Mantilla on Altar Dressings

Mantilla on Altar Dressings September 7, 2009

You know hon, when I was studying Ecclesiastical Haberdashery at the University of Salamanca this was not just, you know, “When is the right occasion for a parish priest to wear a ferraiola?” or “Does a Monsignor get to wear purple socks?” or “Should a canon regular be allowed to wear scarlet trim on his pajamas?” No, hon. Listen. We had to write papers on very important subjects you know? Like once I had to write this whole term paper on the historical development of the papal tiara.

Anyway, one of the things is not just what the priest should wear, but what the chalice should wear. You know? So I go into Fr. Elvis’ church and what do I see? Nothing on the altar at all. Instead, there is this pottery chalice on the credence table and nothing else. Then this woman comes in who I think is maybe the parish sister. I don’t know, but she belongs to one of these orders called, Sisters of the Parakeet maybe. Anyway, this woman has a haircut that looks like she put a bowl on her head and trimmed around the edges and she is wearing a long brown skirt and sandals with socks on. Is this part of her religious habit? I don’t think so. She is standing up in the chancel during the whole Mass, and then at the offertory she comes and prepares the altar. This is not good. This is for the deacon to do, (I got to tell you something about how deacons should dress later)
So this Sister Mabel or whatever she is called, just plops the pottery chalice on the altar with a couple of badly folded table napkins and walks off again, and I am watching her and I think maybe she is a little bit huffy you know? Well, then she stands there with her arms crossed and Fr Elvis makes this long prayer which is nowhere in the liturgy about ‘justice for women’ and then I get it. Sister Mabel and Fr Elvis are both huffy because she can’t be a priest. So now I’m getting pretty huffy too.
OK. I’m getting off track. But maybe not. Anyway, sorry about that hon. What I was really going to say is this. Listen. You know how it is when you dress good you feel good? You know? Like if you go shopping you would never just go out in your housecoat and slippers with your hair in curlers would you? No. I don’t think so. Even to go for a gallon of milk you are going to put on some good shoes and maybe a hat you know?
And what if you are going to visit someone important or maybe go to a wedding? Do you wear flip flops and a T-shirt? No you do not. You dress up you know? Well, it is the same thing with what you do with the chalice on the altar. You should make it beautiful, after all, you know the Mass is a kind of wedding banquet. It’s the marriage supper of the Lamb. So you put the purificator over the chalice, and then the paten on top with the priest’s host, and then the veil on top of that and then the burse with the corporal inside.
Why do you use the veil? Because in the temple of the Jews there was a veil that covered the Holy of Holies, and do you remember that story in the Old Testament about Moses when we went up the mountain to see God? You know, he comes down and he is wearing this veil because his face was shining. So there is this tradition to veil the holy things. But I’m thinking that Sister Mabel doesn’t understand any of this. Maybe she never even did Ecclesiastical Haberdashery 101, or maybe hon, she never even read the Old Testament.
Anyway, just because I am an ecclesiasticl fashionista doesn’t mean I don’t have a brain. Believe me hon, there’s more than a hair do underneath the mantilla. You know, the chalice with the veil and the burse on top–when I see it on the altar before Mass I think how beautiful these little things are. Let me tell you something. People think Mantilla is maybe, you know, sometimes a little bit hasty, a little bit harsh. OK, there was that time I hit Sister Daphne with my fan, but I’m sorry. OK. Let’s forget about that. The truth of the matter is that sometimes I get a little bit, you know, misty when I see something beautiful. I have to dab my eyes you know?
‘Cause when I see the chalice on the altar dressed in the veil and with the burse on top it reminds me of a little tent; and I remember how one time at Christmas my old priest, Monsignor Quixote is telling us about that gospel, you know the one, about ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’, and Monsignor says that the word for ‘dwelt among us’ is really, ‘pitched his tent among us’ and he says that Jesus Christ God’s Son was sort of like camping here for those few years. His physical body was like an old tent that he lived in while he was here, but underneath was the Son of God, but that precious Son of God was dressed up in human form. That’s nice. A fashionista likes homilies about being dressed up. Anyway, Monsignor says Jesus lived in a human body like the tents the Hebrew children lived in when they were in the wilderness and that made me think it was something very beautiful.
Anyway hon, so when I see this chalice with the veil and the burse, and underneath it is a chalice and paten of precious metal and gemstones, it reminds me of that little tent and I think of old Monsignor Quixote and the way he use to preach with love in his heart and sometimes his eyes welled up too, for the beauty of it and so maybe if I get mad at that Sister with her pottery chalice, and no burse and no veil it’s because there was something beautiful there which she never understood and never took the trouble to understand and she destroyed something beautiful because she did not understand it and that is just as bad as someone hitting the Pieta with a hammer because they were crazy.
You know hon?
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