various bishops. The Pallium Mass as known in recent years, in which a whole cohort of new metropolitans would come to Rome to receive the pallium from the Pope on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, is largely a development in response to more efficient methods of modern travel (e.g., the airplane). While the individual pallia will be sent to the various archdioceses around the world, the new metropolitans will still come to Rome to celebrate Mass with the Pope on 29 June. Monsignor Marini explains the development:

Il significato di questa modifica è quello di mettere maggiormente in evidenza la relazione degli arcivescovi metropoliti – i nuovi nominati – con la loro Chiesa locale, quindi dare anche la possibilità a più fedeli di essere presenti a questo rito così significativo per loro, e anche particolarmente ai vescovi delle diocesi suffraganee, che in questo modo potranno partecipare al momento della imposizione. In questo senso, si mantiene tutto il significato della celebrazione del 29 giugno, che sottolinea la relazione di comunione e anche di comunione gerarchica tra il Santo Padre e i nuovi arcivescovi; allo stesso tempo, a questo si aggiunge – con un gesto significativo – questo legame con la Chiesa locale. [Questo gesto] arricchisce di questo significato, sicuramente molto bello, che si accompagna all’altro che permane in tutta la sua interezza e profondità.

The meaning of this change is to place in greater clarity the rapport of metropolitan archbishops– those newly nominated– with their local Church, and therefore to also give a change to more of the faithful to be present at a rite so important for them, and also to the bishops of the suffragan dioceses, who now can be present at the moment of imposition. In this sense, we maintain the entire significance of the 29 June celebration, which underscores the rapport of communion and the hierarchical communion between the Holy Father and the new archbishops; at the same time, we add– by a significant gesture– this bond with the local Church. [The new method of imposition] enriches this meaning, which is certainly very beautiful, and which accompanies the original significance, which remains in its entirety and depth.

As noted already, granting the pallium at Rome on 29 June is a relatively late development. Some (with good reason) may cite tradition to support this “return” to the original method. However, in order that appeals to tradition might not crystallize into anachronistic antiquarianism (as condemned by Pius XII in Mediator Dei), the idea of legitimate organic development ensures a connection to the past while retaining openness to the future, without rejecting or denying what is essential. In light of this, can we not say that the method of receiving the pallium in recent years– that is, receiving it from the Pope’s hands on 29 June– constitutes a legitimate and positive development of tradition?

Having been present at the 2013 Pallium Mass in Rome, I saw what this simple little ceremony meant to the new archbishops. Some were in tears, some were in radiant smiles, and all were visibly moved. To receive this insignia– an ancient symbol of the Petrine ministry– from the hands of Peter’s successor, at the tomb of the Apostle, is an honor of ineffable weight that cannot be substituted even by an Apostolic Nuncio or other pontifical legate. While they will still meet personally with the Pope for the Mass (which is, admittedly, the supreme sign of communion between the new archbishops and the Pope), to sever the pallium from the Mass reduces it to its old medieval significance– more a personal gift of a Pope to his favored prelates rather than, as the imposition formula says, vinculum caritatis et fortitudinis incitamentum (a link of charity and source of fortitude). It still outwardly symbolizes the bond with the Pope, but to receive it from a messenger than from the Roman Pontiff himself constitutes a deprivation of the symbolic closeness that, thanks to modern aviation, is now possible. By granting the pallium far from Rome, its function as fortitudinis incitamentum loses its value, since, at the moment of imposition, the archbishop is no longer at the Apostle’s sepulcher.

I hope that this is a temporary change, and I hope that future Popes might restore the positive development of imposing the pallium at Rome.

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