Monday, May 21, 2007

Altar Furnishings and Decorations, Part 2

This is a continuation from Chapter 4, Altar Furnishings and Decorations, Part 1.

Bear in mind that this was composed in 1939, well before the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and some rubrics and requirements may have been modified...Other changes will be noted accordingly. Nevertheless, some may find the history fascinating.
Questions answered in this chapter:

What is the Missal and what does it contain? How are the rules indicated? How is the Ordo used? How did the present form of the Missal develop? How is the Missal supported during Mass?

Why were parts of the Mass formerly written in separate books? What
was the Sacramentary? The Antiphonary? The Evangelary? The Epistolary? The "Missale Plenum"?

How and by whom were books transcribed before printing was developed? What was the scriptorium? With what prayer was it dedicated?

Until recently, why has the use of the Missal by the laity been limited? What brought about the change? What instruction is Pope Pius X said to have given in regard to assisting at Mass?

Why is glass the most appropriate material for cruets? What is the pur­pose of the laver? How is the bell used in the celebration of the Mass? What was the custom in the Middle Ages?

Why are Bowers used as decorations on the altar? Under what conditions may artificial Bowers be used? In what other ways may the altar be adorned?

During what liturgical seasons is it forbidden to place Bowers on the altar? What exceptions are made? What is the rule regarding Requiem Masses? When are they permitted in Lent? What about placing Bowers on the table of a consecrated altar? On an altar which supports an altar stone? When and how does the Church recognize the symbolism of flowers?

What is the tabernacle canopy and what purpose does it serve? are the rules as to its color? What does the canopy symbolize?

The Missal or Mass-book is one of the seven principal liturgical books of the Church. It contains all the prayers which are read or recited by the priest in celebrating the Mass throughout the year; a calendar of movable and im­movable feasts; special blessings for things connected with the Mass, such as vestments and holy water; and the rubrics or rules for the guidance of the priest.

Rubric is derived from a Latin word which means red. Following the ancient Roman practice of writing the explanatory parts of legal documents in red, the Church uses two colors in all of her liturgical books, red for the explanations and rules, and black for the text itself.

The Ordo is required to determine the proper service of the Mass for the various seasons and feasts of the liturgical year. The present form of the Missal is the result of centuries of development. It is a collection of the manuscript books which were formerly used by the celebrant of the Mass, the deacon, the subdeacon, and the choir, prior to the tenth century. During the celebration of the Mass the Missal rests on a metal or wooden stand which may be covered with a drapery of the color of the day's vestments. The cushion mentioned in the rubrics is permissible and is still used by the Carthusians.

SERVICE BOOKS: Owing to the scarcity of writing materials, the time and labor required for copying books, their great bulk, and the general need of all forms of economy, various parts of the Mass were written in separate service books. The book used by the priest at the altar was called a Sacra­mentary - the Book of the Sacred Mysteries. It usually contained nothing more than he was required to say.

Those parts of the Mass like the Introit, the Gradual, the Offertory, and the Communion, which were sung by the choir, were collected in a book called the Antiphonary, or the "Graduale." The parts read by the deacon and the subdeacon from the ambo (pulpit) were collected in the Evangelary, the Book of the Gospels, and the Epistolary, the Book of the Epistles, respectively. The "Missale Plenum" or complete missal, a book some­what like our present Missal, was compiled and adopted in the tenth century.

TRANSCRIPTION OF BOOKS: Before the art of printing was developed, the transcription of books was one of the chief occupations of religious houses, especially those under the Benedictine rule. The making of a single volume took years, and sometimes the lifetime of one or two men. One instance is known where fifty years were required to complete a particularly fine illumi­nated manuscript of the Bible. The Church and the world at large owe an incomparable debt of gratitude to the patient and self-sacrificing monks who, despite their seclusion, preserved for the modern world the learning of the ages that had passed.

The room in which books were transcribed was called a scriptorium. It was dedicated to the work of copying the holy Scriptures, the Sacramentary and the other service books of the Mass, and to reproducing such secular texts as were considered worthy of preservation. The scriptorium was dedicated and blessed with the following prayer: "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to bless this workroom of Thy servants, that all which they write therein may be comprehended by their intelligence, and realized by their work." An illuminated copy of this prayer might well be hung on the walls of libraries and classrooms in our schools today.

MISSAL FOR THE LAITY: Until recently, the laity seemed to believe that the only proper place for the Missal was the altar, and that the only person entitled to read it was the celebrant of the Mass. Consequently it became a closed and sealed book to the majority of Catholic people. They followed the Mass as best they could with a prayerbook. But with the advance of the Litur­gical Apostolate, the Missal started taking its rightful place in the hands of the laity. Pope Pius X is reported to have said, at least in substance: "Do not pray at Mass; pray the Mass." If we are to make an honest and intelligent effort to follow the prayers and action of the Mass, or, in other words to " . . . pray the Mass," we can scarcely do it without using the Missal, one of the official prayerbooks of the Church.

CRUETS, LAVER, AND BELL: The cruets, the laver, and the bell, while not placed on the altar, are considered as altar furnishings. The cruets, from which the wine and the water are served, are usually made of glass. Glass is by far the most appropriate and suitable material for cruets, because it is easily cleaned and the wine and the water can be readily distinguished.

The laver is a small basin over which the priest washes his fingers during the ceremony of the Lavabo.

Church bells came into use during the sixth century, but the practice of ringing a bell, first at the Sanctus and again at the Elevation during the Mass, dates from the Middle Ages. There were three different sizes employed: The "little bell," which was rung by the server; a larger one called the Sanctus bell, which hung from the roof of the sanctuary; and the great bell in the church tower, which was rung at the Elevation to let the people working in the fields know that Christ was present on the altar.

The rubrics mention only a "little bell," implying a small hand bell.

FLOWERS: Flowers are the emblems of spiritual joy and like candles and incense have their own function in divine worship. They have always been used in decorating the church, but have been placed on the altar only since the thirteenth century. Natural, fresh, sweet-smelling flowers should be used when­ever possible, although artificial ones are permissible if they are made of such materials as cloth, porcelain, or wax. Paper flowers are not considered liturgical. There seems to be no general law which prescribes that flowers must be used on the altar for decoration, nor are they the only means of adorning the altar.

The "Caeremoniale" suggests that relics (in reliquaries), candles, cande­labra, lamps, precious vases, becoming and tasteful bunting, and wreaths may also be used on festival days or when the bishop celebrates Mass. Decorating the altar with palm branches on Palm Sunday seems to be customary and ap­propriate.

RUBRICAL PRESCRIPTIONS: Flowers must not be placed on the altar during Lent or Advent when the Mass or the Office of the season is said. Ex­ceptions are made on the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare) and the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete), Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, and the Vigil of Christmas.

Flowers may also be used on the feast of the Holy Innocents. All Bowers should be removed from the altar when Requiem High Masses, especially funeral Masses, are celebrated.

It would seem, then, that Bowers are permitted on the altar even during Lent and Advent if violet is not the color of the day. Flowers should not be placed in front of the tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.

Some liturgists are of the opinion that it is not becoming to place flowers directly on the "mensa" or table of a consecrated altar. If, however, the altar serves as a support for an inserted altar stone, flowers may be placed thereon if they do not soil the altar cloth or inconvenience the celebrant.

The Church recognizes the symbolical significance of flowers on Laetare Sunday when the Holy Father blesses a valuable and sacred ornament known as the Golden Rose. It is in the form of a golden rose-bush with leaves, buds, and full blown roses set in a golden vase. From time to time the Golden Rose is solemnly conferred on sovereigns, governments, cities, and churches in recog­nition of conspicuous loyalty and services to the Holy See.

TABERNACLE CANOPY: The tabernacle canopy is not, as is sometimes supposed, merely an ornamental accessory, but it is a strict provision of the rubrics. Its presence is just as much a sign of the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament as is the burning sanctuary lamp. The canopy should completely envelop the tabernacle; but, if the construction of the altar does not permit of such a drapery, curtains are usually hung in front of the tabernacle door. As to color, the canopy must either be always white or changed according to the feast of the day. Cloth of gold or silver may be used for white, and violet is always substituted for black during Requiem High Masses. The canopy recalls the temple veil which hung before the Holy of Holies and was rent from top to bottom when our Lord died on the cross.
Adapted from Altar and Sanctuary, An Exposition of the Externals of the Mass
by Angela A. Glendenin (© 1939)
Published by the Catholic Action Committee
The Catholic Action Series of Discussion Club Textbooks

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