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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

THE Corporal in its present form is a square piece of linen about the size of a handkerchief, folded in four parts, and having a small black cross worked near the middle of its anterior edge. It is spread out on the altar, at full length, at the beginning of Mass, and the Chalice is placed upon it. The name Corporal is given to it from the fact that our Divine Lord’s Body under the Sacred Species rests upon it. It is of strict obligation that it be of linen, and this principally to commemorate the “linen garments” in which our Lord’s Body was shrouded in the sepulchre. So particular is the Church about this sacred cloth that she will allow none to touch it but those who have the privilege of touching the Chalice; and when it needs washing the duty devolves upon a subdeacon or one in major orders. It must be washed with great care in three separate waters, and should, if possible, be made up without starch. This latter precaution is necessary on account of the danger of mistaking a particle of the starch, which may often adhere to it, for a Consecrated Particle. When the Corporal is not in use it is kept folded up in the Burse.

We have said that the Corporal must be made of linen. Pope Silvester I., A.D. 314, strictly forbade it to be made of silk or of any tinctured cloth; and a council held at Rheims repeated this prohibition, adding that it must be of the purest and neatest linen, and be mixed with nothing else, no matter how precious (Kozma, 85). According to Durandus (Rationale Divinorum, p. 217), the original injunction requiring the Corporal to be of linen was promulgated by Pope Sixtus I., A.D. 132. The same author gives a very beautiful but rather far-fetched reason, as nearly all his reasons are, for having it of this material. “As linen,” says he, “attains to whiteness only after much labor and dressing, so the flesh of Christ by much suffering attained to the glory of the Resurrection” (ibid.)

In ancient times the Corporal was large enough to cover the entire table of the altar, and the duty of spreading it out, which was not done until coming on the Offertory, was the peculiar office of the deacon, who also folded it up after the Communion (Kozma, 86). To-day it is only at Low Mass that the Corporal is spread out on the altar, from the beginning; at Solemn High Mass the ancient discipline of spreading it out at the approach of the Offertory is still in vogue.

Corporal of the Orientals.—The Greeks call the Corporal εἰλήτον, eileton—that is, something rolled up, referring to the wrapping up of our Lord’s Body in the linen shroud procured by Joseph of Arimathea (Goar, Euchol. Græc., p. 130). The Corporals used by the Orientals scarcely differ in anything from those used in the Greek Church.








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