AST WEEK, I introduced the series I will be presenting over the course of two months, reflecting on the vesting prayers. Today I begin with the very first prayer a priest says when vesting for Mass, although it is not actually connected with a particular vestment. This is the prayer he says while performing the ritual hand washing.
Here is the original Latin version of the prayer, followed by an English translation:
Da, Domine, virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendam omnem maculam ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire.
Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that, being cleansed from all stain, I might serve You with purity of mind and body.
This hand washing is not meant to be simply procedural or practical, although having clean hands is a laudable practice for any priest celebrant. The heart of this hand washing, rather, is the underlying spiritual transition the priest must make from the world of sin to the sanctuary of God. The hand washing that takes place within Mass is quite similar, seeking purity from sin and freedom to offer an unencumbered sacrifice.
The lay faithful are invited to a similar practice. When entering the church, it is a pious practice to bless oneself with holy water from the font. This serves not only as a reminder of one’s Baptism, but also as sort of ritual purification, putting aside the distractions of this world in order to attend to heavenly things.
In many sacristies, the Da, Domine prayer is still displayed on the wall above the sink, often with a towel rack labeled Ante Missam and Post Missam. I suspect that many priests in our time have fallen out of the practice of performing this introductory ritual. It is a custom well worth recovering where it has faded.
Next week, we will consider the vesting prayer associated with the amice.
Part 1 • Introduction
Part 2 • The Hand Washing
Part 3 • The Amice
Part 4 • The Alb
Part 5 • The Cincture
Part 6 • The Maniple
Part 7 • The Stole
Part 8 • The Chasuble