Unless you attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form, you have probably never seen a maniple on a priest's arm, as it fell largely into disuse after the Second Vatican Council. Like the mappula, or handkerchief, that the Romans wore knotted around their left arm to wipe away tears or sweat, the priest wears this over his left arm during Mass. In a solemn High Mass, the deacon and subdeacon also wear maniples. The maniple has never been abrogated, and there is therefore no reason why it cannot be worn even in the Mass of Paul VI. In fact, in these times, it would be especially appropriate. The maniple is a symbol of the toils and suffering of the priesthood.
Many of the vestments worn by priests -- vestments whose use has lapsed, or whose meaning has been forgotten -- are in fact reminders of suffering. The amice that covers the priest's neck and shoulders symbolizes not only trust in God, but the blindfold the soldiers placed on Jesus while they slapped His face. The alb symbolizes not only purity of heart, but also the garb that Herod put on Jesus to ridicule Him. The chasuble represents not only divine love, but also the purple robe the soldiers threw over Jesus when they crowned Him with thorns. The girdle, stole and maniple together represent the cords that bound Jesus, and the rod used to beat Him.
The priest is in fact alter Christus -- another Christ -- and in nothing does he resemble Christ more than in his suffering. The heart of the priesthood is self-sacrifice. As alter Christus, the priest is truly priest and victim at Mass, just as Christ was Priest and Victim on Calvary, of which the Mass is an unbloody re-presentation. The priest really immolates himself every day at the altar. That is why -- at least in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass -- the chalice is vested in a veil that matches the priest's vestments: to underscore the unity between the priest and the gifts on the altar. And in receiving Holy Orders, the priest has knowingly and willingly sacrificed himself to the service of God. This is why (apart from the fact that the Church cannot ordain women) feminists who want to be "priests" do not have an authentic calling: they are in it for prestige to which they feel entitled, not sacrifice. Recognition of the self-sacrifice of priests is also one of the reasons why they used to be given precedence and enjoy a certain amount of deference. Today, in an age when all the symbolism of the liturgy and vestments, the Catholic sense of the supernatural, and even the legitimate distinctions between clergy and laity have been swept away, much of this has been forgotten, even by many priests themselves.
It is this time, when we are thus weakened, that the Enemy has chosen to launch one of his fiercest attacks on priests. Priests today are suffering intensely, and all the more so because it is frequently at the hands of those who should be loving and supporting them, including their own. It is just as Our Lady of Akita predicted on October 13, 1973:
The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, and bishops against other bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their Confreres. The Church and altars will be vandalized. The Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.
She also provided the solution: "With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and the priests." Now seems like a good time to begin a 54-day novena of Rosaries for the Pope, the bishops and the priests -- and especially those whose spiritual peril is greater than ordinary. This prayer, attributed to St. Therese of Lisieux, might be a good way to close each Rosary:
O Jesus, eternal Priest, keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart, where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Your Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with your Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unearthly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let Your holy love surround them and shield them from the world's contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here and in heaven their beautiful and everlasting crown. Amen.