September 3-5, 2001
volume 12, no. 148

The Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar

Part Nine: Sacred Vessels and Altar Linens

    These next several chapters may seem foreign to many for so many of the traditions have been abandoned in favor of simplicity and streamlining the Mass, thus, sadly, losing so much of the reverence and sacrality of this Sacrament of the Altar. The chief sacred vessels used for the altar are the chalice, paten, ciborium, and monstrance or ostensorium.

    Once consecrated, sacred vessels may not be touched by persons who are not in holy orders, except in cases of necessity. Those given charge of the care of the vessels should use a small linen cloth when handling them, so that they do not actually touch them. They are to be handled with reverence.

    The chalice is the most sacred of all the vessels. It is the cup which holds the wine for consecration; after consecration, it contains the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.

    The chalice must be of gold or silver. If this is not possible, at least the inside must be always gilt. The chalice represents the chalice in which Our Lord at the Last Supper first offered His blood; it also symbolizes the chalice of the Passion; and lastly, it stands for the Heart of Jesus, from which flowed His blood for our redemption.

    The paten is the small plate on which the host is laid. It is made to fit the chalice.

    It is of the same materials as the chalice, at least gilt. Both chalice and paten must be consecrated by a bishop. In Holy Communion, our hearts become living chalices, our tongues other patens on which the priest lays Our Lord. May He ever find them welcoming Him! As we sadly know the concept of our tongues being other patens has been lost with the adoption of receiving Our Lord in the hand. While that in itself was accepted in earlier times of the Church, today so much reverence has been lost in the lax disciplines of educating the faithful and the repetitive practice over the past three decades toward the Holy Eucharist where an alarming number of Catholics, even priests and bishops, no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. That is the sad result of allowing Holy Communion in the hand and removing the Communion rails.

    The ciborium resembles the chalice, except that it has a cover. It is used to hold the small hosts distributed for the Communion of the faithful. Here again reverence has diminished where almost anyone are under the assumption they can touch this sacred vessel where once only priests and sacristans did so and then with the utmost respect for this receptacle.

    The monstrance or ostensorium is the large metal contained used for Benediction or exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. In many churches, it is of gold, and decorated with jewels. The sacred Host used for Benediction is reserved in a luna or lunette, which is placed in the glassed portion of the monstrance. Thankfully this practice is still carried on in many parishes. In fact, in more orthodox churches Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has increased and in dioceses where the shepherds are truly concerned perpetual adoration is encouraged.

    Other things, such as the Missal, veil, cruets, and incense, are used at the altar. The Missal is the book which contains the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass. The veil is a square cloth of the same material and design as the vestments of the priest. It is used to cover the chalice, paten, and pall before the Offertory and after the Ablution. In many parishes the veil has been abandoned as well as if the veil from the Sacred has been lifted, taking away the sacrosanct from the receptacles that hold Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. The cruets are the vessels from which the acolyte or altar server pours water and wine into the chalice held by the celebrant. Incense is a perfume burned on certain occasions, as at high Mass and Benediction; it is a symbol of prayer.

    The corporal, purificator, pall, and finger towel are used. These linens, except the finger towel, are called the "holy cloths." All are made of white linen. No special significance is placed on the finger towel. It is of linen, used by the priest after washing his fingers before the consecration.

    The corporal is a square of fine linen, with a small cross worked in the center. Sometimes it has a border of lace. It is folded in three from both sides, and kept in a burse. The corporal is the most important of the holy cloths. The priest spreads it on the altar. On it he places the chalice and the Host after consecration.

    With the purificator, the corporal symbolizes the linen in which Our Lord was laid away in the sepulcher. Because of their close contact with the sacred species, neither the purificator nor corporal after use may be handled by lay people without special permission. The priest first purifies them before others wash them. It goes without saying how this caution has been thrown to the winds of change today.

    The purificator is an oblong piece of linen, folded thrice, placed over the chalice. It is used by the priest to wipe the inside of the chalice before putting in the wine and after the Ablution; he also wipes his mouth with it after the Ablution.

    The pall is a small square piece of linen starched stiff, used to cover the chalice. It represents the stone which the Roman soldiers rolled against the entrance of Christ's sepulcher.

    In the past it was mandatory to have three linen altar cloths on the altar during Holy Mass, but with the streamlining and corner cutting mentality of the conciliar Church, this, too, has been abandoned in so many parishes. With every generation, these hallowed traditions dating back to Our Lord's time are being lost.

September 3-5, 2001
volume 12, no. 148
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