Friday, April 4, 2008


Rings (and lack of rings) play a significant role in the symbolic life of the Church. In fact, there is so much to consider that we will only just touch on it.

A ring may have different meanings. The most common meaning, because it is a closed circle, is continuity and wholeness. That is one reason why you see it on the finger of a married person. It represents vows of those qualities that the particular person made to one other essentially meaning that they are not available to make the same vows with you. (Hence the checking of the ring finger at cocktail parties before striking up certain conversations between civilized people of the opposite sex.)

The ring worn by clergy and religious may have similar meaning. They are in essence spiritually married to the Church. But the ring can also take on juridical significance.

In former times priest were forbidden to wear rings (or jewelry for that matter.) But now they often do, as do some religious simply to show that they are “accounted for.” This may be particularly important in an age when such people often do not wear any identifiable garb. But the ring does not have any juridical significance.

Not so the case with bishops and cardinals. These rings not only symbolize spiritual marriage with the Church, but also the ecclesiastical office. He may not wear the ring until it has been bestowed upon him by competent authority signifying that he too now shares in that dignity.

But the most interesting ring belongs to the pope. (Actually there may be as many as three rings used at different times.) One is called the Fisherman’s Ring and is the ring that is given to him at the time of his election. It has a picture of Saint Peter casting a net with the name taken by the pope inscribed over. It is of simple gold and is the ring that is used to seal certain documents. Because of this it is destroyed in the presence of witnesses at the time of his death. A simplified ring, worn on the fourth finger of the right hand, is used for daily wear.

It seems to have fallen out of favor to reverence the ring. Especially in Westernized countries we are very uncomfortable with it. This is understandable. But when done, it would be a mistake both for the person whose finger the ring is on and for the person reverencing the ring to think that doing so has anything to with the person who wears the ring. The act of reverence is a symbolic act toward the apostles and the office of bishop rather than the particular man who holds it.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Father V: I really love your Symbolic Saturday series.

I agree that it is sad that reverencing the ring has fallen from favor. I think it's an symptom of the informality of our culture. I think it's from the same virus that causes so many to call priests by their first names only (which I ranted about on my blog yesterday)

Adoro said...

Uh...didn't someone also rant about priests using their initial? LOL!

OK, seriously, thanks for this post, Fr. V. I've seen a lot of priests wear rings, and religious too. And yeah, I confess to checking ring fingers (also looking for that telltale tan line!) Although in this day and age, there are a good many "taken" people who have chosen to shack up instead of get married. So it's not such a reliable method of determining "availability" anymore. All the more reason to be really really picky.

Anyway, I wondered about kissing the Pope's seemed it wasn't done so often, but it is so appropriate. Thanks for clearing that info up.

Not that I'll ever have a chance to meet the Pope, but just in case, I'll have my chapel veil ready and know for certain that it's still proper to kiss the ring. (I just love our Papa!)

So...when you met JP2 did you get a chance to reverence the ring?

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the Pope's "everyday" ring is on the fourth finger of the right hand. That's where we in Germany wear our wedding rings. When I go home to the States, there have been mix ups because my left hand ring finger is ringless... :-)

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Fr. V.

ps On priests being called by first names: We in Germany call *our* Pope Benedict all sorts of cozy things, including "Bennie" or "Ratzi." It's not at all meant to be disrespectful, it's like calling your dad by a nickname because you love him. This culture is much, much MUCH more formal about what you call people than the US is, yet when you feel close to someone, first names and nicknames come out. I don't think that's a bad thing, not even when it's the pope. (Admittedly, though, we'd never call him "Bennie" or "Ratzi" to his face!). :-)

Anonymous said...

Anon ~ Here in the United States we call Pope Benedict "Papa-Ratzi" and "Papa Bennie" and things, too...but also not to his face! But there's a difference between those kinds of references (as endearments in private conversations) and being informal to someone's face. And can I just say I LOVE our Papa? :-)

Fr. V said...


I NEVER heard that about rings! Do you happen to know if that is just Germany or is it Europe??? I find this fascinating!

(And how did we mess that up?) At least we drive on the sme side of the road as you.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I never said anything about initials but I DID say that if Father gives one permission to use his firstname with Father than I find that more palatable than just using his first name (which I would never do anymore).

But, I'm glad you brought this up since I pondered it this morning(my angel must have told me you were agitating! LOL!) that I consider calling a Father by his last name's first letter (like Father V or Father Z) is fine if HE allows it. Clearly, in the case of our esteemed host that is true.

Fr. V said...

Why thank you.

You know, I have NEVER gone by my first name and think it strange that the odd person will press the issue. The only people really to call me by it was my Mom and the bishop. To call me by my first name is as odd to me as if you called me Father Sue. (Actually outside of this blog nobody calls me Fr. V either. It is just easier to type.)

Ah well. The world will not end I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Fr. V. ~ Hmmm....Father Sue. Yes, that would be a very odd thing to call you.

You know, though...guaranteed I'm going to slip up this summer and call you Fr. V...constantly. Because I've just gotten used to it. You might need to wear a name tag with your name written out just to remind me. :-P

Or maybe I'll just call you Sue. Is that OK?

* ducking *

Anonymous said...

Hi Fr. V,

On wedding rings, the States didn't mess it up at all! :-) I read recently a bit more about this:

-- In the US, UK, France, Italy and Sweden, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand supposedly because in classical times, the fourth finger was said to contain the vena amoris/veia d'amore.

-- Orthodox Christians, Eastern Europeans, and most people in Germany, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela & Chile wear the ring on the right hand. Apparently this comes from the Latin words "sinister" and "dexter." The negative connotation from sinister made it pretty obvious in some cultures that the wedding ring should go on the right hand.

Germany seems pretty out of place in the above list, this place being a dead-even split between Catholics and Lutherans, with a few others thrown in. People here just say, "We always did it that way," and look at me like I'm insane when I ask about it. :-)

On the subject of names, mine is Anika, not Anon. The googleblog thing wouldn't let me log in the other day. We'll see if it lets me today. I'm sure it's a conspiracy by your arch-enemy, Fr. Sue. (*smile*)

p.s. Blast!