Thursday, 30 April 2009

Behind the Veil

The photo above is of an Orthodox chalice veil. This is used to cover the gifts, but the actual coverings placed over the vessels in the Great Entrance are usually shaped like a cross, so that the bars of the cross hang down at four sides. The Great Entrance takes place after the gifts have been prepared. The clergy carrying the gifts emerge from the door to the right of the Holy Table (their right) and come into the church singing. They then walk round to the centre of the Iconastasis and enter the Holy Doors, placing the gifts on the Altar or Holy Table. The gifts, even now, represent Christ, that is, Christ before the Crucifixion. The coverings represent His clothes which are taken from Him before He is laid on the Cross.

When the gifts are brought into the body of the church, the congregation shows reverence. Even before the consecration these things are taken to be holy and as representing the Saviour.

In the West, we hardly show any reverence towards the unconsecrated elements, but in the Old Rite, the veils are important, and even before the Offertory itself, the gifts are veiled and treated with respect. We need to recognise that as soon as the bread and wine (and water) are placed on the credence table - and when the priest's host is brought in procession by the priest at the beginning of the Mass - they are, to some extent, "holy" and deserving of respect; they have already been set aside for God and therefore belong to Him. In the Ordinary Rite, we need to consider how to express something of this. We might consider how the gifts are brought up in procession. At the same time, there is need to consider the Sacred Vessels which really should not be used in the offertory procession. Sometimes the elements are consecrated in unworthy vessels (even straw baskets!). The Vatican has made it clear - more than once - that only "unbreakable", worthy vessels are to be used. However beautifully made, ceramic chalices and patens are forbidden - because they break. At the same time, there is much to be said for retaining the use of gold-inlaid vessels because this refers back to the Holy of Holies (the "Golden Room") and the Ark of the Covenant.

By reverencing the offertory gifts in some way (for example by incensing them) we are pointing to the fact that everything offered to God, and accepted by Him, is holy and precious. This includes ourselves. Showing reverence in the Liturgy - to each other as well as to the gifts - may help us to remember that we owe each other respect as sons and daughters of God and that we owe respect to the whole of God's Creation. Ritual is not empty unless we misuse it, abuse it, misread it or misapply it. Those who want to celebrate the Liturgy in a penny-pinching or demeaning way do disservice to themselves as well as to their Creator.

You see, veiling has much to commend it, since it speaks to us of holiness and Mystery.


  1. Fr John

    This would be too long to post as a comment, so I give the link instead. It is a catechesis I gave on the nature of the offertory, in the context of the Roman Rite (ordinary form). I found it very interesting to read the insights from the Orthodox and extraordinary forms, and think there is a resonance to my own thoughts. They are insights that can very easily be expressed in the celebration of the ordinary form - mutual enrichment - without there being any big issues about it. How far would the Orthodox liturgy share the sense of offering a creation "made new" that I have in my post?

    The link:

  2. Joe,
    I liked your article very much, and it reminded me of the best book on Liturgy I ever read, by the late Fr. Jean Corbon O.P. who was professor of Liturgy and Ecumenism at the University of the Holy Spirit in kalik, and the University of St. Joseph in Beirut.
    (He also contributed to the chapter on prayer in the New Catechism).
    Corbon was a priest of the Greek Catholic Rite and knew The Marionites well.

    I doubt that many priests or laity celebrating the ordinary Rite in the usual manner would understand some of your points. So many do not understand what the Liturgy is (and that includes some priests). Your insights are remarkable although I am sure they are shared by others. Sadly, so many of our fellow Catholics - and fellow priests would not understand what we are talking about.

    The Orthodox are very much concerned with a renewed creation and this is particularly the case with the Russians. Maybe I can post something about that since I am now reading up on Russian Orthodoxy.

    Thanks for your comments.