Gemma Animae (38): On the Cantors

Ch. 38

On the Cantors

One cantor offers an oblation carried on a linen cloth and wine in a cruet, a second provides the water to be mixed in the wine [1]. The one who offers wine signifies the Church of the Jews, which exchanged the rite of the law for the sacrifice of Christ; he who offers water signifies the Church of the Gentiles, which sacrificed the Gentile people to Christ. These two also put forward a type of Enoch and Elias, who will offer the Jewish people to Christ in sacrifice [2]. They make this offering not with their bare hands, but with linens made white by much labor, because the body of Christ is worthily received only by those who crucify their flesh to vice and concupiscence [3]. The cruet in which the wine is offered signifies our devotion, which is carried in the vessels of the heart. The archdeacon pours all the water into the chalice and offers it to the bishop, because Christ, whom the deacon signifies here, mixed the Church with himself in his Passion, offered it to the Father on the Cross, and at the last joined the head to the body when he handed over the kingdom to his God and Father.


[1] The cantors’ offering is an ancient feature of the Roman Rite, attested in the most ancient extant book of papal liturgical ceremony, the Ordo Romanus Primus. As Abbe Quoex explains (Ritual and Sacred Chant in the Ordo Romanus Primus, trans. my own):

“In addition to performing the required chant, the scola cantorum participates in a singular manner in the rite of offering. We read in OR n. 80 that a sub-deacon sequens descends from the apse to the scola to receive the offering of water (“accipit fontem”) from the hands of the archiparaphonist. This is placed on the altar by the archdeacon so that he can mix it into the wine of the chalice while making the sign of the cross with the cruet. The offering of water on the part of the scola cantorum seems to be a consequence of the direct link between the act of offering the material for the sacrifice and the action of communion. He who offers bread and wine will receive Eucharistic communion. Now, during the distribution of communion, the scola is occupied with chanting; its members being incapable of communicating during the celebration, they therefore do not offer the material for consecration. Nevertheless, as by their chant they participate in the liturgical celebration, they manifest this participation by offering the water for the chalice. If we follow the teaching of St. Cyprian, the offering of the water in fact manifests, in its own way, a true participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice–a mystical and spiritual participation of humanity redeemed by Christ’s oblation.” [St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epist. 63 ad Concilium, CSEL 3, II (1871), 711: “Nam quia omnes portabat Christus qui et peccata nosra portabat, videmus in acqua populum intellegi, in vino vero ostendi sanguinem Christi. Quando autem in calice vino aqua miscetur, Christo populus adunatur et credentium plebs ei in quem credidit copulatur et iungitur.”]

[2] A reference to Revelation 11: “And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner […]. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (Rev 11: 3-5, 7-13).

[3] Since the most ancient times, sacred offerings were carried not with bare human hands, but with some form of honor and ceremony, such as the linen cloth or a paten. This custom is observable in many paintings of the Presentation from the Middle Ages, where Christ is usually passed to Simeon on a cloth.


Presentation, Giotto
Giotto’s Presentation in the Temple, in the Scrovegni Chapel
Presentation, Athos
Theophanes the Cretan, 1535, Great Lavra Monastery on Mount Athos


Presentation, Book of Hours
The Presentation at the Temple, Book of Hours, Netherlands c. 1460


Presentation, icon 2
Greek icon of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

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