In a simple yet solemn ceremony at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port Spain on Tuesday celebrated its first pallium imposition upon Metropolitan Archbishop Jason Gordon.
Clergy, religious, parish representatives, the Archdiocesan commissions and department heads/representatives and the faithful witnessed the special liturgy.
The ritual was also the first for Apostolic Nuncio His Excellency Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu as traditionally the pallium was imposed by the pope in Rome.
Pope Francis however departed from the tradition, seeing the importance of the imposition of the pallium performed at the archbishop’s home diocese by the apostolic nuncio. He believed such a change was necessary as it “will greatly favour the participation of the local Church in an important moment of its life and history”.
At the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration, Archbishop Gordon knelt before the nuncio and brother bishops from the ecclesiastical province of Port of Spain: Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB of Georgetown (Guyana) and Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo (Suriname), as he made the profession of faith and took the Oath of Fidelity.
The nuncio then placed the pallium on the archbishop’s shoulders asking that he receive the ecclesiastical vestment as a sign of his communion with the pope and his pastoral responsibility as a shepherd of God’s people. This so that on the day of the coming of Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ, he may be clothed “in the vesture of immortality and glory”.
“…As a sign of the authority of the Metropolitan, we deliver to you the pallium taken from the confession of the Blessed Apostle Peter, that you may wear it within the confines of your ecclesiastical province…. It should be a bond of charity and incentive of strength,” the nuncio said.
Following the rite, Archbishop Nwachukwu presented Archbishop Gordon and Bishops Alleyne and Choennie to the congregation, while the choir sang ‘Ave Maria’. After the hymn, Archbishop Gordon warmly embraced the nuncio.
Made of pure lamb’s wool, the pallium is a white wool vestment adorned with six black silk crosses. It represents the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. The archbishop received his pallium from Pope Francis, June 29 this year.
“It is like a chain put around the neck of the archbishop. It ties him to the successor of Peter and it ties him to his brother bishops and the rest of the clergy and faithful,” Archbishop Nwachukwu explained.
He added that this signifies the archbishop as the “centre” of communion.
“In his actions and declarations as the leader, he has to foster unity and communion. That is why we need to pray for him. We need to show him our solidarity and accompany him with that bond of charity that makes us Catholic.”
In delivering his homily, Archbishop Nwachukwu revealed that during the beginning of the celebration, he was a bit nervous as it was not a “simple ceremony”.
“As apostolic nuncio, I want to tell you that it was my first experience… It does not happen quite often—not many bishops, fewer archbishops and metropolitan archbishops,” he said.
He continued his reflection which focused on two parts: the distinction between fishers of men and shepherd—the latter a title Jesus reserved only for himself, and the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Commenting on the Assumption, Archbishop Nwachukwu sought to clarify some of the misconceptions of the dogma. He referred to paragraph 44 of Pope Pius X11’s Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus—Defining the Dogma of the Assumption(November 1950) and explained that though the doctrine mentioned Mary’s being assumed into Heaven, it did not say that the Blessed Virgin Mary died. His Excellency went on to explain that Mary did die: “She died because Jesus also died.” Her body was assumed into Heaven thereafter.
The above mentioned paragraph of the constitution concludes: “…and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
Another misconception His Excellency sought to counter was that the dead body of Mary was carried into Heaven. He affirmed, “Heaven is not a cemetery”. Rather, the Assumption signified that “the soul of the Virgin Mary got united with the body of the Virgin Mary…She underwent transformationafter death.”
The nuncio then warned those gathered not to misuse the body as it is sacred and meant for heaven.
In giving brief remarks, Archbishop Gordon said that in light of the inclement weather earlier, he thought the event would have to be cancelled. Nevertheless, he thanked his brother priests for being part of the celebration especially Bishops Alleyne and Choennie and the people of God who braved the rain and floods.
He then expressed gratitude to the nuncio for not just imposing the pallium but the “wonderful” homily delivered.