Why does the priest (or deacon) hold the monstrance with a big piece of cloth when he blesses us, but not the rest of the time?
Therein lies the tale of the humeral veil.
One of the more exotic and misunderstood vestments is the humeral veil, the swath of fabric with which the priest is holds the monstrance. Most lay people, and even many 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.
Read more in the “Why Do We Do That?” series from Deacon Mike Fritz.