The maniple was originally a cloth used by Roman high society to dry moisture from the hands and face during oppressive summer heat and to wipe the mouth after eating. Servants used it to assure the cleanliness of vessels used at meals. It was carried in the hand or tied to the left arm when not needed. In time it became also a mark of social etiquette. The use of the maniple at meals offers some explanation as to why it is worn by the priest only when he is fulfilling some function directly connected with the Eucharistic meal. It is noteworthy that the celebrant is asked to leave off the maniple on Good Friday when the Communion rite is followed without the usual receiving and offering of gifts. However, monasteries have known the practice in centuries past of having all the monks wear it in choir on great feasts simply to look dressed up for the solemnity. No longer made from absorbent materials, the maniple was cut from richer fabric and had become a mere ornament having only ceremonial significance. In the passage of time, the meaning of the maniple has been lost. By a notice published in Notitiae 30 (1967), the use of the maniple at Mass was declared no longer necessary.
Bibliography: h. norris, Church Vestments (London 1948). e. a. roulin, Vestments and Vesture, tr. j. mccann (Westminster, MD 1950). j. braun, Die liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient (Freiburg, 1907). j. mayo, A History of Ecclesiastical Dress (London : B.T. Batsford, 1984) d. hines, Dressing for Worship: A Fresh Look at What Christians Wear in Church (Cambridge 1996). d. philippart, ed., Clothed in Glory: Vesting the Church (Chicago 1997).
Maniple is also used (from the mid 16th century) for a subdivision of a Roman legion, containing either 120 or 60 men.
Recorded from late Middle English, the term comes via Old French from Latin manipulus ‘handful, troop’, from manus ‘hand’.