Putting on a new coat

In my last article I wrote about the cathedra and its importance in a diocese. You will recall that the term Cathedral comes from the Latin name for this chair — cathedra. I also noted its importance in the installation of our new bishop. Today I wish to reflect on another important aspect of that cathedra.

Anyone you ask would probably tell you that the Golden Arches refer to a McDonald’s restaurant nearby. It is a symbol of this chain of restaurants that exists not only in the United States, but throughout the world.

In fact, I was able to visit the McDonald’s restaurant in Rome near the Spanish Steps. They have the same menu; the same uniform used by the employees, the only change was that the signage was in Italian. 

If you watch the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness for their annual special horse races, you will note the different colors on the jockey that indicates who is the owner of the horse. Often they are specific colors requested by the owners. These colors are signs to the spectators so they can follow the race easily.

Schools and colleges have a coat of arms that distinguishes and identifies them. While not so popular here, a coat of arms is something that is very ancient.

Wikipedia will tell you that a coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield. It was used by medieval knights to cover, protect, and identify them. The design is a symbol unique to an individual person or family, corporation, state or college, school, etc. 

Wikipedia further indicates that: “The ancient Romans used insignias on their shields, but these identified military units rather than individuals. Coats of arms came into general use by feudal lords and knights in battle in the 12th century. By the 13th century, coats of arms had spread beyond their initial battlefield use to become a kind of flag or logo for families in the higher social classes of Europe, inherited from one generation to the next. The use of arms spread to Church clergy, and to towns as civic identifiers, and to royally-chartered organizations such as universities and trading companies. The coats of arms granted to commercial companies are a major source of the modern logo.”

The use of the coat of arms continues in use today by the Church. Although anyone can have a personal coat of arms, this is usually reserved for the rank of bishop. When a man is selected to be a bishop he has the opportunity to design his personal coat of arms. Usually, with the assistance of an artist and someone familiar with heraldry, it incorporates elements particular to the new bishop, his family and his past.

You will find in the pages of this edition of The Anchor an explanation of the Coat of Arms of Bishop Edgar da Cunha. When you visit the cathedral in Fall River, or any other cathedral, the coat of arms can be found on the cathedra — the bishop’s chair. 

In our cathedral when you enter the eastern door of the cathedral on Spring Street, the coat of arms of our previous bishops — Archbishop Daniel A.  Cronin and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Bishop George W. Coleman are found.

When a man is ordained as a bishop and a Successor of the Apostles, he not only chooses a coat of arms that is unique, but, also a slogan found on the bottom of the coat of arms that has special meaning for him.

Bishop da Cunha has chosen the words — Sufficit tibi gratia mea — My grace is enough for you. This passage comes from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (12:9). This indicates that the bishop will rely on the grace of God and the grace of his ordination as a bishop to assist him in his responsibilities as Bishop of Fall River.

I can recall when I was with Bishop Cronin, on more than one occasion, after having prayed on and made, or not made, a decision, he would say that it was the grace of God that assisted him. Each of us has grace of state in our vocation as priests, religious, or whether we are married or single; God is there to assist us. We must let Him do it and be aware of His presence in our life.

As of last week, the Coat of Arms of Bishop da Cunha has changed. Now that he is a bishop of a diocese, the left side of his coat of arms is that of the Diocese of Fall River. He is now, as it were, wedded to the Church here. From now on he leads us in the knowledge and love of God.

In an interview with a New Bedford newspaper, Bishop da Cunha said: “I’m coming to share with people my faith, to pray with them, to walk with them, and to serve them in the best way I can.” We know God’s help; God’s grace will be with Bishop da Cunha on his journey with us.

Let us pray his sharing, walking, praying with us will be a long, healthy, and happy journey that will bring us all closer to God and in our service of one another. Let this be our prayer as we journey into the next chapter of the wonderful history of this local Church, the Diocese of Fall River.

Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts