VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - An ancient Catholic order of chivalry is erasing centuries of tradition as it cancels the ceremonial dubbing by the sword in its new rite of investiture for knighthood.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem announced the changes — which were promulgated by the Grand Master of the order, Cdl. Fernando Filoni — in a May 7 letter sent to high-ranking members of the society.
Both knights and dames will now be invested through a ceremonial dubbing (touching the recipient's shoulder) with the bishop's crozier instead of the traditional practice of dubbing only men with the sword, a reform Filoni described as "serving to equate men and women."
"When I invest knights or dames (the female equivalent of knight) who stand before me, I see them as perfectly equal people, with equal dignity of commitment and spiritual participation," Filoni noted.
Pope Francis appointed Filoni grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in December 2019 after the cardinal finished a stint as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, a post he had occupied since 2011.
"The investiture with the sword represents a symbolism I would consider inadequate for today's reality of our order and for post-conciliar ecclesiology," Filoni stated after presiding over his first investiture and substituting his crozier for the sword during the trial ceremony.
"The sword, in popular imagination, carries within itself the idea of armed struggle and conquest; often in Sacred Scripture, the sword represents punishment for the idea of war and the terrible consequences it produces," Filoni wrote.
"In a time like ours, where violence is not lacking, doesn't this symbol seem somewhat anachronistic?" he asked, contrasting the sword with the crozier or bishop's staff, which, he noted, symbolizes "a very high service to look after and support the Christian community."
By touching the knight or dame on the shoulder with the crozier, the bishop wishes to convey that they "receive the gift of participating, with their talents, in the care of the aims of the order in the Holy Land and in the life of the Church," Filoni observed.
Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, the order's governor-general, pointed out that the liturgical changes "reflect the spirit of renovation and simplification promoted by Pope Francis."
"Just as the Holy Father has confined to the past some of his titles ... the new rituals focus on the officiating bishop, who holds the spiritual power, by laying the pastoral staff or the processional cross on both knights and dames in the same way," Modrone remarked.
The order's lieutenant-general, Agostino Borromeo, said that the changes in the liturgy of the investiture ceremonies were made "on the initiative of Cdl. Filoni" to conform "to a greater spiritual sensibility, which is also deeply felt by the Holy Father."
The new investiture rite is "more appropriate and beautiful, in fidelity to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical and ecclesiological path of the Church," Borromeo stressed.
The Church historian explained that Pope Leo XIII's decision in 1888 to admit women "into an institution which, by its nature, was open to men only ... caused an irreversible break in continuity" and "resulted in the abandonment of [the] original identity of the chivalric order."
"From this new reality, the need arose to admit dames with a different formula to the one used for men, and without resorting to the use of the sword," he noted.
The lieutenant-general emphasized that the new ritual was a response to the 21st century, where "it no longer seems acceptable that people bound by the same obligations and holders of the same rights are received in different ways in the same institution."
Borromeo said he was personally "disconcerted" to see a bishop awkwardly wielding a sword on the altar the first time he attended a rite of investiture 25 years ago.
Cardinal Filoni has also expressed his personal dislike of using a sword at the altar and, particularly, during Holy Mass.
Of the 30,000 members in the order, over 10,000 are women. So far, they have not advanced to the top rank of governor-general, but a number of the lieutenants heading the nearly 60 lieutenancies are now female.
The ceremonial history of the investiture most likely originates from the investiture of knights who traveled to the Holy Land in the 12th century during the Second Crusade to capture Edessa, which had been conquered by the Muslims in 1147.
However, the first documentary evidence of an investiture of knights referred to as "of the Holy Sepulchre" dates to 1336, according to the order's website.
The twin goals of the order are to support Christians in the Holy Land and to encourage pilgrims from all over the world to visit the sacred places on pilgrimage (while helping them to receive a suitable welcome).
The world's most famous knighthood ceremony presided over by Queen Elizabeth II continues the tradition of using the sword to dub knights. Dames are not dubbed with swords, as the task of fighting battles was conducted exclusively by males.
In Britain, only clergy (and foreign citizens on whom honorary knighthood is conferred) receiving a knighthood from the Queen are not dubbed, as the use of a sword is thought inappropriate for their calling. They are not able to use the title "Sir."
While Greek and Roman philosophers use war terminology as metaphors for human moral efforts, the New Testament and Church Tradition use military imagery for the spiritual warfare in which Christians are engaged as the Church Militant.
Saint Paul asks the Ephesian Christians to put on the whole armor of God — including "the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one," and to take up "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places," the apostle famously writes in Ephesians 6:12.