September 14-29, 2001
volume 12, no. 149

The Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar

Part Ten: The Vestments

    Prior to Vatican II, the priest used the amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole, and chasuble, in the celebration of Mass. After the conciliar forms this was reduced to merely the alb, stole and chasuble.

    When the priest appears before God at the altar, he is clad in suitable vestments. God Himself gave directions about the vestments of the priests in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:4). The chief vestments worn by Catholic priests have come down to us from the time of the Apostles.

    Symbolical significances have been attached to the different vestments. The prayers said by the priest as he puts on each piece of attire show the meaning attached to them by the Church.

    The amice is a piece of white linen cloth which covers the priest's shoulders. The vesting prayer is, "Place, O Lord, on my head the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil." When putting it on, the priest places it for a moment on his head, then lets it rest on his shoulders.

    The alb is a white linen tunic which envelops the priest's whole body. As he puts it on, the priest says, "Purify me, O Lord, from all stain and cleanse my heart, that washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal delights."

    The cincture or girdle is the cord which fastens the alb at the waist. The vesting prayer is, "Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may remain in me."

    The maniple is a short narrow strip of cloth which hangs from the left arm. The vesting prayer is, "Let me deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of tears and sorrow, so that one day I may come with joy into the reward of my labors."

    The stole is the long silk band that fits around the neck and is crossed on the breast of the priest. It is the symbol of authority in the Church, of all vestments most blessed. The vesting prayer is, "Restore to me, O Lord, the state of immortality which was lost to me by my first parents, and although unworthy to approach Thy sacred mysteries, grant me nevertheless eternal joy." As a sign of his full priestly powers the bishop does not cross the stole in front. The Pope alone has the right to wear it always.

    The chasuble is the uppermost vestment worn by the celebrant at Mass. It hangs from the shoulders, in front and behind, down almost to the knees. The vesting prayer at Mass is, "O Lord, Who hast said, 'My yoke is sweet and my burden light,' grant that I may carry it so as to obtain Thy grace." The chasuble, stole, maniple, and veil for the chalice are made as a set of vestments, of the same material, color, and design.

    All of these vestments represent the armor of God as Saint Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6: 11-18.

    Another 'fashion fatality' of Vatican II was the disappearance of the biretta, the three-ridged square cap worn by the priest when he enters the sanctuary. Outside of Mass, the priest use to wear the cassock or soutane, the cope, the surplice, and the humeral veil. The cassock or soutane is the principal vestment used by ecclesiastics. It is a robe reaching down to the feet, and buttoned in front. For priests it is black, for bishops violet, for cardinals red, and for the Pope white. In some Catholic countries ecclesiastics go everywhere in their cassocks, such as Rome. In the United States today, except for some orders and traditional priests, very few wear the cassock. Sadly more and more very few wear their Roman collar when out in public. This behavior indicates the attitude that clerics are ashamed of their calling, or being seen as a priest. No wonder there are so few vocations.

    The surplice is a short alb, used by the priest outside of Mass, when he preaches, joins a procession, etc. This, too, has been replaced by merely the stole in so many parishes. Even the altar servers who once wore the surplice over the red or black cassock have abandoned those in favor of the modern unisex alb, if indeed any garb at all is worn to distinguish the altar server from the rest of the congregation. Also in the past, when a priest died, he was buried dressed in his cassock and surplice, and with the purple stole, the badge of his priesthood. In complete purple vestments, he laid there in dignity.

    At High Mass, the deacon wears a special vestment called dalmatic, and the subdeacon a tunicle. This too is rarely found except in the most orthodox of parishes. It can readily be seen on Mother Angelica's EWTN Masses which are truly reverent.

    The cope is the long mantle used for Benediction, processions, and other occasions outside of Mass. The humeral veil is the long silk cloth used by the priest when carrying the Blessed Sacrament and giving Benediction. Consider the great care and reverence he took in handling the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance and using the humeral veil to wrap his hands so that they would not touch the monstrance when he lifted it to bless the faithful.

    Some of the vestments, such as the amice, alb, surplice, and benediction veil, are always white. The stole for hearing confessions is always purple. Catholics spend a great deal of care and money on sacred vessels, vestments, and furnishings for the altar, because it is only right to give what is most precious and beautiful for the service of God. Yet, modern rubrics and liturgical norms have greatly diminished this. Nothing is too good for the Lord of Heaven and earth. The beauty of God's house also impresses the beholder and helps devotion. Some worldly-minded people are prone to ask, "To what purpose is this waste?" when they see how much care and money Catholics spend on sacred vessels, vestments, and church ornaments. Let us remember that Judas asked that when Saint Mary Magdalene anointed Our Lord.

September 14-29, 2001
volume 12, no. 149
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