31 May 2021

Ask Father: Why Do Bishops Tuck Their Crosses Under Their Jackets.

Fr Zed answers an off-the-wall question. The things people WILL worry about! The last picture is priceless!

From Fr Z's Blog

From a  reader…


Thank you for your excellent blog! Can you explain why some bishops hide their pectoral crosses by pulling the cross across the chest and tucking it under their jackets? There is something a bit disturbing about it as it feels as though they are deliberately hiding the cross, and it’s something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Thank you for your insight in this small matter. And may God bless you!

Ah!  Finally a break from the insignificant stuff, like validity of sacraments, to something really important: ecclesiastical haberdashery.

I have never been a bishop and I have never played one on TV.  I did in a play, once, but that’s another universe away.    My point is that I have never had to deal with wearing a pectoral cross on a daily, all day, basis.   Therefore, my speculation is worth precisely what it is worth.

I suspect that the tendency of bishops, when wearing a suit (in Italian: in borghese) to tuck their pectoral crosses into their pockets is more a practical matter than a statement of meager faith or cowardice in view of bearing witness to their faith.   I suspect that the cross “gets in the way” a lot.  “Which the irony is rich!”, as Preserved Killick would say.

Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23

Back in the day, bishops wore their cassocks.  Back in the same day, bishops did not just let their pectoral dangle on a too-longish chain, thus becoming an obstacle (there’s that irony again).  They would generally hoist the cross up (more irony) and with a hook suspend it from a button or from a specially placed button hole, thus letting the two slack lengths of chain drape to either side.   That was practical, because it kept the cross under control and it also looked spiffy.   There were, of course, variations and exceptions.  For example, you will see photos of John XXIII with the hitched up version and without.  But it is safe to say that was a general rule of style.

I wouldn’t read too much into it, except that right now, the hitched up version could signal a more traditional inclination.

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