In the Scriptures this weekend, we hear how the little things matter. The last drop of oil given in charity will never run dry. The “widow’s mite” given in love can work great wonders.
Often we think about liturgy with largeness and grandeur. Jesus dying, rising and remaining with us in the Eucharist, compels us to respond with all the greatness we can muster.
This Sunday however, seek out some of the little things, often overlooked, that support and sustain our liturgy and worship. The first that came to my mind was the sanctuary lamp. Unlike our altar candles, it never is ceremonially lit, it does not hold a place of prominence at a baptism or funeral like the paschal candle, nor does it carry prayers like a votive candle. Rather it stands near the tabernacle, burning 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Good Friday. Its one small job is to signal that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle.
Do you ever give much thought to the altar linens? I do not mean the beautiful frontals and rich fabrics that adorn our altars, but those simple pieces of white cotton or linen used at liturgy. Very little about them draws our attention, yet they serve a special purpose. There is always a white cloth covering the top of the altar. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states “Out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the body and blood of the Lord are offered on an altar where this memorial is celebrated, there should be at least one white cloth …” On top of this cloth is a corporal upon the priest places the chalice, the paten with the host and at times the ciboria (vessel consecrated hosts are kept in). The third cloth is the purificator, more than likely several are used at Mass. Their purpose is to wipe the chalice or Communion cups after one has received from them. Most are now simple but your parish might still be using some that have a fancy tatted lace edge. Years ago, religious sisters at the motherhouse made lace and attached it to the altar linens. In the 1950s, it would have been difficult to find a parish that did not have altar linens with beautiful embroidery and lace edging.
Both of these little things, the sanctuary lamps and the altar linens, are reliant on people who receive little recognition. Someone in your parish makes sure the sanctuary lamp candle is changed every six to seven days. They also make sure that all the other candles are changed out as needed, that wicks are trimmed and that melted wax has been cleaned away.
Purificators and corporals have to be rinsed, washed, dried and ironed after every use. Other altar linens are changed out on a weekly basis. Someone or some group of people in your parish are collecting these linens after Masses and taking them home to launder and ready them to be used again. This is no small task; someone may be ironing 25 to 30 purificators at a time.
This weekend, be grateful that in ways great and small everything at liturgy comes together for the honor and glory of God, and say a special prayer for the people who are willing to take on the small, unseen tasks that benefit your parish family.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.