The Holy Sacrifice

O God, who adorned blessed Nicholas thy bishop with countless miracles, grant we beseech thee, that through his merits and prayers we may be delivered from the fires of hell.

(Deus, qui beatum Nicolaum, Pontificem tuum, innumeris decorasti miraculis; tribue, quaesumus, ut eius meritis et precibus a gehennae incendiis liberemur.)

Maniple Français : Manipule Italiano: Manipolo

   The maniple is the most distinctively Roman of the liturgical vestments. It has no clear equivalent in the Eastern Churches, Catholic or separated. Alone among the garments of the Roman clergy it was not prefigured in the vestments of Aaron and his sons (Ex. 29:9). Our amice was foreshadowed by their linen cap; the girdle was worn then as now; our alb seems to correspond to their tunic; the stole, worn over both shoulders as a sign of authority was prefigured by the ephod; the breast-piece with the twelve precious stones seems to have foreshadowed the chasuble. Only the maniple lacks its forerunner.

   The learned tell us that its origins lie in the practice of Romans of higher rank holding in their left hand or carrying on their left arm an ornamental handkerchief, to wipe their brow or give some signal. With some such precious cloth the consul would ceremoniously initiate the games. We may suppose that it was worn by the bishops, at least, from the earliest times: though extant evidence takes us back only fifteen hundred years.

   From its original, practical use flowed naturally its symbolic meaning: the grace of God wiping away the least stains from the soul. All the sons of Adam who toil by the sweat of the brow accrue such stains, nor are the clergy an exception. When it has been duly blessed with the rather solemn blessing that the silken vestments of the Church receive, we may hold that such a grace is indeed given to the one who wears it with faith.

   Hanging from the left arm of the priest it takes away the symmetry from his appearance. Does it thereby suggest the imperfection of all earthly liturgies, which considered in their outward, ritual aspect, must fail to attain the perfect harmony of heaven? Whether this be so or not, its weighting of the priest toward the left suggests the predominance in any noble life of labour over rest, endurance over fruition.

   The Latin word manipulus is not restricted to this garment. It can denote anything designed to be taken in the hand, such as a bundle of hay or the pieces of metal once used by gymnasts to increase momentum as they leapt. Since the Romans in early days used a pole with a handful of straw tied to it as a military standard, manipulus came to denote the company of soldiers themselves or colloquially, any united band of men. Practitioners of living Latin use the word to refer to a team or squad of sportsmen.

   In the 125th psalm of the Vulgate, manipulus means a sheaf gathered at the harvest. This psalm and the original purpose of the garment are fused in the dense and beautiful prayer that the celebrant, or deacon, or sub-deacon quietly recites as he puts it on: ‘May I merit, O Lord, to carry the maniple of weeping and sorrow so that with exultation I may receive the wages of my labour’ (Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris ut cum exsultatione accipiam mercedem laboris.) Here the maniple evokes both toil and harvest; he who prays thus as he vests is reminded of his dual ancestry, heir both of Judah and of Rome.

   It is also par excellence the garment of the Sacrifice. All the other vestments may be worn outside Mass; even the chasuble, when Holy Communion is distributed afterwards. But the maniple is worn only for the great Action of the altar. By custom, it is put off when a priest interrupts his service of the altar to preach to his people.

   Roman and sacrificial, how could it not become a target? ‘The maniple is no longer required’, said a decree of 1967. No explanation was given. And in the revolutionary fervour of the time, custom by itself was helpless. The new Missal of 1969 passed over it in silence. They were burnt, put into dustbins, pushed to the back of drawers, forgotten. A priest-acquaintance of mine used ironically to muse about proposing to the modernist, happily defunct, National Conference of Priests in England, the motion that ‘This conference believes that the use of the maniple was not forbidden by the Missal of Pope Paul VI, but merely made optional.’ But I think he never did.

   Habent sua fata vestimenta. This simple band of cloth, worn almost unremarked in our churches and cathedrals for so long, possesses now as it were a halo of significance. It has become a symbol of those who would continue and edify, not interrupt and dismantle; of an integral Catholic spirit, undiluted and unbowed; of present exile and future restoration. Not without mystery sang the sacred seer, three thousand years ago: euntes ibant et flebant, mittentes semina sua; venientes autem venient cum exsultatione, portantes manipulos suos.

Ezechias-Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the ...

There are two miracles involving the sun in the Old Testament. The better known one is when it stands still for the length of a day, so that Joshua can fight the Amorites in Gabaon (Jos. 10). The other is less well-known, which is perhaps surprising as it is mentioned four times in the Old Testament. It is the retrogression of the sun by 10 lines on the sundial of Ahaz. (4 Kings 20, 2 Par. 32, Is. 38, Eccles. 48).

The immediate occasion of this miracle might hardly seem to warrant something so stupendous. King Ezechias, son of Ahaz and one of the few good kings in Israel’s history, is mortally sick and prays. The prophet Isaiah comes to tell him that his prayer has been granted and that fifteen more years will be given him. Then Ezechias, instead of simply thanking him and waiting to recover, asks Isaiah what the sign will be that his word will come true and that he will be well enough to enter the temple; he asks for a miracle to justify him in believing in a miracle. Isaiah gives him a choice between the sun’s moving miraculously forward or miraculously backward, and the king chooses the latter.

As well as being a real miracle, it is also an allegory. Ezechiah is fallen man, created to be a king, but because of original sin, sick unto death, with his face turned away from the house of God. The descent of the sun by 10 lines is the descent of the Son of God by his incarnation and passion beneath all the choirs of angels and mankind: the sun itself represents Christ’s divinity, and the shadow His humanity. The rising again of the king and his entrance into the temple to give thanks for his recovery is our resurrection and entrance into the heavenly liturgy. He believes in the lesser, future miracle on the evidence of the former, greater one, as we believe in our coming resurrection because of the incarnation of God as man.

There is a tradition that the sundial of Ahaz on which the miracle of the sun was wrought was made from the brass altar which he had sacrilegiously caused to be moved from its proper place in the temple (4 Kings 16). It would be appropriate if true, since this was a type of the Cross on which Christ having descended offered the sacrifice of our redemption.

English: Moses striking the rock

The Lord spoke to Moses saying:-

“Take the rod, and assemble the people together, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before them, and it shall yield waters. And when you have brought forth water out of the rock, all the multitude and their cattle shall drink.”

 Moses therefore took the rod, which was before the Lord, as he had commanded him, and having gathered together the multitude before the rock, he said to them: “Hear, you rebellious and incredulous: Can we bring you forth water out of this rock?”

And when Moses  had lifted up his hand, and struck the rock twice with the rod, there came forth water in great abundance, so that the people and their cattle drank,  and the Lord said to Moses  and Aaron: –

“Because you have not believed me, to sanctify me before the children of Israel, you shall not bring these people into the land, which I will give them.”

This is the Water of contradiction, where the children of Israel strove with words against the Lord, and he was sanctified in them.

What did he do wrong? Some rabbis said that he struck the wrong rock – but why would he have done that? Other people suggest that the fault was to strike the rock twice, as if once would have been insufficient. Against this, psalm 105 says that Moses’s fault lay in his speech: he ‘distinguished with his lips’, or ‘he uttered words that were rash’. The double striking with the wood, in fact, represents the Cross, just as the waters that gush forth from the Rock represent the life-giving flow of grace. No, it seems that the fault was to speak as if the outcome were uncertain: not that Moses or Aaron doubted God’s omnipotence, but that they doubted whether He would exercise it on this occasion if favour of a hard-hearted people, when He had said that He would.

This is the second occasion when water springs forth from the rock by means of Moses’s staff. The first occasion was almost forty years before, shortly after the exodus. We can see the two events as representing the two modes under which Christ’s sacrifice exists. First, as the bloody and painful offering of Calvary, by which all graces are earned for mankind; then, the pure and peaceful continuation of the same offering in the Holy Mass, the greatest of the means whereby these graces flow upon the believing soul. In the latter case, there can be fault in the minister, as there was on that occasion with Moses. But nonetheless the waters come forth in great abundance.


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