The papal coat of arms has undergone some major adjustments to more clearly reflect the importance of Mary and St Joseph.
The five-pointed star has been replaced with an eight-pointed star, while the spikenard flower has now been made to look more like a flower rather than a bunch of grapes, as it did in its original form. The Vatican published the new coat of arms on its website on March 27.
Italian Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, an expert on heraldry said that changing the star was “better” because the five-pointed star often carries with it “military significance,” while the eight-pointed star “has always symbolised Mary” in Catholic Church tradition.
The new papal blazon contains the same symbols that Pope Francis had on his episcopal coat of arms. The dark blue shield is divided into three sections, each with its own symbol. On the top is the official seal of the Society of Jesus, representing Jesus and the religious order in which the Pope was ordained as a priest in 1969. The symbol shows a blazing yellow sun with inside the red letters, IHS, the sign for the name of Jesus. A red cross rises up from the letter H and three black nails rest below.
The bottom part of the shield depicts a gold star and a gold spikenard flower, which represent respectively Mary and St Joseph, demonstrating the Pope’s “particular devotion to the Holy Virgin and St. Joseph,” the Vatican said.
The shield is surrounded by the papal insignia, a miter and the keys of St. Peter. The miter was something Pope Benedict XVI established in 2005, putting an end to the beehive-shaped three-tiered tiara that, for centuries, had appeared at the top of each Pope’s coat of arms.
The silver miter has three gold stripes to mirror order, jurisdiction and magisterium, and a vertical gold band connects the three stripes in the middle to indicate their unity in the same person. The two crossed keys have been part of papal emblems for centuries and symbolise the powers Christ gave to the apostle Peter and his successors.
The papal emblem uses a gold key to represent the power in heaven and a silver key to indicate the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth. The red cord that unites the two keys alludes to the bond between the two powers.
One detail Pope Francis changed in the papal insignia is removing the pallium from the elements surrounding the shield. The pallium, the woolen stole symbolising a bishop’s authority, was added to Pope Benedict’s coat of arms in 2005.
Another change made to Pope Francis’ insignia is that his motto is now inscribed on a white, red-edged banner underneath the shield; earlier, the motto was just a line of text running under the shield.
Pope Francis’ motto, which is the same as his episcopal motto, is based on the Gospel account of The Call of St. Matthew, the tax collector, in a homily given by the English eighth-century Christian writer and doctor of the church, St Bede the Venerable.
The homily “pays homage to divine mercy” and marks a significant moment in the pope’s spiritual discernment toward religious life, the Vatican said in a press release.
It was after confession on the feast of St Matthew in 1953 that a 17-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio strongly felt “the loving presence of God in his life,” the Vatican explained. It was that experience of God’s mercy and his “gaze of tender love” that called the young man to religious life, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, it said.
The motto is the Latin phrase “Miserando atque eligendo,” which means “having mercy, he called him.” The phrase refers to a line in St Bede’s homily: “Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.”
St. Bede’s homily looks at Mt 9:9-13 in which Jesus saw the tax collector, Matthew, sitting at a customs post and said to him, “Follow me.” St. Bede explained in his homily, “Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.”
“He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: ‘Follow me.’ This following meant imitating the pattern of his life, not just walking after him. St. John tells us: ‘Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.’”
St Bede continued: “This conversion of one tax collector gave many men, those from his own profession and other sinners, an example of repentance and pardon. Notice also the happy and true anticipation of his future status as apostle and teacher of the nations. No sooner was he converted than Matthew drew after him a whole crowd of sinners along the same road to salvation.”