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Carburetors and Credences

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First: Chapter 7


“Will you tell me, Pere,” said the Antiquary, as the Swerve bowled along the boulevard towards the city, “by what authority the so-called Communion paten has been so generally substituted for the linen ‘Houseling Cloth’ [Communion cloth] required by the rubric?”


“I would if you I could,” was the unusually gracious answer of the Liturgiologist. “But, as a matter of fact, there is not authority for it. It seems to be one of those practical reforms that have gradually insinuated themselves into our ceremonial practice, unrebuked by the superiors till some authoritative pronouncement was called for. In this case, quite recently, the law was made requiring the use of the Communion paten in addition to the Houseling Cloth, but there is still no authority for dispensing with the cloth, substituting the paten for it.” (Acta Apostolica Sedis, 929, page 638.[1])


“Did you say ‘reform,’ Pere?” asked the Antiquary with, for him, unusual asperity. “How can you call a direct disobedience of the rubrical directions a ‘reform’? Is it not rather an abuse?”


“If it had been really a serious abuse, doubtless the proper authorities would have dealt with it long ago,” was the suspiciously calm reply. “You must not press such points too far, dear Father. I know you are right in theory, and the documents are on your side. “Title IV, Cap. 2, of the Rituale, distinctly directs that when Holy Communion is given to the people there shall be ‘ante eos linteo mundo extensor,’[2] and until recently the nearest thing to a permission to adopt any other ceremony was the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. (August 12, 1854 ad 23.)


NOT given in the new collection of Authentic Decrees, but cited by O’Kane and others) which sanctioned the placing of a silver plate on the Communion cloth at the grating when Holy Communion is given to enclosed nuns. Cavalieri,[3] Merati[4] and some other approved authors recommend, when the number of communicants is small, the use of a card covered with linen, which can be passed from hand to hand. But this may never be the pall used at Mass to cover the chalice, for it is forbidden to use any part of the vestments of the chalice or the celebrant instead of the Communion cloth.


“Forbidden also were the use of the consecrated paten of the Mass, although, as you know, when Communion is given during Solemn Mass the deacon hold the Mass-paten under the communicants’ chins. The point, of course, is that layfolk may not touch the Mass-paten, on account of its consecration. The so-called Communion paten,[5] not being consecrated, may be passed from hand to hand by the laypeople, or ostended by an altar boy.[6] I called the introduction of the Communion paten a ‘reform’ because I honestly think it is, and I rather expect that eventually the regulation may be further changed to dispense with the Communion cloth altogether.[7] Of course, for the present, until the Authorities give us permission to discontinue it, we have no right to do so, and those who have should restore the use of the cloth. The new regulation expressly states that the Communion paten must be used, but that the Communion cloth must continue to be spread before the communicants.”


“But don’t you think it was rash to quit using the cloth, and take up with the unauthorized custom of passing a paten before the proper Authorities gave the permission?” persisted the Antiquary.


“Practically every change in the minor ceremonies of the Church has come about in just this way,” said the Liturgiologist. “A custom would be introduced, would spread unrebuked, become general, and sometimes after a long time be authorized by the formularies. Just as, on the other hand, definite directions would be more and more ignored till they passed into innocuous desuetude, for example, the rubric (Rituale Romanum, Tit. IV. Cap. 1:3) which requires the men and women to be given Holy Communion in separate groups, and, if possible, at separate times. The new Code[8] reiterates this rule but it is certainly more honored in the breach than in the observance.


The same is true regarding the Ablution or purification, which the Rituale directs shall be served to the communicants after reception, and which is never done nowadays except in the instance of the Ordinandi and not always then.[9]


These two directions have been so long in abeyance that nearly everybody has forgotten them. The change from the Communion cloth to the linen card or the paten is now taking place. One may be permitted to think it a change for the better, when one remembers how constantly, in the old days, the details of the direction were violated, how anything but ‘mundo’ the Houseling Cloth was wont to be, and what embarrassments the ‘extenso’ so frequently caused.”[10]


“But—but—” sputtered the Antiquary.


“Consider the ratio of the matter,” continued the Liturgiologist, imperturbably, “the purpose of the Communion cloth was to catch the Consecrated Species should It, by any unhappy chance, fall from the celebrant’s hand. This purpose is served equally well, if not better, by the paten, for the white Host is more easily seen on it than on the white linen cloth, as when it was caught by the folds of the cloth. But there is this, further, to be said against the now required use of the Communion paten:—its use is frequently very badly managed, the boy who holds it bobbing about and distracting the communicants; the celebrant treating it afterwards as if it were the Mass-paten, and meticulously cleansing it of minute micae[11] which may, or may not, be fragments of the Sacred Species, but which every author I have consulted advises the priest not to distress himself about; the boy then leaving it upon the altar instead of putting it away on the credence table.”


“I’m glad you mentioned that article of ecclesiastical furniture,” said the Antiquary, glad enough to change the subject. “I’m of two minds whether to have a regular table in the sanctuary, or to build a sort of niche in the wall, after the manner of the older churches of Europe.”


“You can speak better than I on the architectural points involved,” observed the Liturgiologist, with unwonted humility. “Strictly speaking the credence is only to be used during Pontifical or Solemn Mass.[12] But from the practical side, there’s no question but most of the credences one sees are altogether too small. There should be room for many articles, for occasionally there will be need to place upon it candlesticks, the chalice, books, and even other objects, besides the two cruets and the lavabo basin.


“Then, too, there’s an objection, not entirely artistic, to the use of a small, incidental table which looks like, and usually is, an episodical afterthought. Aside from the matter of taste, the credence should be adequately large, solid and of good material as being part of the permanent furniture of the sanctuary.


“Incidentally, there are certain things that should not be placed upon it, the celebrant’s birettum,[13] as a striking example, (Fortescue to the contrary notwithstanding!) Out of Mass time it is a convenient and proper place for the missal-stand and the altar cards, which are not supposed to be left on the altar when not in use.[14] And, let us note in passing, that the linen cloth which covers it at Mass time should hang down to the floor.”


“You prefer the table, evidently, rather than the niche or shelf,” said the Antiquary, with a touch of disappointment in his voice.


“Very much so,” was the reply. “A credence table should be a table! A fairly large table! A useful and practical table, for, so far as I can discover, it is the only article of sanctuary furniture which is purely utilitarian, and to which no mystical significance has been attached by pious writers.


“You may satisfy your artistic and antiquarian proclivities which will harmonize with the scamnum and the stools you mentioned the other day. You may make it an immovable fixture, so that you successors will not make use of it for purposes never intended, e.g., for the candles to be blessed on Candlemas and the palms on Palm Sunday.”


“It has possibilities to be sure,” admitted the Antiquary. “But I had rather set my heart on a niche, the fenestella,[15] you know, for ordinary Masses.”


“And I,” quoth the Liturgiologist, “have set my heart on a Buck, latest model, coupe with a cigar lighter!”


“The Swerve is the only inexpensive car on the market that a gentleman would be seen driving,” declared the Antiquary, the light of battle in his eye.


“Meaning that I’m no gentleman,” asked the Liturgiologist, with mock choler.


“No, no, Pere,” began the Antiquary.


“Never said I was,” laughed the Liturgiologist. “But I shall buy a Buck the very day my twenty year annuity matures.”


“Well of all things!” marveled the Antiquary. “Who’d have thought that you’d have thought twenty years ago of such mundane things?”


“Or you of credences!” returned the Liturgiologist, as the car drew up the Rectory gate.



1  It should be noted that this directive was never rescinded, but was in fact reaffirmed by both the latest editions of the Rituale Romanum for the 1962 Missale Romanum, as was as various rubrical authorities up to 1964—cf. J.B. O’Connell.


2 “Before them will be spread a clean linen.”


3 Referring to the work of Augustinian hermit, Fr. Joannis Michaelis Cavalieri, Opera Omni Liturgica, which was printed in 1758; it can be view via Google Books.


4 Referring to the Thesaurus sacrorum rituum, which was authored by Fr. Bartholomew Gavanti and amended to by Fr. Cajetani Mariae Merati; both consulters to the Sacred Congregation of Rites; the 1736 edition is available via Google Books.


5 Today more commonly called the “Communion plate” which also immediately distinguishes the unconsecrated (and often unblessed) gilt plate used for the distribution of Communion as opposed to the actual Mass paten.


6 This is now the common practice and is also the most practical and reliable method.


7 This in fact has never occurred as aforementioned in ff 1, and in fact, both a symbolic and practical reason exist for the continuance of the cloth.


8 I.e., the Pio-Benedictine of 1917.


9 This is in reference to the vessels of water and wine that the faithful would consume after receiving Holy Communion, as the rubrics prescribe for the newly-ordained priests (but from a chalice) after taking their Communion during the ordination Mass.


10 Another reason—in addition to disturbing the flat surface of the cloth which is intended to “catch” a fallen Host—why the faithful should not be holding the cloth when receiving Communion, as directed by some liturgical authorities (e.g., J.B. O'Connell).


11 Latin for “dust”.


12 Not that this would also apply to a High Mass (missa cantata).


13 Latin for “biretta”—an Italian word derived from the same.


14 Because the altar is not a “glorified storage place”—also, the Roman mentality is, “if it is not being used, put it away”. In this case, the cards do not have the same status as the altar crucifix and candles, which are prescribed to be retained on the altar after the divine services.


15 That is, “window” in Latin.

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