MASS: AN EXPLANATION OF THE REQUISITES, VESTMENTS, VESSELS AND OTHER
ARTICLES FOR THE ALTAR AND SANCTUARY
Sources Used: THE NEW ROMAN MISSAL by Fr. Lasance Et Al,
Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1945; and
CONCISE CATHOLIC DICTIONARY, Robert Broderick, M.A.,
Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1943
THE ALTAR, SANCTUARY, REQUISITES FOR MASS
SECTION 2: THE SACRED VESTMENTS
SECTION 3: THE VESTMENTS WORN AT BENEDICTION
AND THE COLORS OF VESTMENTS,
THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN HIGH MASS AND LOW
MASS, THE HISTORY OF THE ASPERGES
SECTION 1: THE ALTAR, SANCTUARY, REQUISITES
2. Reredos [backdrop for the
altar and tabernacle]
3. Tabernacle covered by a veil which is either white or od the color
of the vestments worn that day, but at Requiem Masses, the veil is
4-9. Large candlesticks for High Mass and Benediction At a high mass,
at least six candles are used.
10, 11. Small candlesticks for Low Mass. There are usually two, but
sometimes four. However, only two are lighted or used for Mass said by
priest, and four if a Bishop says the Mass.
12-14. Altar Cards. (The larger in the center contains prayers read at
the Offertory and Canon. The smaller one on the Epistle side has
the prayers which the priest reads when washing his hands. The other
smaller one on the Gospel Bide has the Gospel of St. John, usually read
the end of Mass.) Sometimes these are omitted if the priest has them
15. Mensa or Altar Table.
16. Altar Table Coverings. (One wax and three linen cloths cover the
altar table. The fourth or top one of linen hangs down over the side of
the altar to the floor.)
17. Antependium or Frontal. (A cloth which sometimes hangs down in
front of the altar. Like the tabernacle veil, it takes the color of the
18. Gospel Side of the Altar.
19. Epistle Side of the Altar.
20. Sanctuary Floor.
21. First Altar Step.
22. Second Altar Step.
23. Predella or Altar Platform.
24. Credence Table. This is the table for the cruets. During a solemn
High Mass, the chalice and burse and humeral veil for the subdeacon are
also placed upon it when not in use at the altar.
25. Water and Wine Cruets.
26. Finger Basin.
27. Towel (white).
28. Communion Paten.
29. Sedilia or Priests' Bench.
31. Communion Rail.
The form of the Catholic altar has always been a table or a tomb. This
double form has perpetuated through the ages the remembrance of the
institution of the Eucharist and of the burial of Our Lord. The cloth
that covered the table at the last supper, the winding-sheet of the
Saviour's embalming, are recalled to our love by the white linens
spread upon it. The altar, the Eucharistic table, the mystical tomb,
is, above all, the holy mountain where Jesus transfigures and immolates
Himself at the same time; raised as it is above the ground, it appears
to us always as a Thabor and a Calvary. Happier we than the Apostle,
for we can make for ourselves there a perpetual dwelling-place, even in
the heart of the Divine Saviour. Church law prescribes an altar of
stone for the Holy Sacrifice. If the altar be made of wood or of
materials other than stone the Holy Sacrifice must be offered on an
altar-stone set therein.
The little rectangle in the front center of the Altar Stone is the
sepulcher or tomb, a hollowed part in which are contained the relics of
Saints and Martyrs.
The Sacred Stone.---During the
Mass the priest often kisses the middle
of the altar. In this spot is a stone become, by the consecration of
the bishop, a figure of Jesus Christ. Like the Word of God, it has
received the sacred unction; like Him, it bears the mark of five wounds
(five crosses are cut in the stone), and these are also made by the
hammer and iron: like the Lamb of God, of Whom "not one of the bones
was broken" (Ex. xii, 46), the sacred stone is entire, cut from a
single piece. He who loves Our Lord will understand these kisses so
often repeated; the Church wishes to make reparation during the Holy
Sacrifice for all the outrages of the Passion---the derisive
genuflections of the Jews replaced by the genuflections of the
priest; the perfidious kiss of treason, by the respectful kiss of love.
In the sacred stone is enclosed a little tomb, sealed by the arms of
the bishop; herein with the relics of the Saints are laid three grains
of incense. Here again is a reminder of the burial, and the different
perfumes which Jesus Christ then received from the piety of His
disciples---the aromatic herbs of Joseph of Arimathea, of Magdalen, and
the holy women.
The Relics in the Altar.---In
his marvelous vision St. John saw "under
the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God" (Apoc.
6, 9). The Church militant, heir of their
relics, has placed them under the altar of sacrifice. This custom,
observed from the earliest days of Christianity, teaches us how we
should receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. Our heart becomes an
altar where Our Lord consummates His sacrifice, and upon this living
altar He wishes to see the blessed
wounds of a martyr. The Saints have tasted in Communion ineffable
sweetness; recompense, we may be sure, of the immolation which they
made of themselves each day. It is easy for us to experience this; let
us prepare ourselves for such a solemn act by the sacrifice of our
tastes, of our passions, as the Hebrews ate the paschal lamb with
bitter herbs. The Eucharist will then bear in us the most abundant
fruit; it will be the grain ot wheat sown in our hearts, to grow there
till the resurrection, the day of blossoming and of harvest, the
heavenly wine, which maketh virgin those hearts inclined to evil; the
Divine fire, which will give to the weak the courage of the lion.
The Tabernacle.---The rich
materials which cover the place where the
Blessed Sacrament rests, even the name given it, recall the tabernacle
of the Old Law, in which the ark of the covenant was kept, one of the
prophetic figures of the Sacrament of our altars. Its most ordinary
form is that of a tower; this symbol of strength could not be more
suitably employed than in sheltering Him Whom St. Augustine so well
calls "the bread of the strong."
the tabernacle is the Cross. Its presence alone in this place speaks
simply and eloquently: "It is here that
Jesus Christ renews the sacrifice of Calvary. The Cross raised by
deicidal hands remains always laden; love forever fastens to it the
Divine Victim. His arms extended call the sinner to return and to
pardon; His lips never cease to utter the great prayer of mercy.
'Father, forgive them'; grace flows from His heart in torrents,"
Christian souls, all these things the Crucifix, by its wounds, says to
you each day.
The Candles.---Doubtless they
recall to us that the catacombs were the
cradle of the Church and her first temple; that the Divine
mysteries were there celebrated by the light of torches. This touching
reminder of the persecuted Church should not be lost sight of.
But if it were merely as a reminder of the bloody period of the
Church's martyrdom that candles were used, why demand wax for the
altar-lights? The anxiety of the Church on this point shows us that
there is here some mystery. "Wax," says Mgr. de Cony, summing up the
teaching of all the liturgists, "is one of the most expressive symbols
furnished the Church by nature to express allegorically the holy
humanity of Jesus Christ. The earliest Doctors dwell on the virginity of the bees, and the purity of that substance drawn
from the nectar of
the most exquisite flowers, and compare these things to the conception
of the Saviour in the pure womb of Mary. The whiteness of the wax,
laboriously obtained, signifies again the glory of Jesus Christ, the
result of His sufferings; then the flame, mounting from that column of
wax which it consumes, is the Divinity of Jesus Christ, manifesting
itself by the sacrifice of His humanity, and illuminating the world,"
(Cerem. Rom., 50, 1 c, 6.) It is not, then,
to lighten the darkness of
the sanctuary, let us say with St. Isidore, that the altar candles are
lighted, because the sun is shining, but this light is a sign of joy,
and it represents Him of Whom the Gospel says: "He is the true light."
(Orig. 50, 1 C, 12.)
During the holy mysteries, when thick darkness clouds our souls, let us
beg God, the eternal light, to scatter this gloomy night. If at the
foot of this new Calvary our heart is indifferent and frozen, let us
pray God, Infinite love, to melt it in His fires. There will come a day
when this blessed light Will be, for those who have despised it, the
fire of justice. O Lord, inspire my heart with such a profound horror
of sin that I may escape the flames of Thy vengeance.
The Sanctuary Lamp.---In honor
of Jesus Christ a lamp burns perpetually
before the altar. The Christian soul longs to remain in constant
adoration at the feet of Our Lord, there to be consumed by gratitude
and love. In Heaven alone will this happiness be given to us, but here
below, as an expression of our devout desires, we place a lamp in the
sanctuary to take our place. In this little light St. Augustine shows
us an image of the three Christian virtues. Its clearness is faith,
which enlightens our mind; its warmth
is love, which fills our heart;
its flame, which, trembling
and agitated, mounts upward till it finds
rest in its center, is hope, with its aspirations toward Heaven, and
troubles outside of God. (Serm.
67, de Script.)
May our heart watch in the sanctuary under the eye of God! During the
labors of the day nothing is easier than to fly there in thought, to
offer to Jesus Christ our pain, our weariness, our actions.
At night let us place ourselves at the feet of Jesus, and say: While I
sleep I wish to love Thee and bless Thee always; here would I take my
rest. If many Christians were faithful to this pious practice it would
not be merely a faint and solitary lamp which would illumine the holy
place, but thousands of hearts would shed there their sparkling rays of
The Altar Candlesticks.---The
heavenly Jerusalem has her sacrifice and
also her altar. St. John thus describes it: "The altar of gold had
seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst was the Son of man, shining
like the snow by the whiteness of His garments, and more brilliant
than the sun by reason of the splendor of His face." (Apoc. 1.) It is,
then, reminders of Heaven which the Church constantly places before
the eyes of her children; how can we help thinking of it when all
around us speaks of it: the altar, the candlesticks, the Eucharist?
The Missal.---Upon the altar in
Heaven was also a mysterious book, sealed
with seven seals, and which no man could open. The lion of the tribe of
Juda, Jesus Christ, came, and His triumphant hand broke the seals. The
resemblance here is easily traced. The book which contains the prayers
of the liturgy is placed upon the altar before the sacrifices, but it
remains closed; only the priest, representing Jesus Christ, has the
right to open it.
In the West, Latin is the language of the liturgy of the Church.
However, certain Greek words, such as
Kyrie eleison, and some Hebrew
expressions, like alleluia, amen, sabaoth, have been enshrined
rich casket, that the language of the Christian sacrifice may recall
the inscription placed above the Saviour's Cross, which was written,
says the evangelist, in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin.
The Chalice and Its Appurtenances
The Chalice: is a cup made of
gold or silver, but if of silver, the
interior must be gold-plated. It holds the wine for the Holy Sacrifice,
and is a striking figure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Paten: is a plate of gold
or silver upon which the large bread for
consecration rests until the offertory. If it is of silver, the upper
side, at least, must be gold-plated. Of old it was necessarily larger
than now, for it held all the breads to be consecrated.
"To seal an alliance the ancients at the end of the banquet
be passed from one to another of the guests a cup to which each touched
his lips. Our Lord followed this custom at the last supper. The
chalice used at the altar is made upon the model of the one from which
Jesus Christ drank on the eve of His death. While the chalice receives
the blood of Jesus Christ, the paten is reserved for His Divine body.
It is a large plate, of gold or silver like the chalice, but always
golden in that portion which comes in contact with the holy species.
Like the chalice, before it is used in the sacred mysteries it is
consecrated by chrism and special prayers said by the bishop. Let us
receive from the gold, the holy chrism, and the particular benediction
of the prelate given to those vessels upon which the Holy of holies
rests but an instant, the lesson which the Church teaches us. In
Communion our hearts become living chalices; our tongue is another
paten upon which the priest lays Jesus Christ. May Our Lord always
find our tongue and heart bright with the gold of charity; let us
consecrate this mystical chalice and paten with the unction of
Christian sweetness and the perfume of prayer.
The Pall: A square
pocket-shaped piece of linen with a cardboard inserted in order to
stiffen it. It is placed over the chalice to prevent dust or other
matter falling into it.
The Purificator: A linen cloth
used for wiping the chalice, and the fingers and mouth of the celebrant
It is spread over the cup of the chalice at the beginning and end of
The Corporal: A square piece of
linen. In size and appearance it resembles a small napkin. It is spread
out on the altar, and the chalice is placed upon it. During the Mass
the Sacred Host rests for a time on the Corporal.
The Burse: is a square
container for the Corporal. It is made of the same material and color
as the vestments.
The Chalice Veil: is the cloth
which covers the chalice until the Offertory, and again after the
Communion. It also is made of the same material and color as the
vestments. (If one is not present at Sunday Mass before the veil is
removed from the chalice, one is obliged to hear another Mass).
SECTION 2: THE SACRED VESTMENTS
The Vestments of the
By God's command the Jewish priests wore a distinctive
garb when they ministered in the Temple. The Bible tells us they were
vested in violet and purple, scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen. Gold
and precious stones were also used to give the person of the priest
that dignity demanded by his exalted office.
No special dress was at first prescribed for the Christian priesthood.
During the early days the garments worn at the Holy Sacrifice were not
dissimilar in form to the clothing of civilians. They were
distinguished, however, from profane apparel in richness and beauty of
decorations; and of course, their use was restricted to Divine worship.
Secular fashion changed, but the Church clung to the old style. Thus it
was that garments once common to all, presently became the privileged
dress of the clergy. Faith then saw in each particular vestment a
symbol relating to the Passion of Our Lord, and a reminder of some
The priest's vestments may be considered now: (a) According to their
(b) According to their historical origin.
c) According to their symbolism.
The amice is a piece of fine linen in the form of an oblong. The
priest places it for a moment on his head, and then allows it to rest
upon his shoulders. As he does so he prays: "Place, O Lord, on my head
the helmet of salvation, that so I may resist the assaults of the
A covering for the head and neck worn like a hood.
When indoors it was lowered and thrown over the shoulders.
(a) The linen cloth that the soldiers put over Our Lord's head; when
thus blindfolded He was mockingly asked who struck Him.
(b) The helmet of Salvation. Cf.
Ephes. vi, 17.
A wide linen robe reaching to the feet and covering the whole body. The
word "Alb" is derived from the Latin, alba
(vestis understood), or
white vestment. The vesting prayer is: "Make me white, O Lord, and
cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may
deserve an eternal reward."
The alb, or tunic, was worn in ancient times by all who enjoyed any
dignity. The lace alb is a 17th century development.
(a) The garment with which Herod clothed Our Lord.
(b) Signifies the purity of conscience demanded of God's priest.
The cincture, or girdle, is a cord of linen fastened about the waist to
confine the alb. The vesting prayer is: "Gird me, O Lord, with the
cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence,
that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me."
Walking and active exertion made it necessary for one to gird up a long
garment like the alb. Hence the cincture was an essential article of
(a) The cord that bound Our Lord to the pillar when He was being
(b) Symbolizes modesty, and also readiness for hard work in God's
A strip of silken cloth worn on the left arm of the priest. The vesting
prayer is: "May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and
sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors."
Originally a strip of linen worn over the arm. During the long
services, and in the intense heat of southern countries its use was
frequently necessary to wipe the perspiration from the face and brow.
(a) The rope whereby Our Lord was led, and the chains which bound His
(b) An emblem of the tears of penance, the fatigue of the priestly
penance and its joyful reward in Heaven.
A long band of silk of the same width as the maniple, but
three times its length. It is worn around the neck and crossed on the
breast. The vesting prayer is: "Restore to me, O Lord, the state of
immortality which I lost through the sin of my first parents and,
although unworthy to approach Thy Sacred Mysteries, may I deserve
nevertheless eternal joy."
A kind of neck-piece or kerchief; a part of the
dress of the upper classes. It gradually became the distinctive mark of
spiritual authority in the higher clerics, viz., the priest and deacon.
(a) The cords with which Jesus was tied. Worn as
it is over the shoulders, it reminds us, too, of the Cross Our Lord
(b) A reminder of the Yoke of Christ. The priest's burden is a heavy
one, which Christ nevertheless makes sweet and light.
The chasuble is the outer and chief vestment of the
priest. It Is essentially the Mass vestment and is now exclusively
reserved to the priest. The vestment is familiar to all by reason of
the Cross usually embroidered on it. The word "chasuble" is derived
from the Latin, casula, a
little house. The ancient vestment completely
enveloped the priest, and was somewhat like a tent. The vesting prayer
is: "O Lord, Who hast said, 'My yoke is sweet and My burden light,'
grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace."
Imagine a large circular cloth with a hole cut in
the center for the head. This will help one to visualize the ancient
chasuble, which was an immense cloak, without opening in front, and
without sleeves. It was put on over the head and completely enveloped
the body. When it was necessary to use the hands, the garment had to be
folded up on each side over the arms. Because of its inconvenience (for
two assistants were needed to manipulate it), the vestment was
gradually cut and altered until it now has its present shape.
(a) The purple cloak worn by Our Lord when He stood before Pilate.
(b) An emblem of love. When the ordaining bishop gives it to the new
priest, he says: "Receive the priestly garment, for the Lord is
powerful to increase in you love and perfection."
Vestments of the Deacon and Subdeacon and Their Office
The Deacon: This
word means servitor. One of the principle duties of this sacred
minister is to assist the priest during Solemn High Mass and other
solemn ceremonies. He is always at his side, and, by the place of honor
which he occupies, he reminds us of the Beloved Disciple leaning on the
Heart of Jesus during the Last Supper, and standing under the Cross of
The deacon chants the Gospel, and dismisses the people at the end of
Mass by intoning: "Ite, Missa est."
His vestments are the amice, alb, cincture, stole, and dalmatic; except
the latter, all have already been explained.
The Dalmatic: This vestment was
originally worn at Dalmatia, whence it was brought to Rome. It is a
long and ample garment, with very large but short sleeves, descending
only to the elbow. From the second century among the Romans it was the
vestment of the emperors: the Church adopted it for the Sovereign
Pontiff and the bishops. The deacons received it from Pope Sylvester,
but the privilege of wearing it was confined to the deacons of the
Church at Rome, and for them only granted on festival days as a sign of
joy; consequently, it was laid aside during Advent, Lent, and fast
days, periods of sadness and mourning in the Church.
The dalmatic is of the same color as the chasuble of the priest.
The deacon does not wear the stole in the same manner as the priest; he
places it on the left shoulder, and brings the extremities under the
The Subdeacon: This minister is
charged with the preparation of the sacred vessels, the bread and wine
of the sacrifice, giving the water to the celebrant when he washes his
hands, and reading the Epistle. His vestments are the amice, alb,
girdle, maniple, and tunic. The tunic was formerly distinguished from
the dalmatic by its form and material; now it is in all respects like
it. The Subdeacon does not wear the stole.
From the "Offertory" until the "Pater Noster" at Solemn Mass he wears
the humeral veil like a shawl over his shoulders, in the folds of which
he holds the paten. This veil is an oblong piece of silk of the color
of the vestments of the day. It has strings to tie it in front.
HERE FOR SECTION 3