The pallium is a circle of wool that hangs around the neck and shoulders with two long pieces draping one over the chest and the other along the back. It is decorated with six black crosses and weighed with pieces of lead. The wool for the pallium comes from two lambs offered every year to the Pope on January 21, Feast of St. Agnes. They are first taken to the Church of St. Agnes to be blessed. The lambs arrive wearing floral crowns, one white and one red. These represent the purity of Agnes, which the archbishops should emulate, and the martyrdom of Agnes, which the archbishops should be prepared to follow.The lambs are then shorn and the pallia (plural of pallium) are made. On the eve of the feast of the great apostles Peter and Paul, (June 28) the pallia are stored overnight in the silver casket above Peter’s tomb in the Vatican crypt. The following day (June 29) the pallia are given to the newly appointed metropolitan bishops, the only occasion in which more than one bishop can be seen wearing the pallium at the same time.
Symbolically, the Pope is sharing his mission to “Feed my sheep and lambs” with the archbishops. The wool over the shoulders evokes the lamb over the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. It also reminds the archbishops of the burdens of their office. By investing each new Archbishop with the pallium, the Holy Father confers some of his own weight and responsibilities upon him.At his own inauguration of Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI spoke moving words about the pallium he had received during that ceremony:
“The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. …Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission. …The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.
Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”