Following a discussion of the integral and necessary covering of the tabernacle and the altar, both as a matter of prescribed Scriptural tradition and current ecclesial law, we turn our discussion to the use of more common veils—common in the sense of being of a lesser significance more than of prevalence. There are many items within the Church that are veiled at various times and for various reasons, as discussed in the first installment of this series, including sacred vessels, relics, statuary, etc. Having now a better understanding of the theory behind the practice of using veils within the Church, we turn our attention to some specific items that are commonly covered.
First, along with the prescription regarding the use of an altar frontal (antependium), a veil over the chalice and paten is also prescribed. This veil serves multiple purposes. First of all, as a sacred vessel, the veil denotes that the chalice is set apart for a specific and special use. In addition to this, its being veiled during the Mass highlights in a very visual way the separation between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The chalice is veiled for the former and uncovered for the latter, making clear the indispensable relationship between the chalice and the Eucharistic Sacrifice about to unfold.
Second, one might notice that a ciborium will sometimes have a veil and sometimes not. While the practice of veiling a ciborium has lamentably fallen by the wayside in many parishes, the custom of doing so is observed here to indicate that it is a vessel which contains the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, the ciborium brought forward at the Offertory containing unconsecrated hosts is unveiled. But that which is places for reservation in the Tabernacle leaves no doubt as to the presence of the Holy Eucharist within, the same as does the tabernacle veil itself.
A more esoteric veil that is seen in the context of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction is called the humeral veil. It takes it’s name from the fact that the humerus, the long bone of the arm, is covered by it. Some unwittingly claim that the priest or deacon dons the humeral veil for Benediction so that he does not touch with his bare hands the monstrance containing the Eucharist. However, this is untrue. By virtue of being ordinary ministers of Holy Communion and the priest’s hands being consecrated, that is no consideration (after all, the priest or deacon does not veil his hands whilst distributing Holy Communion or transferring the ciborium to the tabernacle). Rather, the humeral veil’s purpose is to obscure the person of the priest (or deacon) giving Benediction or walking in procession with the Blessed Sacrament, that all that is seen is God Himself, and not the cleric. At Benediction, it is not the priest who blessed, but the Eucharistic Lord Himself. Likewise, in a Eucharistic Procession, it is not the priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession, but our Eucharistic Lord Himself processing.
I do realize that as I write these not everyone is enthralled with liturgical trivia and minutia as I am. I am grateful for your patience and your willingness to explore these topics with me, as I do think they will form the basis of a much wider liturgical catechesis as we move forward.
Originally published in The Lewis County Catholic Times on 5 February 2017.