The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. It is from the second episode of Season 2: The Canonization of Pope John XXII. A DVD of Season 2 will be available from EWTN in 2015.
The commentary provided here is a compilation of the conversation between Father Richard Kunst, the Papal Artifacts’ Curator, and his co-host, Father Ryan Moravitz.
(Both priests concurred that since their ordinations they have been privileged to say Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica many times.) It’s a great experience as a priest to go to Saint Peter’s and be able to do this. And this is a privilege open to any priest. You just go there in the morning and go to the sacristy, and they will bring you to any altar that is free.
One of the things you see often in St. Peter’s sacristy are chasubles that have the emblem of the current pope: his coat of arms, basically. And the item we have here is known as a “fiddle back” chasuble, an older style of chasuble that, though I’m not certain of, was very likely produced for Saint Peter’s Basilica, because all the designs on it focus on John XXIII and his coat arms.
Just as we see his cardinal coat of arms in the thank you card from his elevation to the cardinalate, now we see the papal coat of arms of John XXIII embedded in the chasuble.
This chasuble brings us right back to the great celebration of the Eucharist. We always come back to that with these items, and certainly the priests celebrating in Rome during his time as our Holy Father reminds me of how privileged I have been to have been able to do that. And so many priests prior to us have celebrated Mass in that Basilica. It’s just a great component of our spiritual wealth and the richness of our tradition and our unity in the Eucharist.
So you arrive in the early morning at the Basilica, and as a priest, you can say Mass at one of forty-four altars in the Basilica. You want to see Saint Peter’s when there aren’t hundreds of people there, and so you go in the early morning. That’s when no one is there except for priests saying Mass. It’s a very powerful and prayerful experience to go in the morning. As you walk through the Basilica you hear so many different languages, and you get an experience of the universal nature of the Church. You see people celebrating Mass everywhere, even at the tomb of St. John XXIII.
Maniples are part of the vestments worn by the priest for Mass.
The chasuble is the outermost vestment worn by the priest for Mass. A fiddleback is one style of chasuble.