Here’s another quiz for you: why does the priest (or deacon) use a big piece of cloth to carry the monstrance?
Therein lies the tale of the humeral veil.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and my blog (and my diaconate) were both new, I reflected on the experience of presiding at my first Benediction, and explained:
One of the more exotic and misunderstood vestments is the humeral veil, the swath of fabric with which the priest is holding the monstrance. Most lay people, and even most priests, believe the minister uses it because he is unworthy to touch the monstrance or get that close to the Blessed Sacrament. Considering that the priest or deacon places the host in the monstrance, and later reposes it in the tabernacle, that’s not quite accurate. And neither is the notion that it’s just an additional sign of reverence.
So why does he use it?
It is to separate himself from the act of blessing.
The priest or deacon blesses the faithful with the Blessed Sacrament — but by wrapping his hands in the humeral veil, he signifies his own removal from the action.
He doesn’t bless the people. Christ does.
And so, we pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you gave us the Eucharist as the memorial of your suffering and death.
May our worship of this sacrament of your body and blood
help us to experience the salvation you won for us
and the peace of the kingdom
where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
It’s worth noting that the veil is not just a strip of fabric; it actually has pockets, into which you insert your hands, to help you get a good grip on the monstrance, which is often quite heavy. Years ago, after one of my first Benedictions, a woman stopped by the sacristy to offer some constructive criticism. “You do it too fast,” she said. “Slow down.” I thanked her for the feedback and gestured to the empty monstrance. “Do me a favor,” I said. “Pick that up.” She did. “Oh dear,” she said. “I had no idea.”
“When Arnold Schwarzenegger does Benediction,” I said, “he can go as slow as he wants. But me? I need to hit the gym first.”
Liturgy: it’s not for wimps.