From a reader…
I have been wondering why the servers lift the priest’s chasuble during the consecration. From the sources that I could find, it was an old practice to help the priest because the chasubles were heavy. Is there a deeper or symbolic meaning to the action?
The practical answer is the best answer. Vestments of yore were fuller, draping lots of material over the arms, which could sometimes be heavy. The weight of vestments were increased by ornamentation. At the consecration, the edge of the the chasuble would be raised to assist the priest or bishop in raising his arms.
Raising the edge of a vestment, like a cope or chasuble, or – now that I am thinking about it – even lifting the hem of the celebrant’s alb have a real, practical purpose.
Don’t laugh. Women would spend years making beautiful lace for albs out of their love for the Lord, because Holy Mass was the center of their lives. Then some priest puts his foot through it. I have seen that happen. I was in choir once, watching as a know-it-all priest, whose half-baked partial knowledge of what to do inspired him in false know-it-all-ism to refuse to allow the deacon to lift the alb away from his foot. Fr. Smarticus Pantsicus promptly put his foot through the beautiful lace. Thus, he nearly ruined a someone else’s alb. high enough so that they could see the Host and chalice (as per the rubrics). The same applied while the celebrant was incensing the altar and other things. Copes were held up and away so that the priest can move. The lower hem of albs were held up as priests ascended the stairs, lest he trip or, worse, put his foot through the precious handmade lace.
So… Fr. Smartici Pantsici out there… when it is time for the servers to help you, shut the hell up and let yourself be helped!
Gestures also take on symbolic meanings over time. Sometimes you might hear that this physical contact with the eminently priestly vestment associates the server more closely with the priest. Sure. That’s works for me too.
I’ll conclude with this.
Servers, go ahead and lift the edge of that chasuble…. BUT… just a little, okay? Don’t lift it too high. Just a little, okay? You don’t have to lift it half way up Father’s back. Less is more, alright? This especially applies with the more modern Roman vestments which don’t impede the arms and aren’t very heavy.