This Monday, June 29, is the Solemnity of St. Peter & St. Paul. These two saints are the patrons of the city of Rome, where they died as martyrs for the Faith. It’s traditionally the day on which new archbishops go to Rome to receive something called the “pallium” from the pope. The pallium is a white piece of woolen cloth, woven in the shape of a yoke and decorated with six crosses. The archbishop wears the pallium around his neck as a sign of his office. Significantly, the wool that’s used to make the pallium comes from a lamb (a symbol of the sacrifice of Christ) that is shorn on Holy Thursday, the celebration of Our Lord’s institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist. The pallium thus connects the office of the archbishop to the sacred priesthood and the sacrifice of Christ, to which the bishop as a successor of the apostles is called in a special way. As the pallium is hung around the neck of the new archbishop by the pope on the Solemnity of St. Peter & St. Paul, the point is made that the apostolic faith owes its life not to the trappings of worldly power, but to the witness of the martyrs whose blood was shed for the sake of the Faith.
There’s an ancient Christian hymn that says: “O happy Rome, consecrated by the blood of the two Princes of the Apostles; dyed with their blood you shine more resplendently than all the glory of the world.” St. Peter and St. Paul were two very different men, both called by Christ to be leaders in the earliest days of the Church, both giving their lives for the Faith. There is a tradition in the Church that holds that the two saints died on the same day during the persecutions of the Emperor Nero. While this is historically unlikely, the tradition serves to emphasize the important symbolic connection of the two saints, which is highlighted by their shared feast day. St. Peter is the rock upon which Our Lord built the Church (Mt 16:13-19), and it is Peter and his successors the popes whose teaching authority ultimately preserves the Church from falling into error regarding the truths of the faith and how we are to live in accord with those truths. As such, he represents institutional integrity. St. Paul is the great missionary whose travels led to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Paul represents dynamic growth and development through evangelization and the sharing of the Faith with others. Considered together, St. Peter ensures that the Faith is grounded in the Truth of Christ, and St. Paul ensures that the Faith flourishes and expands as it is shared with the nations through the ages. These two roles complement each other, allowing Catholicism to remain ever-vibrant and relevant while staying grounded in its eternal truths.
It is fitting that on the Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul the new archbishops are reminded that theirs is an office of service. Like St. Paul, they are to serve Christ by sharing the gospel with all peoples without fear. Like St. Peter, they are to serve Christ by sharing the gospel with integrity, entirely devoted to the deposit of faith that they have inherited. Our bishops need our prayers, for their responsibilities are grave. May they be guided by the prayers and example of St. Peter & St. Paul, unafraid to make their lives a sacrificial offering in imitation of Our Lord for the sake of sharing Christ with their flocks.