The Textiles of the Altar, Its Vessels and the Sanctuary - Part 2 of 2

We now continue on with the second and final part of "The Textile Appurtenances of the Altar" by William J. Lallou and William R. Tablot, originally published in the 1932 edition of Liturgical Arts Quarterly.

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The Dressing of the Tabernacle

The Conopaeum, or veil, completely enveloping the tabernacle, like a marquee, is... [a] serious provision of the rubrics of the Ritual repeatedly emphasized by decrees of the Congregation of Sacred Rites which has decided that the conopaeum is of obligation even though the tabernacle itself may be elaborately carved or constructed of precious material. We recall that in the Westminster Cathedral the tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is housed, though made of silver repousse, is quite covered by the exterior veil, except on the rare occasions, as during the latter part of Holy Week, when the Blessed Sacrament is removed. The presence of the conopaeum is as much a sign of the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament as is the lamp which is kept burning before the tabernacle. We regret to note, as in all honesty we must, that in spite of the legislation of the Rituale Romanum and the decrees of the Congregation, certain great basilicas in Rome, including Saint Peter's, Saint Mary Major's, and Saint Paul's, have their highly artistic bronze tabernacles uncovered by any veils. A real conopaeum should entirely envelop the tabernacle, and not consist merely of curtains hung in front of the tabernacle door. However, where the construction of the altar is [such] that it would be impossible to employ a conopaeum of the proper ample form, the front curtains seem to us a gesture in the right direction.
The provisions concerning the color of the tabernacle veil are that it be either always white, which includes cloth of gold or silver, or that it vary in color to agree with the color of the vestments used at Mass or that proper to the office of the day. Here, as in the case of the altar frontal, violet is substituted for black, when a Requiem Mass is celebrated, or when the Office of the day is that of November 2.

The interior veil of the tabernacle, while sanctioned by general custom, is not of obligation. If we may instance again in his connection that model of liturgical observance, the Westminster Cathedral we gave heard that the white silk veil inside the tabernacle door on the altar of the Blessed Sacrament is suspended from its rod by wedding rings, bequeathed by ladies for this purpose.

The internal walls of the tabernacle may be lined with silk, white in color, or they may be of metal, gold plated. In any case, the floor of the tabernacle is to be carpeted with a clean, linen corporal. The etiquette concerning the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament requires that it rest either on gold or pure linen.

The material used for the chalice veil, the veils for the ciborium and the ostensorium, and the tabernacle veil, should be a soft silk which will take graceful folds and be easy to handle. It should be in a small ecclesiastical design and must be in correct liturgical colors.

Frontals and Superfrontals
A frontal, called in Latin pallium or antependium, is likewise prescribed by the rubrics of the Missal, though only quod fieri potest, so that it is not of strict obligation. The frontal varies in color with the color proper for the Office of the day, with this exception, that if the Blessed Sacrament is reserved at the altar in question, violet is to be used when a Requiem Mass is said. Should the Blessed Sacrament be solemnly exposed at an altar, as on the occasion of the Forty Hours' Adoration, the frontal of the altar must be white, even though the Mass which is to be celebrated require another color, as for instance, when the Mass of Exposition is to be celebrated on the feast of Pentecost. Liturgists commonly agree that the altar frontal may be dispensed with when the altar is constructed in the form of a sepulchre, or when its front is ornamented with mosaics or carvings, or even if the altar is itself made of precious stone or metal.

The frontal should be made of silk, and may be ornamented as richly as desired with embroideries. There are two general types of frontal -- the Latin and the Gothic. The former is generally made of some rich brocade very simply adorned and finished off with orphreys and galloons in contrasting colors... Gothic frontals are usually of a more elaborate nature, and are generally richly embroidered...

Frontals should be so suspended from the mensa that they do not sag or give an uneven appearance. The most practical method is to stretch the frontal on a frame which stands in front of the altar. There are certain indications that at one time the frontal was continued so as to enclose the altar on three sides. Although this is not the practice today, there seems to be no objection to it.

Other Hangings Employed About the Altar
The rubrics of the Missal suppose that a cushion be used to support the Missal during Mass. The use of a book-stand in place of a cushion is now sanctioned by general custom, but the stand should be covered by a veil corresponding in color and, if convenient, in material, with the vestments of the Mass which is being celebrated.  The Caeremoniale Episcoporum provides that the Missal and the book of Epistles and Gospels be encased in silk envelopes of the color of the vestments of the Mass. The same authority prescribes that the pulpit be draped in some manner (a veil for the reading stand is the usual practice), the material used again corresponding with the color of the vestments. The ministers' bench should be hung with a rectangular piece of rich fabric, the color of which has not been made a subject of definite legislation. The credence table, which should be of sufficiently ample proportions, the Caeremoniale Episcoporum would have covered with linen cloth, reaching to the ground. The Roman usage places on the front of the credence table a small frontal, similar to that used before the altar and varying in color with the color of the vestments.
Hangings Above and Around the Altar

While furnishing effective adornments for an altar, the dossal, or cloth hanging behind the altar, and the riddels, or cloth hangings for either side of the altar, lateral to the dossal, are not rubrically required in any way. The canopy above the altar, whether it be a baldachin supported by four columns, or a cloth tester suspended from the ceiling, though prescribed by the Caeremoniale Episcoporum and insisted upon by several decrees of the Congregation of Sacred Rites, seems to have passed into desuetude so that it is difficult to say whether or not legitimate prescription has cancelled the obligation requiring its use. Such a canopy, however, belongs to the distinctive ceremonial etiquette which surrounds the Blessed Sacrament, as the Sacred Species are always required to be under some sort of dais (hence the requirements of a canopy for processions of the Blessed Sacrament and the employment of the ombrellino for the carrying of the Sacred Species for less solemn occasions). Where an altar canopy of cloth is used, it should be of sufficient size to cover both the altar table and the platform (predella) of the altar above which it is hung.

... Tradition requires that dossals, testers, and riddels be made of rich silk, of linen, or of wool, never of cotton. In hanging dossals, the materials should not be stretched too tight; in certain instances, it may even be allowed to take its natural folds, thus emphasizing its cloth texture and giving a most pleasing effect of richness.

Although the silk furnishings of the altar including frontals and the pulpit veil must be in the liturgical colors, this is not true of dossals, riddels, and canopies. Unless these hangings are specially designed to be used on special days or during special seasons, they should not be seasonal in effect, but should harmonize with all the liturgical colors. Clear ecclesiastical colors should always be used. These hangings should be made of a heavy fabric in silk, linen, or wool. Silver or gold thread may be introduced to enrich the fabric. Hangings made of light material, unless heavily interlined, soon lose their shape and grow shabby. Small designs such as those which are suitable for vestments should not be used in dossals and riddels as they are too light in scale to be effective at a distance. The heavy materials used in these larger hangings should be in good scale with the other ornament in the sanctuary, and should be rather bold in character in order that they may carry from the body of the church. These sanctuary fabrics should be sincere and distinctive in character, and not resemble those used for secular purposes.

Sanctuary Carpets

According to the Caeremoniale Episcoporum the platform and the steps of the altar should be covered with a carpet, ample and beautiful. Likewise, the floor of the sanctuary should be carpeted in green. The authority quoted allows one to dispense with the covering of the entire sanctuary, provided at least the predella or platform of the altar be carpeted. The use of Persian or other oriental rugs on the predella is quite appropriate, and is sanctioned by long usage. The one thing to avoid is a floor covering which has in its design any sacred symbols whatever, as such symbols obviously should not be walked on.

There is an unfortunate feeling in some quarters that to be absolutely correct in the furnishings of the church involves large financial outlay. This idea is altogether wrong. There are fabrics in linen, silk, or wool, which are entirely correct in color and design and within reach of any parish.

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