Liturgical Symbolism

I listened to a sermon online today. It was fantastic. Here a some main parts.

The Subdeacon represents the Jewish Nation.
The Deacon represents the Gentiles (Church)
The Priest represents Christ.

The Liturgical South is the Jewish side. So that is why the Subdeacon chants the epistle from the Liturgical South. The the other Sacred Ministers cover their heads with a biretta during the Epistle because they represent the Jew’s response: unmoved by the saving message and the mysteries of redemption.

The Liturgical North is the side of the Gentiles (Church). By the Sacred Ministers standing and taking off their birettas it should the eagerness of the gentiles to accept the message of the Gospel and the heads are uncovered to show the mysteries of redemption have been revealed.

The order of the sacred ministers: Priest, Deacon, then Subdeacon. This symbolizes the Church (deacon) to the place of the Jews (Subdeacon)

The Subdeacon holds the humeral veil infront of his eyes along with the paten during the canon because the Jews didn’t join the Catholic Church and the mysteries of redemption are veiled from them. (I’m guessing that the paten is covered because it symbolizes the mystery of redemption not being believed by the jews). His eyes are veiled because the Jews understanding and believe was veiled and the Subdeacon represents the Jews.

After the Canon, the subdeacon removes the humeral veil and the paten is uncovered because the mysteries of redemption will be revealed to the jews at the end of the world. Therefore, the subdeacon helps the priest and deacon with holy communion, the deacon and subdeacon receive the blessing at the same level on the steps and the subdeacon holds up the last gospel.

I thought this was amazing symbolism that should have never been taken out of the Mass. Please comment.

You said you heard this in a sermon. Could you ask the priest who preached for sources for these interpretations and then post them?

I think it very likely that this is a “chicken or the egg” situation. My view would be that the symbolism was seen after the liturgy had taken form, not that the liturgy was formed in light of the symbolism.
But, I would be interested to read more on this.

Yours in Christ,

This is along the lines I’m thinking, except I think it’s a bit of a reach. I’m betting the Church, when confronted with these explanations, would go,“Huh?” It’s rather like the view that Latin is sacred because it was one of the languages on the signboard of our Lord’s Cross.

But I’ve lost bets before.

Thank you so much for posting that. There is so much to learn with this mass. Everytime I think I have understood all the parts of the TLM something else is discovered that I didn’t know.

Thank you again.

Allegorical explanations of the Mass are many. There is one that does the entire Vita Christi, another that does it solely in the context of the Passion. They are really interesting and they do help one to meditate on the Mass in a larger context…

Amalarius of Metz was one of the first people who came up with such allegory. Allegory as such, was not new to the Church but his allegory was. His view was an event recalling different events of Christ’s life but without relation. He was very strongly opposed in this by severela people- one person was Florus of Lyons. Florus of Lyons held to the Patristic view that the sign should not only subjectively recall the salvation reality but actually communicate it. In a tract he wrote against the “novel inventions” of Alamarius where he did not have very nice things to say ! :smiley: Both methods however continued- Florus’ gradually became less common.But there still was what one might term “logical interpretation” as seen in St. Thomas Aquinas where rather than interpret the washing of the hands as Pilate washing his hands, or Jesus washing the feet of the disciples or something like that, he remarks that we wash the hands because we handle holy things.

I think the covering of the head with the biretta during the Epistle is fairly recent dating to this century. Before the 1960 rubrics, the celebrant would have been standing at the left side of the altar, alobng with the deacon, (altar cross view) reading the Epistle from the missal silently while the subdeacon read it aloud. Like below
(Bigger picture here)
Consequently there would have been no covered heads. The covering of heads originated with the stopping of this silent reading- the sacred ministers were given permission to sit at the sedalia and so they cover their heads.

Why the subdeacon holds the paten is because originally at the Papal Mass, the ceremony was such that another paten was brought and held by an acolyte wearing a linen veil who handed it to a subdeacon who handed it to the archdeacon who handed it to another deacon and after the Fraction, the Pope’s Bread was placed on the paten and after another lot of handing back and forth and further fractioning by the archdeacon taken to his throne for the Commixtion and the Communion. The same ceremony was observed (with some modifications) by a bishop and it is from there, with a little decorus pruning, that this ceremony of the High Mass came about.

As to why he is on the same step as the deacon for the last blessing, it is because is “on his way” to assist the priest in the reading of the Last Gospel. Why the subdeacon assists is because of the reaction of the low Mass on the High Mass. The subdeacon, for the (first) Gospel would be assisting the priest in reading it sotto voce because the deacon is getting ready to proclaim it. So he does the same at the end- which also explains why he gets (got in the case of the 1962 Missal) an individual blessing immediately before that - it is the parallel of the ceremony for the reading of the Gospel.

Besides the New Mass doesn’t really do away with any of the allegory. They liked the idea of the Offertory representing the Last Supper so much, they put in an adapted Jewish blessing prayer.

Q. 954. What meaneth the priest’s coming back three steps from the Altar, and
humbling himself before he begins?
A. It signifies the prostrating of Christ in the garden, when he began his passion.
Q. 955. Why doth the priest bow himself again at the Confiteor?
A. To move the people to humiliation; and to signify that by the merits and passion of
Christ, (which they are there to commemorate) salvation may be had, if it be sought with
a contrite and humble heart.

[Edited by Moderator]

complete list

These are all pious and noble interpretations, I still can’t see them being the reason for the liturgy.
I don’t think the apostles were all sitting around a table drinking vino and discussing:
“okay, item number 362 ( or CCCLXII), ‘How do we represent the Jews not hearing the message of salvation in the Liturgy?’”
“We could have the other ministers where funny anachronistic hats with little poof-balls on them. . .”
“I like the way you think, !”

Okay, I’ve had my fun, let’s get back on subject.

Yours in Christ,


I can’t explain my thoughts about it (in a good way).

I just want to say it is WONDERFUL!

I wish they never changed it in the first place.

Laudater Jesus Christo
Instaurare omnia in Christo

There is plenty of symbolism in the Liturgy, however most of it is symbology applied to pre-existing practice, not practice put in place for symbolic purpose. Nonetheless, the countless levels on which symbolism can be found in and applied to the traditional Liturgy is amazing.

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