Of The Altar, Whereon The Sacrifice Of The Mass Is Celebrated, And Of The Furniture And Ornaments, Belonging To The Same

WEYDEN, Rogier van der 
Abegg Triptych 
c. 1445


Of The Altar, Whereon The Sacrifice Of The Mass Is Celebrated, And Of The Furniture And Ornaments, Belonging To The Same

How the Altar (made of stone) representeth Christ.

1. First, the Altar, whereon this most divine Sacrifice is celebrated, is made of stone: to signify unto us, that Jesus Christ, is the head corner-stone of the Church, as witnesseth the Apostle St. Peter. I.Pet.cap.2.7.

How unity of faith

2. The same Altar compacted and made of many stones cleaving together: doeth represent the Church of God, gathered together of divers nations, all coupled and linked in one faith, in one profession, and exercise of Religion.

How Charity

3. Both in the old law, and now also in the new, some Altars were made of beaten gold: to signify, the inestimable and pure love wherewith our Lord loved us, and the inestimable and our love, wherewith we ought to love him again.

How our Lords table

4. This Altar also, representeth unto us, the table whereon our Lord, instituted and celebrated his last supper, with his Disciples. Mat.26.26

How the mount Calvary

5. Also the mount of Calvary, whereon he suffered his death and Passion, for the salvation and redemption of all the world.

How the Altar-stone, represents the grave.

To the adorning of this Altar, divers mysterious ornaments are belonging. First, there is placed thereon an Altar-stone: which representeth the grave or monument, wherein the body of our Lord was buried or entombed. And there was nigh the cross a new monument. John.19.

How the linen clothes, represent the sidon.

The white linen clothes, wherewith the Altar and the Altar stone are covered, do betoken,  the white swindon, wherein Joseph of Arimathia, did wrap and enfold the body of our Savior. Et involuit sindone And he put it in a clean swindon. Luc.23.

How the Cross, representeth the history of the Passion.

There is a Cross set upon the Altar, to signify, that the history of our Saviours Passion, is there to be handled. Again to signify, that the Sacrifice of the Altar, is the same in substance, which our Lord accomplished upon the Altar of the Cross.

How the Chalice, representeth the Cup.

The Chalice representeth the Cup, wherein he consecrated his most precious Blood. And he took the Chalice, saying: This is my Blood. Mat.26

How mortification and martyrdom.

Likewise, by the Chalice, is betokened mortification, and a mind always ready to suffer martyrdom, for the love of Christ. Can you drink the chalice, which I am to drink? (to wit, suffer death for my sake) and they answered we can Mat.20.

How the Paten representeth the stone.

The Paten laid upon the Chalice: representeth the stone which was rolled against the door of our Saviours sepulcher. And they rolled a stone to the door of the sepulcher. Mar.15.46.

How the shining of the Corporall, representeth Christ’s resurrection, and immortality. 

The Corporall (the which is most white and shining) signifeth, that Christ by manifold passions, was brought to the brightness of his resurrection: who as the Apostle saith, entered not into glory, before he had sustained the ignominy of the Cross.

How purity and chastity.

Again, the brightness and shining of the same Corporall, admonisheth, that to receive the body of Jesus Christ, a man ought to shine with all Angelical purity and chastity both of body and soul. And that as is shineth with brightness, so the intention of the offerer, ought to shine with simplicity, before our Lord.

The signification of the Candles.

1. Candles are lighted and set upon the Altar. For by Candles is signified, sometimes the Law: sometimes the Church: and sometimes Christian conversation. Let your so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify you Father which is in heaven. Matt.5.17.

How Candles signify the light of faith.

2. Again, by the two Candles (for commonly there are so many) is signified, the light of faith, revealed to two several people, the Jews, and the Gentiles. Or the two testaments, wherewith mankind is illuminated. Or by the two witnesses, of the resurrection: Moses, and Elias.

How they are a sign of joy.

3. Also, Candles are lighted in sign of joy, as testifieth Alcuinus: and in respect of our Blessed Saviours presence, whose divinity is likewise the gift of grace, and the light proceeding from the holy Ghost, wherewith the Church is illuminated.

How the fire of Charity.

4. And not unaptly, are there fire lights, placed upon the Altar to burn: because he is there, who came to send fire into the world, and desireth nothing more, then that it burn and be kindled, in the hearts of all his faithful. Luc.12.

Of the Curtains.

Lastly, for the better adorning, both of the Church and Altar, there are rich Hangings, and Curtains, of diverse and sundry colors, answerable to the diversity of Feasts throughout the year.

Of the signification of the red.

Upon the feasts of the holy Cross, whereon Christ shed his precious Blood for us: and upon the Apostles, and Martyrs, Red is used: to signify the bloody Martyrdom, which they endured for the love of Christ: for they are those which are come out of great tribulations, and have washed their Stoles, in the blood of the Lamb. Apoc.7.

Of the white.

Upon the Feasts of Angels, Confessors, and Virgins, we use White, to signify their holiness, Chasity, and purity. As also upon the Dedication of the Church, which is called by the name of a Virgin. For I have espoused you to one Man, to present you a chaste virgin unto Christ. 2.Cor.11.2.

Again, by the White which is of excellent pureness, and cleanness: may be signified , the splendor and integrity, f good name and fame, especially requisite  in ant Ecclesiasticall Magistraite. That a Bishop have a good testimony (according to the Apostle) both of those which have within, and of those which are without 1.Tim.3.

The signification of the Black.

Upon the days of prayer, for the souls depart, is used Black: to signify the dolorous, and mournful estate of their souls. Of whom it is said, they shall be saved, yet so as by fire. 1 Cor.3.15.

The signification of the green.

Upon other common days, green is used for green is a color in the midst, betwixt white & black, & signifies the Church militant, still living in the world, which is, sometimes in joy, and sometimes in sorrow: and as it were, but yet in herba, that is green growing, and not ripened, for the harvest of the Church, is in the world to come.

The signification of the purple.

Sometimes is used Purple: to signify the spiritual power and dignity, which resideth in the chief bishop, and other Pastors of the Catholic church, who ought to behave and comport themselves in their places, like kings, not to decline to the right hand, nor to the left: not to bind the worthy, nor to pardon or unbind the guilty.

The signification of the Scarlet.

Sometimes Scarlet is used, which is of the color of fire: by which is signified, pontifical, or Priestly doctrine, which like unto fire, ought both to shine, and to burn. To shine, by giving light to others. To burn, by reprehension, excommunications, and other censures. Every tree, that yields not good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire Mat.7.19.

The signification of the Hyacinth.

Sometimes, Hyacinth, or sky color is used: by which may be understood, the serenity of conscience, which a Bishop or Priest ought always to have, both in things prosperous, and things adverse. According to the same Apostle: For our glory is this, the testimony of our Conscience 2.Cor.12. As also that his thoughts ought not to be on earthly, but on heavenly things, according to the same Apostle saying: Our conversation is in heaven.

To conclude, touching the Ornaments of the Church and Altar, Sozmon. I.6. cap. 16. and Nicephorus I 11.cap.18. recount how the Arian Emperor Valens, a great persecutor of Catholics, once upon a Christmas day, entered into the Church of St. Basil, whilest he was at the Altar celebrating Mass, assisted by all his Clergy, and the people round about, with such devotion and reverence, as the quality of the Feast & place required. And that he contemplating the goodly order, which was in every thing, was so astonished with admiration, that he well nigh fell down in ecstasy. Loe here the proper words of Nicephorus. Astonished in admiration, and altogether altered or changed for that he saw all things governed by so admirable an order, he had fallen down, unless one of the Princes taking him by the Robe, had held him up being now ready to fall to the ground. Thus he.

But in this point, so bare and naked are the churches of Heretics & so utterly destitute of all hangings, & other costly ornaments, yea, so empty and quite disfurnished, that to enter into them is much like, as to enter into some empty grange or barn, after all the corn, hay, and straw, is carried out of it. Which is the cause, why some Heretics, coming over the seas, and contemplating the ornaments, riches, and beautiful Ceremonies of the Catholic Church, do so greatly wonder and admire thereat, that when they do depart, they find themselves so marvelously delighted and comforted thereby, as if they had been for the time, in some earthly Paradise. Yea, to some, this hath been a chief motive of their change, and conversion to the Catholic Faith. Much more might be said, concerning this matter, but I will leave it to the Readers better consideration, and proceed to that which is to follow.

A Devout Exposition Of The Holy Masse 1622 

By John Heigham