Sunday, June 28, 2009

Revelation through Veiling

I borrow this heading from a title of a chapter in Martin Mosebach's book, "The Heresy of Formlessness."

(Mosebach is an accomplished novelist and writer. In "The Heresy of Formlessness" he gives a deep plea for the return of the preconciliar Tridentine Latin Mass (known now as the Extraordinary form of the Latin Rite), and gives a compelling argument against the big break in tradition shown in today's Novus Ordo Mass (known now as the Ordinary form of the Latin rite).

As I read this particular chapter, I began to see several important connections in the actions of veiling something, thus allowing it to be revealed to all. This goes on throughout Mass.

It starts with the priest (and lay people) veiling themselves with clothes that have symbolic character and purpose. As he puts on his different vestments he shows both repentance and reverence for entering the Holy Place, and taking part in the sacrificial actions of the Mass. The priest puts on the "armor of God," and covers himself in virtues such as fortitude, chastity, and humility.

Literally, the priest "puts on" Christ. Of course, this outward clothing also calls for an inside transformation of the same kind. But that doesn't make the outward act not necessary, because graces comes from above. From the outside. A process derived not as man's will, but God's.

The Bishop even covers up his hands (in the traditional Extraordinary form), only taking them off for the sacramental prayers and actions-keeping his hands covered except for sacred actions and materials (the Host and Sacred vessels).

In the case of the laity, we (should) dress ourselves in a respectable and dignified manner to come before the King of Kings. As for women, they cover their heads and shoulders as an act of veiling. For women of the Catholic Church, wearing veils when in church has always been a custom exemplifying their modesty and femininity. It's not that we "put down" or degrade" women by having them wear these veils. We are actually exalting them! We do this as we also do with other things throughout the Mass (which I will talk about later). We are praising them as holy and sacred vessels!

These chapel veils are working in two ways... To humble the women wearing it before the presence of God, and to dress/cover up properly for Mass so as to not distract others and to focus on what is going on. Next is to exalt women as respected and holy beings that bear the sacred fruit of life-as beings of God, and NOT as objects.

The chalice is covered with the Paten, on which that Host lies. It in turn is covered by the pall, and over everything is a large cloth, also called a "veil," of the same color as the other vestments. The veiled chalice then looks like a tent; it's a miniature "tabernacle." In the old rite, whenever the ciborium with the consecrated Hosts inside was moved around it was covered by the sub deacon's humeral veil.

After the Subdeacon brings the chalice to the altar, the priest hands him the paten; which he takes beneath his veil and carries out to the altar steps holding the paten in front of him, still veiled. Two different traditions are shown by this action: First to honor the plate that will eventually bear the body of our Lord. Secondly, it is used as a typically Roman custom showing the the relationship between Masses.

In the first century the Pope would send pieces of Hosts from his Mass to all of the churches in Rome. The subdeacon takes these pieces and does the same actions as talked about above. This shows the relationship between the Mass that has just been celebrated to the Mass celebrated by the pope. This also shows that there is always one sacrifice being offered! Cool huh!? I always wondered why a deacon stood covering something for such a long time at the foot of the altar. Now I (and you) know!!

There are not only physical and immediate forms of veiling shown in the Liturgy. Certain gestures and actions are deliberately kept away from the congregation's view. The priest serves as a living iconostasis.

In the Eastern Church they have walls that separate the "Holy of Holies" from the rest of the congregation. These walls are covered with icons. The difference between the Eastern Church and and Western Church is that in the Western Church we have tall choir stalls, altar rails, and even curtains that serve as our "iconostasis." One can see these curtains being used today. Most of the time they are hanging down from tall baldachinos. The sad thing is that the main "wall" that seperates the lay from the sacrificial actions, the altar rails, have shrunk in size over the years. They are now becoming non-existent in most churches throughout the world. This absence of a physical barrier allows anybody to walk up on the altar.

Another veil, or barrier, between the congregation and the sacrificial action is the celebrant himself. The back of his vestments are even covered in the same design as the tabernacle, and chalice veil. His vestments are those icons that the Eastern Church has on their walls. He serves as a living wall, he serves as that iconostasis.

The tabernacle is also veiled, usually with the corresponding liturgical colors. Most tabernacles have further curtains inside of it veiling Christ inside this sacred space.

The problem that some priests experience is that they see the tabernacle veiling as a waste of a beautiful tabernacle when it is covered up with a cloth. But they must remember who is inside of the tabernacle, and why we are veiling it in the first place. It is not there for our pleasure, but for the glorification of God!

After the tabernacle, altar space, and priest have been veiled, then comes the congregation's turn. After the readings, all un-baptized catholics should exit to the narthex. This way no un-baptized could take part in the sacrificial mystery. With the doors shut, the nave becomes veiled as a holy tabernacle, because we receive the Body of Christ, becoming Christ Himself veiled inside the church. We remain veiled until Mass is ended and we go out into the world to share in God's love. "Go in peace, to love and to serve our Lord."

Even though this has been a very long post (for which I ask your forgiveness :D) I think it is good for us all to make these connections. I hope that I've been accurate in what I wrote in this post. This is what I understand about this topic as of right now. I wonder if I will come back to my blog someday when I'm older and read my writings and find flaw in them. I hope that I won't.