The Tools of the Trade: An Explanation of Episcopal Insignia

By FATHER KEITH MATHUR Director, Office of Divine Worship

The evening of Aug. 30 His Excellency, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, blessed Bishop-elect Alfred Schlert’s insignia at the Evening Prayer service on the Vigil of his Ordination and Installation as the Fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown.

These insignia were in turn presented to Bishop Schlert Aug. 31 at the Mass of Ordination and Installation by His Excellency, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia.

These symbols of Bishop Schlert’s office hold deep history and meaning in the Catholic Church.

Episcopal Ring

Receive this ring, the seal of fidelity: adorned with undefiled faith, preserve unblemished the bride of God, the holy Church.

The episcopal ring represents the unique relationship that a Bishop has with his Diocese. It is symbolic of his fidelity to and nuptial bond with the local Church.

The first reference of the episcopal ring as part of the official insignia of a Bishop can be traced back to a decree by Pope Boniface VI in the early seventh century. A pious tradition is reverencing or kissing the Bishop’s ring. For centuries, the faithful sought to receive a partial indulgence through this action.

By means of this gesture, the faithful are not personally reverencing an individual Bishop but are symbolically showing their respect and fidelity to the apostles, whom each Bishop represents through apostolic succession.

Bishop Schlert’s episcopal ring, presented at his ordination, is a gift of his high school alma mater, Notre Dame High School, Easton.

Miter

Receive the miter, and may the splendor of holiness shine forth in you, so that when the chief shepherd appears you may deserve to receive from him an unfading crown of glory.

The miter signifies the call to holiness to which each Bishop is charged by virtue of his baptism and even more deeply through the sacred laying on of hands.

It originally was a nonliturgical head covering worn only by the Popes. The custom of wearing a miter in the liturgy was common among all bishops by the early 12th century.

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 or tassels hang from the back of the miter.

Bishop Schlert’s miter matches the vestments of all the clergy of the Diocese of Allentown and is a gift from the lay faithful of the Diocese.

Crosier

Receive the crosier, the sign of your pastoral office: and keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as Bishop to govern the Church of God.

The crosier, also known as the pastoral staff, symbolizes his call and office as model and shepherd to the flock entrusted to his care. Crosiers are often made of noble metal. They may also be made of wood, though this is more common of the crosier carried by an abbot.

Generally, the Bishop holds the crosier in his left hand so that he can freely bestow blessings with his right hand.

A symbol of the Bishop since the early centuries of the Church, St. Isidore explained that a newly consecrated Bishop received the crosier as a sign of the Bishop's need to keep watch over his whole flock, sustaining the weak and faltering, confirming those wavering in faith, and leading back the erring ones into the true fold.

Bishop Schlert’s episcopal motto, “Pasce Oves Meas” (“Feed My Sheep”) is a daily reminder of his singular role as chief shepherd of the flock of Allentown.

His crosier is a gift of his brother priests of the Diocese of Allentown.