Sponges and Other Anomalies
Part 1: See America First; Chapter 2
“You will find plenty here to do, Pere,” said the Liturgiologist, as his old friend, the Antiquary, now Pastor of the suburban parish of Centerville, made him comfortable in a big armchair in the rectory study after a tour of inspection of the church. “Just about everything that could be wrong is wrong! As an apt and mete illustration of my favorite thesis of cart-before-horse your little church bears away the palm.”
“A poor thing, but mine own,” murmured the Antiquary. “Already the place has assumed a certain beauty by virtue of possession, but that, of course, does not blind my eyes to its many defects. The Bishop has told me to build, and I’ve already drawn up a tentative program. But I think your idea of making a start with the old sanctuary and reforming abuses before moving into the new church has many things to commend it. I think I shall begin with the smallest and least important thing, and throw away the sponges!”
“Quid dicis, 'sponges'?” asked the Liturgiologist, with a life of his shaggy eyebrows.
“Did they escape your eagle eye?” laughed the Antiquary. “I remember you once searched through your entire shelf of liturgical works in an effort to find a single author who mentions sponges as an ecclesiastical ornament, and the only remarks you found on the creatures were by way of condemnation.”
“Ah,” grunted the Liturgiologist, “I have you now! You mean sponges in the ablution cup and holy water fonts. By all means delete them. Kuenzel cites the Ephemerides Liturgicae for 1908, page 336, as against the filthy practice, and says, of the ablution cup, ‘do not put a sponge in it.’ Indeed, since the Rituale directs the water with which the priest has washed his fingers after administering Holy Communion to be poured down the sacrarium, it is hard to see any justification for the now fortunately rare practice of soaking it up with a sponge. As for holy water fonts being disfigured by sponges, I always uncharitably think, when I see them, that the sacristan is lazy and doesn’t want the bother of cleaning the fonts each week. Poor housekeeping, and all the more reprehensible since it is God’s House. I’ve noticed that the Catalogus puts a sponge in the holy water sprinklers he sells for use in the Asperges ceremony. That’s the least objectionable use of ‘em, but since the purpose is to get the water out of the sprinkler, I fail to see why devices should be employed to keep it in!”
“Of course the high altar in the new church will be strictly liturgical,” went on the Antiquary. “I’ll assist (?) the architect and you’ll be liturgical consulter to see there are no such blatant errors as mar the present structure.”
“Thanks for the appointment,” was the Liturgiologist’s solemn reply. “But meanwhile, can you not think of some way of observing the rule that the top of the tabernacle shall not serve both as throne for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and pedestal for the crucifix? I know it’s the common practice in this country, but that does not make it right. S.R.C. 3576 ad 111 makes this quite clear. Even when the moveable throne is not in use, there is no authority for the ordinary usage which simply removes the crucifix and puts the monstrance in its place, upon a corporal, which as likely as not is left in place when the crucifix is again displayed.”
“I can have veils made for the tabernacle at once,” said the Antiquary. “They’ll only be curtains for the front, but there’s an author or two who says this is better than no veil at all.”
“The crowning absurdity of your sanctuary is the altar itself,” went on the Liturgiologist. “I have seen many strange and irrational vagaries, but never anything equal to this! Your altar is marble, front, sides and top. Yet a ‘portable altar’ (consecrated altar stone) has been set into the marble mensa! I wonder how many such anomalies exist in this land of liturgical freedom! Above this strange contraption towers an imposing reredos of wood, beautifully mill-turned, painted white with gold stripes and wired throughout for hundreds of electric lights, while, you tell me, there are no less than ten in the ‘throne’ itself. Fortunately the fuses are all burned out, which may be the reason the theatrical display is no longer in evidence! Or, since I am charitably disposed this morning, I’m willing to suppose that the decree forbidding which gewgaws (S.R.C. 3859) may have percolated even to the rural fastnesses of Centerville.
“Don’t be too hard on my venerable predecessor, God rest him,” said the Antiquary. “I fear he never read The Acolyte! For it he had he would hardly have left the holy oils on top of his desk here in the study, where the good housekeeper assures me they were always reserved. There’s no sign of an ambry in the sanctuary or sacristy, but the large stocks were in the tabernacle when I cam here! I’ve got them in the safe with the chalices temporarily, till I can get an ambry made that will serve both the present church and the new one.”
“About that new church, Pere,” began the Liturgiologist.
“I’ll tell you my dream for it—” said the Antiquary, drawing his chair closer.
1 To “bear away the palm” is a phrase meaning “to win the prize”, derived from the trophy awarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans, as also seen in the homage paid to Our Savior on Palm Sunday.
2 Latin for “Did you say ‘sponges’?”
3 The Latin title for the journal, Liturgical Matters, once published by the Vatican.
4 A special sink usually located in the sacristy, whose plumbing empties directly into the ground (usually an enclosed pit lined with gravel) and not into the sewer system. Technically, the sink is called a piscine (Latin for sink) and the pit is the sacrarium.
5 A Latinized form of “Catalog”, the name given to a manufacture of liturgical wares found in an ecclesiastical wares catalog (hence the name).
6 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.