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Service Stations and Sacristies

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First; Chapter 6


“Fill ‘er up!” chirped the Antiquary, as the Swerve drew in beside the pump of the wayside filling station. “And give a good look at the oil,” added the Liturgiologist, momentarily forgetting that the car was his friend’s and not the joint affair that had formerly cause so much mutual delight and equally delightful mutual recrimination.


Afterwards, as the car took the road with renewed vigor, the Antiquary asked, “Did you notice that wash-basin there in the service station? Clever arrangement, something like the lavatory in a hospital. The young fellow just pushed something with his foot to turn on the water, instead of turning a faucet. I think I’ll have a contraption like that for the Lavabo in my new sacristy.”


Bene, benissime!” answered the Liturgiologist. “Count yourself fortunate in being close enough to the city to have running water in your sacristy, for without it the direction for the celebrant to wash his hands before vesting is more honored in the breach than in the observance.”


“Well, we shall have provision for washing the hands before Mass, and clean towels provided with reasonable frequency. But there’ll only be one of them, for, so far as I can discover, there’s no direction in any ‘approved author’ for washing the hands after Mass. (Though Heaven forbid that I should grudge any good priest the chance to wash his hands as often as he likes!)”


“Running water in the sacristy (did you notice, Pere, I said sacris-t-y not sacrist-r-y? Sic in Webster[1] and other approved authors!) is a great convenience, but not an absolute necessity,” said the Liturgiologist, in his best classroom manner. “A basin and pitcher will serve, and me judice,[2] is preferable to one of those wall cabinet things that Catalogus[3] sometimes foists upon the country Pastor. But there’s one apparatus which is required in all Catholic churches, urban or rural, which costs little, yet is often conspicuous by its absence. I mean the sacrarium, or drain for the disposal of various waste matter which is directed to be thrown into it instead of into the common sewer.[4]


"The water from the little vase[5] in which the priest purifies his fingers after touching the Blessed Sacrament out of Mass time; the water in which he gives corporals and purificators the first washing before turning them over to the good Sisters to launder; old holy water; the remaining baptismal water (if the font has no drain, which, of course, it ought to have) when new is to be blessed; the ashes after Ash Wednesday; and so on, all are directed to poured into the sacrarium.


"Elaborate as it may sometimes be, it is nothing, after all, but a drain leading to clean earth, and, with a suitable bowl, shouldn’t cost five dollars even in these exorbitant days. A very poor church might use the drain of the font,[6] for every font should have a drain, leading to clean earth. But that is not always convenient, and the sacrarium is; and the repeated mention of it in our formularies supposes that every church has one.”


“You recommend that it be located in the sacristy?” asked the Antiquary. “In old continental churches it is frequently found in the sanctuary.”[7]


“It’s purely a matter of convenience,” answered the Liturgiologist, “and the sacristy really seems to be the most handy place for it.”


“May the old holy oils be disposed of by pouring them down the sacrarium?” asked the Antiquary, a bit slyly.


“The direction is that they shall be burned in the sanctuary lamp,” answered the Liturgiologist, calmly refusing to be caught by his old friend. “But, since you have mentioned the oils, let me say that they are evidently not to be reserved in the sacristy, still less in the Parochial Residence. O’Kane, Baruffaldo,[8] and St. Charles Borromeo[9] all recommend that they be kept in the top or canopy of the font, or in an ambry attached to the wall of the sanctuary. Wherever they are reserved, the receptacle should be locked, since lay people are not permitted to touch the vessels containing any of the holy oils. Personally, I can see no reason why they Oil of Catechumens and the Sacred Chrism should be kept in any other place than the baptistery, since the Parish Priest will, ordinarily, never use them except in administering holy baptism. The Oil of the Sick should be in a place by itself, within the sanctuary, but never (of course) in the tabernacle.”


“I hope to have a small altar in the sacristy in the new St. Inveteratus,” remarked the Antiquary, about a half mile further on. “As there will be but one altar in the church, it will be useful to have another in the sacristy, if for nothing else, to reserve the pyx over Good Friday.”


Bene, bene,” approved the Liturgiologist, “Martinucci says that only in small churches where no other place can be provided may the pyx be kept in the repository. ‘Twill be useful also when women are cleaning the church, and for the very occasional Masses you will, I hope, permit me to offer in your parish! But, remember, Pere, you must not use the lower part of that little altar (or any other altar, for the matter of that) as a vestment cupboard, and the crucifix on it can scarcely take the place of the crucifix, or picture of the Crucifixion, required in the sacristy by rubric (Rit. Serv. Cap 11, sec. 1) to which reverence is made by the celebrant and his assistants before they go in to say Mass. By the way, will your sacristy be back of the altar?”


“Yes, and no,” replied the Antiquary. “The priests’ sacristy will be at the Gospel side of the sanctuary, as being nearest the house (with which it will be connected by a sort of cloister). The boys’ sacristy will be on the Epistle side, connected by a passageway back of the altar, but the doors into the sanctuary will be in the side walls and not in that back of the altar, which avoids the necessity of the celebrant leaving the sanctuary by a different side from that by which he entered.”


“Look here, Pere,” sputtered Liturgiologist, “You’re getting altogether too learned in my department! Of course, if the door is back of the altar, the celebrant is directed to approach the altar from the Gospel side and leave it from the Epistle side—but if you find out such things for yourself, where’ll I be with my specialty! Let’s get back to the sacristy!”


“You’ve been reading The Sacristan’s Handbook, by Bernard Page, S.J.,”[10] said the Antiquary. “Well, we too have a handbook!”


“An excellent manual, containing much information useful to priests who wish to build an adequate and convenient sacristy,” admitted the Liturgiologist. “But, while it makes many recommendations, it gives but few citations as to why this or that is necessary. For example, a holy water stoup, just inside, or just outside, the door leading from the sacristy to the sanctuary, is very proper, but is not required, because the celebrant takes holy water if convenient, and he so wishes. Doing so is not part of any Rite, but is a good custom. The bell, just inside the door to the sanctuary, is another laudable custom, but not required.


"But it is required that each celebrant find and mark the places in the missal, in the sacristy, before his Mass, though the book need not necessarily be brought in by the server when the priest goes to the altar. (Rit. Serv. Cap. II, sec. I.) It may be placed on the stand on the altar beforehand, provided the priest has already seen to it that the proper places are found. This is as much a part of the celebrant’s preparation for Mass as are his prayers and vesting.


"And, speaking of prayers, be sure to have a good bookcase in your sacristy. The parish books are supposed to be kept there, though this can hardly be said to be of obligation. But a few devotional books and a spare breviary are almost a sine qua non of a sacristy, if it is to be anything more than a service station for the altar.”


“Which,” added the Antiquary, “it ought to be.”


“And don’t forget the SILENCE sign,” subjoined the Liturgiologist. “’Twill be more needed for the celebrant than for the boys, when you are around,” gently sneered the Antiquary. “The kids should be encouraged,” pleaded the Liturgiologist. “By example rather than words,” said the Antiquary, tooting the horn.



1 Obviously a reference to The Webster Dictionary—and that the word “sacristy” was often misspelled or pronounced here in the States back in the 1920’s.


2 That is in Latin, “according to my judgment”.


3 A reference to ecclesiastical wares companies and their catalogs which were often proliferated with items that did not meet true liturgical standards.


4 The actual Latin word for the sink portion is actually “piscina”, whereas the sacrarium is the well in which the contents are drained into.


5 What is typically called the ablution cup.


6 Here the word “font” is being solely reserved for the baptismal font, as the technically the holy water “fonts” situated in the narthex are actually “stoups”.


7 This can be seen particularly in older English churches, where the credence alcove doubles as the sacrarium.


8 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.


9 In reference to his book, Instructiones Fabricae Et Supellectilis Ecclesiasticae (Book of Instructions on Church Building) published in 1577 which embodied the reforms and decrees of the Council of Trent. The Institute for Sacred Architecture gives an excellent description of the saint’s enormous influence on the sacred liturgy, particularly in the field of buildings.


10 That is, The Sacristan's Handbook: A Practical Guide for Sacristans published in 1922.

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