A ring that sounds again in history

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | June 17, 2013

Vatican II’s miter ring resurfaces, both in Rome and in Green Bay

We all know that bishops wear rings, symbolizing their union with a particular church. “The Dictionary of Liturgy” tells us that “the pastoral or episcopal ring is … a mark of (a bishop’s) jurisdiction and dignity. It clearly signifies the spiritual union and alliance contracted by the bishop with his particular church.” This pastoral ring is sometimes engraved with the bishop’s crest or a religious design.

We also see bishops wearing miters at liturgical celebrations. This special vestment, worn on the head, is made of two panels of stiffened cloth, connected by a band and with two lappets down the back, symbolizes the bishop’s sanctifying power. Canon law says a bishop “is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God” and must “strive constantly that Christ’s faithful entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments, and may know and live the paschal mystery” (n. 387).

Rings and miters go together. But did you know there is a ring that is also a miter?

Called the “miter ring,” it was designed in the 1960s by the late sculptor Enrico Manfrini, who created statues or engravings of each pope from Pius XII to John Paul II.

Manfrini designed the miter ring at the request of Pope Paul VI. Cast in gold or silver (gold for bishops and silver for lesser dignitaries), the ring was presented by the pope to commemorate the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. (Our current Year of Faith marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II on Oct. 11, 1962.) Because of the connection to Vatican II, the miter ring is also called the “council ring.”

The miter ring was all but forgotten by many until an eBay posting in 2012, when a gold miter ring, complete with its presentation box, came up for sale. (The opening bid was $1,440 and it was later reported to have sold for more than $3,000.) Several Catholic blogs, including The Deacon’s Bench at patheos.com, reported the sale and speculations about where the ring had come from. The answer seems to be that an anonymous order of women religious had received it in a bequest and sold it to raise funds.

What at the time seemed to be a minor tidbit of history gained a bit more attention when Pope Benedict XVI retired and relinquished his fisherman’s ring (symbol of the pope’s authority). In its place, the retired pope now wears a replica of the miter ring. (While the former Joseph Ratzinger attended Vatican II, he was not a bishop at the time and did not receive his own miter ring.)

The ring gets its headgear moniker from the fact that it is shaped like a miter. In the peak-shape of the ring’s face is an engraved cross above the figure of Christ. On either side of Christ stand Peter and Paul.

The story grew even more when — for his own fisherman’s ring — Pope Francis chose a ring design that Manfrini had made for Pope Paul VI. Since the late pope preferred another ring, the Manfrini ring only existed as a wax mold kept in the custody of Pope Paul’s former secretary, Msgr. Pasquale Macchi. According to Vatican Radio and confirmed by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, when the monsignor died, he left the mold to his long-time aide, Msgr. Ettore Malnati.

Msgr. Malnati used the mold to cast a ring in gold-plated silver which the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re proposed to Pope Francis, with a number of other rings, as a potential fisherman’s ring. Pope Francis chose the Manfrini ring and wears it today.

The story might end there, except for the tie to Green Bay. In 1965, Bishop Stanislaus Bona served Green Bay. He also attended one session of Vatican II (in 1963) and so he received a gold miter ring. Today, it can be seen in the Green Bay Diocese Museum located at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.

Sources: “The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Catholic Church”; Whispers in the Loggia blogspot; eBay; the Deacon’s Bench blog at patheos.com; papalartifacts.com; Vatican Radio at news.va; usccb.org; wikipedia.com; catholicnews.com; and seeingsalvation.wordpress.com.

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