Pope Benedict XVI invests Archbishop George J. Lucas with the pallium in 2009.


Archbishop Lucas and his lamb connection

A Church tradition that involves nearly every archbishop – including Archbishop George J. Lucas – begins anew each year on Jan. 21.

That’s the day we remember St. Agnes, a fourth-century saint and martyr whose name is often associated with the word “lamb.”

Every year on her memorial, two lambs are brought to the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls in Rome. The animals – donated by the Trappist monastery of Tre Fontane in Rome (the site of St. Paul’s martyrdom)  – are brought inside in baskets.

One basket is decorated with red flowers to commemorate St. Agnes’ martyrdom, the other with white flowers to symbolize her purity.

The lambs are blessed during a special rite before being sent to the Vatican, where they are blessed again by the pope. Next, they are then sent to the Benedictine Sisters at the Basilica of St. Cecilia in Trastevere. The lambs are cared for until just before Easter when they are shorn of their wool.

So what does that have to do with Archbishop Lucas and other archbishops around the world?

The wool sheared from the lambs is used to make pallia, stole-like ecclesial vestments worn around the necks of the pope and metropolitan archbishops.

A pallium (singular) is a thin band of white wool adorned with six black silk crosses. Pallium is a Latin word for mantle or cloak.

The pallium of Pope St. John XXIII is displayed in a museum of the Archdiocese of Gniezno, Poland. WIKIPEDIA PHOTO

Originally only a pope wore a pallium. However, today it is a symbol of a metropolitan archbishop’s pastoral authority and unity with the pope. It is worn only on certain great feasts and within the metropolitan archbishop’s archdiocese and the dioceses within his province. Archbishop Lucas is the metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Omaha, which includes the Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island dioceses.

There are some episcopal duties an archbishop cannot perform until he is invested with the pallium, which represents an archbishop’s role as a shepherd. It is a symbol of the Lamb crucified for the salvation of the world.

According to the late Pope Benedict XVI, who presented the pallium to Archbishop Lucas nearly 14 years ago:

“The symbolism of the pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life.”

Pallia are blessed on June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

New archbishops receive their pallium at the time of their installation.

During his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II took the investiture of the pallium out of the rite of installation at an archbishop’s cathedral. Instead, he chose to invest new archbishops himself on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Pope Benedict XVI continued that practice and invested Archbishop Lucas with the pallium in 2009 when he became the head of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

However, Pope Francis decided that new archbishops would receive the pallium in their cathedrals and among their own people.

As the Church’s tradition of the pallium is about to be renewed, we remember St. Agnes, a lamb-like saint who imitated the meekness and sacrifice of our Lord – the Lamb of God.

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