Princes & Patriarchs: Pallium Mass 2008

Today, the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul, marks not only the liturgical commemoration of the two 'Princes of the Church,' but also the conferral of the pallium upon the Church's new metropolitan archbishops. The pallium, signifying the pastoral role of the new archbishop over his particular 'see,' is bestowed directly by the Holy Father in an annual Mass, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The primacy of juridical authority proper to the pope as Bishop of Rome is thus (symbolically) passed on to the newly appointed leaders of metropolitan archdioceses throughout the world. Although the pallium celebration is merely an outer sign of a much greater and interior reality, the solemnity of the celebration is certainly one of the most renowned in the liturgical year.

The imposition of the pallium coincides with the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul for a very good reason: Peter is the 'rock,' upon which the entire Church was constructed by Christ; and Paul is the great preacher of that Church's faith. Together, Peter and Paul symbolize the founding and expansion of the Christian faith. In particular, Peter is understood to be the faith's representative to the Jews—he was present in Palestine from the time of Jesus' Ascension, through the events of the Acts of the Apostles, participating in the Council of Jerusalem, and finally leaving later to establish the Church in Rome. Paul, on the other hand, is called the 'Apostle to the Gentiles'—although he was present in Jerusalem for some time, his missionary efforts were predominately focused upon Greek-speaking areas of the Mediterranean, and finally Rome, where he was martyred and buried. The joint testimony of Peter and Paul truly accounts for the faith of the early Church. This same faith—which is today entrusted to the new metropolitan archbishops from around the globe—is especially present in the Church in Rome, and in the teaching and pastoral office of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI.

This year's celebration of the Pallium Mass is particularly important, since the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is present in Rome for the beginning of the 'Pauline Year.' His All Holiness Bartholomew I, as head of the Orthodox Church in Turkey, holds a distinct position among the Orthodox bishops. Precisely one of the main reasons for the Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1054 AD, the primacy of one bishop over others has been a key point of theological disagreement throughout history. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is considered, in the East, to be primus inter pares ('first among equals'). Thus, while he is not seen as "higher" than other bishops, he is given the privilege of presiding at synods involving other Orthodox bishops. In the West, however, the 'Patriarch' or Rome (i.e. the pope) is seen not as a 'first among equals,' but rather as the head of the entire Catholic Church, with a distinction of office and dignity that truly sets him apart, over and above the office of other bishops. This ecclesiological distinction resulted in the mutual excommunication of both the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople in the year 1054. Although the excommunications were lifted in 1965, the difference in theological outlooks endures to this day.

In light of this great historical difference between East and West, the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at a Roman Pallium Mass should inspire more than a little awe. As the Pallium Mass signifies so clearly the Western belief that the pope can and does dispense, through the authority of Peter, a shared authority to the rest of the Church's bishops, the presence of the principle Eastern Patriarch indicates some level of mutual respect and hospitality between the two Churches that has not always been so noticeable. Benedict XVI has long been identified as a diligent laborer on the ecumenical front, and today's events are evidence of that fact. It is no doubt that the rift between East and West is getting smaller and smaller, due in no small part to the theological and pastoral adeptness of our current Holy Father. The Pallium Mass of 2008 should be the cause of much hope and rejoicing for Catholics and Orthodox alike. Never before—since the Great Schism of 1054—has reconciliation between the Churches seemed so feasible. How fitting that it should occur on this day, marked specifically by its commemoration of the two ancient Princes of the Church. How pleased the Lord must be to see that his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church growing closer and closer to perfect unity.

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    # by noahcarter - June 29, 2008 at 3:45 PM

    Hey, Andrew. I hope you're doing well. I love the post you put up today on the pallium Mass. I was always taught that the pope was "first among equals" as well. That he is simply a bishop, but as bishop of Rome, he holds a place of primacy among the others. Do you have any reading you could recommend that would make a clearer distinction between how the Orthodox bishops work and then how the Western bishops work? Thanks so much!


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    # by Andrew Haines - June 30, 2008 at 10:10 AM


    Like anything, understanding this one point requires understanding a lot more. The basic distinction in eastern and western ecclesiology--as far as this "primus inter pares" stuff goes--is that the East has always placed more emphasis on collegiality and conciliar accord than has the West. If you read the canons and acts of the early ecumenical councils of the Church, you will see the question addressed again and again. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 addresses the primacy of Rome over the other sees, and deals with the rising veneration of Constantinople as the "New Rome" and seat of the empire.

    If I could make one reading suggestion, which I think would not only benefit your understanding of this issue but of the entire conciliar history of the Church, I would recommend The Councils of the Church, by Fr. Norman Tanner, S.J. Not only was he my professor at the Greg, but he is a world authority on just this issue. The book is short, easy to read, and filled with worthwhile things that every Catholic should know.

    Hope that helps!

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    # by noahcarter - July 1, 2008 at 10:37 AM

    Cool. I may look into that. I was hoping to get a few things read this summer and that may be a good read. Thanks, man!

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    # by Vern Six - June 29, 2009 at 10:23 AM

    Just a quick note... the date is wrong on your posts. The year is 2009.