Catholic History

The Veil

VEIL (velum, a covering). Pagan customs in regard to the use of the veil cannot here be considered, but we shall endeavor to give some account of the various kinds of veil recognized in the Catholic ritual for covering either things or persons. Three Eucharistic veils were in use in the ancient Eastern Church, the paten veil, for covering the bread before consecration, the chalice veil, and a very thin transparent veil for covering both paten and chalice. The offertory veil (offertorium) was used, according to the ritual of the Church of Sarum, in various parts of the ceremonial of High Mass. It seems to be the same as the superhumeral veil with which the subdeacon now covers the chalice at High Mass, and which is also used at Benediction. Magri (quoted in Morone) says that in Spanish churches from the first day of Lent a veil is drawn before the high altar while the hours are recited, and during Mass on ferias; it is withdrawn at the Gospel and the elevation of the Host. On Wednesday in Holy Week, when in the Passion "the words occur et velum templi scissurn est," the veil is withdrawn and no more used.

The nuptial veil or flammeum, as is well known, was in use among the Romans. St. Ambrose speaks of a veil (pallium) stretched over the heads of the bride and bridegroom during the celebration of marriage, with a mystical significance. The priest officiates with veiled head in several Oriental rites Coptic, of St. Anthony, Abyssinian, Maronite.

In Maskell's "Monumenta Ritualia" is printed a form for the "Order of Consecration of Nuns" according to the use of Sarum, from which we shall extract what relates to the ritual of the veil. On the day of profession the novices, clad in white, each bearing on the right arm the "habite that the religyon and profesyon requireth, wyth the veyle, ryng, and scroll of hir profesyon attached upon the sayd habite, and in hir left hand berying a taper wythoute lyght," go in procession from the place where they were arrayed towards the western door of the choir, with looks bent on the ground, singing the response "Audivi vocem," etc. Passing through the choir and going up to the altar, they lay their veils, rings, and scrolls on the right end of it. They then make the vow of chastity, and after receiving the habit from the bishop return whence they came. After the Credo the virgins return to the western door of the choir, bearing lighted tapers in their right hands. The rite proceeds; after the Litanies each makes her profession before the bishop and abbess, and signs her scroll of profession with a cross. After the psalm "Domine, quis habitabit," during which the virgins prostrate themselves, they rise and go with the bishop to the right end of the altar, and, taking their veils therefrom, hold them intheir hands with their faces turned towards the bishop. He, standing in his place, blesses the veils in the virgins' hands, "with orysons." The first of these prayers is, "We suppliantly beseech Thee, O Lord, that in Thy clemency a blessing may come down upon these veils which are about to be placed on the heads of Thy handmaidens, so that they may be blessed, and consecrated, and spotless, and holy for these Thy handmaidens. Through." The second, "O God, creator of things visible and invisible, be mercifully present with us, and vouchsafe to bless and sanctify with the streams of Thy grace these veils which are the type of holiness and the sign of humility; may Thy servants deserve through Thy gift to take and hallow them in heart and body. Through." Every virgin, before the bishop puts the veil upon her head, kisses his hand, Being veiled, she sings, "The Lord hath clothed me with a garment' woven of gold, and with immense jewels hath he adorned me." The ritual of the ring succeeds, followed by the "long benediction," during which the virgins lie prostrate. Before their "houselling" the bishop draws down their veils over their eyes. After their communion each gives up her taper to the bishop, after kissing his hand, and he gives to them all his benediction. Then the abbess pulls their veils down beneath their chins, and so they remain for three days. On the third day, after they have communicated, the abbess lifts up their veils, and from that time "they shall were and goo and cumme as other of the convent doth." (Morone, "Dizion. Eccl."; Maskel, "Monum. Ritualia," 1846; Smith and Cheetham.)


THEIR Distinctive Character. It was the common belief in the middle ages that the vestments used by the Church at Mass and other services were derived from the Jewish temple, though Walafrid Strabo had a better notion of the historical aspect of the question, and affirmed ("De Reb. Eccles." C. 24) that Christian priests in the early ages officiated in the common dress of daily life. Strabo's view (with a modification to be mentioned presently) is confirmed, to use the words of Dr. Rock, "by the concurrent testimony of writers who have bestowed much laborious research upon the investigation of this subject" ("Hierurgia," P. 414). No quotation can be adduced from any author of the first five centuries which so much as alludes to any difference in form between the dress of priests at the altar and of laymen in common life. True, St. John (Polycrat. apud Euseb. "H. E." iii. 3 1, V. 24; Hieron. "Vir. Illustr." 45) and St. James (Epiphan. "Hær.'' lxxviii. 14) are said to have worn the "shining plate" (petalon, lamina,) of the Jewish high priest; but even were we prepared to accept these testimonies as literal statements of fact, they would not affect the question, for no such ornament has ever found place in the Church, and the mitre, which comes nearest to this "plate," was unknown, as has been already proved, for centuries after the Apostolic age. But the strongest proof will be found in the articles on the particular vestments. There it has been shown that the ecclesiastical vestments had their origin in the ordinary dress of the Roman empire.1 It was after the fall of the empire that the fashion in ordinary attire underwent a revolution, and the garb once common to all became peculiar to the servants of the altars, till at last the very memory of its original use was obscured. This obscuration was, as we should expect, gradual. Walafrid Strabo, as we have said, in the ninth century understood the true state of the case, and another writer of the same age viz. Anastasius ("In Vit. S. Stephani," cf. Baron "Annal." ad ann. 260, n. 6) was not wholly ignorant of it, for he says of Pope Stephen. "He ordained that priests and Levites should not use the consecrated vestments in common life, but only in the Church."

Long, however, before the ecclesiastical vestments were distinguished by their form from those in common use, certain garments were reserved for the officiating clergy, and though these were identical in form with the ordinary garb, they were often, no doubt, of costlier material. The Apostolic Constitutions (viii. 12) describe the bishop as clothed in a "shining vestment" (lampran estheta metendus), and we may perhaps take this as evidence for the practice at the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century. A little earlier, Jerome ("In Ezech." xliv. 17), speaking of the vestments of the Jewish priests, adds: "Thence we learn that we should not enter the holy of holies with common attire or in any sort of dirty dress, such as will do for daily life, but that we should with clean conscience and in clean attire handle the mysteries of the Lord." It is not easy to decide how far this passage is to be taken literally. Anyhow, we learn from Theodoret ("H.E." ii. 23) that Constantine gave Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, "a sacred dress" (hieran stolen) of gold thread " i.e. a dress of the common form, but of very costly material and intended exclusively for use in church. It is very uncertain when the blessing of ecclesiastical vestments was introduced, but we find a form for that purpose, very like the one now used, in the Gregorian Sacramentary. (See the reprint in Migne, "Patrol." lxxviii. p. 157.) The Council of Poitiers, A.D. 1100, can. 4 (Mansi, xx. 1123) forbids any one not a bishop to give this blessing, and Innocent III. ("Altar. Myst." i. 9) lays down the same rule. It is still in force, though bishops constantly delegate the power to simple priests.

At first the vestments were of one color viz. white. Thus, when Pelagius alleged that all splendor in dress was irreligious, Jerome ("Adv. Pelag." i. n. 29) charges him with exaggeration, and asks what harm there was in wearing "a tunic particularly Clean" (tunicam mundiorem), what objection could be made, "if bishop, priest, and deacon, and the rest of the clergy appeared at the administration of the sacrifice in white array" (candid a veste processerit.) So Gregory of Tours ("De Gloria Conf" C. 20) describes the band of "priests and Levites in white vestments." Black was sometimes used in sign of mourning (Theodore Lector, lib. i, excerpt quoted by Hefele). Even PseudoAlcuin, in the tenth or eleventh century, knows only of white vestments, except that he speaks of the scarlet stripes on the deacon's dalmatic ("Divin. Offic." c. 40), and of the use of black vestments during the litany and procession on the Feast of the Purification (c. 7). Innocent III. is the first to mention four colorsviz. white, which the Roman Church employs on feasts of confessors, virgins, and on joyful solemnities generally; red, used on the feasts of martyrs, of the cross (though then perhaps white is to be preferred), and on Whitsunday, by some also on All Saints, but not by the Curia Romana, in which white is the color; black, used in penitential seasons and Masses for the dead; green, used on common days, because "midway between black and white." He regards violet, which is now the penitential color, as a mere variety of black, and says the former was used on Holy Innocents and Laetare Sunday. So scarlet and saffronyellow (coccineus el croceus) are varieties of red and green. Rosecolored vestments, he says, were sometimes used on feasts of martyrs, and yellow ones on feasts of confessors ("Altar. Myst." i. 65). At present yellow counts as white, and rosecolored vestments are only used at solemn Mass on the third Sunday in Advent and fourth in Lent.

Bishops, when they celebrate pontifically, take their vestments from the altar; simple priests put them on in the sacristy. But this distinction is probably not very ancient, for even in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it was common custom for priests, at least in England, to vest in the sanctuary. (Maskell, "Ancient Liturgy of the Church of England," p. 219.) The present law on the use of vestments at Mass is very strict, and many theologians (see Benedict XIV. "De Miss." iii. 7, 1) believe that no cause whatever will excuse a priest from observing it. (The chief recent authorities are Bock, "Gesch. der Liturg. Gewänder"; Hefele, in his "Beiträge," ii. p. 150 seq.; Wharton Marriott, "Vestiarium. Christianum.")

Dolours of Blessed Virgin.

ST. John mentions that the Blessed Virgin, with other holy women and with St. John, stood at the foot of the cross when the other Apostles had fled. At that time the prophecy of Simeon, "a sword will pierce thine own soul," was most perfectly fulfilled: and very naturally the sorrows of Mary have been a favorite subject of contemplation with the saints, among whom St. Ambrose and St. Bernard deserve particular notice. They dwell specially on the intensity of her mental suffering, and on the supernatural constancy with which she endured it The famous hymn "Stabat Mater" celebrates Mary's sorrows at the foot of the cross in sublime language. The seven founders of the Servite order, in the thirteenth century, devoted themselves to special meditation on the Dolours of Mary, and from them the enumeration of the Seven Sorrows (i.e. at the prophecy of Simeon, in the flight to Egypt, at the three days' loss, at the carrying of the cross, at the crucifixion, at the descent of the cross, at the entombment) is said to have come. The feast of the Dolours was instituted at a Provincial Council of Cologne in 1423, at the time when the Hussites were destroying crucifixes and images of the Mother of Sorrows with fanatical zeal. Benedict XIII., in 1725, caused this feast to be celebrated in the States of the Church on the Friday after Passion Sunday. This feast is now observed as a greater double throughout the Church. Pius VII., in 1814, directed that a second feast of the Dolours should be kept, on the third Sunday of September. In allusion to her seven sorrows, the Blessed Virgin is represented in art transfixed by seven swords. (Benedict XIV. "De Festis Manuale Decret.")

Domine, Non Sum Dignus.

"LORD, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only speak with a word, and my soul will be healed." Words used by the priest before communicating, and again before giving communion to the people. The custom of employing this prayer before communion is alluded to by Origen and Chrysostom. It is adapted from the prayer of the centurion in Matt. viii. 8.


OLIVE oil mixed with balm, blessed by the bishop and used by the Church in confirmation as well as in baptism, ordination, consecration of altarstones, chalices, churches, and in the blessing of baptismal water. The oil, according to the Roman Catechism, signifies the fullness of grace, since oil is diffusion; the balm mixed with it, incorruption and the "good odor of Christ."

In itself the word chrism (chrisma) need not mean more than "anything smeared on;" but even in classical writers it denotes especially a scented unguent, while the common oil was called elaion It was this simple, unperfumed oil which was used in the earliest times for sacred purposes, but from the sixth century oil mixed with balm began to be employed. This balm (balsamos, in the classics opobalsamon) is a kind of perfumed resin, produced by a tree which grows in Judea and Arabia. This Eastern balm was always used in the West till the sixteenth century, when Paul III. and Pius IV. permitted the use of a better kind of balm, brought by the Spaniards from the West Indies. The Orientals did not content themselves with simply mixing balm. Thus the Greeks mingle forty different spices, and the Maronites, before they were reunited to the Catholic Church, prepared their chrism from oil, saffron, cinnamon, essence of roses, white incense, etc.

The consecration of the oils during the Mass goes back to the earliest times. Cyprian mentions it in Ep. 70, addressed to Januarius; .and St. Basil attributes the origin of this blessing to apostolic tradition. It of course included chrism in the strict sense, when that came into use. In the West this blessing was always reserved to bishops; in the East, as may be seen from Goar's "Euchologium," it was only given by the patriarchs. At first the oils used to be blessed on any day at Mass, but in a letter of Pope Leo to the emperor of the same name, in the Synod of Toledo (490), and in all the older Sacramentaries and ritualbooks, Maundy Thursday is fixed for this blessing. It was only in France that the custom survived of blessing the oils on any day, till uniformity with the use of other churches was introduced by the Council of Meaux, in 845. The function took place in the second of the three Masses which used to be said on Maundy Thursday; whence the name "Missa Chrismatis." The blessing of the chrism was called "Benedictio chrismatis principalis." All the clergy of the diocese used to assist, till, in the eighth century, the custom altered, and only those who lived near the cathedral came, while the others had the holy oils sent to them. The chrism used to be kept in a vessel like a paten with a depression in the middle. A "patena chrismalis " of this kind is mentioned by Anastasius, in his Life of St. Silvester (Kraus, "RealEncyclopädie").

1 The alb and girdle, which are really most like Jewish vestments, had a purely secular origin; and the alb is first marked as a Church dress by enactments which forbid clerics to use the same alb in common life and in church. Jerome (Ep. 64) gives Fabiola an elaborate account of the Jewish vestments, but never alludes to the use of analogous vestments in church.

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