CORPORAL. 1. (From Lat. corporalis, belonging to the corpus or body), an adjective appearing in several expressions, such as "corporal punishment" (see below), or in "corporal works of mercy," for those acts confined to the succouring of the bodily needs, such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, rescuing captives. A "corporal oath" was sworn with the body in contact with a sacred object (see Oath).
2. (From Lat. corporalis, sc. palla, or corporale, sc. pallium), in the Roman Catholic Church, a small square linen cloth, which at the service of the Mass is placed on the altar under the chalice and paten. It was originally large enough to cover the whole surface of the altar, and was folded over so as to cover the chalice - a custom still observed by the Carthusians. The chalice is now, however, covered by another small square of linen, stiffened with cardboard, etc., known as the pall (palla). When not in use both corporal and pall are carried in a square silken pocket called the burse. The corporal must be blessed by the bishop, or by a priest with special faculties, the ritual prayers invoking the divine blessing that the linen may be worthy to cover and enwrap the body and blood of the Lord. It represents the winding-sheet in which Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of the dead Christ.
3. (Of uncertain derivation; the French form caporal, and Ital. caporale, point to an origin from capo, Italian for head; the New English Dictionary, however, favours the derivation from Lat. corpus, Ital. corpo, body), a non-commissioned officer of infantry, cavalry and artillery, ranking below a sergeant. This rank is almost universal in armies. In the 16th and 17th centuries there were corporals but no sergeants in the cavalry, and this custom is preserved in the three regiments of British household cavalry, the rank of sergeant being replaced by that of "corporal of horse," and that of sergeant-major by "corporal-major." In the 16th and early 17th centuries the title "corporal of the field" was often given to a superior officer who acted as a staff-officer to the sergeant-major-general. In the navy the "ship's corporal," formerly a semi-military instructor to the crew, is now a petty officer charged with assisting the master-at-arms in police duties on board ship.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)