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“Modern, did you say?” The Liturgiologist’s tone was grieved. “I thought St. Thomas Aquinas composed the Office for the Feast, and you wouldn’t call him modern, would you?”


“A modern of the moderns, tho no modernist!” laughed the Antiquary. “But tell me, now, isn’t there some rule about the Monstrance being covered when not in actual use?”


“There is, a very plain and binding rule,” was the Liturgiologist’s reply,” and there’s hardly any which is so infrequently observed in the whole extent of the minor ceremonial law of the Church. A decree of the Congregation of Sacred Rites (S.R.C. May 27, 1911, 4268, vii) distinctly requires that the monstrance shall be covered with a white veil when standing on the altar before and after Exposition. The practice is noted in all the ‘Approved Authors.’ It is just as much a part of the ceremonial of Benediction as the chalice veil is of Mass. And its use would obviate the scruple which some priests have about permitting lay people indiscriminately to handle the ostensorium, a scruple for which there is some foundation in the opinion of liturgical writers.”


“But I thought none of the sacred vessels could be handled by a layman without express permission from the priest.”


“If you will think for a moment of the ratio[4] of that rule, you will see that it refers to the consecration of the chalice and paten, which, because they are consecrated, may not be handled by lay-folk, just as articles which have come in contact with the Sacred Species or with the Holy Oils are not to he touched by any but clerics. Now the monstrance is not consecrated, indeed it is not required even to be blessed, tho' the ‘luna’ containing the Sacred Host is blessed by the bishop or a priest having faculties.” (Fortescue, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, page 16.)[5]


“What about the ‘custodial’ in which the luna is kept in the tabernacle,” asked the Antiquary.


“It is licit to reserve the Sacred Host in the luna without any other receptacle,” replied the Liturgiologist, “But the very fact that the Congregation of Rites, in answering a dubium[6] on this point (S.R.C. 3974) made use of the word ‘licit’ would indicate that the use of the ‘custodial’ is ordinarily expected.”


“Would you say that the requirement that the ‘pyx’ containing the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle must have a veil, would include also the ‘custodial?’”


“It certainly is not usual to have a veil on the ‘custodial.’ I have even seen the ciborium without a veil, in spite of the strict law requiring it. (Rit. Rom. IV cap i, 115. S.R.C. 3394, i.) But the ‘custodial’ itself would seem to be a sort of veil for the luna, and I don’t see how a Priest could be blamed for not having a veil, especially when so many do not even use the ‘custodial.’”


“Not to change the subject,” said the Antiquary, “I noticed there was an exposition of relics this morning as well as the Blessed Sacrament. Now, I was glad to see that there were relics in their cases between the candlesticks, for that is the place certainly prescribed for the altar of the Blessed Sacrament or for any altar at which an office is being celebrated, and the picture of the altar in the front of the missal always shows them there, but I had an idea that they should be removed during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.”


“Quite right,” was the prompt reply of the Liturgiologist. “Following a decree of the S.R.C. (2365 ad i), all ‘Approved Authors’ direct that reliquaries be removed during Exposition. But it is so unusual in this country to see relics on the altar at all, that I suppose it never occurred to our friend to remove them for the ceremonies today.”


“But should he not have taken away the altar cross at least?”


“Not necessarily. The usual custom is to remove it, but the S.R.C. says that it may be either removed or left in its place. (S.R.C. 2365 ad i.) That ruling, I should suppose, has in mind the regulation that the throne on which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, is not identical with the place where the Altar cross stands. American altars are mostly made in such a way that the cross stands upon the flat top of the Tabernacle, or in a niche above it, and there being no other place for the exposition, the cross is removed to make room for the monstrance. But the top of the tabernacle is not supposed to be used as a throne for Benediction.[7]


There should be a special throne provided, and, moreover, it is forbidden to erect a permanent throne of this kind on the tabernacle, used both for Benediction and at other times for holding the altar cross. The throne must be movable, placed there for Benediction only, taken away afterwards. I am quoting from Fortescue, and I know that what he says sounds strange to American ears, but his remarks are all based on the Ritus servandus in solemni expositione et benedictione SS. Sacramenti, which has the force of law in England, and which is, of course, based in turn on rulings of the Congregation of Sacred Rites which bind everywhere."


“Certainly these rules are much better carried out abroad than in this country, for the priests here seem to think that an elaborate Altar abrogates those prescriptions. Now, dear Father, we have very few real Altars in this country, that is to say ‘permanent altars’ of stone, and consecrated. Our wooden or ‘composition’[8] altars are really nothing more than supports for the ‘portable altar’ stone. But if you have, by any happy chance, a stone altar, consecrated, does it not change the legal aspect of this matter?”


“Only in case there is a permanent canopy over the altar, called in architectural terminology (as well as liturgical) a ‘ciborium,’ and usually referred to as a baldachino. Then there need be no throne for Benediction, tho even then it is doubtful if it would be proper to make the exposition on the top of the tabernacle, which properly should be domed so that using it for a throne would be out of the question."


A loud explosion, followed by a more than usual bumping of the flivver interrupted the Liturgiologist, and the little car came to a jolting stop.


"A real blow-out, and no spare,” moaned the Antiquary. “We’ll have to get to the next town on our rim, or else wait here for a trouble wagon."[9]


“I wonder,” reflected the Liturgiologist, as he settled himself in the back seat and reached for his Breviary, “I wonder whether it will take your Reverence as long to get me home as it would to get an ‘affirmative’ from Rome?”


But the Antiquary was wildly signaling an approaching car to stop and take a message to the nearest garage—so near and yet so far!


“Just for that,” said he, “I’ll let you wait till the wagon comes to get us.”


And there we leave them for the present, disconsolate by the side of the road, while the youthful driver talks learnedly of vulcanizing[10] and other processes even more mysterious than the procedure of the S.R.C.




1 A French word that refers to someone who “knows”.


2 "Rustown" is a play on the word "rustic" referring to the countryside.


3 Latin for "gathering", but which simultaneously has allusions to a divine service.


4 “Reason” in Latin.


5 To quote from Matters Liturgical (Wuest, Mullaney, Barry; Pustet, 1959: Sacred Things, 102. Care of a Ciborium) to clarify the matter: “b) A lay person is not forbidden to touch a blessed ciborium and purified ciborium. But where there is danger of scandal or wonderment, this should not be allowed without a just and reasonable cause.” This is also applicable to the monstrance. Thus it is not required for a server to carry either object by its veil or wearing gloves.


6 Latin for "a doubt" referring to a form of question rendered to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, who answers with a "rescript".


7 Cf. The Liturgical Altar for details.


8 Referring to plaster also known as gypsum.


9 A tow truck.


10 The procession of making rubber.

The Antiquary Asks Some Questions


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 3


The Antiquary had slightly hurt his wrist while cranking the obsolescent flivver, and a young man of the parish had been impressed as chauffeur to drive the two “editorial priests” to a church in the country where a Corpus Christi celebration was to take place. Being “editorial priests” with only a quasi connection with the parish, the two “savants”[1] were not infrequently asked to assist at such functions, and they did so with a special joy on this occasion, for Rustown[2] was regarded as the ideal country parish of the diocese. The community, crossroads-town and surrounding country, was almost solidly Catholic. The church was seemingly too large for the hamlet it dom­inated, but well filled for two Masses each Sunday. And on a day like this, the whole countryside kept holiday, and the Procession would wend its way along the one street of the village to the cemetery where an outdoor Altar was erected.


Priests from miles around were present, and they did not all arrive in flivvers like our two friends. The Pastor had sacrificed his best poultry for the dinner following the ceremonies, and it was late afternoon that the “concursus”[3] broke up, the Antiquary and the Liturgiologist being still further delayed by the disappearance of their driver, who was finally located in the creek which flowed sparkling and cool among the trees beyond the cemetery.

“I would like to ask some questions,” said the Antiquary, as they bounced along the homeward road, “not invidiously, I trust, but for information.”

“If you’re going to quiz me about the origin and development of the ceremonies of Corpus Christi, I’ll refer you to your musty tomes and ancient documents,” replied the Liturgiologist. “It takes all my time to keep pace with modern books which give the correct procedure for our own day and generation, without delving into the past and discovering the roots of the matter.”

“Well,” said the Antiquary,” you wouldn’t have to go so very far back, after all, for Corpus Christi as a recognized and official feast is comparatively modern.”

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