Symbolic Offerings of the Solemn Papal Mass of Canonization

These are objects you don't see everyday and you would have been hard pressed to have seen them even prior to the Council. These objects were used during the Offertory as symbolic offerings made in the canonization Mass (typically a Solemn Papal Mass) when new saints were canonized.  To explain the meaning of these objects -- of which the only thing not shown are the wax tapers -- I turn to Fr. Thomas Macken's work, The Canonisation of Saints, published in 1909. More photos are found after this explanation of the meaning of these symbols. (All of the colour photos come by way of John Sonnen.)

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The Offering of Wax Candles and Other Objects

The act of canonisation is followed by solemn High Mass, which is usually celebrated by the Pope himself. The Ritual of this Mass is the same as that observed on other occasions with one remarkable exception. At the Offertory a significant ceremony takes place which requires a word of explanation. It consists in an offering of wax candles, bread, wine, water, two turtle doves, two pigeons, and a number of smaller birds.

These oblations—which are repeated for each saint if more than one is canonised—are set forth on a credence table at the left hand side of the altar. There are five wax candles beautifully painted. In the centre is an image of the saint for whom the offering is made, and underneath the Papal arms. Then there are two large loaves, placed on silver salvers with the Papal arms in relief ; two small barrels, one gold, containing the offering of wine, the other silver, containing the offering of water ; three cages, the first containing two turtle doves, the second, two pigeons, and the third, small birds of different species. These offerings are presented to the Pope at the Pontifical Throne in accordance with prescribed ceremonial.

It has been shown by learned writers on the subject that the custom of making offerings to the Pope on these occasions reaches back to the early ages of the Church. During the Mass it was customary, not only to present the bread and wine necessary for the Sacrifice, but also other valuable offerings for various purposes. As a rule the offerings were directed to four different ends: first to provide the matter necessary for the Holy Sacrifice; secondly, a part was sent to the bishop; thirdly, a portion was blessed and distributed amongst the congregation as a sign of Communion and charity; and, finally, a part was set aside for the needs of the Church and the maintenance of the ministers.

But it may be further asked is there any mystical meaning in presenting these particular objects to the Holy Father on the occasion of canonising a saint. Why is it that, out of the immense variety of good things placed by the Creator at our disposal, wax candles, bread, wine, water, turtle doves, pigeons, and small birds should be chosen to express our homage and veneration? Spiritual writers explain that they are symbols of the virtues of the saints, and that they are calculated to lift up our hearts and minds to the love and contemplation of the supernatural.

The wax candles, according to the doctrine of St. Fulbert, typify the head and members of the Church, the flame signifying the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is a consuming fire, and the wax, one of the most delicate substances in nature, indicating that the members of the Church should be pure before God, preserving the true faith animated by good works. The canonised saints have copied the virtues of our Saviour in their faith, in the excellence of their works, in the purity of their intention. To use the language of the Gospel, they have been a burning and a shining light, not placed under a bushel, but on a chandelier to give light to the whole house.

The bread which is offered indicates that the saints have no other nourishment but Jesus in the Holy Sacrament. Our Divine Lord has said: “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven . . . and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world ” (St. John vi.) And, for the saints of God, this bread was their life, their joy in this world; and it was to be also the eternal prize of their charity and love. As explained by other spiritual writers, the bread signifies the Word of God, inasmuch as the saints nourished their souls by Catholic doctrine, and by the example of their lives made this teaching efficacious to guide the people in the way of salvation.

The wine is the symbol of sanctifying grace, and there is no other natural product, says St. Cyprian, that so vividly conveys this meaning. And with what wisdom is the offering of water connected with that of wine. Water is a figure of the tribulations of this world, and the saints, absorbed in the contemplation of divine things, can cry out with the spouse in the Canticles: “Great waters cannot extinguish charity in me.”

Passing to the pigeons and turtle doves, the chief characteristics of the turtle dove are fidelity or faithfulness and love of solitude. Then the dove is the messenger of peace, and the doves offered at the ceremony of canonisation are an indication that the saints are in possession of peace, and that their struggles being now over, they will reign henceforth with God in the very centre of happiness and peace.

Lastly, the small birds, inhabitants of the air, and resting but a brief space upon the earth, indicate those qualities of the saints, by which they seek to escape the treacherous snares of the hunter and tend to their heavenly home. The small birds love the free air of heaven, and the saints of God, detached from things of earth, find their only attraction and gratification in the bliss of Paradise.

-- "The Canonisation of Saints" by Rev. Thomas F. Macken, 1909

One of the casks for the offering of water or wine. The arms are those of Pope Pius XII.
The casks for either water or wine.  Arms of Pope Pius XI.
The dish for the offering of bread. The arms are those of Pope John XXIII.
Seen here behind are the cages for the pigeons, turtle doves and small birds.  You can also see another dish in the colour of silver for the offering of the bread. 

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