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Liturgical Economies

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First; Chapter 9


“I wonder why Catalogus doesn’t sell us two fronts to a chasuble, when we buy a set of vestments,” complained the Liturgiologist, ruefully setting aside an old “fiddle back” whose front was wore to tatters, while the back was still as good (or bad) as ever. “My tailor always makes me two pairs of trousers for one coat and vest.”


“But you don’t expect your suit of clothes to last forever,” was the dry retort of the Antiquary, who had spent the night at the rectory and said Mass at a side altar while his old friend was celebrating the “Parish Mass.” “I’ve never been able to see why vestments, even though they are not worn for hours at a time, should be made to endure till the consummation of the age! Ditto cassocks; which get, or should get, as much wear as coats and trousers, if we followed the decrees of the Council of Baltimore[1] (which still bind) to say nothing of the provisions of the Code.[2]


Yet the very priests, who will array themselves like the lilies of the field and never complain because a good black suit costs four times as much as when we were young, will grouch and fret if they have to buy a new cassock, and become quite inarticulate with grief if the Sister Sacristan insists that the old black chasuble, bought in 1884, is no longer suitable for use in the Sacred Mysteries of God’s service because lace chasubles are—”


“Hold! Enough!” gasped the Liturgiologist. “You have not only common sense but also the Cardinal of Chicago[3] on your side, for His Eminence, on a recent vacation, went through the vestment chests of his archdiocese and made a holocaust of the rags he found therein. Would that other Ordinaries would follow his extraordinary example. But, after all, there must be economy even in ‘the things that pertain to God’ and many a struggling priest can’t be buying new vestments every year or two.”


“But,” rejoined the Antiquary, “a well-made vestment, of good material, properly taken care of, should last, if not a lifetime, at least more than long enough to make up in service what it originally cost. Your ‘two-pants’ idea (unlike some other you have adumbrated) has some sense in it. Two vestments, used alternately, will last longer than the same two used, one at a time, till ruined. Besides, we spend much too much money on vestments of sorts, stiff with machine embroidery, put together with glue instead of honest needlework, when by simplicity and cultivated taste we could have even better artistic effects for less money and by more careful buying secure longer usefulness.”


“Well this set is going into the furnace,” laughed the Liturgiologist, “while I say the Song of the Three Boys in their furnace.”


Afterwards, at the breakfast table where the Pastor joined them, some other matters of liturgical economy came up for discussion. “What about the custom of saving time during Holy Mass by violating rubrics?” asked the Pastor. “For example, some priests, in distributing Holy Communion, begin (as the books direct) at the Epistle end of the rail, but when they get to the other end, instead of going back and beginning over again at the Epistle end, they distribute from the Gospel side, towards their left, till they get back to the Epistle end. Is there any authority for such a procedure?”


“None whatever,” promptly replied the Liturgiologist. “Not a single ‘Approved Author’ mentions the practice except to condemn it. The direction in the Rituale is perfectly plain (Rit. Rom. Iv, c 2, ad 4) so much so, indeed that Wapelhorst, O’Callaghan,[4] and Fortescue have no note upon it, while the Baltimore Ceremonial, Kuenzel and O’Kane (who cites Baruffaldi[5] and De Herdt[6] to the same effect), distinctly state that, if there be more than one rail-full of communicants, the priest shall return to the Epistle end and there begin again the distribution.


The case is quite otherwise with regard, for example, to the distribution of ashes on the first day of Lent, Palms on Palm Sunday, the giving of blessings like that of St. Blaise, or the enrollment in the scapular. In these ceremonies the priest may suit his convenience, and having performed the ceremony along the rails, back-track to where he began, and on till the end.”


“It would not seem that much time would be saved by observance of a practice of, at least, doubtful propriety,” said the Antiquary. “A few seconds at most. And the same is true of the abuse I’ve noticed somewhere or other, of the Celebrant at a missa cantata, having said the Credo himself, going right on with the Mass, merely SAYING the Dominus vobiscum and Oremus at the Offertory so as to begin the Preface as soon as the choir has finished the Credo.”


“Inasmuch as the Dominus vobiscum and Oremus are ordered to be sung, and provision is made for the Celebrant to sit, if he wishes, during the singing of the Credo, there would seem to be no possible justification of such a practice,” replied the Liturgiologist. “To be sure, time is saved, but at the expense of liturgical propriety and obedience to the rubrical law of the Church. And few of us are really so busy as not to waste, later in the day, the few moments saved in hustling the sacred ceremonies of Holy Mass.”


“Speaking of economies,” said the Pastor, “is there any objection in having the nuns make amices, purificators, and the like from old altar cloths, which sometimes wear out in the middle of the front, while the rest is quite good?”


“How could there be?” was the Liturgiologist’s response. “Better than patching God’s tablecloth in a way we would not dream of mending our own!” But, of course, the small pieces so made should be blessed, for the altar cloth loses its blessing in being dismembered, and amices, corporals, and palls require to be blessed before being used in Holy Mass. Purificators and mundatories[7] require no blessing. And it be may be noted that they also wear out in due time, and should be replenished promptly, lest the Celebrant lay himself open to the reproach of making use of things in the service of God which he would reject from his own wardrobe.”


“The good Sisters have their pet economies,” laughed the Pastor. “Stole collars, for example.”


“And very good things they are,” rejoined the Liturgiologist, “if kept within bounds. Personally I resent the implication that my neck is dirty, but some protection for the inside of the stole, where it may touch the body of many different Celebrants, is doubtless wise. But the stole collar should never cover the cross on the neck of the stole, which is placed there to be seen by all and kissed by the priest. At most the turn-over of the stole collar should not encroach upon the visible side of the stole more than half an inch. And, need it be said, such collars, if used at all, should be changed frequently, else they defeat their own purpose.”


“To sum up, then,” said the Antiquary, who was anxious to get back to Centerville, where the steam shovels were excavating the new St. Inveteratus Church, “Economy in liturgical practice and ecclesiastical articles is a commendable virtue, but parsimony is not so good.”


Verum est pro te!”[8] shouted the Liturgiologist, reaching for his hat.



1 Referring to the three Plenary Councils of Baltimore.


2 That is, the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law.


3 Cardinal George Mundelein (1915–1939).


4 The Sacred Ceremonies of Low Mass written by Fr. Felix Zualdi, CM and edited by Fr. M. O’Callaghan, CM (Browne and Nolan, 1931); this work is often referenced by rubrical authors.


5 Referring to the work of Hieronymo Baruffaldo, Ad Rituale Romanum Commentaria, who also a Consulter to the Office of the Holy Inquisition. The 1731 edition is available via Google Books.


6 Rev. J.B. (Jean-Baptiste) De Herdt's excellent Latin manual, titled Sacrae Liturgiae Praxis juxta Ritum Romanum [Sacred Liturgical Practice according to the Roman Rite] (Van Linthout, 1902).


7 The small finger towel used in conjunction with the absolution cup placed on the altar for purifying the priest’s fingers after handling Hosts outside of Mass (or by an additional priest distributing Communion at Mass).


8 Latin for “this is true for you”.

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