Papal ferula

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Pastoral staff
Pope John Paul II holding the ferula of Pope Paul VI,[1] on 5 October 1997
Pope John Paul II holding the ferula of Pope Paul VI,[1] on 5 October 1997
Pope Benedict XVI holding the ferula of Pius IX on 5 October 2008.
Pope Benedict XVI holding the 1877 ferula of Pius IX on 5 October 2008.

The papal ferula (from Latin ferula, 'rod') is the pastoral staff used in the Catholic Church by the pope. It is a rod with a knob on top surmounted by a cross. It differs from a crosier, the staff carried by other bishops of Latin-rite churches, which is curved or bent at the top in the style of a shepherd's crook.


Early usage and dispute[edit]

Traditionally, the popes did not use any ferula, crosier, or pastoral staff as part of the papal liturgy.[2] The use of a staff is not mentioned in descriptions of Papal Masses in the Ordines Romani (Roman Ordinals). In the early days of the church, a crosier was carried on some occasions by the pope, but this practice disappeared by the time of Pope Innocent III. Innocent III noted in his De Sacro altaris mysterio (“Concerning the Sacred Mystery of the Altar,” I, 62): “The Roman Pontiff does not use the shepherd's staff.” The reason was that a crosier is often given by the metropolitan archbishop (or by another bishop) to a newly elected bishop during his investiture. In contrast, the pope does not receive investiture from another bishop and is invested with the pallium during his coronation or inauguration.[2]


During the High Middle Ages, the popes once again began using a staff known as a ferula as insignia to signify temporal power and governance, which included "the power to mete out punishment and impose penances".[2] The actual form of the staffs from this period is not well known, but were likely staffs topped with a knob with single-barred cross on top.[2] The staff was not a liturgical item, and its use was limited to a few extraordinary ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of the Holy Door and the consecration of churches, during which the pope "took hold of the staff to knock on the door three times and to trace the Greek and Latin letters on the floor of the church".[2] Sometimes, the staff also took the form of a triple-barred cross (or papal cross, a symbol of the papacy), but this was rare in contrast to the single-barred cross. Use of the staff was soon again phased out.

In 1877, the Circolo San Pietro (an organization founded in 1869 to support the papacy) presented a staff or ferula to Pope Pius IX on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his episcopal consecration and is sometimes referred to as the "ferula of Pius IX". This ferula was used by popes from Pope Pius IX until Pope Paul VI, again only for extraordinary, non-liturgical ceremonies. Pope Leo XIII at times made use of a crosier in the same shape as that of other bishops. In addition, a triple-barred cross ferula was made for Leo XIII for the Golden Jubilee of his Priesthood in 1888. Pope John XXIII had begun using the 1877 ferula of Pius IX for various liturgical celebrations during the Second Vatican Council. It was during the pontificate of Paul VI that the popes more permanently began using a ferula as a pastoral staff for solemn liturgical celebrations, rather than a symbol of governance. In effect, the papal ferula became the equivalent of a bishop's crosier or pastoral staff.

Modern usage[edit]

The pastoral staff carried by the popes since Pope Paul VI is a contemporary[3] single-barred crucifix, designed by the Italian artist Lello Scorzelli[4] in 1963 and carried and used in the same manner as a bishop uses his crosier. Paul VI had actually used three other ferulas, similar in style, with the other versions having a cross bar which was straight, or bent upward.[5] Scorzelli's well known version has the cross bar bent downward, much like the paterissa carried by a bishop within the Eastern Catholic Churches. Paul VI first used this staff on 8 December 1965, at the closing of the Second Vatican Council. The Scorzelli staff was the one retained by his successors starting with Pope John Paul I. This ferula design is often associated with Pope John Paul II.[2]

On 25 March 1983, Pope John Paul II used the ferula of Leo XIII with three horizontal bars in the opening of the Holy Door during the Jubilee, the Holy Year of the Redemption. In 1990, Scorzelli made a replica of the Paul VI ferula for John Paul II, which was lighter than the previous one.

On 16 March 2008, at the Palm Sunday celebrations in Saint Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI used the ferula that had been previously used from the pontificate of Pope Pius IX.[6] This cross was used until 28 November 2009 at the First Vespers for Advent. A new ferula was given to Pope Benedict XVI as a gift of the Circolo San Pietro and, according to Monsignor Guido Marini, the Master of Apostolic Ceremonies and head of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, it "can be considered to all intents and purposes the pastoral staff of Benedict XVI."

Pope Francis continued to use the ferula of Benedict XVI at the beginning of his pontificate. On 7 April 2013, at the Mass for the Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, Francis returned to using the original 1965 ferula of Paul VI with the corpus on it and has alternated its use with the ferula of Benedict XVI.


  1. ^ a b The Staff By The Office of The Liturgical Celebrations Of The Sovereign Pontiff
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff: The Staff". Holy See Press Office. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  3. ^ Fr. Brian T. Austin, FSSP. - The Liturgical Reform of Pope Benedict XVI, EWTN On Location, 7 July 2012.
  4. ^ Ralf van Bühren 2008, p. 319, 336-337, fig. 54-57.
  5. ^ "Papal Retrospective: Paul VI : 5 (Includes pictures of all ferulas used by Pope Paul VI)". The Saint Bede Studio Blog. 11 March 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  6. ^ Cindy Wooden, "In U.S. Masses, pope to carry pastoral staff of Blessed Pope Pius IX". Catholic News Service. 10 April 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bühren, Ralf van: Kunst und Kirche im 20. Jahrhundert. Die Rezeption des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils (Konziliengeschichte, Reihe B: Untersuchungen), Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh 2008 (ISBN 978-3-506-76388-4)

External links[edit]