Keen-eyed Mass-goers will have noticed that we have started using a chalice veil and burse at Masses at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish. A chalice veil is a white or colored cloth that is draped over the chalice at the beginning of Mass and removed at the altar at the time of the presentation of the gifts (the offertory). A burse is a white or colored case for the corporal cloth that the chalice and paten rest on upon the altar. The instructions for the celebration of Mass note that “it is a praiseworthy practice for the chalice to be covered with a veil, which may be either of the color of the day or white.”
So why do we use a chalice veil at Mass? There are numerous reasons, the first being practical: to keep dust and flying insects away from the bread and wine. The more important reasons are symbolic. The changing color alerts the congregation to the change in feast or celebration of a saint (our altar cloth does this too). In the Old Testament, a veil or curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple: the chalice veil reminds us of the curtain setting apart the Holy of Holies, and prompts us to approach the altar aware of our unworthiness to enter into union with God. The removal of the chalice veil is one of the first liturgical actions at the offertory. This action is an echo from scripture as well: the torn curtain at the death of Jesus, which signifies the transition from the Old Covenant to the consummation of the New Covenant promised by Jesus at the Last Supper.
The burse is a case for the corporal, the sacred linen upon which rests the chalice and paten (the plate on which the host rests). It is used for reasons of convenience and reverence. Convenience so that the corporal has a place to go and doesn’t fall off the chalice and reverence in case any particles of the eucharist remain in the corporal. While the corporal is always white, the burse usually matches the color of the chalice veil and the priest’s vestments.
The burse is placed on top of the veil which covers the chalice. When the chalice and paten are completely prepared for the liturgy with chalice veil and burse, they may be referred to collectively as a “vested chalice.” While these lesser known and seen “vestments” might seem inconsequential or unimportant, we should always show the utmost reverence for the eucharist and the sacred vessels and linens used around the eucharist. Such items have both practical and sacred or symbolic purposes. It’s always a good idea to learn more about them.