A View from the Sacristy: Holy Things

March 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

20150308_092252The sacristy, as I think most know, is the place where the parish keeps the collection of sacred vessels, candles, vestments, and other objects and materials used during the celebration of the liturgy. It is also both a long-term and a short-term storage space, a dressing room, a staging area, a place to huddle, a props department, and all at the same time! There are many treasures in the sacristy. I wanted to tell you about some of my favorite lesser-known objects.

One of them, if you have been reading this blog, you have already learned about: our holy ash tubs. We have two, and they are used to burn the palm on Shrove Tuesday. They live under the bench by the window in the sacristy most of the time, and in the past they have a second life as ice buckets for parish events. Right now one still has the ashes from this year’s palm-burning. One could say they have been sanctified by their use and by the flames that scorched the sides as the palm  burned.

We have two holy pillows! One, the lent pillow, is used during Lent and Holy Week in place of our beautiful brass book stand. It is a pillow with two faces: one face is the color of unbleached linen to match our Lenten Array, and the other is a deep Passion Red. From Ash Wednesday until the Friday before Palm Sunday we have the Lenten Array side facing up and during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday until Good Friday, the Passion Red side is showing. This color change is also reflected in the vestments worn: the Lenten Array is put away for Holy Week and a set of Passion Red vestments are worn instead.

Our second holy pillow I like to call our Theotokos pillow. In the Greek church, the Virgin Mary is called the God-bearer and that word in Greek is Theotokos. This pillow is used once a year, on Christmas Eve, to carry the Christ Child in procession to the crèche which is set up by the baptismal font. The baby Jesus even has a safety belt so he can not fall off the Theotokos pillow!

Perhaps our most famous non-liturgical object is the so called  “Holy Tongs of Antioch.” The tongs are wooden and are used to help retrieve vestments from the very deep drawers where they are stored. We have maybe 60 drawers in the sacristy where vestments can be stored. It is wonderful to not have to hang our vestments, which adds years to the life of the vestments since the threads are not being stretched and put under pressure in storage. The drawers are deep and shallow, I would think maybe 5 inches high and 5 to 6 feet deep. Well, because the drawers are so deep, very few of use can reach all the way to the back of any of the drawers. We use the tongs to extend our reach to help retrieve any stoles (the narrow piece of cloth a priest wears around their neck as sign of their priesthood), pulpit falls (a piece of cloth which hangs from the front of the pulpit), veils (the cloth which covers the chalice), and burses (the square case used to hold linens) which get stuck in the back of the drawer. It was our current rector who christened the tongs the “Holy Tongs of Antioch” when they went missing one day. I was visiting the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park and saw this painting of St Francis holding something that looked amazingly like our Holy Tongs. I had no idea that tongs had such a sacred tradition. You can see this painting in the Treasury at the Cloisters.

JUST A REMINDER: We call this coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Lent, Refreshment Sunday, or Mothering Sunday, or Rose Sunday, and it’s the best time to enjoy a Sminel Cake.  There’s a fantastic story and a great recipe from one of our dear friends Elizabeth Kaeton here on her blog: http://telling-secrets.blogspot.com/2011/03/bolos-do-riso.html  Don’t forget to send pictures of your cake in to Nicole for the blog! and watch this space for more “backstage stories” from the sacristy!

– Sean Scheller

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