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LITURGY Q & A: When a Corporal Should Be Used

And More on ‘He Rose Again’

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

 Q: Sacred vessels and gifts are to be placed on the corporal[s] prior to consecration and after, as well as for the time and place of purification – the Eucharistic Trinity and Lamb is never simply placed on the altar or anywhere, but always upon the sacred corporal – correct? Also, during “private” public exposition/adoration when the Lord is in the sacred monstrance and upon the sacred corporal, are there to be lighted either four or six candles – or none at all? — J.A., Jamestown, North Dakota

 A: Our reader is correct with respect to the use of the corporal whenever the Sacred Species under any form is to be placed on an altar or table.

 The corporal is a sacred cloth of white linen. It is usually around 20 inches square. When not in use it is usually folded three times in such a way as to form nine equal squares. It may be placed on top of the chalice pall or in a special cloth case or envelope called a burse. The corporal is frequently stiffened so as to be firm.

 In recent times, due to the advent of concelebrations and the increase in the distribution of Communion under both kinds, larger corporals have been developed so that more sacred vessels may be placed upon them.

 In the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, the consecrated host (corpus) is placed directly upon the corporal, which is the probable origin of its name from this practice. In the ordinary form, the host is rarely placed upon the corporal, but it should always be used so as to gather any fragment that might happen to fall and as a sign of veneration and respect toward the Lord.

 The principal texts from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal are the following:

 “73. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the gifts which will become Christ’s Body and Blood are brought to the altar.

 “First of all, the altar or Lord’s table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist, is made ready when on it are placed the corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless this last is prepared at the credence table).

 “139. When the Universal Prayer is over, all sit, and the Offertory Chant begins (cf. no. 74). An acolyte or other lay minister places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar.

 “141. The Priest accepts the paten with the bread at the altar, holds it slightly raised above the altar with both hands and says quietly, Benedictus es, Domine (Blessed are you, Lord God). Then he places the paten with the bread on the corporal.

 “142. After this, as the minister presents the cruets, the Priest stands at the side of the altar and pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, Per huius aquae (By the mystery of this water). He returns to the middle of the altar and with both hands raises the chalice a little, and says quietly, Benedictus es, Domine (Blessed are you, Lord God). Then he places the chalice on the corporal and, if appropriate, covers it with a pall.

 “151. After the Consecration when the Priest has said, The mystery of faith, the people pronounce the acclamation, using one of the prescribed formulas.

 “At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Priest takes the paten with the host and the chalice and elevates them both while pronouncing alone the doxology, Through him. At the end, the people acclaim, Amen. After this, the Priest places the paten and the chalice on the corporal.

 “163. When the distribution of Communion is over, the Priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.

 Upon returning to the altar, the Priest collects the fragments, should any remain, and he stands at the altar or at the credence table and purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice, and after this purifies the chalice, saying quietly the formula Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine (What has passed our lips), and dries the chalice with a purificator. If the vessels are purified at the altar, they are carried to the credence table by a minister. Nevertheless, it is also permitted to leave vessels needing to be purified, especially if there are several, on a corporal, suitably covered, either on the altar or on the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass, after the Dismissal of the people.

 “248. The Communion of the concelebrants may also be arranged in such a way that each communicates from the Body of the Lord at the altar and, immediately afterward, from the Blood of the Lord.

 “In this case, the principal celebrant receives Communion under both kinds in the usual way (cf. no. 158), observing, however, the rite chosen in each particular instance for Communion from the chalice; and the other concelebrants should do the same.

 After the principal celebrant’s Communion, the chalice is placed at the side of the altar on another corporal. The concelebrants approach the middle of the altar one by one, genuflect, and communicate from the Body of the Lord; then they move to the side of the altar and partake of the Blood of the Lord, following the rite chosen for Communion from the chalice, as has been remarked above ….

 “249. If the concelebrants’ Communion is by intinction, the principal celebrant partakes of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the usual way, but making sure that enough of the precious Blood remains in the chalice for the Communion of the concelebrants. Then the Deacon, or one of the concelebrants, arranges the chalice together with the paten containing particles of the host, if appropriate, either in the center of the altar or at the side on another corporal.

 “297. The celebration of the Eucharist in a sacred place is to take place on an altar; however, outside a sacred place, it may take place on a suitable table, always with the use of a cloth, a corporal, a cross, and candles.

 “306. For only what is required for the celebration of the Mass may be placed on the altar table: namely, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, the Book of the Gospels; then from the Presentation of the Gifts until the purification of the vessels, the chalice with the paten, a ciborium, if necessary, and, finally, the corporal, the purificator, the pall, and the Missal.”

 Thus, several corporals may be used at Mass. At least one is placed at the center of the altar at the presentation of gifts. Others may be placed at other areas of the altar if numerous sacred vessels are required. There should also be at least one corporal on the credence table for the purification.

 The Rite of Holy Communion and Eucharistic Worship Outside of Mass also has important indications regarding the corporal:

 “19. When communion is given in a church or oratory, a corporal is to be placed on the altar, which is already covered with a cloth. A communion plate is to be used. When communion is given in other places, a suitable table is to be prepared and covered with a cloth; candles are also to be provided.”

 The “other places” mentioned would generally refer to communion of the sick. In this case, the person or his family prepare the candles and a table covered with a cloth. It would be the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion who would bring the corporal. In some cases, such as in a hospital when several sufferers are given Communion, the rite foresees the possibility of initiating the rite in the first room and concluding at the last. In such a situation the corporal would be required only at the beginning.

 For exposition the ritual says:

 “No. 93. If the Holy Eucharist is not reserved at the altar where the exposition is to take place, the minister puts on a humeral veil and brings the sacrament from the place of reservation; he is accompanied by servers or by the faithful with lighted candles.

 “The ciborium or monstrance should be placed upon the table of the altar which is covered with a cloth. If exposition with the monstrance is to extend over a long period, a throne in an elevated position may be used, but this should not be too lofty or distant. After exposition, if the monstrance is used, the minister incenses the sacrament. If the adoration is to be lengthy, he may then withdraw.

 “In the case of more solemn and lengthy exposition, the host should be consecrated in the Mass which immediately precedes the exposition and after communion should be placed in the monstrance upon the altar. The Mass ends with the prayer after communion, and the concluding rites are omitted. Before the priest leaves, he may place the Blessed Sacrament on the throne and incense it.”

 While this expression “cloth” is somewhat vague, No. 1104 of the Ceremonial of Bishops says that there should be a corporal upon the altar “as circumstances require.”

 This conditional expression takes into account particular situations such as exposition at the end of Mass and, perhaps, expositions that are not upon an altar. For example, some forms of exposition may retain historical practices such as a tabernacle with a turntable. In that case, the corporal is already below the monstrance in the rotary tabernacle. The principle of the use of a corporal below the monstrance or pyx remains in place.

 Finally, with respect to candles for exposition the ritual says:

 “54. For exposition of the blessed sacrament in the monstrance, four to six candles are lighted, as at Mass, and incense is used. For exposition of the blessed sacrament in the ciborium, at least two candles should be lighted, and incense may be used.”

 * * *

 Follow-up: ‘He Rose Again’

 In the wake of our February 12 comments on “He rose again” several readers offered suggestions that would complete and, to some extent, correct my response.

 Our correspondents contend that there is nothing quirky about the English translation at all. The following sums up various comments:

 “In Latin, ‘He rose’ = surrexit. But the Church says resurrexit, which is precisely ‘he rose’ (surrexit) + ‘again’ (re-).

 “In Greek, we have the the ana of anastasis (and cognates) which also can mean ‘again.’

 “In Italian, è risorto is identical: sorto = He rose and ri- = again.

 “It is quite common in the Romance languages to express the idea of ‘again’ via the prefix ‘re-, ri-,’ even in cases where in English it would come much more natural to add the word ‘again.’ For example:

 “I called (phoned) at 9 and I called again at 10 = Ho chiamato alle nove e ho richiamato alle dieci.

 “The English is not peculiar at all; it’s literally close to the Greek and Latin and the other languages as well as being idiomatically authentic in the vernacular. In all these languages, there are ways to express Jesus’ rising from the dead with and without the idea of ‘again’ with no resulting change in meaning.”

 * * *

 Readers may send questions to 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.

About Fr. Edward McNamara

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