The book of Revelation of St. John unveils for its reader the beauty of the liturgy of the Mass. “A throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne:” “The Lord God.” (Rev. 4:2) It then shows the Lamb (Jesus Christ), “standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6): Christ crucified and risen, the one high priest of the true sanctuary, the same one “who offers and is offered, who gives and is given.” (St. John Chrysostom) All in heaven and on Earth who take part in the service of the praise of God participate in the eternal liturgy whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation. The sacramental celebration is woven with signs and symbols which are rich in meaning. “God speaks to man through visible creation. The material cosmos is so presented to man’s intelligence that he can read there traces of its Creator.” (CCC 1147) “…these perceptible realities can become means of expressing the action of God who sanctifies men, and the action of men who offer worship to God.” (CCC 1148)
We may not know or appreciate the meaning of these “signs and symbols” in the liturgy, but they are there all the same. For example, We may give little thought to the meaning of a simple action by the priest or deacon of handling or folding the altar linen or the corporal, but a German theologian, Klaus Berger, has recently made a stunning discovery which shines a bright light on the deep symbolism contained in this humble action. Mr. Berger, while doing research for an extensive commentary on Revelation by St. John, uncovered the surprising connection between the altar linens prescribed for the liturgy and the burial cloths of Christ mentioned in the Gospels. Mr. Berger then shared his amazing discovery, which reveals the key liturgical role of the cloths, with Paul Badde, who has written extensively on the sudaria or burial cloths of Jesus (The True Icon). Paul has written a truly fascinating article about the discovery for Catholic News Agency (German) The translation may be found on Raymond Frost’s Manoppello blogspot (click here for full article in English).
In the article Paul Badde explains the theological connection between the burial cloths which touched the Body and Blood of Jesus and the altar cloth and corporal, the white linen napkin on which are placed the vessels containing the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass. The corporal, which was to be made of pure linen, could only be touched reverently by the priest with his thumb and forefinger in the old rite.
The connection between these altar cloths used in the liturgy and the sudarium, or burial cloths of Jesus (Shroud of Turin and Veil of Manoppello) says Paul Badde, can be understood in reference to a vision of Pope Gregory I during a Mass when Jesus, appeared as the Man of Sorrows during the Consecration of the Eucharist, reflecting the true Presence of Christ. Pope St. Gregory the Great, “The Father of Christian Worship,” is renown for his exceptional efforts is revising the liturgy of his day.
The cloths used in the liturgy are rich in symbol and meaning which can aid us in our devotion. During the Mass we may not see Christ with our bodily eyes, but He is present. Knowing our weakness, in His infinite mercy He has left us His image to contemplate on the Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello so that we may call them to mind when gazing with faith on the simple linen cloths used in the Mass. The images make manifest the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) mentioned in St. John’s Revelation: The Heavenly powers, all creation, the servants of the Old and New Covenants the new People of God especially the martyrs “slain for the word of God,” and the all-holy Mother of God (the Woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet), The Bride of the Lamb, and finally “a great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and tongues.” (Rev.7:9)
“Illiterate men can contemplate in the lines of an image what they cannot learn by means of the written word.” – Pope St. Gregory the Great
“The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God.”–St. John Damascene