Gemma Animae (47-48): Christ’s Burial

Ch. 47

On Joseph

Deposition 2.jpg

When the priest says Per omnia saecula saeculorum, the deacon comes, raises the chalice before him, covers it with the cloth (cum favone), places it back on the altar, and covers it with the corporal. In all this he symbolizes Joseph of Arimathea as he laid Christ’s body to rest, covered his face with the sudarium, placed him in the tomb, and sealed it with a stone [1]. Here the oblation and the chalice are covered with the corporal, which signifies the white sindon, in which Joseph wrapped the Body of Christ. The chalice represents the tomb; the paten, the stone that sealed the tomb. The three articles, namely Oremus, Praeceptis, and Pater noster, and Libera nos, Domine signify the three days Christ lay in the tomb.

[1] This allegory would have more forceful in previous times when the corporal had not yet been reduced to its current form. In the papal stational rite and until the Late Middle Ages, the corporal was a full-length altar cloth in its own right. The subdeacon carried it in folded on top of the chalice at the start of the Offertory–as it is today in the burse. It was unfolded by the deacons to cover the whole altar, a ceremony usually accompanied by prayers. During the Mass, the chalice would be covered with the back part of the corporal, as we can see in the image below; this, at least, until the invention of the pall.

Some Missals even call the paten a gravestone. In the Regensburg missal about 1500 (Beck, 267; cf. 266) the pall is de­scribed as the gravestone: Accipe lapidem et pone super calicem. Likewise in a Brixen missal printed in 1493, p. 130v: Hic ponitur lapis super calicem (MS 55).

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Pontifical of Sens, 14th century

Chapter 48

On the Acolyte Who Holds the Paten, Which is the Figure of Nicodemus

During the Canon the acolyte holds the wrapped paten, when the subdeacon now takes and brings to the altar [1]. The subdeacon gives it to the archdeacon, who kisses it and hands to to one of the deacons to hold, so that our Lord’s Body may be broken upon it. The acolyte who holds the paten bears the form of Nicodemus (John 19). The subdeacon and archdeacon along with the other deacon holding the paten, are figures of the three Marias, who came to the tomb with perfumes and spices. As the seven petitions in the Lord’s prayer are said, the deacons stand bowed [2], and wait to be confirmed by the communion [3]; for the seven apostles awaited the confirmation of the Holy Spirit for seven weeks after the death of Christ.  Now the subdeacons are at rest in the meantime, for the women kept silence on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day [4].

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Chapel of the Crucifixion, Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

[1] In modern times this is the role of the subdeacon, but in the Ordo Romanus Primus it was the acolyte, standing next to the subdeacon, who held the paten:

Nam quod intermissimus de patena ; quando inchoat canonem, venit acolythus sub humero, habens sindonem in collo ligatam, tenens patenam ante pectus suum in parte dextra usque in medium canonem. Tune subdiaconus sequens suscipit earn super planetam et venit ante altare, exspectans quando earn suscipiat subdiaconus regionarius (OR I, 17).

[2] In the ancient papal stational liturgy, all the assisting ministers remained in a profound bow throughout the entire Canon, until they were called to their functions:

Episcopi vero, diaconi, subdiaconi, et presbyteri in presbyterio permanent inclinati. Et cum dixerit : Nobis quoque peccatoribus, surgunt subdiaconi : cum dixerit : Per quem haec omnia Domine, surgit archidiaconus solus (OR I 16).

[3] Confirmare is used in the OR I and later liturgical literature to refer to reception of the chalice. One first communicates, and is then confirmed by the one holding the chalice.  

[4] The subdeacons represent the women, as explained in Chapter 46.



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