What’s the point of the humeral veil, anyway?


The picture here from World Youth Day appeared elsewhere in Aleteia, with a short quiz.

Here’s another quiz for you: why does the priest (or deacon) use a large piece of cloth to carry the monstrance?

Therein lies the history of the humeral veil.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and my blog (and my diaconate) were both new, I reflected on the experience of presiding over my first blessing, and Explain:

One of the most exotic and misunderstood garments is the humeral veil, the strip of cloth with which the priest holds the monstrance. Most lay people, and even most priests, believe that the minister uses it because he is unworthy to touch the monstrance or come so close to the Blessed Sacrament. Considering that the priest or the deacon places the host in the monstrance, and later puts it back in the tabernacle, this is not quite correct. And neither is the idea that it’s just another sign of reverence. So why does he use it? It is to separate oneself from the act of blessing. The priest or deacon blesses the faithful with the Blessed Sacrament – but by wrapping his hands in the humeral veil, he signifies his own withdrawal from action.
He don’t bless people. Christ Is. And so we pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you gave us the Eucharist as a memorial of your suffering and your death.
That our worship of this sacrament of your body and your blood
help us to experience the salvation you have won for us
and the peace of the kingdom
where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

It should be noted that the veil is not simply a strip of fabric; it has pockets, in which you insert your hands, to help you grasp the monstrance, which is often quite heavy. Years ago, after one of my first blessings, a woman stopped by the vestry to offer constructive criticism. “You’re doing it too fast,” she said. “To slow down.” I thanked her for her comments and waved her over to the empty monstrance. “Do me a favor,” I said. “Pick it up. She did it. “Oh my God,” she said. “I had no idea.”

“When Arnold Schwarzenegger does Benediction,” I said, “he can go as slow as he wants. But I? I have to go to the gym first.

Liturgy: it’s not for wimps.


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