What is a pallium? What is its significance in the Church?

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Servers hold a tray of palliums as Pope Francis celebrates Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican June 29, 2019. After the Mass the pope presented palliums to new archbishops from around the world. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pallium is a symbol of the bishops’ unity with the pope and of the universality of the church. A pallium is a woolen band which the pope wears but is also given to newly named archbishops from throughout the world. Worn around the shoulders, palliums are about three inches wide and have a 14-inch strip hanging down the front and the back. The strips are finished with black silk, almost like the hooves of a sheep the archbishop is symbolically carrying over his shoulders.

The conferral of palliums has been part of the tradition of the papacy for many years. St. John Paul II — who began many of the Vatican practices that now seem like venerable ancient traditions — first placed the woolen bands around the shoulders of metropolitan archbishops at the feast day Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul June 29, 1983. Receiving the woolen bands symbolize both the archbishops’ unity with the Holy Father and their charge as shepherds of a local church.

In 2015, Pope Francis made one change regarding the conferral of the pallium. The new archbishops travel to Rome to concelebrate the feast day Mass with Pope Francis on June 29 and are present for the blessing of the palliums, underlining their bond of unity and communion with him.

The actual imposition of the pallium, however, takes place in the archbishop’s archdiocese in the presence of his faithful and bishops from neighboring dioceses.

The change will “better highlight the relationship of the metropolitan archbishops with their local churches, giving more faithful the possibility of being present for this significant rite,” said Msgr. Guido Marini, then papal master of liturgical ceremonies.

A truly ancient tradition, dating back probably at least to the sixth century, does not otherwise change however: The pope blesses the pallium and concedes its use by certain bishops. The current Code of Canon Law stipulates that within three months of their appointment or consecration all metropolitan archbishops (residential archbishops who preside over an ecclesiastical province) must request a pallium from the pope.

“The pallium signifies the power which the metropolitan, in communion with the Roman church, has by law in his own province,” it says. The code, however, does not specify that the pallium be received from the hands of the pope.

Source: Catholic News Service