The Missal Cushion

Many will of course be familiar with the missal stand -- essentially a bookstand that is generally made of wood or more usually metal (frequently gold or silver in colour) upon which the altar missal is set. Occasionally one also sees a coloured cloth, much like a chalice veil, set upon these according to the liturgical colour of the day. However, another custom is that of the missal cushion. The function of the missal cushion is the same as its wood or metal counterparts, acting as a rest for the missal such that it is more readily visible to the priest at the altar.  Here is what The Sacristan's Manual (Dale, 1854) says of it's construction:
Altar Cushions for the Missal, of various colours and richness; they should not be filled with feathers, but with wool or deer's hair. To be about 18 inches long and 13 1/2 wide, sewn plainly, but ornamented with tassels at the corners.  
Fortescue, in The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, notes that the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (Lib. I, cap. XII, para. 15) sets out that the material of these cushions should be silk -- and, of course, in the liturgical colour of the day.

If you're wondering how these are used, essentially the missal is laid upon the cushion:

Detail from the Requiem Mass for a Cardinal, 1961, St. Peter's Basilica.
Cushions such as these, like vestments, came in various degrees of ornamentation and in the various liturgical colours. Here are a few historical examples coming from the 17th through 20th centuries:

19th century
19th century
19th century
17th century
20th century
19th century
20th century
20th century
As a potential point of interest, a modern retailer who sells missal cushions is Gaspard.

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Dr. Peter Kwasniewski sent in the following text from Martin Mosebach's Heresy of Formlessness where Mosebach speaks to the missal cushion. Many thanks to him for sending this in:
The Missal has its special place on the altar, initially on the right side (seen from the congregation), the cornu epistulae, or “Epistle side.” This is where it stands from the beginning of Mass until after the reading of the Epistle. Then it is moved to the left side, the “Gospel side,” where not only the Gospel is read, but also the Offertory prayers and, most important of all, the core of the sacrificial ritual, the Canon of the Mass. Today, mostly, the Missal sits on a small wooden stand that should be covered with a cloth of the liturgical color of the particular feast. This stand is a help, enabling the celebrant to read without difficulty, but it is not a classic item of altar furniture. The Missal’s rubrics actually specify a cushion (cussinus) for the Book to rest on. Liturgical dictionaries often tend to trace liturgical prescriptions back to some practical requirement or other; thus one reads that the cushion was used to protect the Missal from wear and tear, since it was often a very costly volume encased in ivory carving and inlaid with gold or precious stones. We should almost always be suspicious of these attempts to derive practices from profane utility. Sometimes they may be correct regarding one particular aspect of a prescription, but the latter’s real character is always sacral. Often enough the prosaic function and its sacral nature are not mutually exclusive anyway. Ancient sacrificial practice is connected by a thousand filaments to the customs of daily life: it cites them, sublimates them, and elevates them into the transcendent context that claims to be the genuine reality of the world. In the oriental world the cushion signifies the royal throne. The Sultan receives the great personages of his realm on a cushion-filled divan; here he pronounces law; here he is visibly the monarch. The Missal is enthroned on a cushion like just such a monarch; the colored silk cloth that, in the West, covers the Missal stand gives a distant hint of this royal cushion, of this Solomon’s divan. Interestingly, whenever the book is shut, the cut fore-edge is always toward the middle of the altar, in spite of the fact that the Missal is not itself arranged like a Semitic book; this is possibly a faint memory of oriental customs.

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