The Ciborium Veil Seen on Holy Thursday

Sacred objects have always been veiled, evidenced in various cultures throughout the history of the world.  From the most ancient times, in both the Latin and Eastern churches, ciboria have been veiled.  This is a universal Catholic custom.  In some ways the ciborium veil acts as the royal standard, the flag that signals the presence of the monarch at a royal residence, so the ciborium veil indicates the presence of the King of Kings (Psalm 71: "And the kings of the earth shall adore him: all nations shall serve him").    

The ciborium veil in the Latin rite is always white (and sometimes gold, such as on Holy Thursday).  It is generally a circular piece of white silk material.  Like an ancient tent, it is perforated at the top with a small, central opening which allows the cover to fit over the top completely, as seen in the photos.  At other times it is more custom fitted to match the size of the ciborium.  In the Eastern rites, the pre-sanctified particles are kept in a tabernacle that is not veiled in a chalice that is covered with a red chalice veil. 

Photo credit: Terra Sancta Museum

In the Latin tradition, by extension, there is also the tabernacle veil seen in a variety of colors, further indicating the true presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species.  Other holy objects are also commonly veiled, such as the veil kept over the chalice or the veil over the altar rail or even the veil placed over the hair of consecrated women when they make their first vows and lay women while in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord.  

Most of the time the lay faithful do not see the ciborium veil.  It is most commonly seen perhaps during the procession on Maundy Thursday when the priest walks with the Blessed Sacrament under the ombrellino (the white silk canopy held over the Eucharist when it is transferred from one place to another).  Then the priest is seen by the congregation, holding the veiled ciborium with a humeral veil covering his hands and the ciborium.  The priest carries the Sacrament to the altar of repose in a side chapel of the main body of the church.  There, the Eucharist is placed on the altar to be incensed and adored, finally being reposed in the tabernacle of the same altar, where the faithful gather to pray into the night, often amidst the springtime aroma of Easter lilies.  

Sometimes afterwards, depending upon the time and local custom, the faithful make a visit to one or two other nearby churches to visit and pray in their similarly decorated side chapels if they are open later into the evening on Holy Thursday.  In downtown Rome many of the faithful commonly make a "seven church" visit, walking around the city centre to see as many of the beautiful side altars as they can see, decorated for the occasion before they close at about midnight.  One of the most magnificently decorated in Rome is at Santissima Trinita' dei Pellgrini, the FSSP parish in Rome.        

Procession of Maundy Thursday

Altar of Repose

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