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Maniple - chalice - purificator - amice - vestments - chasuble

linen girdle, John Damascene

Rev. Rama Coomaraswamy


Let us examine some further elements of the Traditional Mass. The chalice symbolizes the heart in which Our Lord's Blood flowed; or according to others, the bitter chalice of his passion; or again, the grave in which he was laid. The pall covering the chalice represents the stone which was rolled across his tomb. The paten represents the vases containing the unguents used to anoint his body. The corporal is the square of fine linen carried in the bursa and placed under the chalice during Mass. It must always be white for it symbolizes the purity of the Virgin from whence Christ drew his terrestrial body. It also symbolizes Christ's passion, for linen acquires its whiteness only after many washings and much travail, as also Christ underwent. It further symbolizes the Church which is the body of Christ present in the world, and finally, the host is placed upon the corporal, and both on the altar, just as the body of Christ united to His divinity was attached to the Cross. It is folded in three, representing the three theological virtues, faith hope and charity, by means of which we are united to God.

The purificator represents the other cloths that were used at His interment; the veil of silk covering the chalice represents the veil of the temple that was torn from top to bottom at the moment of His death; the two cruets represent the vessels which contained the wine and the gall given Him to drink upon the cross. The three altar cloths under the chalice at Mass also represent the shroud in which he was laid - and according to Catherine Emmerich there were three cloths used at the time of the Last Supper. Everything on the altar and everything the priest does or says is replete with meaning. Such of course is also true of the novus ordo missae, but in a negative fashion. I say, in a negative fashion, because one must look at precisely those prayers and words which were deleted or changed to understand the nature of this new desacralized rite.

Other symbols used in the Mass that date back to Apostolic times are worthy of mention. Of the sacerdotal vestments: The Amice is symbolic of the linen cloth wherewith in the house of Caiaphas the Jews covered Christ's face, bidding Him in mockery: 'Prophesy to us, who is it that struck Thee?'; the alb represents the white garment in which the son of God was mocked in the house of Herod; The linen girdle with which the priest girds himself represents the cord wherewith Christ was bound in the Garden of Olives. The maniple on the priests left arm represents the bonds wherewith Christ was tied to the pillar when he was scourged. The priest takes this off when he leaves the altar to give his sermon because he gives the sermon as Christ's representative - but he services the altar as an alter Christus or another Christ. Or again, it is that maniple of tears intended to wipe away the filth resulting from our attachment to the things of this world. It is not without significance that the novus ordo missae has dropped the use of the Maniple. The stole represents the chains laid upon Our Lord after He was sentenced to death. The chasuble represents, either the purple robe that the soldiers laid upon his shoulder, or the need above all for Charity. It bears upon it the image of the Cross which Our Lord Jesus Christ bore upon His own shoulders.43

The colors of the vestments are also significant. White, a symbol of purity and sanctity, is used on festivals of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin, the Angels, Pontiffs, Confessors, and Virgins. White is of course a symbol of purity. Red which suggests both blood and fire is used to celebrate festivals of the Martyrs. Purple is a penitential color and thus is used in Advent and Lent, and interestingly enough for the death of Kings. Pink is for joy as in the Third Sunday of Advent where the penitential tone is mitigated in anticipation of the birth of Our Lord. Green, which is used for ordinary Sundays and ferias (weekdays) and symbolizes hope, that hope which we have for things unseen. Blue is used for Masses of Our Lady, especially in Latin countries. And Black of course is used at funeral Masses. In the novus ordo black is no longer used.

A word about the magnificence of the priestly vestments. The can be and frequently are worn over the poorest of garments. The Cure of Ars used to spare no expense in decorating the altar or on vestments used in the Mass. One must remember that in wearing them, the priest is an alter Christus. The priest on the altar as an individual is a 'nobody.' It is Christ who consecrates. In the novus ordo missae, it is the people who consecrate under the presidency of the so-called priest.

* * *

We have shown then how the Church gathers together all the sacrifices of the Old Testament and incorporates them into the New Covenant. As Father Cochem says: 'If our eyes were enlightened by faith, this sacred spectacle of the Mass would fill us with intense joy. For holy Mass is a brief compendium of the whole life of Christ, and a renewal of all the mysteries comprised in it; not, indeed, a fictitious portrayal of past events, but a real and actual repetition of all that Christ did and suffered on earth.' Just as Christ is continually sacrificing Himself in heaven for us - perpetually offering to the Father a 'clean oblation' of Himself; so also is He continually being born on earth and in us. As one sainted Dominican put it, 'it is no use Christ being born on earth, if He is not born in me.' At this point it is perhaps useful to consider and provide an example of how one can indeed apply Christ's life to ourselves. According to the Blessed Johannes Tauler, the story of the Flight into Egypt is full of meaning for us. In the Gospel story, the angel warned Joseph that although Herod had died, his son Archelaus had taken the throne and still sought to kill the Christ-child. Tauler viewed this entire drama as taking place within the soul - even though the Herod in our souls is dead as a result of Baptism which engendered the Christ-child within us, Archelaus still continues to live within our souls and still seeks to kill the Christ-child. Thus it is that, that like the Magi, after the encounter with Christ, they had to travel a different path.

Now as we trace the life of Christ in the Mass, let us remember that we must unite ourselves to Him - as Scripture puts it, we must be baptized with Him, must die with Him and must Rise again with Him. As it says in the Epistle for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: 'Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.' Let us follow the life of Christ in the Mass and see at the same time how the actions of our Exemplar apply to us. Let us remember that our entire spiritual life must be patterned after Him, for he in not only the Truth and the Light, but also the Way. As several saints have put it, 'if we would bear Christ, we must become like the Virgin Mary.' 44

As Father Myers puts it, 'Christ, head and members, offers the sacrifice, but Christ, head and members, offers himself, and we, in union with our Head are victims too.' In this communal meal man and God sacrifice themselves for one another and dwell within one another in a mysterious wedding and divine conjugation. 'Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.' (John XV. 4-5) No wonder then that Christ told us, 'Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you; he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life... He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him.' (John VI. 54. ff).

At this point I think it is obvious that the traditional Mass incorporates all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. It has also been shown - granted in an abbreviated manner - for time and space is limited - how the Mass recapitulates the entire life of Christ, and how by our participation in this rite we are baptized in Christ, die in Christ and are resurrected in Christ. We have also seen how the essence of the Mass was established by Christ and the Apostles, and how every act by the priest, even the smallest detail, is full of meaning, for the rite follows a heavenly model - to use the Scholastic phrase, 'as in heaven, so on earth.' When we know all this it is obvious that to change the Mass is an inversion - it is to say, that heaven should follow an earthly pattern - it is to say, 'as on earth, so we wish it to be in heaven' which is but another aspect of Satan's non serviam. Just as every thing in the traditional Mass is replete with meaning, so also are all the changes. Nothing in the novus ordo is accidental; the elimination of the altar rails, the removal of the tabernacles, the changes in the 'form' of the Sacrament, the failure to insist on an altar stone, the changing of the altar into a table with a single covering, the elimination of the Maniple, a president facing the people, communion in the hand with recipient standing - all these things are just as full of meaning as are their contrary in the true Mass. Knowing this, we see how important it is for us to insist on the rite that Christ and the Apostles established, and not some ersatz imitation. Finally, how grateful to God we must be, not only for the priests which continue to provide us with this great sacrament, but also because we have been privileged to persist in being Catholic. With this comes of course the other side of the coin. Much has been given to us; much will be asked of us. It is with fear and trembling that we must approach this most holy of sacraments lest we be condemned along with the man who came to the marriage feast without a wedding garment. We must truly put off the old man and put on Christ.

'Our heart is an altar. On this altar lies the victim: our evil inclinations. The sword destined to slay this victim is the spirit of sacrifice and immolation; the sacred fire which must burn night and day on the altar of our heart is the love of Jesus Christ; the fruitful invigorating breath which inspires and nourishes this sacred fire of love is the Eucharist.' Father Arminjon

* * *

A brief comment on the Catholic practice of making the sign of the Cross. There is of course, nothing in Scripture that speaks to this practice; and it was of course dropped by the Protestants. I have told you how the Mass and Altar are at the center of the world and I have mentioned to you how the priest, and all of us, need to be converted on a daily - even hourly basis. Well, when we make the sign of the Cross, we are as it were lining ourselves up with the Cross and placing ourselves at the center of creation. One should never forget the importance of this act. Let me illustrate its importance by retelling the story of St. Simeon of the Pillar.

St. Simeon was recognized as a great saint by the Christian world of his time. When he died, his body had to be transported twelve miles from his pillar to the Cathedral in Antioch. The crowds of people attending the funeral extended then entire twelve miles from his pillar to Antioch in a column one mile wide - three different histories of his life tell us this. Now St. Simion lived on top of a pillar and was known for the great austerity of his life. He was a wonder worker and the advisor of kings throughout the Eastern world. One day Christ appeared to him on a fiery chariot praising him for his life of prayer and sacrifice and informing him that like some of the saints of the Old Testament, he was to be taken to heaven in this chariot, and that Christ Himself had come to bring this about. St. Simion accepted this without question, opened the gate of his pillar, and was about to step into the chariot. Before doing so however, out of habit, he made the sign of the cross. And much to his surprise, Christ turned into Satan. St. Simion realized that he still lacked sufficient humility and spent the next year standing on one leg as an added penance. Here the habitual making of the sign of the cross saved his soul. How important then it is for us to make the sign of the cross on awaking, or before going to sleep - or for that matter, before initiating any action.


42 dropped from the Novus Ordo.

43 According to Father Summers, the removal or inversion of the cross on the chasuble is characteristic of a black or satanic mass (The History of Witchcraft).

44 'If anyone wishes to know how the bread is changed into the Body of Jesus Christ I will tell him The Holy Ghost overshadows the priest and acts on him as He acted on the Blessed Virgin Mary' (St John Damascene). Again, God, when He descends on the altar, does no less than He did when He became man for the first time in the womb of the Virgin Mary.' (Both Quoted by Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, O.P, The Wonders of the Mass.

chalice purificator linen girdle maniple amice chasuble vestments john damascene

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