Last night, I had the great blessing of presiding at Evening Prayer at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne. We prayed as Church, not only at the close of this Easter Season on the evening of Pentecost, but most especially for their new bishop, Steven Biegler, who will be ordained and installed in a ceremony today at 2:00pm.
Part of yesterday evening’s ceremony included the blessing of the ‘episcopal insignia’ which will be worn by the new bishop. These are pictured left and are the Bishop’s staff, or crozier, ring, and mitre.
In order to understand the meaning and significance of each of these items, it is important to know that the bishop is ordained – for the third time – once as a deacon, once as a priest, and finally as a bishop. Thus, the theological significance is that the bishop ‘enjoys the fullness of the priesthood.’
What this tells us is that every bishop – and thus every priest – is to become more and more transformed into Christ. The priesthood we share is firmly rooted in the one, eternal Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
With Christ as our starting point, the staff or crozier takes its meaning from him, who told his disciples: “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10: 11) A bishop is to be Christ in the midst of God’s holy and faithful people, leading them to Christ, keeping them in the fold of the Church, and bringing new members into the Body of Christ.
A staff naturally calls to mind the staff of Moses. With this staff, Moses worked many miraculous signs in the presence of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, to lead the people out of slavery into the Promised Land. (Exodus 4: 1-5) In many ways, the crozier is a symbol for Christ, who leads the bishop as he walks, so that the bishop is always in the footsteps of Christ, leading his people to the true and eternal Promised Land of heaven.
The mitre is also a highly symbolic form of headdress. It is worn only for liturgical celebrations. A good starting point for the significance of the mitre comes from the Book of Exodus, 39: 27-31 and Leviticus 8:7-9. There is clear significance that the one who wears it is ‘Sacred to the Lord,’ is consecrated, and set aside for the service of God’s people.
The mitre is formed by two stiff board, front and back, which are sewn together, and have two tassels, or ‘lappets with fringes’ that hang down from the back. The mitre represents the glory of the Lord which remains always with the Church and with the bishop. The front and back of the mitre represent the Old and New Testament, while the lappets represent the ‘spirit and letter’ of the Word of God.
A bishop is not only to preach the Word of God, but is also a defender of this Word. In order to do this effectively and credibly, the Word must take root within him, must become his very identity. This is what it means for the bishop to be fully transformed into Christ. During the ordination rite of a bishop, the Book of the Gospels is held over him, signifying that he is to find his shelter and life which flow from the Gospels – which flow from Jesus Christ. To further emphasize this symbolic purpose of the mitre, it is worn by the bishop during the Liturgy of the Word, and while preaching.
Finally, every bishop is given a ring when he is ordained a bishop. The meaning here is highly significant that by right of ordination, the bishop takes on a spousal relationship with those who are entrusted to his pastoral care. Just as Christ took his bride, the Church, as his spouse, so too, the bishop. A ring symbolizes not only union, but also fidelity.
The ring symbolizes not only the union the bishop has with the People of God, but once again, with Christ. St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her, to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ (Ephesians 5: 25-27).
As the Church of Cheyenne prepares today to pray with and for their new bishop, we pray especially that he will be capable of daily living the grace which is now his in ‘the fullness of the Priesthood.’ May Bishop Steven Biegler be more fully transformed into Christ, that he may lead and guide the People of God to also live the fullness of their own identity in Christ, which belongs to all the baptized!