In our Catholic tradition, following a period of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – where the Sacred Host is exposed on the altar – often, the priest or deacon will bless the people with the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance (a sacred vessel that means “show”). The deacon or the priest will place over his shoulders a unique, oblong vestment called the humeral veil … humeral is a derivative of the word ‘humerus’ – the Latin for shoulder bone or wing. The name then signifies the fact that the veil goes over the shoulders and looks rather like wings. When benediction is given – the blessing of the Host – he will put his hands into pockets built inside the veil, so as not to touch the monstrance. This indicates that the blessing is directly from Jesus and not the minister – hence veil, he covers or veils, his hands so that it is clear – this is the blessing of God, not the priest or deacon…
Now, I mention all this because of the story we hear in the gospel of the woman who was healed simply by touching the garment of Jesus. Lets understand something about the culture of the day… according to the Law of Moses, she was considered ritually impure and thus unclean – meaning anything she touched or sat on would also be rendered unclean … if she was married, sexual union was prohibited and she was not permitted to enter the Temple. Thus – she’s an outcast. This, therefore, isn’t just a physical miracle/healing it is a spiritual one as well. It shows that power flows out from Jesus even through His own garments. And He feels it – He feels the faith in her, He feels her suffering … and He cures – literally saves – her.
This is significant even in our own time … I mentioned the humeral veil … Not only used for benediction but also for Eucharistic processions. I have witnessed priests passing through large crowds and people reaching out for that veil … why? “If I but touch the tassel on his cloak, I will be healed.” It is the reach for Jesus’ garment. In one video called “God in the Streets” – produced by my friend Chuck… there are NO camera tricks… the priest is seen walking with Blessed Sacrament up the aisle of a church and people touching the humeral veil – each time some grabs the veil, light flashes from the monstrance! This is real! It is not a trick!
Notice how in the gospel St. Mark tells us that many people were pressing upon him – touching him, bumping into him … Nothing happens. Why – they don’t know who He is but she does. The difference is significant – how often do we “bump into Him” and nothing happens. How often do approach this sacred altar not realizing Who exactly is in our midst – in our hands?! Do we half-consciously toss Him about in our hands, pop Him into out mouths and proceed on our way?
In the old Latin Rite – now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass – the subdeacon, not an ordained man, would use the humeral veil to carry the sacred vessels – chalices, ciborium, etc – because His hands were not consecrated and thus was not permitted. Here we are today, permitted to receive Holy Communion in the hand, unveiled … making it all the more important to remember that the manner in which we receive Him matters and must be indicative of a lively faith, with reverence for our God … Are we just bumping into Him … or can He feel our faith, does sense our reverence and devotion?