Pontifical insignia of a Bishop

Bishop Johnston carries his crozier as he exits the Cathedral flanked by a Knights of Columbus honor guard. (Joe Cory/Key photo)

Bishop Johnston carries his crozier as he exits the Cathedral flanked by a Knights of Columbus honor guard. (Joe Cory/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

Bishops are direct successors of the Apostles. The word itself comes from the Greek episkopos, meaning overseer.

After Pentecost, those first bishops traveled to different parts of the known world, preaching Christ crucified and his teachings. They also trained, ordained and consecrated others as successor bishops. The training, ordination and consecration was repeated by their successors and so on through the centuries.

Bishop James Vann Johnston, Jr., the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, at the time of his ordination and consecration in 2008 as Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, received symbols of his office: a ring, a miter and a crozier.

As bishop, he is entitled to a personal coat of arms, which upon his installation in this Diocese, was joined (impaled in heraldic terms) with the coat of arms of this Diocese.

The amethyst ring Bishop Johnston received upon his consecration is his to wear as long as he serves as a bishop, no matter which diocese he is sent by the Pope to govern. Called a pontifical ring, it is symbolic of his fidelity to and nuptial bond with the Church. The only time he doesn’t wear it is on Good Friday as the entire Church is in mourning over the death of Christ.

A bishop may also have a ring engraved with his coat of arms or another ecclesial symbol. In the late third or fourth century, St. Augustine of Hippo, himself a bishop, wrote of the ring as a seal for ecclesial and other official documents. The ring was pressed into hot wax sealing the document leaving a coat of arms or other symbol, probably the genesis of the ring as a symbol of the bishop’s office. Of course, nowadays the bishop’s seal is usually done in ink, not hot wax. Worn on the ring finger of the right hand the ring was traditionally kissed respectfully by priests and laity on bended knee. The first mention of the pontifical ring as part of the official insignia of a Bishop can be traced back to both a decree by Pope Boniface IV and to St. Isidore of Seville, early in the seventh century.

The proper liturgical headgear for all bishops of the Latin rite, including the Pope, the bishop of Rome, is the Miter. Although the word is derived from the Greek word, mitra (a band of cloth tied around the head, leaving the remaining fabric to fall down the back of the neck), its origin is Roman. The miter today is based on a non-liturgical head covering worn by the popes. It is constructed of two flaps of material stiffened by a lining and rising to a peak, sewn together on the sides and united by a piece of material that can be folded together so it can be laid flat. Two lappets trimmed with fringe hang from back of the miter. The Latin name for the lappets is infulae, originally headbands worn by priests, dignitaries, and others among the ancient Romans.

As early as the eighth century, a form of the miter, the camelaucum, was used and mentioned in part II of the Liber Pontificalis. Originally reserved for papal use, at some time during the 12th century, it became customary for bishops also.

There are three distinct types of miters, each worn at specified times as outlined in the Roman Ceremonial. The ornate Precious miter is decorated with embroidery and perhaps gemstones. The Cloth of Gold miter and the plain white linen Simplex or simple miter, have their function, use and time of wearing. Bishops usually wear an ornamental miter; the Simplex miter is reserved for penitential times, funerals, Good Friday and concelebrations when he isn’t the principal celebrant.

The Crozier, shepherd’s crook, is a symbol of the governing office of the diocesan shepherd, the Bishop (or an abbot). The crozier, also known as a pastoral staff, comes from the Middle English word, crosier, meaning staff bearer. It can be fashioned from precious metals or carved from a variety of woods, decorative or plain and simple.

The Bishop bears the crozier as shepherd of his flock, the community under his canonical jurisdiction.

In addition to celebrating all seven sacraments, a bishop is delegated ordinary governing power over a particular ecclesial jurisdiction, a diocese; this is why he is also known as the Ordinary of a diocese. Any bishop, diocesan Ordinary or not, uses the crozier when presiding at liturgies or conferring sacraments. He carries the crozier facing outward in his diocese, and inward when outside the diocese. He holds it in his left hand, freeing his right for blessings.

Traditionally, the crozier is described as a shepherd’s staff with a hook at one end to pull the stray sheep back into the flock; a pointed finial at the other to goad reluctant sheep, and a strong support rod in between.

A bishop always wears the Pectoral Cross, which comes in two forms. A simple, everyday pectoral cross is worn on a chain around his neck. The pontifical pectoral cross is ornate, perhaps even containing a relic of a saint. The cross gets its name from being worn on the breast or pectus (pectoralis).

There are rules for wearing the cross. When clad in clerical suit and collar, the cross is placed in the shirt or coat pocket with the chain in view. This has been a tradition since the 17th century, although now some allow the cross and chain to hang free. When he wears the black cassock and purple sash, the cross is worn outside the cassock either hanging free or fastened to a button on the cassock. During liturgies, the Bishop wears the cross suspended from a green and gold silk cord and worn over the alb but under the chasuble.

Historically, the pectoral cross dates back almost 2,000 years. In Christianity’s early years, a cross was customarily worn by laity and priests as well as bishops.

Pope Innocent III (1190 – 1216), credited with instituting certain norms in papal garments and ornamentation, described the cross as a pontifical ornament. It was introduced for bishops toward the end of the 13th century but they didn’t generally wear it. According to canonist, liturgical writer and Bishop of Mende, Guillaume Durand or Durandus, who died in 1296, “it was left to the discretion of the individual bishop …” Widespread use in the Western church started during the 14th century, and Pope Pius V first required it around 1570.

The miter, ring, crozier and pectoral cross are blessed when given to a bishop at the time of his consecration and are referred to as Pontificals. When he uses them while celebrating Mass in his cathedral, it is called a Pontifical Mass.

During a Pontifical Mass, special servers wearing a vimpa or veil around their shoulders will wrap its ends around their hands to hold the miter or crozier when they are not in use. The blessed items may not be touched bare-handed except by the Bishop and his personal Master of Ceremonies (a priest or deacon). The vimpa may be embroidered similar to the Bishop’s chasuble or his coat of arms may be emblazoned on it.
The vimpa is also worn for a practical reason. Wrapping the hands before touching the miter or the crozier prevents skin oils from soiling the miter or corroding the crozier.

The small skullcap, the zucchetto, has been worn by prelates since the 13th century. The pope wears a white zucchetto, cardinals wear red and bishops purple.

Historically a chair was symbolic of the authority to teach. The bishop’s chair, the cathedra (Latin for chair; Greek for seat), symbolizes his teaching office and pastoral authority; its place in a church makes the church a cathedral. Our Diocese has two cathedrals — the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City and St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral in St. Joseph.


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October 30, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph