Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I wonder if the priest can use the purifier to clean the wine on his mouth after drinking from the chalice, knowing that the purifier is used to clean the vessels. — J.T.P., Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
A: In principle the answer would be no, at this moment.
In his handbook “Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite,” now-Bishop Peter Elliott describes this moment of the priest’s communion:
“Taking the purifier in his right hand, he transfers it to his left hand, saying quietly, ‘May the Blood of Christ … life’ then reverently and without haste he drinks the Blood of the Lord, holding the purifier beneath his chin. If he consumes the contents of the chalice, he should not tip the vessel high. He places the chalice on the corporal, transfers the purifier to his right hand and carefully wipes the lip of the cup, while keeping his left hand on the node or base. If a pall is used, this is removed before he takes the purifier and replaced if the chalice is empty.
“Alternatively, the celebrant may take the chalice in both hands, saying quietly, ‘May the Blood of Christ … life.’ Then reverently and without haste he drinks the Blood of the Lord. He places the chalice on the corporal, takes the purifier in his right hand and carefully wipes the lip of the cup, while he keeps his left hand on the node or base. This procedure is more convenient if the chalice is full.”
However, in the context of the purifications Elliott makes a different observation:
“After drinking the ablutions, the celebrant wipes his lips with the purifier, if this is necessary. He leaves the purifier on the altar or credence table, where the servers cover the chalice.”
Manuals for the extraordinary form are even more detailed but generally concur in not foreseeing a purifier (also called a purificator) used in the manner of a napkin or a handkerchief, not even in the case of the ablutions.
I believe that the reason for this difference is not as much a question of hygiene, as one of appropriate use of the liturgical object.
The principal function of the purifier at the moment of communion from the chalice is to prevent any drop of Precious Blood from falling or sticking to the rim of the chalice. This is not usually a danger when a priest carefully consumes from the chalice and there is no need to wipe the lips.
The purifier would, however, be used in this manner if some Precious Blood accidentally spilled on the chin.
During the ablutions it might be necessary to wipe the lips after drinking. This case might arise if there were many small fragments in the water, some of which might stick to the lips.
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Follow-up: Still More on Garb
Pursuant to our comments on the shoulder cape (see follow-up March 19) an attentive reader pointed out two lesser-known documents which throw more light on this subject.
He wrote: “Nainfa (Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church) indicates that the black simar was worn by irremovable pastors, but this is abrogated by Per Instructionem no. 4 because of Ut sive sollicite no. 18 and 19, which abolishes the simar for non-bishops, even for those few prelates in Rome who still use the mantelletta. Surely if they do not use it now, neither do simple priests. This is the purpose of Per Instructionem.”
“Ut sive sollicite” is a 1969 instruction published by the Vatican Secretariat of State which simplifies the choir dress of bishops and prelates depending directly upon the Holy See, such as monsignors.
“Per Instructionem” was issued in 1970 by the Congregation for Clergy. It followed “Ut sive sollicite” and suggested to bishops’ conferences the simplification of choir dress for other clergy named directly by bishops, such as canons and pastors. This letter also abolished all special privileges.
We should also mention that many scholars disagree with John Nainfa, in calling the cassock with shoulder cape a “simar,” or in his assertion that it was a special privilege. It would appear that the historical and canonical evidence is still inconclusive regarding the legislative stance of the shoulder cape.
Our reader is correct in saying that the shoulder cape was specifically abolished for prelates who were not bishops in 1969. It would logically follow that if not used by monsignors, it should not be used by simple priests. Unless, of course, the simple black shoulder cape with no trimmings was never actually part of choir dress, was never subject to special privileges, and never had more than practical use. In that case the above documents do not apply at all.
It is possible that for many of our readers this question is somewhat ethereal. It certainly pales before the larger and more important question of a renewed interest by priests in wearing the cassock itself.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.