The Pontificals


PROVIDENCE — Ordination to the Office of Bishop is, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the “fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders.” With this esteemed position come symbolic marks of the office that distinguishes bishop from priest. Many of these have been part of the Church’s rich tradition since the Middle Ages, and each has its own significance.
The most easily recognized symbol may be the miter. The tall, double-pointed headdress with the two lappets hanging down in the back evolved from the papal tiara around the 11th century.
References to such vestments appear even earlier in biblical history, including the description of a head covering to be worn by a Jewish priest in the Old Testament. A passage from the Book of Exodus, for example, states, “[Y]ou shall give instructions to make such vestments for Aaron as will set him apart for his sacred service as my priest.” These vestments include a linen mitre (Ex. 39:28), according to
As a bishop celebrates the Mass, he removes his miter at certain times as a sign of reverence as he speaks directly to God. It is specifically for liturgical and not everyday wear.
For less formal occasions, and underneath the miter, bishops wear a different type of headwear. It is not called a cap or a beanie, but a zucchetto. The Bishop of Rome, the pope, wears a white zucchetto; cardinals wear red zucchettos and other bishops wear violet.
As a shepherd of his people, the bishop carries a crosier, again in liturgical circumstances. Reminiscent of both a shepherd’s staff and a traveler’s walking stick, the crosier is a sign of his office and jurisdiction, dating back to the fourth Council of Toledo in 633. The crosier gained popularity through the following centuries as a mark of the Good Shepherd.
Similar to a married man wearing a ring to demonstrate his devotion to his bride, a bishop also wears a ring to show his love and fidelity to his spouse, the Church. His ring is a sign of his symbolic marriage to her, as well as his promise to love and care for the people of his diocese. The ring also traces its roots to signet rings of the medieval times as a symbol of authority.
Another emblem of a bishop is the pectoral cross. As the name implies, this is worn over the breast and reflects the high office of the bishop and reminds the bishop of Jesus’ passion. As he puts on his cross, the bishop says a prayer for strength and protection.
Two pieces of Bishop Henning’s episcopal regalia have personal significance for him: his ring and pectoral cross, both of which came from Bishop John O. Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, who, in 2018, presented the ring when he ordained him as auxiliary bishop of that same diocese. The pectoral cross has a connection to the Diocese of Providence, as it was worn by the late Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, who also served as coadjutor bishop before becoming the seventh bishop of Providence. At the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Mulvee, Bishop Barres delivered the homily. It was fitting that he presented the cross to Bishop Henning upon learning of his own appointment as coadjutor for the Diocese of Providence.