Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Pallium Pre-Game Show

As most of you know, the blessing of animals is usually conducted on 4 October, the feast of St Francis of Assisi. Another traditional blessing, however, took place today at the Vatican, a day earlier than usual.

Every 21 January, the Popes have long marked the feast of St Agnes by blessing two lambs. This morning, moved up a day as the liturgical memorial falls on a Sunday, Benedict XVI continued the practice, blessing the lambs in the Urban VIII Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

The rite has a dual significance -- a lamb is the traditional symbol of the day's patron, whose name is the feminine form of "Agnus," and it's from the shorn wool of the blessed sheep that the Benedictine Sisters of S. Cecilia in Trastevere weave the year's crop of pallia, the ancient insignia proper to metropolitan archbishops which, for the last two decades, has been conferred on recent appointees to the world's residential archdioceses every 29 June, the solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, at a papal liturgy. (John Paul II is shown above performing the blessing in 2004 at the close of the Wednesday audience. Before 1984, when Wojtyla instituted the "Pallium Mass," a new metropolitan received his pallium in his cathedral from the hands of a specially-appointed papal legate.)

Once the pallia are made, the lambs-wool bands return to the Vatican, where they're blessed by the Pope after spending the night before their conferral in a gold coffin directly over the tomb of St Peter. It's notable, however, that this morning's announcement from the Holy See referred to the "Blessing" -- but not the distribution -- of the newly-woven pallia on 29 June.

As is the renewed case with beatifications, could it be that the conferral's venue will likewise be returned to the local churches? We'll see.

Barring an announcement of said devolution, no conferral pilgrimages have yet been put in motion from the States. By the time June's end rolls around, however, you'll likely be seeing three or four American delegations headed over... or, alternatively, three or four new lambswool bands making the trip this way -- not counting the replacement for the one still floating around Mobile.

L'Osservatore Romano