Monday, April 23, 2018

Why the Double Ablutions?

A priest and regular NLM reader, responding to the series on canonical or liturgical digits (see here), sent this note to me:
I was wondering if, in your study, you have come across any authors who explain the double ablution that takes place in the traditional liturgy: first with wine, then with water and wine.
          The basic nut I am trying to crack is: I feel like a single ablution is not enough whenever I purify the sacred vessels—whether it is done with water only, or in the more traditional way, with both water & wine. It seems right that there be two ablutions before any further cleaning of the chalice (such as with soap & water, as is common in most hygiene-minded sacristies dominated by busy lay sacristans today) be done. I’m hoping to find some older commentaries on the purification that might (or might not) lend an argument to my feelings and impressions.
I have not seen an explanation in the sense of a moral or theological explanation, but of course the rubrical authors speak extensively about how it is to be done, and the basic reason why. For example, O’Connell’s The Celebration of the Mass says (p. 286):
The proper quantity of wine to be taken [at the first ablution] is about the same as had been taken at the Offertory, so that all the surface of the chalice that had been touched by the Precious Blood will be covered by the wine. When the celebrant has received sufficient wine he raises the chalice slightly as an indication to the server. The celebrant may then rotate the chalice carefully once or twice in order that the wine will pass over the surface that had been touched by the Precious Blood. He drinks the Contents of the chalice at the same point on the edge at which he had received the Precious Blood. ... Next the celebrant takes the chalice with the second, third, and fourth fingers of each hand around the cup, and the joined index fingers and thumbs within it. .. The amount of wine and water (together) to be taken will again be about the quantity of the Precious Blood. Rubricians direct that at the second ablution a little wine and a good deal of water be taken: (a) to make sure that when the second ablution has been drunk none of the Sacred Species will remain to be wiped up by the purificator; (b) because water is more cleansing than wine (especially than sweet wine, which is sticky); (c) to avoid staining the purificator.
This passage seems to confirm the reader’s intuition that a thorough cleansing is only possible with “two goes at it.” It seems to me that this was a matter of common sense developed over centuries of experience, and that it should be adopted today even in the context of the Ordinary Form, in accordance with the principle that we ought to exercise epikeia or good judgment with respect to laws to be followed, and always seek the common good—which begins with the proper treatment of the sacra mysteria, for, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us, “the common spiritual good of the entire Church is contained substantially in the sacrament itself of the Eucharist” (Summa theologiae III, q. 65, a. 3, arg. 1).

It is interesting to note, in terms of development (if it can be called such), that in the traditional Roman Rite the purificator does not ordinarily come in contact with the consecrated species, and therefore the Rituale provides no special blessing just for purificators. However, since corporals and palls do come into contact, there is a special blessing for them that is also “reserved”; an ordinary priest had to be delegated to bless a corporal/pall. Nowadays, the opposite obtains: purificators are often soaked with the Precious Blood by extraordinary ministers and clerics, while corporals more or less do not come into contact with the host due to the continuous use of the paten (although I have been told that some priests are sloppy in how they fracture the host). Besides, the modern Book of Blessings does not actually intend to bless the Mass linens as such.

What the foregoing shows is the beautifully consistent logic in the traditional practices: every detail makes sense. What is supposed to come into contact with the consecrated species is duly and properly blessed by the proper hierarchical authority; what is not supposed to come into contact is not so blessed; and the rubrics themselves govern the disposition and use of all items so that the sacred species will be treated with utmost care and reverence. One suspects that this is why the entire set of customs “had” to be dismantled by the modernists: they could see that it was a total system and had come to despise its rigor, impersonalism, objectivity, and sacrality. As Alice von Hildebrand once remarked, you either have to patiently accept it all and submit to it as the sweet yoke of Christ, or you will chafe at the bonds like a restive horse.

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