From the Catholic Times – 24 March 2019
Per pale, azure a ford proper, a coracle argent the sail to dexter and charged with an M gules, the mast surmounted by a cross Or, impalingargent a cross flory azure throughoutcharged at the base point with a mulletof seven points of the field between inchief two escallop-shells gules, over all at the fess point a hurt charged with a lamb’s head couped Or.
Designing his shield – the central element in what is formally called the heraldic achievement – a bishop has an opportunity to depict symbolically aspects of his life and heritage and elements of the Catholic faith that are important to him. Every coat of arms also includes external elements that identify the rank of the bearer. The formal description of a coat of arms, known as the blazon, uses a technical language, derived from French and English terms, that allows the appearance and position of each element in the achievement to be recorded precisely.
A diocesan bishop shows his commitment to the flock he shepherds by combining his personal coat of arms with that of the diocese in a technique known as impaling. The shield is divided in half along the pale or central vertical line. The arms of the diocese appear on the dexter side – that is, on the side of the shield to the viewer’s left, which would cover the right side (in Latin, dextera) of the person carrying the shield. The arms of the bishop are on the sinister side – the bearer’s left, the viewer’s right.
The arms of the Diocese of Columbus, founded in 1868, allude to the namesake of the see city, Christopher Columbus, and his famous voyage to the Americas in 1492. A stylized ship sailing on waves recalls La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción (Holy Mary of the Immaculate Con- ception), the largest of Columbus’ three ships. Its sail is charged with a capital letter “M” painted red (gules) as an emblem of the Virgin Mary, and the mast is topped with a gold Cross.
In Ireland, from where Bishop Brennan’s ancestors emigrated to the United States, coats of arms belong to a sept or family, rather than to an individual. The Brennan coat of arms (Argent, a lion rampant azure and in chief two dexter hands apaumée gules) comprises a white shield with a blue heraldic lion, and two red hands in the top corners of the shield. Rather than use the original design – the symbolism of which is somewhat obscure – Bishop Brennan has chosen to retain the overall coloration and layout of his family coat of arms while employing charges more evocative of his own life of faith.
The main charge on the shield is the Cross, the foundation of the Christian faith. The arms of this particular Cross (called a cross flory) resemble a fleur-de-lis, a stylized lily often used as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. A cross flory (in black and white) also appears on the coat of arms of the Dominican Sisters whose schools the bishop attended in his youth. Moreover, the shape of the crossbeams resembles the tail of the lion rampant that appears on the original family arms.
At the bottom of the Cross appears a small white star (mullet argent), another symbol of Our Lady. Its position recalls the moment when, “standing by the cross of Jesus” (John 19:25), Mary became, at her Son’s command, the Mother of all his disciples (cf. John 19:27).
The star has seven points, recalling the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so is a fitting symbol of the one who is both “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and who prays with the disciples of the Lord that they also may receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:4, 8, 13-14).
At the center of the Cross appears a lamb’s head painted gold (Or). The same charge figures prominently on the coat of arms of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, which Bishop Brennan served as a priest and bishop for nearly 30 years.
Because the Latin word for lamb is agnus, the gentle animal has long been a symbol of St. Agnes, the 12-year-old Roman martyr who suffered persecution and death in the early fourth century in defense of her faith and her virginity, which she had consecrated to Jesus Christ.
St. Agnes is the patroness of the Diocese of Rockville Centre and of its cathedral church, where Bishop Brennan resided for 16 years.
At the top of the shield (in chief) are two scallop shells painted red (gules). Although the charges are the same, they are used here to allude to two different saints: John the Baptist and James the Greater.
Bishop Brennan attended St. John the Baptist High School (West Islip, New York) and St. John’s University, and the patron of these schools often is depicted in sacred art using a shell to baptize the Lord Jesus.
The date of Bishop Brennan’s ordination as a bishop – July 25, 2012 ––is the feast of St. James, the brother of St. John the Evangelist and the first of the apostles to be martyred during the persecution of the early Church (Acts 12:1-2).
Medieval pilgrims to the shrine of St. James in Compostela, on the northwest coast of Spain, would pick up scallop shells from the beaches and wear them on their cloaks or caps as a sign that they had completed the journey.
The red color of the shells recalls that both of these saints gave their lives as martyrs for the faith.
On a scroll below the shield ap- pears the bishop’s motto, “Thy will be done.” This petition from the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10) summarizes and responds to the symbolism depicted on the shield.
Standing with Our Lady by the Cross of the Lord, and recognizing he is called to “drink the cup” of the Lord’s suffering by bearing his own cross (cf. Mark 10:38-39), a disciple must rely on the Lord for strength and make his own Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
The shield is ensigned with external elements that identify the bearer as a bishop. A gold processional cross appears behind the shield.
The galero or “pilgrim’s hat” is used heraldically in various colors and with specific numbers of tassels to indicate the rank of a bearer of a coat of arms. A bishop uses a green galero with three rows of green tassels.