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The Papal ferula (from Latin ferula, "rod") is the pastoral staff or crosier used by the Pope. It is a rod with a knob on top surmounted by a cross. This is in contrast to other bishops, who use a crosier which is shaped like a shepherd's crook: bent or crooked at the top and pointed at the lower end.
Traditionally, the popes did not use any ferula, crosier, or pastoral staff as part of the papal liturgy. The use of a staff is not mentioned in descriptions of Papal Masses in the Ordines Romani (Roman Ordinals). In the early days of the church, a crosier was carried on some occasions by the pope, but this practice disappeared by the time of Pope Innocent III. Innocent III noted in his De Sacro altaris mysterio (“Concerning the Sacred Mystery of the Altar,” I, 62): “The Roman Pontiff does not use the shepherd's staff.” The reason was that a crosier is often given by the metropolitan archbishop (or by another bishop) to a newly elected bishop during his investiture. In contrast, the pope does not receive investiture from another bishop and is invested with the pallium during his coronation or inauguration.
However, during the High Middle Ages, the popes once again began using a staff known as a ferula as insignia to signify temporal power and governance, which included "the power to mete out punishment and impose penances". The actual form of the staffs from this period is not well known, but were likely staffs topped with a knob with single-barred cross on top. The staff was not a liturgical item, and its use was limited to a few extraordinary ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of the Holy Door and the consecration of churches, during which the pope "took hold of the staff to knock on the door three times and to trace the Greek and Latin letters on the floor of the church". Sometimes, the staff also took the form of a triple-barred cross (or papal cross, a symbol of the papacy), but this was rare in contrast to the single-barred cross. Use of the staff was soon again phased out.
In 1877, the Circolo San Pietro (an organization founded in 1869 to support the papacy) presented a staff or ferula to Pope Pius IX on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his episcopal consecration and is sometimes referred to as the "ferula of Pius IX". This ferula was used by popes from Pope Pius IX until Pope Paul VI, again only for extraordinary, non-liturgical ceremonies. Pope Leo XIII at times made use of crosier in the same shape as that of other bishops. In addition, a triple-barred cross ferula was made for Leo XIII for the Golden Jubilee of his Priesthood in 1888. Pope John XXIII had began using the 1877 ferula of Pius IX for various liturgical celebrations during the Second Vatican Council. It was during the pontificate of Paul VI that the popes more permanently began using a ferula as a pastoral staff for solemn liturgical celebrations, rather than a symbol of governance. In effect, the papal ferula became the equivalent of a bishop's crosier or pastoral staff.
The pastoral staff carried by the popes since Pope Paul VI is a contemporary single-barred crucifix, designed by the Italian artist Lello Scorzelli in 1963 and carried and used in the same manner as a bishop uses his crosier. Paul VI had actually used three other ferulas, similar in style, with the other versions having a cross bar which was straight, or bent upward. Scorzelli's well known version has the cross bar bent downward, much like the paterissa carried by an Eastern Catholic bishop. Paul VI first used this staff on 8 December 1965, at the closing of the Second Vatican Council. The Scorzelli staff was the one retained his successors starting with Pope John Paul I. This ferula design is often associated with Pope John Paul II.
On 25 March 1983, Pope John Paul II used the ferula of Leo XIII with three horizontal bars in opening of Holy Door during the Jubilee, the Holy Year of the Redemption. In 1990, Scorzelli made a replica of the Paul VI ferula for John Paul II, which was lighter than the previous one.
On 16 March 2008, at the Palm Sunday celebrations in Saint Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI used the ferula that had been previously used from the pontificate of Pope Pius IX. This cross was used until 28 November 2009 at the First Vespers for Advent. A new ferula was given to Pope Benedict XVI as a gift of the Circolo San Pietro and, according to Monsignor Guido Marini, the Master of Apostolic Ceremonies and head of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, it "can be considered to all intents and purposes the pastoral staff of Benedict XVI."
Pope Francis continued to use the ferula of Benedict XVI at the beginning of his pontificate. On 7 April 2013, at the Mass for the Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, Francis returned to using the original 1965 ferula of Paul VI with the corpus on it and has alternated its use with the ferula of Benedict XVI, which he resumed using on 23 April 2013.