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Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 36


In this chapter, we are finally taken to that (in)famous Church Goods shop, PUSCO’s, the name of which is actually an abbreviated anagram for a religious supply company: Sup(ply) Co.


* * * * *


The Pastor took our two old friends into Cincinapolis[1] in his own car, thereby giving an exhibition of the virtue of longanimity, for two “back-seat drivers” are more than enough to try the patience of any young pastor. The Antiquary wished to order some books, and the Liturgiologist had fish of his own to fry, while the Pastor was intent on procuring six small white cassocks with red velvet capes and sashes for his forthcoming Forty Hours Procession.


Unfortunately he nonchalantly announced this intention while driving through the comparative peace and quiet of one of the city parks. Had he waited until heavy traffic diverted the Liturgiologist’s attention, he might have shown better judgment. For, “do you know that such gewgaws are forbidden?” quoth the Liturgiologist, as soon as the matter was mentioned. “The Congregation of Sacred Rites, as long ago as July 9, 1859, forbade the use of the cincture or sash to altar boys. The same decree mentions capes, birettas or other head coverings. But this decree does not appear in the latest issue of the collection. Wapelhorst (p. 153 latest edition) in stressing the rule that servers should wear cassock and surplice adds, ‘non vero alia indumenta liturgica, uti cingulum, mozettam, biretum,’[2] etc., but, unfortunately, he does not give references.


With regard to the scull cap [skullcap or zucchetto], formerly much affected by altar boys, especially in churches yielding to the French influence, Nainfa says that it ‘has been frequently condemned by the S.R.C.’ In another place he mentions an abuse, saying ‘Though altar boys are vested in red or purple cassocks, they are not permitted to wear stockings of these colors under pretext of matching the different parts of their dress.’ A writer in The Acolyte[3] has said that red or other colored cassocks for boys are ‘tolerated’ but the ‘Approved Authors’ mention no other color than black.”


“But, Pere,” said the Pastor, willing to justify himself, “white cassocks for boys are really quite a custom in this country. Can nothing be said for them?”


“Much might be said against them,” was the Liturgiologist’s tart reply. “They are a ‘hangover’ of old French and German local customs of a day when boys were rigged up as bishops and prelates on state occasions. Get the ratio[4] of the thing, Father, and you will see that this is nothing but a piece of fancy ceremonial. Altar boys as such have no existence in liturgiology, they are simply substitutes for clerics, performing some of their functions. Now clerics use the black cassock, and a surplice, therefore their substitutes do likewise. Kuenzel remarks: ‘All, who wear the cassock, whether they be clerics or not must wear the surplice unless they enjoy a special privilege,’ and he gives S.R.C. 4194 ad 2 as his authority. As to the color of the cassock, the ‘Approved Authors’ of course conceded a purple cassock, worn without a surplice, to the bishops’ trainbearer outside of Mass, i.e., when bearing the train of the cappa magna.[5] All employees of the cathedral should wear purple, as being the bishop’s livery,[6] as should the Master of Ceremonies, even if he is a cleric. Red is tolerated, but the capes and sashes are condemned nominatim,[7] and when worn, as they usually are, in lieu of the surplice they still further violate liturgical propriety.”


“Why do the Church Goods houses sell these things if they aren’t proper and correct?” put the Antiquary.


“It’s a vicious circle,” replied the Liturgiologist. “The good nuns buy them because the dealers sell them, and the dealers sell them because the good nun buy them! They are pretty, and the sisters have an eye to the spectacular in their arrangements for ceremonies (as I have remarked before). But we are quieting down, and these extravagances are less commonly seen than formerly.”


The traffic became more dense, and conversation languished till the Pastor’s car drew up before the famous emporium of Pusco, the Church Goods dealer. The Pastor had discreetly decided to order his sashes and capes later; the Antiquary soon placed his order for books with the genial clerk; but the Liturgiologist wanted to have some fun, so he tried to buy a monstrance veil.


“Sorry, Father, but we don’t handle them—you see, there’s no call for them,” said the somewhat confused clerk, who had tried to foist some ciborium veils on the genially irate Liturgiologist.


“They’re just as much required as these pyx covers,” said that stalwart champion propriety. “And, speaking of pyxes, what have you in the way of a sick call burse?”


The obliging clerk brought out a drawer full of gilt leather pockets, which also contained cylindrical covers for oil stocks. “O’Kane,” said the Liturgiologist, “admits the use of a leather ‘bursa’ for the sick-call pyx, but I have never been able to find any authority for a similar case for the oil stock. Fortescue says that it should be carried in a little bag around the priest’s neck. This is evidently in conformity with the rubric of the Ritual which says that the priest should carry the oil stock enclosed in a little sack of violet silk. (Rit. Rom. Tit. V cap 2, sec. 2) I’d like to buy one, please.”


“Sorry, Father, but we don’t handle them—you see there’s no call for them,” repeated the long-suffering clerk.


“Humph,” growled the Liturgiologist. “Plenty of things that aren’t required, some that are forbidden, but no call for liturgical ornaments prescribed by the Church!”


“Now, Pere,” placated the Antiquary, with more than his usual mildness. “The law of supply and demand, you know.”


“We should demand the things the Church requires, and contrariwise dealers should supply them, instead of which they set forth capes and sashes for altar boys! Well, I need an all linen alb for week days and lesser festivals.[8] Let me see what you have.”


“An all linen alb, Father,” said the clerk in perplexity. “I don’t believe we have one. You see, there’s no—”


What would have happened to the antiphonal clerk[9] I’m sure I don’t know, but just at that moment old Mr. Pusco himself, who had been hovering nearby, came up with his expansive smile and took the irate Liturgiologist in hand.


“We have some linen albs, Father (giving a stock-room direction to the clerk) but, as my young man says, there’s very little demand for them. Most of the clergy prefer the lace albs.”[10]


“Tolerated!” grunted the Liturgiologist. “Tolerated by the S.R.C. for use on the more solemn days, and we use ‘em every day.[11] In fact, conscientious priests, like myself, are joshed by their brethren as eccentrics when we try to provide ourselves with decent garments for the sanctuary in accordance with the decrees of the Church. Well, here’s your young man—”


A box was brought, and opened, and the Liturgiologist exploded.


“Cotton,” he cried, “or I’m not from Massachusetts![12] Linen or hemp is prescribed. Have you a copy of Wapelhorst? Well, then, read what he says on page 40 of the latest edition. S.R.C. has declared no other material is licit, not even it if is more precious. Cotton is specially and by name prohibited. Even a mixture of linen and cotton is reprobated.[13] If I were a layman I’d wager that the lace on your albs (the kind there IS a call for) is cotton instead of linen. Shades of Gavantius,[14] Van der Stappen[15] et alibi aliorum martyres!”[16] And forgetful of manners, the old priest stalked out of the shop, leaving old Mr. Pusco aghast, and only to be placated by the young Pastor’s order for a dozen white cassocks, with red velvet sashes and mozettas, swiftly whispered before he joined the Liturgiologist and the Antiquary, to face the drive home with what equanimity he could summon.



1 Obviously the Ohio city of Cincinnati.


2 “Certainly they should not wear other liturgical vesture such as the cincture, mozzetta, biretta…”


3 Despite its title, this was a magazine for priests begun in 1924 by Fr. John F. Noll, the founder of Our Sunday Visitor. Later the author of the Peregrinus books (Fr. Michael Chapman) himself became the editor of The Acolyte, which was later renamed The Priest, and is still published.


4 The reason.


5 Latin for the “great cape” or red mantle worn by prelates upon processing into the church and upon recessing out after a solemn pontifical function or during an occasion that warrants its use (e.g., a state function).


6 That is, the dress code that identifies to who the employees belong, or even their function (e.g., the livery of a footman).


7 Latin for “by name”.


8 Thus probably an alb with a small amount of lace on the lower hem.


9 The Greek word “antiphon” means to “resound” or “repeat”.


10 This is reference to those types of albs whose entire portion beneath the torso is comprised of lace. Even more objectionable were the albs and surplices that later became commonly used in America made of the silky, sheer fabric used for window drapery.


11 There is something to be said for reserving such lace albs for more solemn or festive occasions, while using solid linen albs (perhaps with embroidered hems) or with a minimum of lace, for ordinary days (e.g., of III class). The regular observance of this practice helps to heighten the solemnity of such occasions, but an overuse of lace diminishes this dramatic effect.


12 This state was once famous for its high-quality cotton industry.


13 Since Fr. Chapman wrote this entry, a mixture of linen with other fabrics (such as cotton or polyester) is now allowed for places where it is impractical (partiularly because of their high cost) to obtain solid linen albs—such as missionary countries.


14 A reference to Bartolomeo Gavanti (+1638), a Barnabite priest who compiled the comprehensive Thesaurus sacrorum rituum, which was subsequently published in 1763 with supplements from Gaetano Merati. The book, whose title in English is The Treasury of Sacred Rites, is available in PDF via Google Books.


15 That is, Most Rev. Joseph F. Van der Stappen, a Dutch auxiliary bishop who wrote Sacra Liturgia: Caeremoniale (the last revision of which was printed in 1935).


16 A jocular reference to the ending of the Acts of the Martyology reading during the office of Prime, which says “and of these and many other martyrs”—that is: in addition to Gavanti and Van der Stappen (who would be turning over in their graves—hence the archaic use of the word “shades” in reference to the memories of the deceased) and of all other suffering liturgists!

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