Cloth used in ordination is traditionally presented to the newly-ordained’s mother
Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - When five men are ordained priests for the Diocese of Lincoln May 27, each will have his hands anointed with chrism oil by Bishop James Conley.
Each will then have his hands bound in a linen maniturgium made especially for him by Lincoln’s School Sisters of Christ the King.
Traditionally, a maniturgium (also spelled “manutergium”) is a white cloth made of linen or another absorbent material, which is used to soak up the remaining chrism oil after a new priest’s hands have been anointed by the bishop.
The name comes from the Latin manu – “hand” – and tergeo– “to wipe.” While the maniturgium is not officially cited in the current Rite of Ordination, there is a reference to a white linen cloth being tied around the hands of the ordinand in the Extraordinary Form.
There are different theories about what the maniturgium represents. Father Louie R. Coronel, O.P., parish priest of Santísimo Rosario Parish in the Philippines, opined in an online post that the maniturgium is “an external manifestation that priests are bound to Christ, the eternal High Priest.”
He wrote, “The anointed hands of the ordinandus are closely joined and tied together with a linen cloth, so as to allow the oil to penetrate into his hands. He, then, becomes ‘a prisoner of Christ’ (Eph. 3:1).”
Some say the maniturgium is simply a practical aspect of the ordination rite. Indeed, it does prevent the chrism oil used to anoint the new priest’s hands from dripping onto vestments or onto the floor.
Still others suggest that this white cloth represents the burial shroud of Christ, which protected His sacred Body in the tomb.
This theory lends itself to a tradition found in some cultures: the newly ordained priest saves his maniturgium to present to his mother, because she was the first protector of his body through pregnancy and infancy. When the priest’s mother dies, the maniturgium is placed in or around her hands for burial.
When one considers the importance of a priest’s hands being consecrated for the Lord, as an administrator of the sacraments, it is no wonder that the mothers of priests treasure their sons’ maniturgia.
For some years, the School Sisters of Christ the King of the Diocese of Lincoln have been making a custom maniturgium for each priest ordained for the diocese.
“I asked to do Father [Scott] Courtney’s in 2000 since we grew up together,” explained Sister Mary Helen, C.K., when asked how the Schools Sisters adopted this project.
She used some material from Bishop Glennon Flavin’s items and made not just the maniturgium but many items for Mass, as a gift to Father Courtney. Some years later, she made another maniturgium for a friend who was being ordained as a Franciscan priest.
“His mom was converted because of it,” Sister Mary Helen rejoiced.
With the number of priestly vocations blessing the diocese, making maniturgia has become a group project for the sisters. The work is done during Lent and the Holy Triduum.
In Lent, Sister Mary Maximillian, C.K., sews each cloth, adding a decorative border. On Good Friday, Sister Mary Helen puts her calligraphy skills to work, expertly printing each man’s name and the date of ordination on the cloth.
Then, various sisters volunteer to embroider her calligraphy in gold and black thread. There is almost always a connection between the new priest and the sister who embroiders his maniturgium.
“They are from our same parish, or we’ve worked with them in various ways,” said Sister Mary Maximilian. “Sometimes they are former students, or classmates.”
The sisters look at these relationships as part of their charism of spiritual motherhood.
“We’re not their physical mothers, but we have ‘mothered’ them in other ways through prayer and teaching,” Sister Maximilian explained.
She continued, “(among the) School Sisters of Christ the King, we have a great love for the priesthood, praying for them and try to instill that love in our students.”
Sister Mary Maximilian estimates it takes one to three hours to complete each maniturgium, depending on the length of the deacon’s name and the speed of the embroidering sister.
“We pray for the priest as we make them,” she said.
Sister Mary Maximillian encouraged others to pray for and love our priests as well.
“The priesthood is a tremendous gift,” she emphasized. “Without them, we wouldn’t have Jesus in the Eucharist.”
The ordination Mass will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 27, at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln.