Welcome to: Why are you dressed like that? Part 6 – What is that weird silk bracelet thingy on your wrist? This is a series of entries motivated by a young girl who visited us at St Francis Church and said to me: Why are you dressed like that?
First, I invite you to Part 1 where you will you can read my disclaimer as to the accuracy of any assigned values to vestments. If you do not want to go to that entry, the disclaimer is also copied at the end of this installment.
In Part 5, I discussed the Zucchetto and Biretta – two different types of hat your priest may be wearing when in vestments. In this installment, I will discuss the Maniple – a small wrap around the left wrist
I must say, the maniple is my absolute favorite item among all of the vestments. Sadly, it is largely unheard of these days and almost never worn even by those who know what it is. That is a true shame and I hope by the time you reach the end of this installment of Why are you dressed like that? you will agree.
First a quick description. The maniple can be best described as looking like a peculiarly short stole. Traditionally made of silk the maniple is worn on the left forearm of Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. In Vestments and Church Furniture Robert Lesage explains, “It is attached to the left fore-arm and is of no practical use.” In years gone by deacons would sometimes hold the paten (that little silver or gold plate upon which the bread which has been consecrated to be the Body of Jesus) with his maniple rather than touch it with their bare hands.
Now – Why do I think the Maniple is the greatest of the vestments? Because it is the lowliest. The maniple represents the towel Jesus used to dry the feet of the disciples. The washing of the disciples’ feet serves two purposes. The first is to demonstrate that Jesus came to serve – not to be served. Likewise, those called to minister in His name must be servants of His people. The second is that it is an object lesson in dealing with sin. Peter refused Jesus’ intent to wash his feet. Then Jesus told Peter that if his feet were not washed he would become disconnected from Jesus. In the back and forth between them Jesus explained to Peter that while his body was clean his feet were dirty. Illustrating the effect of sin and forgiveness – when a person is in Christ he is cleansed from sin. At the same time we walk through the world every day and kick up the dust and dirt of the world. That dust and dirt, those sins we enter into, must be cleaned away – freshly confessed and repented of in order to maintain our relationship with God.
Why wear the maniple? It is a mark of sorrow over sin and being the servant of Jesus who serves the people and helps restore damaged relationships with God. Every time a Deacon, a Priest, or a Bishop places the maniple on his left wrist he is reminded – I am a servant helping wash the feet of all those who, while walking through this world, have kicked up a bit of dust and dirt and need it removed – need it forgiven.
Pax et Bonum,
First a big disclaimer: You need to know up front that the majority (possibly all) vestments and other clerical wear got their start in something quite practical (such as keeping the priest warm in ancient churches without the benefit of modern HVAC systems). Once worn, however, various traditions of sacred symbolism have been assigned to the many different things worn. The next thing you need to know is that the various traditions of sacred symbolism are not all the same. You may find one person say a particular piece of vestiture means one thing when somebody else says it means another. It is not (necessarily) that one is wrong, and the other right (although possibly so) but that they are both “right” in that either explanation of sacred symbolism is a valid way of interpreting the item. In this series, over the next few days or weeks, you will learn the symbolism as I learned it. I encourage to read about vestments and their meanings and see what else other people have to say as well.