Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Do we still believe in Maniples?

By this title I do not mean the Roman army formation which came into common practice during the Second Samnite War in 315 bc (though its importance cannot be underestimated). Rather I mean those little bits of cloth that some Priests wear over their left arm when saying Mass.

The history of the maniple is quite interesting. It is common in the liturgy of the West from about the sixth century onwards, and probably came about much earlier than this from the practical need of the Priest to wipe his face and hands when celebrating Holy Mass. This may sound a little strange to us in the frozen North, but around the Mediterranean in the height of summer, with no air-conditioning, a priest would have been glad of a small piece of cloth to mop his brow – his body being encased in binding vestments for the offering of the Divine Sacrifice. So by the 6th century, the maniple had become a liturgical garment corresponding to the colour of the other vestments. Although in shape and style it developed at various times in various ways, it retained its place on the left arm, and always with something of its original meaning. A translation of the prayer which the Priest says when he puts on the maniple is “May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, in order that I may joyfully receive the reward of my work.” With weeping comes the need to wipe the face, and balance of sorrow and happiness typify the Priests’ offering of his life in sacrifice and joy.

Pope Paul VI, famous simplifier of vestments

The maniple was an obligatory part of the Mass vestments until 1967. In that year the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued the decree Tres Abhinc Annos, which stated “the maniple is no longer required.” So Priests threw them away. Or sent them to the missions. Or used them for goodness knows what. They even said that it was wrong to wear the maniple as it was no longer ‘required’. Well, we know that that is not true: just because something is not required does not mean that it is forbidden. It seems to me monstrous and wicked that sets of vestments were ravaged and torn asunder by the destruction of the maniple.

So why am I banging on about this? Well, as I am writing this I have just celebrated the New Rite feast of Ss Margaret Ward, Anne Line and Margaret Clitherow. St Mararet Clitherow was a convert whose brother was a Priest and who sent her son abroad to be educated in Catholicism. She harboured Priests and provided a place for Mass to be said. She cried out against the new religion and refused to go along to the state-sponsored services, and as a result was imprisoned. Her third child, William, was born when she was locked up in gaol. When in March 1586 her house was searched, the Queen’s officers found Mass vestments, and the possession of these was enough to have her pressed to death in the most foul and cruel way.

Cardinal* Burke wearing a maniple.
(Title of cardinal correct at time of writing.
As many know, Cardinal Burke has asked a question, and so might be punished)

Let me reiterate, she died because they found vestments in her house. I can imagine this holy saint looking down from heaven and crying out “I died for that cloth which you so easily put aside and destroy” as modern Priests scorn the maniple and other holy garments. Though I am sure that it was not just for the possession of a maniple alone that St Margaret was humiliated and tortured at the age of 33, leaving three children motherless, yet I am convinced that a maniple would have been there among the vestments which were mocked by ‘lewd men’ at her so-called trial. She died for the faith, and the faith is the Mass, and the Mass needs the Priest, and the Priest needs his vestments.

Naughty maniple

And in 1967 at a stroke “the maniple is no longer required”, and the Priest stopped saying: “May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, in order that I may joyfully receive the reward of my work.”

I will be your knight and fight for your honour

I firmly believe in the maniple. It would be a great thing if Priests would take up again this holy garment in celebrations of both forms of Holy Mass, just as a knight of old would take up the token of his lady before going into battle. St Margaret, the ‘pearl of York’, could be our mistress and our defender in heaven, and her handkerchief, our maniple, will be that very token.

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