Symbols of the office of Bishop: Unique invitations to pray for our shepherd

By Pedro A. Moreno, OP



The bishop’s symbols of office (ring, crozier, and miter) were blessed at a Vespers service the evening before Bishop Olson’s ordination. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / NTC)

Bishops wear distinctive symbols or insignias, also known as regalia. These religious items, some worn on a regular basis and others only within liturgical celebrations, communicate to us the bishop’s special place within the Church.

The bishop, by his ordination, has received the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and when we see the bishop wear these symbols, perhaps we should do something more than just be aware of their meaning. The next time you see any of these regalia, consider quietly doing something special for the bishop: Offer a short prayer for him.

The more common symbols of the bishop’s office we can see on a daily basis are the bishop’s ring and pectoral cross. During major liturgical celebrations we can also see his miter and crozier.

The Ring

The first insignia to be received by the bishop during the Rites of Ordination, and one that he wears on a regular basis, is the ring. Upon handing over to the newly-ordained bishop the ring, the principal consecrating bishop says “Receive this ring, the seal of fidelity; adorned with undefiled faith, preserve unblemished the bride of God, the Church.”

The ring symbolizes, primarily, two things. First, it is a sign of discretion since rings were used to seal private documents. Second, the ring is a sign of the conjugal nature of the relationship between the bishop and the Church. Yes, the ring represents the symbolic marriage between the bishop and the Church. The ancient custom of kissing the bishop’s ring, a custom originating from the kissing of the Ring of the Fisherman, also known as the Piscatory Ring or Papal Ring, is our way of, on special occasions, expressing our respect of his authority, our fidelity to him as our shepherd, and through him, our fidelity to Christ and his Church.

Prayer: Jesus, may our Bishop continue to grow in his love for his bride, the Church, and may his love always bear fruits of fidelity to You, Lord, and discretion in his decisions. Amen.

The Pectoral Cross

While not part of the Rites of Ordination, another symbol of the bishop that he wears both on a daily basis and at liturgical functions, and a relatively new addition to the symbols of the bishop, is the pectoral cross. It is called pectoral because it is worn over the pectus or breast of the bishop, close to his heart, and its use began between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Traditionally, the bishop will take the cross, kiss it, and while placing it over his neck, say the following short prayer, “Munire me digneris,” in which he petitions God for protection against his enemies, and begs to bear in mind continually the Passion of Jesus, and the triumphs of the confessors of the Faith. We can echo this sentiment with this next prayer.

Prayer: Protect our Bishop, oh Lord, from all who wish him harm. May his heart be immersed in your Paschal Mystery, and may he guide us in faithfully living our lives centered in Jesus Christ.Amen.

The Miter

The next insignia which is given to the newly-ordained bishop during the Rites of Ordination, and which is clearly visible during his official liturgical celebrations, is the miter. The principal consecrating bishop places a miter on the head of the new bishop while saying: “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 is a headdress which points upward toward heaven and can be compared to the laurel wreathes given to victorious athletes. It has become a symbol of how the bishop will be received in heaven with his whole flock and rewarded for his fidelity. 2 Timothy 4: 7-8 says, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”

Prayer: Loving and Merciful Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon our Bishop. Assist him with your grace and guide him to an ever increasing holiness so we may see You, oh Lord, in him. Amen.

The Crosier

The last symbol received by the newly-ordained bishop, and the most obvious one we can see in his hand as he walks down the center aisle of the church, is the crosier. The principal consecrating bishop says: “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.”

Each bishop is a symbol of Christ the Good Shepherd. It is Christ who the bishop is trying to model himself after, and it is Christ who each bishop strives to imitate and model for the flock. The crosier also symbolizes the responsibility that the bishop has in leading all to Christ. Sometimes the crosier will be used to scare off the wolves that want to hurt the flock, and other times it can be used to pull the sheep back if they begin to wander off. The crosier tells us that the bishop is a leader after Christ’s own heart.

Prayer: Jesus Christ, good and loving shepherd, may our Bishop govern our community of faith with kindness, compassion, and firmness. May his decisions be born of wisdom and love; may he protect us always. Amen.

Honorable Mention to the Bishop’s Chair

While not part of the regalia, we need to mention here the bishop’s chair or throne in his primary church. This chair is called a cathedra and this is why this primary church is called a cathedral. From this chair the bishop presides at Mass and other solemn celebrations. The bishop is always the leader of prayer in his diocese. Because of this, when the Rites of Ordination of a bishop take place in the bishop’s cathedral church, and he is to become the ordinary bishop of that diocese, he is led to this chair after having received the symbols of his office as bishop. This symbolizes that the bishop has taken his place as the ordinary of the diocese.

Originally, this chair was the place from which the bishop would authoritatively preach and teach to those present in the church. Because of this the bishop’s chair, or cathedra, is a sign of his authority to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to teach the great truths of our faith to the Body of Christ, the Church. The bishop is the primary preacher, teacher, and catechist of the diocese. Finally, the bishop’s chair also represents the unity of the faithful around that which is taught by the community’s good shepherd, the bishop 

Prayer: Jesus Christ, our way, truth, and life; assist our Bishop as he teaches us the faith and preaches with love your Good News. May his words be filled with your Spirit and may his life be in accord with his words. Amen.

See Also

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Bp-Olson-as-HTS-rector-Button.jpgFinding Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving used to be a chore. But now thanks to a new sign on Vince Hagan Drive visible from the feeder road for Highway 114, visitors no longer get lost. That sign built in October 2013 is an example not only of the physical changes, but of the welcoming nature of the seminary that are part of the legacy being left by Bishop Michael Olson. Olson served as rector at Holy Trinity from 2008 until his recent appointment as the fourth bishop of Fort Worth.

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Bp-Olson-Symbols-of-Office-BUTTON.jpgBishops wear distinctive symbols or insignias, also known as regalia. These religious items, some worn on a regular basis and others only within liturgical celebrations, communicate to us the bishop’s special place within the Church. The bishop, by his ordination, has received the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and when we see the bishop wear these symbols, perhaps we should do something more than just be aware of their meaning. The next time you see any of these regalia, consider quietly doing something special for the bishop: Offer a short prayer for him.