Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Signum Crucis: Now You Know 4

Signum crucis is Latin for “the sign of the cross.” This ancient gesture consists of tracing the sign of the cross on oneself, on objects, or other people.  Generally, making the sign on oneself is an act of devotion or remembrance.

There are very early references in Christian literature indicating the use of the practice. Tertullian, an Egyptian theologian who lived in the late first and early second centuries, wrote, "In all our travels and movements in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.” He was referring to using the thumb of the right hand to make a small cross on the forehead which was typical for centuries.

Somewhere around the sixth century, the sign of the cross evolved to what we use today. The usual reason for the change is the emergence of a heresy which denied the Trinity. When the cross is made, the person subvocally says, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen,” thus reinforcing the idea of orthodox Trinitarian belief. 
Some customary times for this act include: whenever the celebrant makes the sign on him/herself or makes the sign over the people, such as in the absolution; and/or in the Nicene Creed when the resurrection of the dead is mentioned; just prior to receiving the bread; and just after receiving the cup. However, you may make the sign whenever you feel so moved. There isn't a "sign of the cross" rule.

The thumb is still sometimes used to make a small cross on one’s forehead. At the beginning of the Gospel reading, some use their right thumb to make a small sign on forehead, lips, and chest.  It is a tactile reminder to keep the Gospel in my head, on my lips and in my heart.  Usually this sign is made as the Deacon reading the Gospel announces the reading, saying, “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to _____.”  As he/she says these words, some clergy, using the thumb of the right hand, will make the sign of the cross in the Gospel book over a little cross printed there at the beginning of the reading.  He/she may also then use his/her thumb to make the sign on forehead, lips, and chest. 

Typically, the sign is made with the right hand, moving first to the forehead, then the lower chest, up to the left shoulder and then to the right shoulder.  Some then touch the center of the chest. Some forego the touching of the chest and kiss their thumb. The Orthodox Church touches first the right shoulder, then the left when making the sign.

These acts are designed to enhance your experience of the holy and to involve your whole body in worship. If you’re not accustomed to signing, you might consider trying it. The way to become most comfortable with any of them is just to try them for four or five Sundays.  That will likely take care of the feeling of awkwardness when you first begin. 

Peace, Jerry+

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dressing Funny: Now You Know 3

Why do many clergy dress “funny,” especially at worship? Here’s the word.

Wearing Collars

Clergy collars are typically worn by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, COGIC, and increasingly, United Methodists and Presbyterians. Other African-American clergy elect to wear them as well, including independent congregations not affiliated with denominations. Exactly when the practice started is subject to some speculation. One source claims they were first worn by Presbyterian clergy in Scotland. Others are less certain. Some date the seventeenth century as the general time when they emerged; others opt for later dates.

Generally, sources agree that the practice began as ordinary street wear which was adopted, then adapted by clergy. At some point, men’s dress shirts developed detachable collars (and cuffs). These could be changed daily without having to launder the entire shirt. These collars closed in front, usually with a collar pin. The adaptation by clergy was to reverse the collar, as it were, so it closed in back with a collar pin. Both are anchored in front with a collar pin.

The typical Episcopal clergy collar is white, extends completely around the neck and is often called a “dog collar.” There are two variations. Romans and many others, show only a white tab in front with the rest of the collar being black. The tab is actually a white plastic insert that fits into two pockets on the collar of the shirt. The third variation is a white tab with a quarter inch or so or white showing all around the collar top, while the rest of the collar is black. Generally, the choice of which to wear is up to the cleric.

The basic reasons for wearing a collar is to clearly identify a person as clergy. All orders of ordination may wear a collar--deacon, priest, and bishop.

 At Worship

The white garment worn at services of Holy Eucharist is called an alb, from the Latin word for white.  A garment much like this, the toga, was the daily wear of Romans, especially upper class Romans, in the formative years of the Church.  When clergy wore them they were just wearing their “street clothes.” But, as the dress style changed, the clergy kept the alb as their basic garment.  Originally these street clothes might be of different colors, but over time, the Christian community settled on white as a symbol of purity.  

Clergy are not the only ones who wear albs at worship; laity do as well.  Most albs have hoods, but some clergy and others wear a modified alb called a cassock-alb.  It is essentially an alb without a hood. One underlying reason clergy wear vestments is to cover what is worn under them so as to not call attention to themselves in a way that distracts.  The albs are tied at the waist with a cord called a cincture or girdle.

While all those at the altar wear the alb, clergy also wear a colored strip of cloth around their necks called a stole.  The stole is a sign of their office as clergy.  Priests wear it over both shoulders, hanging down the front. Deacons wear the stole diagonally from the left shoulder to the right side.  The stole originally was a kind of Roman robe or cloak which was worn by civic officials.  Over time, in the Church it became simpler and took its current form.  The stole represents the authority of the office of priest or deacon with the priest’s stole also said to represent the yoke of Christ they took on at ordination. The colors represent the liturgical season.

The celebrant of the Eucharist also wears an over garment called a chasuble.  Chasuble is from the Latin word for “little house” because the garment shelters the celebrant.  The chasuble can be simple or elaborate, but it is always seamless as Jesus’ robe was said to be—the robe for which the soldiers cast lots.  

For certain processions, such as major feast days, the celebrant or the Officiant may process wearing a cope.  The cope was originally just a cape worn outdoors to protect against the weather.  It is a large outer garment, open in front.  Attached to the back is a colorful section of cloth that originally was a hood.  Now it is purely decorative.

For other services called Offices, such as, funerals, weddings, and Morning and Evening Prayer, the Officiant will wear a long black garment called a cassock with a flowing over garment in white with a scooped neck, called a surplice.  The cassock is worn by some priests as daily wear over their other clothes.  It is long, to the tops of the shoes, and usually buttons up the front.  Low Church celebrants often wear cassock and surplice with a stole to celebrate the Eucharist.  For some of the offices, the Officiant may wear a black, stole-like band of cloth over the shoulders and down the front.  This is called a tippet and originated in the 14th century.  It is typically Anglican, though some non-Anglicans wear them. 

During the Reformation, many Churches rejected the use of vestments as too Catholic. On the contintent, clergy began wearing black, academic robes or gowns. They are typically called Geneva gowns since that’s where they originated. Some wore stoles; others did not. Some wore two small tabs at the collar of the stole about three inches wide and six or seven inches long. These are called preaching tabs and indicate the person is the “preacher of the day.” They are said to represent the two tablets of the Law.

Bishops dress differently from the other orders of clergy, but we’ve run out of space for this post.

Sartorially yours, Jerry+

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Now You Know 2: Mystery Under the Veil

Nice response to last week’s post, so here are a few more “things” that you may wonder about. Or not.

The Mystery under the Veil
You’ve noticed on the altar prior to a Eucharist, there is a tent like device centered on the altar. You probably know there is a chalice under it. But, that’s not all. Here’s what you find in a typical set up. Some variation is allowed.

The Veil            The tent like covering, which is most noticeable from the nave, (area where the people sit) is called a veil. It’s typically the liturgical color of the day, though it may be white instead. At some point in the history of the Church, the chalice to be used in the Eucharist was brought to the altar in a cloth bag. The purpose of the bag is simply to protect the chalice, which is always of some precious metal and may be adorned with jewels. Many parishes store their vessels in such simple bags. During the middle ages, the chalice came to the altar draped in a covering rather than a bag. That covering developed into the veil. 

The veil, which began with a utilitarian function, soon took on symbolic meaning. There are several possible. Some say it represents the veil of the Temple which separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. Since it will house the blood of Christ, it should be treated with reverence. There is a simpler meaning. There have been periods in the Church, particularly the Anglican Communion, in which the Eucharist was not celebrated each week. If you came to church and saw the veil, it signaled that there would be a Eucharist--no veil, no Eucharist.

The Burse          Sitting atop the veil is a square of about eight or nine inches that is cloth covered and hinged. It too is in the liturgical color of the day. Removing the burse is the first liturgical action. Burse comes from the Latin word meaning “purse.” When the burse is opened, it will typically have additional purificators (the cloths the chalice bearers use to wipe the chalice after serving someone). After removing the purificators, the burse is removed from the altar. Then the veil is removed, folded and also removed from the altar. Sometimes, rather than purificators, the burse contains the “corporal” (see below).

The Pall         The chalice can now be seen and sitting atop it is a small, rigid, white cloth covered square, embroidered with a cross in the center, and called a “pall.” It’s purpose is to be available to cover the chalice during the Eucharistic prayer as needed to keep things from falling into the chalice. Believe it or not, I’ve used it many times to keep small fruit flies from flying into the chalice during the Eucharistic Prayer. Where they come from is another mystery. It is set aside on the altar during the prayer when not needed for that.

The Corporal         The Corporal is a piece of white linen about eighteen inches square with a cross embroidered on it in the center of the top third of the cloth. It lies on top of the pall. The deacon takes the corporal, unfolds it, and places it in the center of the altar, with one edge lined up with the edge of the altar closest to the priest who will celebrate. On this cloth will be placed the chalice into which wine is poured and which the celebrate will consecrate. Additionally, a “ciborium” will be brought to the altar and placed on the corporal. The ciborium, which means “stemmed cup” hold the majority of the bread to be consecrated. The placement of the corporal is utilitarian--it protects the linen covering of the altar (“Fair Linen”) from drips and catches any stray crumbs of bread. Very often after the Eucharist, during the cleaning in the sacristy (a small room where the vessels and linens are kept), crumbs will be found and reverently disposed of. The corporal may also be laid on the altar prior to setting up the chalice, veil, etc. Traditions vary.

The Paten         Under the pall is the “paten” which is a small plate on which the larger host (Priest’s Host) is placed. Paten comes from the Latin word for small dish. This is the vessel the celebrant will use to serve the consecrated bread.  Under the paten is another purificator which is draped over the chalice. The purificator serves several purposes. Placed here, it protects the lip of the chalice from damage from the paten. It also is available for the deacon or some other server to use with the chalice.
There you have it. That’s the mystery of the veil.

Ritually yours, Jerry+

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Now You Know 1

I’ve always been curious about “things,” especially things religious. Others seem to enjoy learning about these things that interest me, so now and then, I like to share them. Thus, this week’s post.

The Egg
Ever wonder what eggs have to do with Easter? Historically, eating certain foods, like meat, has been forbidden during Lent. The egg is one such food. Somewhere in the middle ages, a tradition developed of bringing eggs to church on Easter to have them blessed so they could, once again, be eaten. Who knows why someone started decorating them?

The Number Eight
Eight represents Jesus’ Resurrection, because he rose from the tomb on the eighth day after he entered Jerusalem. In the early Church, rather than call Sunday the first day of the week, it was called “Eighth Day.” It has also come to represent baptism because, eight people were saved from The Flood. Which is why, many baptismal fonts, such as St. Mary’s is--guess what---eight-sided. There are also eight Beatitudes and Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. Finally, the various hours of prayer which ordered monastic life and the life of nuns consisted of eight times to pray.

Have you ever noticed in the bulletin of many Episcopal churches, a Gradual Hymn is sung? We tend not to list it in our bulletin, but we sing one. Our meaning of “gradual” might confuse you. But it’s not our meaning. It comes from the Latin word for “step.” Historically, what we call the pulpit was called (and still can be called) the ambo, which means “raised platform,” that is, a platform raised by steps from the main level. While sermons were preached from the highest level, readings from the Old Testament or Epistles were read from a lower step. Hence, a gradual hymn is sung prior to reading some Scripture while the lector goes to a lower step to read.

We alway sing a sequence hymn prior to the reading of the Gospel, and we even list it that way in the bulletin. You’ve probably guessed sequence is not being used in the sense we use it today. The hymn or chant which has historically been sung here is inspired by a kind of Latin poetry, written in a non-classical meter, usually on a sacred subject, called a sequence. However, most non-Catholic liturgical churches choose a hymn from their hymnal that relates to the readings of the day. The likely purpose was to give the clergy, typically the deacon, time to move to the center of the nave so he could be heard.

These letters are often placed in the center of a cross or engraved on some liturgical implement. Let’s take IHS first. Many people have been taught that they represent the first letters of three Latin words: Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, Savior of Men or Mankind). However, it’s called a Christogram and is the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus: iota-eta-sigma.

INRI are the initial letters of the Latin phrase, “Iesus Nazarenes Rex Judaeorium” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). This was on the plaque or titulus placed over Jesus head by Pilate.

And we end with a word associated with beginnings. In its full glory it is “antiphona ad introtium” (antiphon on the entry). An introit thus, is a song or chant sung by the choir to signal the entry of the clergy into the nave or in some cases into the chancel. Historically, it was long enough (or the clergy walk was short enough) that it was the “opening hymn.” Once the walk got longer or the introits got shorter, a congregational hymn followed it to allow for the walk. Or as a very dear friend of mine calls the “entering processional,” the “parade!” As a convert from a non-liturgical church she said this in the context of “how could not like a church that starts worship with a parade!”  I agree.

So there you have it. We like to use Greek and Latin to keep the whole thing feeling mysterious. That, and “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Dominus vobiscum, Jerry