Shepherd’s staff, Bishop Kopacz debuts crosier during Holy Week

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Every bishop has four symbols of his office, a miter, a ring, a pectoral cross and a crosier. Bishop Joseph Kopacz’s crosier was completed months after it was expected, but the timing turned out to be just about perfect.
“My first use of it was the Chrism Mass. In its own way to have my own crosier for Holy Week – so much of the diocese is present at that Mass – to be the bishop and be there before them and to have that crosier – it was pretty neat,” said the bishop. He commented that in some dioceses not every parish is represented at the Chrism Mass, but that is not the case here.
He called Chrism Mass the “finest truly diocesan liturgy of the year.” The Chrism Mass is when oils are blessed and consecrated and distributed to representatives from just about every parish in the diocese.
“It sort of settled me into the office in a very substantial way at the beginning of my second year. I had that sense similar to when you put the crosier in the stand and it falls solidly into its place, so I had that feeling of being in place in the Diocese of Jackson. Not that I wasn’t, but I had that sense that here is my crosier and now it’s there next to the cathedra,” he added.
The faithful will not see the crosier when the bishop comes to visit. The bishop’s crosier remains at the cathedral. When he travels he uses a simple wooden crosier with a plain hook. The traveling crosier comes apart and has its own carrying case and stand.
Bishop Kopacz’s crosier is also wooden, carved from walnut and an unusual piece of oak. Inside the crook the Chi Rho symbol is carved from a single piece of wood. “That is one of the three symbols on my coat of arms and is pretty universally recognized,” said the bishop. “It’s creative, it goes back to the early, early church. It’s the first three letters in Greek of ‘Christ’ and that’s very special, so it’s simple, but elegant,” he said. Separating the crook from the rest of the crosier is a darker bead of 20,000 year-old oak from a bog in Europe. When trees fall into bogs, they are preserved, taking on the textures of the gravel, sand and plants buried with them. There are people who harvest ancient wood for art and furniture.
The man who carved it, Markus Frei, works in Frauenfeld, Switzerland, and he has a roundabout connection to the project. Bishop Kopacz’s assistant pastor in Pennsylvania, Father Greg Laughney, saw some samples of other crosiers Frei carved. When Father Laughney studied in Rome he became friends with members of the Swiss Guard, the elite unit of men who protect the pope and the Vatican. That guards knew of Frei and recommended him for the job. Bishop Kopacz provided his coat of arms and some guidance on what he wanted and Frei sent several sketches for the bishop before they settled on a design.
The artisan started working on it soon after Bishop Kopacz took office, but became ill and had to take a break. The work started before the bishop was ordained and installed, but was not completed until this year. The bishop said he likes that the crosier is carved on both sides so people all around the church can easily see the design.
Every bishop selects his own crosier. He can have it custom made or use one that already exists. It does not have to relate to the bishop’s coat of arms, as Bishop Kopacz’s does, but it can. In the past, crosiers could be fairly ornate and were often crafted of metal, but the trend in recent years has been to make them from wood. Both retired Bishops William Houck and Joseph Latino used wooden crosiers.
According to diocesan chancellor Mary Woodward, there are several crosiers in the diocesan archives, going all the way back to the first bishop of the diocese. Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS.
“We used that crosier at the 175th anniversary celebration and at Bishop Kopacz’s ordination,” said Woodward. That crosier was a gift to Bishop Chanche from Archbishop Anton Blanc in the early 1840s. It is metal and very intricate. Other crosiers in the archives include one used by Bishop Joseph Brunini which features a dragon in the crook.
While bishop’s crosiers look like shepherd’s staffs, the pope usually carries a crucifix as a crosier. One of the most iconic was the crucifix carried by Saint Pope John Paul II. The pope would sometimes lean on that crosier when he needed to. One of the most famous images of the saint is him pressing his head to the crosier.
The bishop holds his crosier as he processes in and out of Mass, when listening to the gospel and when he is accepting candidates for baptism and conferring confirmation and blessing the congregation. Usually, bishops hold their crosiers in their left hands so their right hands are free to offer blessings.
Bishop Kopacz said the crosier reflects the role of the leader of the local church. “It’s the shepherds staff, it’s one of the symbols of the bishop’s office. The miter signifies holiness. The crosier symbolizes the leadership, both the authority and the servant leadership,” he explained.
“So the ideal shepherd is one who is at the center of the flock, leads the flock, cares for and protects the flock. The bishop’s crosier is that symbol, so having the Chi Rho as the symbol of Christ at the center of that is really meaningful because He’s the Good Shepherd and I am trying to strive for that ideal.”