Recently, at Corpus Christi, I recalled the story of the Eucharistic miracle at Bolsena during which a Host bled on a corporal, which spurred the institution of the feast. I got to thinking about corporals. A little light bulb went on.
Some of you might recall that, a couple years ago when I was in Rome, I posted about the wonderful corporals we have for Mass in many of the churches, for example, St. Peter’s Basilica (where I said daily Mass for many years) and at my adoptive Roman parish Ss. Trinità dei Pelegrini.
The corporals are hard starched, so much so that they have a glassy shine and are very stiff. This means that it is extremely easy to spot particles of the Host and lift them with the edge of the paten.
Here are a couple of photos of such a corporal in Rome.
Notice that it doesn’t yet want to lie flat.
Note the shine of the starch.
I determined that I wanted to make corporals like this.
First, what is a corporal?
A corporal (from Latin corpus “body”) is a square white cloth of linen upon which the chalice with its paten and host, and also ciboria containing the smaller hosts are placed during the celebration of Holy Mass. The corporal is used whenever the Blessed Sacrament is taken out of the tabernacle, for example for exposition. If vessels are to be purified even – in the Novus Ordo – blech – at the credence table (i.e., not on the altar) a corporal is to be used. Hear that you priests out there? Redemptionis Sacramentum 119 we also see the importance of using the corporal.
Practical use. The first thing has to do with the priest’s intention at Mass to consecrate the Eucharist. Priests are to have the intention to consecrate the matter they know they want to consecrate. The usual way to help with this intention, to help make it explicit, is to place the matter to be consecrated on the corporal which is spread on the altar. If the priest has the intention to consecrate everything on the corporal, he’s good to go. He doesn’t have then to try to hold the specific intention for all the hosts in the ciborium as well. And if there are hosts nearby, but not on the corporal, in a storage box or vessel for another Mass, no problem.
The old De defectibus, section on defects, which was part and parcel of the Roman priest’s knowledge for centuries is helpful in this regard. There is a description of defects of intention:
“For that reason every priest should always have such an intention, namely the intention of consecrating all the hosts that have been Placed on the corporal before him for consecration.”
This is a priest’s moral intention.
Corporals shouldn’t be embroidered. These days they tent to have a little cross, supposedly because the priest is so dopey that he can’t figure out where to put the Host. Well.. these days… hmmm. It also could be there to help the priest get oriented for refolding the corporal properly. No, the corporal should not even have that little cross, but most do. As a matter of fact, the one I worked with for this project has the little cross.
Why don’t I like the little cross? Because in the TLM we place the consecrated Host directly on the corporal and only later slide the paten under it. Particles of the Host could be caught in the fibers of the embroidered cross. So, NO… no cross. When I have a corporal with a cross, I tend to turn it around so that it is at the top, and I place the chalice there.
The corporal’s main purpose, however, along with indicating what is to be consecrated, is to prevent the loss of particles from the Host. Should one fall, as sometimes happens because of it is dry or during the fractio rite, when it is broken, and the priest misses it, the way the corporal is folded will contain the host, as if with a little envelope… ne pereant. Folding the corporal correctly is important. So is way it is placed on the altar. To that end, preserving particles, the corporal is always gently scraped with the edge paten just before the Precious Blood is consumed, or perhaps if necessary at the time of the purification of vessels.
These people, for example, at a traditional web site GOT IT WRONG.
It’s upside down.
Then there are those who – I have seen this – leave the corporal on the altar. Even worse – I’ve seen this – some person preparing or tidying up – picks the unfolded corporal up and moves it or even shakes it. This is bad.
Another important discipline regarding the corporal pertains to all linens for Mass, including altar cloths. Linens should first be rinsed a few times by a priest and the water should go down the sacrarium on onto the ground.
Once you figure out what linens do, practically, these things naturally follow from our love.
Back to my project.
Year and years and years ago, I asked the Giuseppine nuns along the Tiber (who, by the way, to the linens for Ss. Trinità and San Pietro) how they accomplished the shine. Memory served. They use rice starch and Marseilles soap. They spread the corporal, imbued with the same, on glass or the equivalent, and let it dry. The oil in the soap helps to set the starch and allows you to peel the corporal off when dry.
So, my mise en place. The soap is 80% olive oil. Alas, there was only lavender scented at the store. And I was worried about the green coloring… but… this was an experiment to figure out the proportions to use.
Into simmering water.
Start to add the starch in increments. It will eventually thicken.
Yep… a little green.
I bought a sheet of clear acrylic. Eventually I need a LOT more water on the right.
Get it really in there. Pick it up and do both sides well. Remember to put the business side DOWN. That’s the side that will have the desired glassy finish.
Set up to dry.
Next day… when dry… get out your Dremel tool.
Just kidding. I didn’t use my Dremmel.
Peal it off.
Ta daaah! Success the first time.
It has a slight green tint when compared to another corporal.
I will now be on the hunt for high percentage olive oil soap which is both without fragrance and coloring.
Now that I’ve done this once, it will be easy to do again.
I have a bunch more of the starch/soap paste in the fridge. However, I really want a new batch without coloring.
I am extremely pleased with the result and I will, tomorrow, use the corporal for Mass.
Well look at this! A commentator alerted us about this video from the very Giuseppine I mentioned above. Italian. But it is clear. It looks like the soap they used was blue!