Saturday, August 27, 2011

Humeral Veils

Another post on vestments because, after a Solemn Mass I went to recently for Assumption, I was thinking about humeral veils.


Some people are under the impression that the humeral veil is worn to stop unconsecrated hands from touching consecrated objects. However, this is untrue. As I have explained before, only consecrated things may touch the Eucharist itself, but there need not be an infinite regress of consecrations to touch consecrated things.

In fact, touching consecrated vessels used to be limited simply to clerics in Major Orders and was one of their distinguishing priveleges that made them Major rather than Minor (even though the subdiaconate is a sacramental and not a Sacrament proper). Yet the subdeacon uses the humeral veil to hold the paten during Solemn Mass, even though during his ordination he is handed an empty paten and chalice (thus showing he can touch consecrated vessels without issue).


Rather, the humeral veil (note similarity of the term "humeral" to "humility") seems to signify that the object one is holding does not belong to you. So, for example, in Benediction. The priest holds the monstrance with a humeral veil. Now, monstrances are not consecrated (only the luna, the "clip" which holds the Sacred Host, is consecrated). But the priest covers his hands and arms with the humeral veil so that it is clear in Benediction that it is Christ in the Blessed Sacrament who blesses, not the priest. The priest "disappears" (his face may even be covered by the monstrance itself if it's big enough and you look straight-on).

A similar principle is true for the so-called vimpa. The vimpa is a shawl worn by servers at Pontifical Masses to hold the mitre and crosier, to show that they do not belong to them (they are proper to the bishop himself, of course). However, the distinction between vimpa and humeral veil seems rather late, and even Catholic Encyclopedia in 1917 seems to indicate that the vimpa is just a humeral veil (if made smaller in size), as it speaks of the "humeral veil worn by the mitre-bearer" which I'm pretty sure means what is often now called the vimpa in traditionalist circles. Green vimpae for the mitre and crosier are shown here:


The vimpae below illustrate this principle of showing to whom the items are actually proper quite nicely by having on their backs the Arms of the Cardinal whose mitre and crosier they are bearing, indicating that they are to be associated with him and not the servers themselves:

Here is a familiar face as subdeacon bearing the paten in humeral veil at a Solemn Mass:

Why the humeral veil for subdeacons with the paten at Solemn Mass like this? The same Catholic Encyclopedia article seems to suggest that originally the paten was borne by an acolyte and was not held by the subdeacon until later. This would explain the humeral veil and hark back somewhat to the theory that the humeral veil is about people holding (consecrated) vessels they shouldn't touch. The subdeacon apparently bore the chalice with a cloth that later evolved into the chalice veil.

However, I'd also theorize that it may be related to the concept of the humeral veil signifying non-ownership of a held item in liturgy too. While subdeacons can touch patens and other consecrated vessels (say, during distribution of communion, as no "stick" is required for paten for a subdeacon, or for washing in the sacristy, etc)...the paten at Mass might be seen as "proper" to the priest and thus belonging only to him (so when a lesser minister bears it, he wears the humeral veil.)

Even more interesting, I might theorize it perhaps relates to the origin of the rite of the comingling, the so called fermentum, as explained in this book:
The unity of the local church with its bishop celebrated in the stational liturgy was especially evident in the ancient practice called the fermentum (literally 'leaven'). Roman presbyters were obliged to celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays and feast days in their own churches (tituli) for those who could not take part in the solemn papal Eucharist. As a symbol of the communion shared between the Bishop of Rome and his flock--present and absent--the bishop broke off small pieces of his host at the time of Communion which would be given to each of the tituli for their own Eucharist that day. The small piece of that host was then carried by the acolytes or deacons back to those churches. At the moment of Communion, the presbyters would place the small fragment of the papal host in the chalice. Pope Innocent I attests to the practice in a famous letter sent to Decentius, Bishop of Gubbio, in the year 415. It is not clear when the custom was introduced, and after the seventh century, with the waning of the stational liturgy, it was only continued at the Easter vigil.
Perhaps the holding of the paten in a humeral veil by acolytes and later subdeacon evolved from the bringing of the fragment of the fermentum from the papal liturgy to the various tituli. One can imagine that a minister would hold this paten with the papal fragment (which did not belong to them, but to the Pope) until it was time for the comingling (whose origin is certainly in this practice of the fermentum). At least, that's what I always imagine the historical provenance is when I'm at a Solemn Mass.

13 comments:

Bryan said...

I have never heard anyone explain the use of the Humeral Veil in the way you set out in your first paragraph.

The traditional explanation that the Priest or Deacon is vested with the Humeral Veil before he takes the Monstrance and blesses the people with the Host because he may not touch the monstrance with his bare hands is quite acceptable. This shows due reverence to the Real Presence in the Host. It also, does not exclude the additional reason you give: the priest disappears.

I was not aware that only the luna is blessed. However when the Host is exposed in the Monstrance one would treat the Monstrance as consecrated whether or not there is a specific form of Blessing for the Monstrance.

Very interesting piece. Thank you.

A Sinner said...

"The traditional explanation that the Priest or Deacon is vested with the Humeral Veil before he takes the Monstrance and blesses the people with the Host because he may not touch the monstrance with his bare hands is quite acceptable."

No, it's not at all. At least not if you're looking for internal consistency of liturgical principles, which I believe the Rite traditionally had.

Specifically: if priests can touch naked HOSTS with their bare (consecrated) hands...why the Hell wouldn't they be able to touch a mere (unconsecrated at that!) vessel containing a host!?!?

That wouldn't make ANY sense.

Monstrances may be blessed, but a mere blessing has never excluded something from being touched in the manner consecrations do, and besides...priests CAN touch consecrated things, so that can't be the symbolism of the humeral veil.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Your explanation makes a lot of sense. I always wondered what its purpose was for.

I've heard some fellows from Cantius saying it might have evolved from a Jewish prayer shawl. Do you think there's any truth to that claim?

latinmass1983 said...

The most logical (interesting and consistent) explanation I have heard (and read, but can't remember where exactly now -- since there are so many books!)for the Humeral Veil is the same explanation for the Chalice Veil, the Monstrance Veil and the veils for the Ciboria:

Sacred Vessels are to be covered always and at all times so that they may not be exposed to public sight, except when they need to be uncovered to be used.

The Monstrance should be covered with a Monstrance veil when not in use, the ciboria (with or without hosts) should be covered, the Chalice is always covered with its own particular Veil, the Paten is covered by the Humeral Veil when not on the Altar at Solemn Masses. At Sung and Low Masses, when not being used, the Paten is put under the Corporal (half-way) and then the other half is covered with the Purificator).

For Requiem Masses, because the Subdeacon does not hold the Paten, there's no black Humeral Veil in the Roman Rite. It seems that the Paten used to be very big in olden times. This might be why it needed to be "out of the way" until it was needed (after the Pater noster), which is when the Subdeacon brings it back to the Altar during the Solemn Mass.

In the pre-1955 Rite of Holy Week, when the Host was reposed in a Chalice (not in a Ciborium), whenever it needed to be taken to the place of repose or back to the Altar, the Humeral Veil was also used for this, since it was pretty much like a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament.

The only different explanation here is for the use of the Humeral Veil at the moment of *Benediction*. And it is the explanation given: it is so that people, without mistake, realize that the one blessing them is God in the Blessed Sacrament, not the Priest with his hands.

A Sinner said...

Excellent! That explanation makes a lot of sense.

Nevertheless, it still doesn't completely explain why the subdeacon stands there HOLDING the paten all throughout the Canon. Why not just leave it veiled on the altar or at the credence table?

Furthermore, I find it hard to buy the explanation that the subdeacon was holding the "big paten" that contained the people's hosts (like this medieval one: http://wpcontent.answcdn.com/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6a/Derrynaflan_paten.jpg/250px-Derrynaflan_paten.jpg) because, obviously, the paten with the PEOPLE'S hosts would need to be ON the altar during the consecration, in order for all those hosts to be consecrated.

This is why it seems more likely, to me, that the subdeacon (or, previously, acolyte) was standing there holding a smaller paten with the already-consecrated particle sent from the Pope for the fermentum.

It seems to me like this is likely the origin of most of the ritual surrounding the smaller paten that exists today, and that the big paten just fell out of use and was replaced by ciboria.

But the reason you give for why veiling is a good and sensible one!

latinmass1983 said...

Well, it is a bit unrealistic to use current sense of logic to apply it to much older practices, especially when it comes to Liturgy.

We know that the Paten was not originally used to hold the Hosts of the people, at least not when at the Altar. The Corporal was used for this. The Corporal was also bigger and longer -- it used to cover the mensa of the Altar.

You can see this if you watch that video of Pope John XXIII saying his Mass of Coronation. Also, the Patens before were not only big, but they were also very ornate.

Fermentum: This was usually carried in a white silk pouch/bag by Acolotyes or Subdeacons. It would not make sense that the Subdeacon would cover that with the Humeral Veil since it was already covered in the bag. Also, some of the books say that the Ministers waited for the fermentum before continuing the Mass, which means that there might not have been a need to hold it.

The Paten (inseparable from the Chalice after a certain point, especially after both of them became very small) cannot be left anywhere else other than the Altar (like at Requiem Masses) or given to the Subdeacon to guard it.

The smaller patens (communion-plates) have a different and much later history. Even for this, a while linen cloth (the houseling cloth) was used for the distribution of Communion of the people. In the very early centuries of the Church a white silk hankerchief was used by women to receive Holy Communion (when it was distributed in the hand).

I still have to check what Josef Jungmann has to say about the Paten and the Subdeacon for Solemn Masses, since he was the last one to do very extensive work on the history of the Roman Rite.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

@latinmass1983; Where can I read up on these intricacies of the Mass?

A Sinner said...

Fascinating! I'd like to know better historical sources too!

"We know that the Paten was not originally used to hold the Hosts of the people, at least not when at the Altar. The Corporal was used for this. The Corporal was also bigger and longer -- it used to cover the mensa of the Altar."

Yes, I suppose the bread could be on the altar and the subdeacon could be holding the paten for when it was fractioned for distribution.

latinmass1983 said...

Now that I have re-read Josef Jungmann's book (Missarum Sollemnia: The History of the Roman Rite), here is a summary of what he had to say:

1) The Paten(s) used before was/were big, very ornate and used mainly for the fraction of the consecrated bread on the Altar. One of them was used to carry the sancta to the Pope at his cathedra and the other kept the other consecrated species on which the Deacons/Subdeacons performed the fraction of the species for the distribution of Communion. At some point, out of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, whenever any sacred vessel was carried anywhere, veils were used to hold them. The Paten had its own veil (like the Chalice), but when they both were reduced in size, only the one for the Chalice was kept as the Paten was put on top of the Chalice and since then the Chalice Veil has served as the veil for both of them.

2) Jungmann specifies that the Humeral Veil the Subdeacon uses when he holds the Paten comes from the practice of covering consecrated vessels.

3) In some places, the older form of the Paten (because of their bowl-like shape and their larger size) was used in much the same way the Ciborium is used now. (I would imagine that the use of cloths was used to hold these Patens and that this is from where the communion cloth might come from, but this is just my opinion).

4) The Corporal used to be large enough to cover the entire Altar and that the Blessed Sacrament (just like) today was laid on it. When there was no burse (as we know it now), the Corporal covered the Paten (once it had become part of the Chalice) when it contained the Host. This is why the Corporal was also known as syndonem (the cloth used to cover Our Lord) and the Chalice was seen as the Sepulchre.

There are many more things Jungmann has to say about all this and not all practices were universal, but he always makes sure to include the Roman one.

5) Communion-plates: these have no direct connection with the Paten as we know it now nor as it was known in the middle ages. I know that the communion-place began to become common in the 1920s. Even when it was allowed to use it, the Sacred Congregation of Rites still required the use of the communion cloth under it. Originally, it was common for every communicant to hold the commuion-place as he/she received Communion. However, common sense dictated that it was safer and more comfortable for a server to hold it throughout the distribution of Communion. At Solemn Masses, the Paten of the Mass is used and help by the Deacon.

6) To know more about the intricacies of the history of the Mass, there are two books I have always found helpful:
a) Adrian Fortescue's The Mass
b) Josef Jungmann's Missarum Sollemnia.

Fortescue's book is very short and not very exhaustive. It also contains some inaccuracies there were common in the 1920's.

Jungmann corrected some of the "mistaken" conclusions reached by Fortescue (especially regarding the Roman Canon) and his book is (easily) three times bigger than Fortescue's, which makes it much more detailed and he wrote about three decades later (1950s).

Sadly, Jungmann then (in the 60s) was caught up in the liturgical hurricane and began to hold ideas that were not ideal. I believe that he was also a consultor during the revisions of the Liturgy. So was J. B. O'Connell and a few others who wrote on the Rubrics of the Mass.

A Sinner said...

Also, what you say about needing to veil sacred vessels doesn't explain the use of the so-called "vimpa" which also clearly has its origin in the Humeral Veil.

Ray Mattes said...

Humeral Veil and the Subdeacon: We will all agree that originally there were no low Masses. Solemn High Masses were the norm. The patent was large, large enough to carry the sacred species to other titular churches for distribution. The Patent is a sacred vessel. It was usually carried by a minor order seminarian/acolyte to these churches. He was never allowed to touch sacred vessels. Also, it could just as well have been a question of respect and also sanitation issues as exposure to the elements (disease and filth,) were rampant then. The veil or whatever came before it, kept the sacred bread covered. At low Mass, a rather recent innovation, there is no subdeacon, not even a deacon to assist, so the priest places the now smaller patent when not in use, partially under the corporal and covers the exposed part with the purificator, an act maybe to preserve its cleanliness?. . . . after all, what does the term "purificator" mean? During a Solemn High Mass, the subdeacon removes this patent, keeping it out of the way until it is needed during the sacred liturgy. The Humeral Veil is large enough to have covered the larger, bowl like patent of old which would have taken up quite a bit of space when not in use on the altar.The tradition is carried on, Deo Gratis! Just a thought.Ray Mattes

PBR Photography said...

Great Photos and explanation!

magalahi02 said...

The first time I attended a solemn high mass and saw the sub-deacon shielding his face, the first and thus far only thing that has come to mind was the images of the Heavenly Liturgy that we see in Acts. The Angels shield their face to the Presence at the altar, and so I thought that that was what the sub-deacon was symbolizing.