Each of the papal orders has its own distinct uniform, decorations and, in the case of knights, its own distinct sword. Following the British Association of Papal Orders, distinctive cloaks are worn by dames. While the wearing of a uniform is not compulsory, it is nevertheless required when participating in pontifical ceremonies. When attired in uniform, knights and dames must wear white gloves and knights must wear the sword, except when at dinner. Hats are worn by knights and black lace mantillas by dames. Although spurs are an integral part of the uniform for all Equestrian Orders, they are rarely worn. As pointed out by Father McNamara, Papal Knights [and Dames] have special privileges and roles at Mass. As one official description indicates:
‘The Knights' principal ceremonial role is to escort the Ordinary (Bishop or Archbishop of the Diocese) and/or Cardinal into the Church or Cathedral, lead him into the Sanctuary, and remain there, seated usually to the right of the altar, until the end of the Mass. Two Knights are usually preferred for such a role, although one can be sufficient, and they walk immediately in front of the Bishop they are escorting. At the end of the Mass they will again immediately precede the Bishop in the recessional. ‘The Knight wears the plumed hat while processing in and out of the Church or Cathedral; on entering the sanctuary and taking his seat he removes his sword and lays it on the ground until the end of the Mass. He shall wear his hat at the same time the Bishops wears his mitre and remove or replace it simultaneously with the Bishop.’
The investiture is normally carried out during Mass by a Senior Cleric delegated by the Pontiff (or by the Archbishop or Bishop of the diocese) who reminds the candidate that ‘becoming a Knight or Dame does not merely mean receiving a title of honour – even though it is well deserved, but fighting evil, promoting good and defending the weak and oppressed against injustice. ’After the candidate’s promise to ‘faithfully maintain unswerving fidelity to God, the Supreme Pontiff, the Holy See and to the Holy Church, and exercise the office of a Pontifical Knight or Dame in accordance with the high ideals and standards expected of them', the Celebrant confers the honour with the words: ‘In the name of the Holy Father I herewith invest you with the insignia of the Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory/Pope Saint Sylvester’ and presents the Papal Brief which reads as follows, replacing Knight with Dame in the case of female recipients:
FRANCIS SUPREME PONTIFF gladly acceding to a request made to Us from which we have gathered that you are most deserving for what you have done for the Holy Catholic Church and its affairs, and in order that We give a clear sign of Our pleasure and appreciation, We choose, make and declare you
Of the diocese of
A Knight/Knight Commander/ Knight Commander with Star/Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Gregory/Pope Saint Sylvester. We bestow on you the right to use and enjoy all the privileges which go with this high dignity.
Given at St. Peter’s in Rome on (date)
Signed and sealed by the Cardinal Secretary of State.
The Pontifical Orders
The Papal Orders are of comparatively recent origin. That said, membership of such an Order represents one of the highest and most prestigious distinctions which the Pope, as Supreme Pontiff and Head of the Catholic Church and as Sovereign of the Vatican State, can bestow on an individual. Such awards are usually made to lay men and women of the Roman Catholic faith but not exclusively so: they may be awarded to those of other Christian denominations and other faiths in recognition of their pre-eminent service to the work of the Holy See on a national and international level. The Pontifical Orders of Knighthood of the Holy See, in order of seniority, as shown above, are the following (The detailed information and specific quotations herein are taken from H. E. Cardinale, ‘Orders of Knighthood, Awards and the Holy See’, Van Duren, Gerrards Cross, England (1983)):
- The Supreme Order of Christ
- The Pontifical Order of the Golden Spur
- The Pontifical Order of Blessed Pius IX (the Pian Order)
- The Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory the Great
- The Pontifical Order of Pope St. Sylvester, Pope and Martyr
These five Orders are termed ‘Pontifical’ because they are the only Orders founded and awarded by the Sovereign Pontiff either directly, motu proprio (of one’s own will), or indirectly, following a request submitted to the Papal Secretary of State. The awards are given by His Holiness as Head of the Catholic Church and as Head of State of the Holy See. Admission to the Supreme Order of Christ, the Pontifical Order of the Golden Spur and the higher ranks of the Pian Order is reserved for reigning Sovereigns and Heads of State. The middle ranks of the Pian Order are generally awarded to senior politicians, to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, and to leading Catholics in the wider world for exceptional services to the Church and to society. Although civil and military divisions exist within some Orders, awards have been almost exclusively civilian. While the Pontifical Orders of Knighthood were initially founded for, and remained the prerogative of gentlemen, instructions were issued in November 1993 by the Secretariat of State that ladies were henceforth eligible for admission to the Pian Order, to the Order of Saint Gregory the Great and to the Order of Pope St. Sylvester.
Awards no longer confer titles of nobility on the recipients. The majority of recipients are Christians although awards may be bestowed on non-Christians and, indeed, on non-believers in the latter three categories listed above. Members of the clergy are excluded. Promotion to a higher rank within a Papal Order may be recommended by the Ordinary of a diocese where merited.
Knights are entitled to wear a uniform appropriate to the Order to which they belong. Dames may wear the appropriate cape. The uniform is generally worn on special occasions including Pontifical masses, Pilgrimages and during events held by the Association of Papal Orders. They also have a special place in papal cortèges. The wearing of a uniform is not compulsory.
In Ireland there are a small number of members in the Pian Order: the majority of members of the Association of Papal Orders are Knights and Dames of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great and, increasingly, the Order of Pope St. Sylvester.