Liturgical Question Box

06-08-2017This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Will Schmid

Father Will answers some common questions about the Liturgy in the first of many articles in this new series.

What’s up with the funny looking hat you wear on special occasions?

It’s called a “biretta” and its origin dates back to the Middle Ages. It was originally used as an academic cap, but eventually made its way into liturgical use during the Renaissance. Since the 1960’s in the United Sates, it has fallen out of fashion and is rarely seen in Catholic liturgies in America. Yet, contrary to popular belief, its liturgical use was never abolished. 

It is a square-shaped hat with three “horns” or “peaks” with a ball of silk thread on top. One interpretation of the three “peaks” is that it symbolizes the Trinity. Thus, when the clergyman places it on his head, he is reminded to put on the mind of God so as to hear and understand the Scriptures through the wisdom of the Trinity.  

The color of the biretta signifies hierarchical rank. Black is the color for parish priests, with purple reserved for bishops, and scarlet for cardinals.

I like to wear the biretta on special occasions as another sign/symbol of our faith. I like to make usage of as many tangible elements as possible within the liturgy so that we are always reminded of the sacramental quality of the world around us - that God communicates Himself in and through the world and that the physical world has the capacity to be raised up to another level by the grace of Jesus Christ.   

After the congregation has received Holy Communion, I notice that you clean the vessels and that you say some silent prayers at the altar. What are you doing and what are you praying?

After everyone has received Holy Communion, the priest and deacon are required to “purify” the sacred vessels used during the Mass. The purpose of this liturgical action has to do with the dignity of the Real Presence of Jesus that still remains in each of these sacred vessels. The consecrated hosts not received during the Mass need to be reverently placed in the tabernacle and any remaining flakes or broken pieces of the Body of Christ, along with the remaining Precious Blood, need to be consumed. Water is poured in the vessels to ensure that any remaining Host particles or drops of Precious Blood are properly consumed.

The prayer of the deacon and priest while purifying the sacred vessels is beautiful: “What has passed our lips as food O Lord may we possess in purity of heart. What has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”

In addition, I like to pray a passage from St. Maria Faustina’s diary: “My Jesus, penetrate me through and through, that I might reflect you in my entire life. Divinize me Lord that my deeds might have supernatural value. Grant that I may have love, compassion, and mercy for every soul without exception.”

What’s the significance of the new bell that is rung when the priest receives from the chalice? 

As we all know, it is easy to get distracted during Mass. There is a lot going on in our lives and in the church that can draw our attention away from the particular moments of great importance. Bells are used during the Mass to help us refocus on these important moments.

The first bell is rung at the epiclesis - when the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine. The second bell is rung at the showing of the Body of Christ as we all kneel in adoration. The third bell is rung at the showing of the Blood of Christ as we continue to kneel in adoration. The fourth bell is rung as the priest receives from the chalice.

In the past, when Masses were celebrated ad orientem (toward the east)and when most lay members present at Mass did not receive Holy Communion, the bell was rung to let the priest know that there were people from the congregation who desired to receive Holy Communion. Now, since many people receive Holy Communion at Mass today and most Masses are celebrated versus populum (toward the people), the priest naturally knows that there will be people at Mass who desire to receive Holy Communion. On account of this, the use of the fourth bell disappeared. However, since we sometimes get distracted even during the consecration and struggle to spiritually prepare ourselves to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the use of the fourth bell today acts as a small reminder for those who have been distracted that they still have time to refocus on spiritually preparing themselves before coming to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Do you have a question about the Liturgy? Email them to and we will try to address them in a future article in this series.