The origin and signification of the different parts of the Liturgy and Ceremonial.
Two fundamental causes called into existence the liturgy of the Mass. The first, which we may call the physical cause, was the necessity of making use of certain material things, of certain persons, of prayers, and other things of a like nature, in the repeated offering of the sacrifice ordained by Christ. The second, or moral cause, was the fitting celebration, with such provisions and arrangements as should fill men's hearts with devotion, and impress them with the majestic dignity of that sacrifice.
Guided by this motive, the holy Church proceeded to invest and adorn the unchangeable substance of the sacred liturgy with various accidental additions, which, appealing sublimely to the senses, raised at the same time the mind to holy meditation, and brought forth the powers of devotion of the heart. It was to aid the faithful in this that the Church was accustomed to connect the various sensible rites and ceremonies of the Mass with certain mystical meanings, having for their especial object the mysteries of redemption and the virtues of the Christian life.
These principles will guide us in the explanation of the various mystic significations of the different parts of the sacred liturgy, and which are reduced to three heads, viz. the natural sense, the allegorical, and the moral.
Of the meaning of the altar and its ornaments.
The Church represents, 1, the upper chamber where Jesus first instituted, and celebrated with His disciples, this divine Sacrifice. 2. The most sacred body of Christ, the living temple of the Divinity (John ii.), and, by participation with Him, the whole body of the Church, and of each one of the faithful, as St. Paul declares. (1 Cor. iii.) 3. The union with God, or the spirit of prayer, according to those words, "My house is the house of prayer." (Matt, xxi.)
The altar signifies and represents, 1st, the table of the Last Supper; 2d, the cross on which the divine Lamb was immolated, as well as Christ Himself, by whom and through whom our sacrifice is presented and accepted by the Father; 3rd, the spirit of sacrifice and self-denial.
The linen cloths, corporals, purificatories, mundatories, &c, signify, 1st, the linen cloths covering the table used by our Lord and His disciples at the Last Supper; 2nd, the linen cloths in which His sacred body was embalmed when it was laid in the sepulchre; 3rd, the external and internal purity required in all Christians, but in priests more especially.
1. The chalice, paten, the wine and water, and the unleavened bread, signify the same things used at the Last Supper. 2. The consecrated bread represents, and is in very truth, the most pure and precious flesh of Christ, and the consecrated wine His most precious blood. The water represents that which flowed from His sacred side when it was opened by the lance; the chalice represents the sepulchre; the paten calls to mind the stone which closed its mouth. 3. The unleavened bread signifies sincerity and candour of mind; the wine, the fervour of charity.
The lights call to mind, 1st, the candles and lamps used in the chamber of the Last Supper; 2nd, Christ, the true Light of the world; 3rd, the light of faith in the soul of the Christian.
To the ornaments of the altar we may also add the chant, which shadows forth the joy of the heavenly Jerusalem ; and the incense, which is the symbol of the prayers of the faithful, of the good odour of their virtues, and the presence of God, who has exhibited His Majesty to men shrouded in clouds and mystery.
Of the meaning of the sacred garments.
The vestments of the priest represent, 1st, The garments worn by Christ,—as His seamless coat is represented by the alb, His girdle by the cincture, His napkin or handkerchief by the maniple, His cloak by the vestment or chasuble. 2nd, Those things with which He was clothed in derision at the time of His passion—the amice calling to our mind the veil with which they blindfolded Him; the alb representing the white robe with which He was clothed in derision by Herod; the cincture and maniple representing the ropes with which He was bound; the purple garment being represented by the vestment, and the cross by the stole. 3rd, So also do they symbolise certain virtues, as follows:—
The amice signified fortitude and watchfulness against temptation; and hence, in arranging it, the priest is directed to say, 'Give to my head, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, wherewith I may resist the assaults of the devil.'
The alb signifies innocence and grace in the soul; and hence, while vesting himself therewith, the priest says: ‘'Clothe me in white, O Lord, and purify my heart, that, being made white in the blood of the Lamb, I may attain to joy everlasting.'
The cincture is the emblem of chastity; and, in girding it, the priest says: 'Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and extinguish within my loins the fires of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may dwell within me.'
The maniple, the emblem of patient labour in good works; and hence the priest says, while fitting it to his arm: 'Make me worthy, O Lord, to bear the maniple of patience and of sorrow, that I may receive the wages of my toil with rejoicing.'
The stole is a symbol of immortal life, prepared for God's faithful servants in heaven; and hence, while placing it on his shoulders, the priest says: 'Restore unto me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which I had lost through my first parents' transgression; and although I am not worthy to draw near Thy sacred mysteries, yet grant that I may partake of eternal blessedness.'
The vestment signifies the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, which is charity, wherein is fulfilled the whole law, the sum of all virtues; and in assuming it, the priest says: 'O my Lord, Thou who hast said, My yoke is sweet and My burden light, grant that I may so bear Thy yoke, that I may attain to Thy grace. Amen.'
The cope represents the impassibility of the body after its resurrection, and also the edification of good works. This vesture was originally a sacred garment or cloak, used as a defence from the weather during the performance of any sacred ministry outside the church.
The dalmatic, with which the deacon is vested on solemn feasts, and the tunic, used by the sub-deacon, have similar meanings, and typify the spiritual joy and freedom of heart with which we are to assist our neighbour, signified by the precious material and ample form of their vestments.
The different colours of the vestments indicate the different spirit and character of the various sacred functions and solemnities. White is the emblem of joy, and is used on all the joyful festivals. Red is the emblem of blood and of fire, and is used on the feasts of the Martyrs and at Pentecost. Green is the symbol of hope and peace, and is used on ferias or common days, and when there is no festival. Violet is the emblem of sorrow, used on days of penance and mourning. Black is the symbol of death, and is used for the service of the dead, in Masses of Requiem, and on Good-Friday.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.