Coat of Arms
There is a long established tradition that a bishop has a coat of arms. It is not strictly necessary, and some may wonder what purpose it serves. Perhaps it may act as a reminder of what the person it represents holds dear and a statement of intent as to what they hold important in life.
In the heraldic tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, the Coat of Arms of a Bishop is normally composed of:
- a shield with its charges (symbols) drawn from family, geographic, religious and historical significance and/or related to the name of the Bishop;
- a golden processional cross, with one traversal bar, to represent the rank of the Bishop, “impaled” (vertically) behind the shield;
- a green hat (galero) with 12 (six on each side) attached tassels, ordained 1; 2; 3; from the top;
- a scroll with the motto, written in black, below.
In this case a samnitic shape shield, frequently used in the heraldry of the Roman Catholic Church, has been chosen, along with a processional cross with five red stones to represent the Five Wounds of Christ, reminding Bishop Michael that he will be called upon to imitate Christ the Good Shepherd, in “laying down his life” for the flock.
The shield is divided into three panels. The upper two remind us of Bishop Michael’s family of origin and his years of ministry as a priest of the Diocese of Elphin. The right side of the shield (seen from the point of view of the one holding the shield) contains an oak tree from the Duignan Family coat of arms. In the left side panel, a hammer represents St Asicus, disciple of St Patrick and a skilled coppersmith and goldsmith who was the first Bishop of the Diocese of Elphin (c.450ad).
The lower panel looks to the future and to Bishop Michael’s ministry in the Diocese of Clonfert. It focuses on a sailing boat representing St Brendan, Abbot and Navigator (c.484ad – c.577ad), Patron of the Diocese of Clonfert.
Above the boat is a star reminiscent of the star that led the three wise men to the Christ-child in Bethlehem on that first Christmas (Mt 2:1-12). As such, it represents the human search to find meaning and purpose in life, which finds its fulfilment in a life of faith. Blue in colour, the star also represents Mary under the ancient title Stella Maris – Star of the Sea. As we journey through life – it is to her that we turn as the guiding star on our way to Christ.
Underneath the shield is to be found in Latin the motto “Respicite ad eum et illuminamini”. This is taken from psalm 34 which exhorts the listeners to “Look towards Him and be radiant” (Ps 34:5).
In looking towards the Lord, trusting in his love and wisdom we find meaning in life. Once having found such meaning our lives are transformed and we cannot but radiate it to others.