QUAERITUR: How should a bishop carry the crosier?

From a reader:

Buona Pasqua!!! [Altrettanto!]
I want to ask about the way of bishop’s staff. many people(liturgy experts) said, only the ordinary could turn the tip(i don’t know how to call it exactly) of staff to the congregation. Other bishops should turn it to himself, while altar servers should turn it into left or right hand side. But I couldn’t find any indication in the ceremoniale episcoporum. What is the correct way to hold it, father?

Good question.  I don’t have to staff this one out.

The crook of the staff (Latin baculum, or baculum pastorale) should always face away from the bishop, any bishop, the ordinary of the place or a visitor or retired or an auxiliary. It is always to be turned forward.

This is an old question and it has an old answer. Back in 1911 (also the nickname of a classic pistol) the question was put to Sacred Congregation of Rites, which responded (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 4 (1912) 178 and 181):

III. De Episcopo extra propriam dioecesim, inquiritur:

3. Quomodo Episcopus extraneus, si, functione id requirente, aut annuente Episcopo Ordinario, pastorali baculo utatur, superiorem huiusce baculi partem vertere debeat?


Ad. 3. Semper cum parte reflexa ab se; scilicet, versus personas vel res quas prospicit.

Thus, “Always with the (top) part turned away from himself, namely, turned toward the people or things which he is looking at.”

That “always… semper” means that this applies to any sort of bishop anywhere.

Furthermore, the bishop usually carries the staff in his left hand, to free up his right hand for blessing.

By the way, the young fronds of ferns bear an uncanny resemblance to the bishop’s crosier.    “Fiddleheads” (not to be confused with the misapplied term “fiddleback” for  a style of chasubles) have a crosier at the top.

Finally, I urge readers who may see an errant or rookie bishop carrying a crosier with the top facing the wrong way not to dash up to him at the earliest opportunity – all other considerations having been forgotten (such as prayer) – to accuse him of something nefarious or to correct him.

These details and errors have their own importance in the sphere of decorum, but they are not so important that you are therefore given permission to be a jerk when you spot them.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I’ve noticed some bishops, processing-in, blessing people as they come up the aisle. This seems weird to me; the congregation is not facing him and some keep glancing back to see if they’re going to be blessed. I’m okay with blessings after Mass, as he processes-out, cuz we can all see him. But not at the beginning. Strictly speaking, I guess neither is a “liturgical” question (Mass has not started yet, or is over) but I wonder about it anyway.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    When a bishop is in his diocese, the crozier head is turned out, symbolizing his jurisdiction. When he is visiting another diocese, it is turned in, if he is involved in a liturgy with another bishop. If the bishop is in liturgical event in an abbey, Abbot David of Buckfast stated it should be turned in, although the abbey may be in that bishop’s geographic diocese. The placement of the head of the crozier has to do with place not person.

    If bishop is standing, it is in his left hand, and when processing it is carried for him.

    This is British usage. Bishop Kieran of A and B processes with his crozier and holds it is his right hand, as he does not give blessings in procession.

    Information is from a young man who has taken part in many liturgies with bishops and abbots, Supertradson, who is also famous for making a huge mistake at the ordination of the priesthood of the famous Fr. David Silk, convert, when said son held the famous crozier from Papua New Guinea, or somewhere, incorrectly with the head “out” and was teased for weeks by the Abbot as “Bishop Edmund”. “Bishop Edmund” is standing right here, thankfully, without staff.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    PS a line got deleted. Usually, in procession, the crozier is carried by another other than the bishop here. This could be anyone who is serving.

  4. BLB Oregon says:

    That picture reminds me of Archbishop Sample’s installation Mass, where it was taken. Archbishop Vlazny came in with that crozier, it was with great pleasure the he and the nuncio led our new Archbishop to his cathedral chair, and with great pleasure that Archbishop Vlazny handed that crozier over to his successor. It was a day of great joy, not because of how we thought Archbishop Sample would wield his crozier in a physical sense, although I have no doubt he will take the trouble to know how to do that properly. It is because of how we feel he will wield it in the most real sense, as our pastor. I remember, too, though, the great kindness and care with which Archbishop Vlazny once explained to an altar server how to handle his crozier as his crozier-bearer. To me, the scene was emblematic of his episcopate. What a wonderful pastor he was. We are blessed, indeed, here in Western Oregon.

  5. jhayes says:

    when processing it is carried for him

    How about the Pope? I seem to remember seeing Francis carrying his ferula in processions in St. Peter’s.

  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    I must be watching too much science fiction. That crosier looks exactly (exactly) like the alien from the black and white Outer Limits episode, Counterweight. See for yourself:


    The Chicken

  7. Stephen Matthew says:

    Having seen abbots, archabbots, bishops, and archbishops carrying croziers over the years, I can reasonably say that in the USA the practice is that they very much do carry it, much like a walking staff, in processions, at least for the portion of the procession within the church/chapel at the beginning and end of the liturgy. Some of them even have a little rubber bit at the tip to protect both the crozier and the floor. All have carried the crozier with it facing out as is indicated by Fr. Z. Servers are generally instructed (when anyone bothers to instruct them in anything at all) to hold it with the head facing themself, thus when it is handed to the ordinary it will be facing in the correct direction for him.

    As an amuzing anecdote, I know through a certain deacon from outside the US, that his archbishop and others from his part of the world only use the pontificals when there are going to be sufficient servers, and MC, etc to take care of all of those details with proper decorum. My own bishop on the other hand will use his miter and crozier at mass in the diocese even if there is no one to properly assist, on the basis that surely a grown man can figure out what to do with his own hat and stick if needed.

    Clearly there are some cultural variances at play.

  8. Bea says:

    Common Sense dictates that it should be carried with the “hook” outward.
    The purpose of the shepherd (bishop) being to bring in the errant “sheep” into his fold.
    Unless, of course, he is an errant bishop and wishes to draw himself into line with his sheep.

  9. teaguytom says:

    jhayes, the way the ferula has been carried from Paul VI on is a bit odd. The pontiffs would not walk with the ferula like a bishop walks with his crosier, as has been done the last 50 or so years. It would be carried like the metropolitan cross in procession, and the pontiff would hold it when he gave his apostolic blessing. It would be used for solemn blessings or the opening of the holy door etc.. The popes for time immemorial (except Leo XIII, who used his crosier) have only been using the ferula.
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2623/4140553605_d1d81ea9b5_o.jpg BJP2 with a ferula. He used this one when opening the holy door in 2000
    http://annunciations.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/piusxii.jpg Pius XI and XII opening holy doors with the ferula of Pius IX. BJP2 with 2 of his. Historically, the ferula did not have a corpus on it.

  10. I’ve noticed some bishops, processing-in, blessing people as they come up the aisle. This seems weird to me; the congregation is not facing him

    Well, they should be turning to face him! (And, traditionally, kneeling as he blesses them.)

    But this is specified in the Ceremonial of Bishops #128 (my emphasis):

    128. As the entrance song is being sung, the procession moves from the vesting room (sacristy) to the sanctuary (chancel) in the following order:
    – censerbearer carrying a censer with burning incense;

    the bishop, walking alone, wearing the miter, carrying the pastoral staff in his left hand and blessing with his right;
    – a little behind the bishop, the two deacons assiting him;
    – finally, the ministers who assist with the book, the miter, and the pastoral staff.

    If the bishop is in liturgical event in an abbey, Abbot David of Buckfast stated it should be turned in, although the abbey may be in that bishop’s geographic diocese. The placement of the head of the crozier has to do with place not person.

    No, this is a myth at this point (or at best a contra legem custom) about turning the head of croziers in various directions.

    If bishop is standing, it is in his left hand, and when processing it is carried for him.

    Nope, the Bishop carries it when he is processing. (See above and below.)

    The Ceremonial of Bishops also says this about the “pastoral staff” in general:

    59. The bishop carries the pastoral staff in his own territory as a sign of his pastoral office, but any bishop who, with the consent of the diocesan bishop, solemnly celebrates may use the pastoral staff. When several bishops are present at the same celebration, only the presiding bishop uses the pastoral staff.

    As a rule, the bishop holds the pastoral staff, its curved head turned away from himself and toward the people: as he walks in procession, listens to the gospel reading, and gives the homily; also when receiving religious vows and promises or a profession of faith and when he bestows a blessing on persons, unless the blessing includes the laying on of hands.

    [Please don’t use the i code for italics. WordPress likes em better. And it is nice to hear from you!]

  11. Arggh… there’s a slight mix up of extra italics in that comment, but it should still be fairly clear.

  12. Fr. Z.: Finally, I urge readers who may see an errant or rookie bishop carrying a crosier with the top facing the wrong way not to dash up to him at the earliest opportunity
    Thank you for this, Fr. I was wondering if the person asking the question was a bishop himself.

  13. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    SJH, perfect! Thank you. edp.

  14. Soporatus says:

    I am a new follower. I never even knew there was a rule on this. And I know little of Canon Law or liturgical responsa. But I do know Latin. The quoted section, III.3, seems to focus on the situation of a “Bishop outside his own diocese” and how such an “external Bishop” “should turn” (vertere debeat) the top of his staff. Given that the responsum uses the same numbering and does not supply a finite verb (scilicet: vertere debet), which the adverb (semper) modifies, the direction would seem to apply only to the “external Bishop” queried. The reply “any sort of bishop anywhere” seemed to me to imply that the Ordinary in his own diocese should follow the same instruction. Of course, it may well be that there is no distinction — responsa are laconic. But I don’t think, at least grammatically, that the “semper” broadens the given rule to generality. Respectfully,

  15. It is always “curious” how this and similar questions continuously pop up (just like the question about eating meat on Fridays of the highest rank, etc.). Anyway, it is good, I guess, that we all “enjoy” finding/sharing information that might provide greater clarification.

    So, for this, we can go to what Fr. Abel Nainfa had to say about the Crosier. The information is a bit long, but interesting.

    The crosier or pastoral staff … symbolizes the pastoral authority of Bishops and Abbots.

    According to strict etiquette, the crosier should be of gold or gilt silver for Cardinals and Patriarchs, and of silver for Bishops and Abbots; but this point of discipline is hardly ever observed, and most crosiers are more modestly made of gilded brass. Some authors say that the Abbots belonging to the Order of the Reformed Cistercians (Trappists) should make use of a crosier of wood; but this is an exaggeration of severity, peculiar to one branch of the Order, which has no foundation in the general law of the Church or even in the traditions of the Cistercian Order; St. Bernard, the great Cistercian Abbot, founder of Clairvaux, and a strong supporter of the old monastic discipline, made use of a metallic crosier.

    Cardinal-Bishops, Cardinal-Priests, Prelates invested with the episcopal character, and Abbots, are entitled by law to use the crosier; and Abbesses have pretty generally usurped the same privilege. Other Prelates, who may have been granted the use of the pontificals, are not allowed that of the crosier, unless an individual exception is made, as was the case for the celebrated Mgr. de Segur.

    Early monuments testify that, up to the tenth century, the Roman Pontiff made use of the crosier like other Bishops. How this practice ceased is not known; but it was soon forgotten, and legendary as well as symbolical reasons were ventured in order to explain the present-day usage.

    The proper way to carry the crosier is to hold it with the left hand at the handle, just below the knob, which connects the crook with the staff, the curve being turned forward. The Prelate should not hold the crosier lifted, but alternately raise it and rest it on the floor, as he walks.

    Some Ceremonials of foreign importation and antiquated scholarship teach that an Abbot in his monastery, and a Bishop when permitted to use the crosier outside of his diocese, should turn the curve backward. There never existed such regulations. The difference in the direction of the curve in the crosier of a Bishop and that of an Abbot is marked only in Heraldry, as will be mentioned in Chapter VI.

    Whenever a dignitary uses the crosier, whether it be by right or privilege—or even without right or privilege— he should always turn the curve forward. If the crosier-bearer is directed by the Ceremonial to carry the crosier so that its curve be turned backward, it is not in order to mean that he has no right to use the crosier, but in order that it be correctly turned when he hands it over to the Prelate. At processions, when the Ordinary does not carry his crosier, he may have it carried before him by the crosier-bearer, who, in this case, holds it raised in both hands and the curve turned forward.

    Cardinals and Ordinary Bishops use the crosier at High Mass, Vespers, solemn processions, and generally at all pontifical functions, except on Good Friday and at funerals. As was remarked for the mitre, the crosier supposes the full pontifical dress; therefore, a Bishop should not use the crosier when vested in cappa magna or mozzetta.

    A Bishop outside of his diocese may use the crosier when performing functions which imply its use, as, for instance, ordinations, consecrations of churches, etc. On such occasions, the Pope uses the ferula, a long staff or sceptre with a cross at its top. This cross is not triple-armed, as is often believed and represented, but is an ordinary cross pattée.

    From the pontificate of Paul VI all the way through to the present pontificate, there’s been a little “game” with what type of “ferula” the Pope will use (Corpus vs. no Corpus, ferula vs. no ferula; too heavy vs. too light, etc.). The same thing seems to have happened with the Mitres … after all .. Rubricians have always said that the Mitre and the Crosier are “correlative.” It is in cases like these that it is always better to follow tradition … since it does not prove anybody right or wrong .. it simply preserves what has always been done without siding with mere preferences of clerics or laymen.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Samuel Howard, what you declare is a myth actually is done here in Great Britain. Witnessed.

  17. pseudomodo says:

    My understanding was that a bishop holds the crook outward but an Abbot or Abbess, if they use it, hold the crook inward. I’ve seen this also.

  18. persyn says:

    Archbishop Sample, of course, “doin’ it right”… I’m quite proud to have been born in the same hospital as this wonderful shepherd of souls.

  19. Tim Ferguson says:

    old joke: what do you call the crook at the top of the bishop’s staff?

    The Vicar General.

  20. persyn says:

    I believe Pseudomodo is correct. However, I think there were abbots with Territories outside their Abbey that had jurisdiction over laypeople, and therefore carried theirs facing outward. Memory fades, but this “rings a bell” (hope you got the pun on “Quasimodo”, Pseudomodo)…

  21. Marcello says:

    The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Catholic Church (rev. ed. 2012), by Noonan, pages 333-334:

    The prelate always carries the crozier with the crook facing forward, a position that is referred to as “opened,” in reference to that prelate’s open authority as bishop and not necessarily as open jurisdiction over that locality. Formerly, only the ordinary carried the crozier opened. All others entitled to it carry the crozier carried it backward, a position that was also known as either “unopened” or “closed.”
    […] it should always be carried “closed” in procession by the vimp, or bearer […] This practice also permits the diocesan master of ceremonies, when retrieving it, to hand it over to the bishop, smoothly assuring that the bishop will always receive it “opened.”

  22. majuscule says:

    Not the crozier but the ferula…

    I can’t resist sharing this short video of Monsr. Guido Marini and Pope Emeritus Benedict (while he was still Pope).


  23. vetusta ecclesia says:

    Many of the distinctions between bishops with and without jurisdiction disappeared post VII eg cappa / mozetta v. mantelletum.

  24. MAJ Tony says:

    Point of order: 1911 is the model designation of the pistol by the U.S. Army due to it’s year of adoption (ergo M1911 for “Model of 1911”) which was the standard method of type classification until prior to WWII, when the Army started type-classification model numbers at 1, ergo U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30 M1 (aka M1 Garand), M4 “Sherman” tank, etc. The M1911 has several nicknames, but I think it somewhat improper to refer to it’s model number as a nickname, like, say “Old Slabsides.” It’s pretty much “standard data” to reference a year-typed model-number by it’s year, dropping the leading “M” but not so with modern type-classifications. Therefore, when subject matter knowledgeable folks use the short form ID (versus the long form i.e. “U.S. Rifle, Cal .30, M1”) you regularly hear M16, M1 Garand, M1 Tank, M4 Carbine, but 1911/1911A1 (pistol) 1903 Springfield rifle, etc. The Navy uses “Mark” numbers, ergo “Mk. 19 Grenade Machine Gun.” I get a chuckle when my Army brethren reference said GMG as a “Em Kay Nineteen.” When the Navy converted the M1 Garand to 7.62 x 51 (aka .308 Win, though not exactly the same) for marksmanship teams, they refered to them as Mk. 2 rifles. They were more accurate than the USMC M14 match rifles.

  25. Noonan is sort of well-known for being unreliable.

    His comment about the vimp carrying the crozier doesn’t make sense for two reasons. First, the vimp properly hands the crosier directly to the prelate, not via the MC. Second, if he did hand it to the MC, this would result in it being in the incorrect position to be handed to the prelate. Handing it over tends to reverse its direction. So if the vimp held it closed, he’d then hand it to the MC, who on receiving it would be holding it open and then would hand it to the prelate, who on receiving it would now (incorrectly) be holding it closed. So this makes very little sense.

  26. “The Church Visible” has not been known to be accurate (or friendly) when it comes to pre-Vatican II usages. Does Mr. Noonan cite a reference when it makes the assertion about the open/close usage of the crosier?

    Nevertheless, a decree from the SCR or the Ceremonial of Bishops has (or should have) more weight than any other book on ceremonials, especially if the author is not as familiar with the traditional (and correct) practices.

    The fact that we might see crosiers being carried in so many different ways and facing the four corners of the earth does not mean that there is no one correct way. Authority and Jurisdiction are symbolized by the crosier itself, not by which way the crosier faces when being used.

    That would be like comparing the use of the throne by a lesser prelate who, in order to let people know that he is not the ordinary, will change the direction of the throne — it just does not work that way!

  27. Marcello says:

    @ Samuel J. Howard,

    You do make sense about handing off the crozier. Maybe having the bearer hold it sideways would make more sense. The bishop twists it a quarter way toward the front then, whoever hands it off to the him.

    I have to check if that passage is footnoted; the book is home, not in my office.

    I never heard Noonan’s book as characterized as unreliable. I met the author several times through mutual friends in the SMOM and Order of the Holy Sepulchre; he seemed very knowledgeable and his book is highly regarded among the more traditionally minded hierarchy. (Persona non grata among the Fishwrap crowd.) Noonan was quite a favorite of Blessed John Paul II when he lived in Rome, you know.

  28. Marcello says:

    I’m going in May to a friends’s 25th wedding anniversary Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral Basilica in Newark, NJ, presided over by the archbishop. I’ll have to take note of how the crook faces after the handoff to the bearer.

  29. MAJ Tony says:

    Seems as though we have the whole “order of the crozier” thing down. I would make one additional point, which should carry from transfer of colors or guidons (unit flags) when there is a change of command. The basic precept is that the junior (in this case, the vimp) would receive the crozier by always placing his hand UNDER the senior’s hand (the prelate), and likewise, that would place his hand in the proper position to return the crozier to the prelate, who would place his hand above the vimps.

    When we would conduct a change of command, the senior noncommissioned officer (1st Sgt or Command Sgt Major) aka SNCO, would retrieve the colors from the color guard, would then pass the colors to the outgoing commander, who would receive the colors placing his right hand above the SNCO’s right and left above the SNCO’s left. The Senior Commander, would receive the colors, with his hands over the hands (alternating as in the first instance) then hands the colors to the new incoming commander, who, like the SNCO, places his hands in the inferior positions. Finally, the incoming commander places the colors in the trusted hands of the SNCO, who, likewise assumes the inferior position. The SNCO returns the colors to the color bearer in the color guard. http://www.dvidshub.net/image/563807/passing-colors

  30. Marcello says:

    @MAJ Tony,

    I salute your service. I was in Navy ROTC, Marine Corps option, but injured my back and never got my commission, I was laid up for quite awhile, still have limitations in my later middle age. Semper fi.

  31. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    Marcello: Re: Newark: I believe His Grace Abp Myers insists that anyone else handling his crozier carry it with the crook facing inward, “because they are not the Archbishop.” I remember hearing he was quite particular about this, so I’m curious as to what you will see.

    Now, at the funeral Mass for Metuchen’s retired Bishop Hughes (requiem aeternam) in January, Cardinal McCarrick carried his crozier with the crook facing inward during the entire Mass and burial, assuming because he is not the Ordinary. However, Bishop Bootkoski yielded the cathedra to His Eminence, with Bootkoski seated in Bishop Hughes’ old chair, near the cathedra.

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