During the past 40 years, the vestments associated with the celebration of the Mass in Latin have fallen out of use. Recently, the Vatican issued a universal indult for the Tridentine or Latin Mass, the announcement of which many people welcomed with gladness!
During the past 40 years, the patterns for the old, traditional Tridentine Mass vestments have been either lost altogether or become very difficult to find. The techniques too have become obscure because they were not handed down to the next generation. Added to these problems is the fact that the materials available to us have changed - sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Interfacings, for instance, have changed quite a lot and the Latin Mass vestments are often interfaced.
Over the past year, I have been blessed to have the opportunity to offer a bit of support to a group of women working to reclaim both the patterns and the techniques particular to these richly historic vestments. They came to me at first because I offer the great damasks and brocades that are the hallmark of this type of vestment. Later, I was able to put them in touch with one another so they could compare notes and share methods that had worked for them.
Nancy Marie Marquette is one of the women who came to me early in 2008 seeking fabrics and information as she undertook her first set of traditional vestments. These vestments were to be constructed at the request of her priest for private masses. I remember that she was very unsure whether she would be able to fulfill her priest's request! Here is a picture of that set of vestments:
Nicely done! The black fabric is Dupioni silk. The black and silver is the Fairford brocade.
In spite of her concern that she would never be able to produce a set suitable for use on Our Lord's altar, Nancy not only did a beautiful job, she enjoyed the entire construction process so much that she decided to offer her skills to others.
Nancy is in the process of drawing up patterns and writing instructions. I'm looking forward to offering them here, on this website. (12/15/08 I've just had an email from Nancy saying that her patterns are now ready! Please contact her for information at NMarquette@comcast.net )
Additionally, Nancy Marie is willing to do custom design and construction. Let me show you photographs of a red set she completed using the St. Margaret brocade overlaid on the St. Margaret damask (Please forgive the 'flashback' on the gold brocade and vesica. We're not professional photographers!):
Those great St. Margaret roses fall nicely with the shape of the vestments, don't they? Please notice how smooth her seams are and how straight the galloon has been placed. A lot of skill here!
I'll put up other pictures as they become available.
Altar Linens For The Latin Mass:
Years ago, while I served as our Diocesan Directress, I held a deanery presentation that involved a question and answer period. One of the parish Directresses asked about proper procedure in the event of a serious wine spill. A few weeks earlier, she had attended Mass and, during the Consecration, she had glanced up at the Altar and seen "the wine in the air". The entire chalice of consecrated wine had been spilled.
I asked her what she did? She went quietly and quickly to the sacristy and gathered up all the linens from the linen drawer. Her priest had seen her go to the sacristy. He simply stepped to the side of the altar and began explaining to the congregation what had happened. His Directress came out and began using the fresh linens to absorb the spilled wine, setting the linens neatly to one side as each became soaked. When the fair linen was as dry as it was possible to make it, she spread a fresh corporal and then took up the chalice, wiped it and set it in the center of the corporal. She then gathered up the used linens, took them quietly to the sacristy and returned to her pew. Her priest continued with the Mass.
We all know this can happen. We all know that enormous discretion is required in handling the Sacrament. I think she and her priest handled a sensitive situation very well!
One consideration I might add would be the use of three linen cloths on the Altar. The tradition of three layers of linen seems to have been particularly attached to the Tridentine Mass (although I encounter it in Episcopal parishes from time to time). While the origination of this tradition is varied, there came a time when the intent was clearly to provide an absorptive surface in case of a wine spill. It appears that this tradition dwindled during the years when many parishes changed over from linen to cotton/polyester altar linens.
As the Latin Mass vestments are more frequently used, the tradition of three linen cloths is seeing a revival too. I think this is sensible and a very good idea - simply because wine spills do happen and ensuring an absorptive layer of linen makes the very best sense. Once the spilled wine is contained within linen, we can rinse the linen in water and cast the water on the ground - or pour it down the piscena.
The three linen layers consist of two 'undercloths', both of which cover only the altar top - the mensa. The upper linen is the usual 'fair linen' that covers the mensa from front to back and hangs down on each end.
In speaking to people - both lay and clergy, I am hearing that the undercloths were of a heavier weight linen than the fair linen - although the quality was just as fine. Often the undercloths were of damask.
For all the progress we've made in the last half-century, there is much that we have lost. Linen was a staple fabric and now is nearly extinct. It seems that there used to be liturgical damasks. While I've never seen one of these damasks in person, years ago, I was shown photographs of several patterns from the archives of Ulster Linen at their offices in New York City. These liturgical damasks were intricate depictions of Biblical scenes and very lovely. Of course, they're gone now. I believe these damasks were used particularly for undercloths. But, I'm not sure. I've been asking around to see if they might be woven again. Wouldn't that be wonderful!
In any event, if the interest is great enough, I will begin stocking a fine linen in a heavier weight for use as undercloths. Whether your parish celebrates the Latin Mass or not, an absorptive layer of linen is a good idea.