This weekend Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Pauline Year at the major basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. Included in the festivities was the ceremonial institution of the pallia.
A pallium is a little-known vestment bestowed on an archbishop by a pope. This year in Rome Pope Benedict gave a pallium to 43 new archbishops who were elevated within the last year, including three from the United States: the archbishops of Baltimore, St. Paul, and Mobile.
In the most ancient image we have of Jesus, He is depicted as the Good Shepherd with a lamb on His shoulders. And so the pallium is a wool garment worn around the neck like a scarf, symbolizing a lamb. Every year on the feast of St. Agnes two sheep are blessed and shorn and the wool is woven by nuns to make the material. Five red crosses are then embroidered onto the pallium representing the five wounds of Jesus. These crosses serve as a reminder that while an archbishop is to care for his flock, he must also be ready to suffer and even die in defense of the Faith.
Once the pallia have been made they are placed in a gold box and placed in the crypt of St. Peter’s on top of St. Peter’s tomb. Many people who visit the crypt think the gold box contains the bones of the saint, but his bones are actually in the larger tomb underneath. The box is placed on the tomb to signify the unity an archbishop must have with the See of Peter as well as faithfulness to the gospel.
When it is time to present the pallia to the archbishops, the Pope processes to the crypt and removes the gold box. As shown in the picture, Pope Benedict also wears the pallium. This vestment may be worn by the Pope at any time, but an archbishop may only wear it in his own diocese and only on special feasts designated as “Pontificale.”
For more information on the history of the pallium please visit the Catholic Encyclopedia.