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 Vestments, Symbols of Service

Why Vestments at Mass

Holy Mother Church speaks with Her Vestments both to priests and people. They are Her “sign language,” more powerful than mere words.

These Mass vestments have a history. In the first centuries of Christianity these garments, now worn by the priest, were much the same as those worn by laymen in their homes and on the street. Since that time, as we all know, fashions have changed century by century. Yet the Church still uses Her first Vestments as precious heirlooms; carrying us through the ages, back to Christ at the Last Supper; providing a vivid historical witness to the antiquity of the Mass, ever old, yet ever new; not behind the times, but for all times; a strong historical testimony to the unchanging character of the sameness of Calvary with the Mass in your own parish Church.

These Vestments are the “garments of Sacrifice.” The priest is reminded that each Vestment has a relation to Christ, awaiting His sacrifice of the Cross. ” The priest is reminded that each Vestment has a relation to Christ, awaiting His sacrifice of the Cross. You see the priest clothed from head to foot with garments symbolical of Christ’s sacred Passion. Bearing a message for you, too, how you must vest your spiritual self, by “putting on Christ”; divest your entire self of anti-Christ! Life has many departments, physical, martial, spiritual, mental, social, and commercial. But only one principal, that you must be clothed with Christ. Sacrifice everything for that!

Symbols of Service

These Mass Vestments are symbols of Christian service; symbols of virtues and duties. They symbolize “how to prepare for Mass”; “how to live after Mass.” These vestments of priests are not mere pretty things. They stand for tremendous reality, for vital truth. Each vestment contains a lesson and provides a motive. The priest is required to put on each one with a prayer and to wear it with a thought of what it stands for. Even as ordinary clothes, worn in the home or at a business, at funerals or weddings, indicate minds and moods; even as soldier and police uniforms stand for service, so much more is this true of Mass Vestments. They stand for service of God and neighbor!

Mass Vestments, a Symbol Of What You Wear to Mass

The Amice

Make-up and Present Use

A piece of linen about the size of a small shawl, Priest touches it to his head, drops it over his shoulders, tucks it around his neck, ties it around his waist.

History of Former Use

A covering or hood for head “out of doors”. Indoors it was lowered over shoulders.

Relation to Christ

Recalls cloth when Christ was blindfolded, mocked and asked who struck Him.

Meaning for Us

A symbol of our ‘Helmet of Salvation” (Eph. 6-17); touched to the head to protect us against idle or evil thoughts at Mass; tucked around neck to restrain use of tongue before and after mass.

Prayer While Vesting

“Place, O Lord, the Helmet of Salvation on my head to resist attacks of the devil.”

The Alb

Make-up and Present Use

A full flowing robe of white linen reaching to the feet, covering the entire body and worn over the Amice.

History of Former Use

Alb is the Latin word for “white”. An ordinary outer garment worn in warm climate, even today in the Near East. A full sleeved white tunic worn by those having any dignity or authority in Ancient Rome.

Relation to Christ

Herod placed the garment of a fool around Jesus, making Him the sport of his indecent court.

Meaning for Us

Purity of God’s priest and of those worthy assisting at Mass. Symbolizes our darkness changed into the Light of Jesus.

Prayer While Vesting

‘Make me pure, O Lord, and cleanse my heart so that being made pure in the Blood of the Lamb, I may deserve an eternal reward.”

The Cincture or Cord

Make-up and Present Use

A thick cord of silk, linen or cotton with tassel ends. Secures Alb around waist.

History of Former Use

Used to gird up the long, lose flowing Alb, so as not to interfere with walking or working.

Relation to Christ

At the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of the disciples then dried them using the towel girded around His waist. Also symbolizes cord that bound Jesus to the pillar when being scourged.

Meaning for Us

A symbol of girding ourselves for hard service, keeping the passions in check; to be pure and strong spiritually so as to fight evil and do good.

Prayer While Vesting

“Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity and extinguish in my heart the fire of concupiscence so that the virtue of continence and chastity always abiding in my heart, I may better serve Thee.”

The Maniple

Make-up and Present Use

A band of cloth of the same material and color as Stole and Chasuble worn on the left arm, about 4” wide by 30” long.

History of Former Use

Customary in hot climates to wear such a cloth on the arm to wipe away dust and perspiration, also it’s folds were used as a purse.

Relation to Christ

Recalls the manacles with which the hands of Jesus were bound; also the rope by which He was led to death.

Meaning for Us

Maniple comes from two Latin words, “manus plena,” meaning “the hand is full.’ Hence symbolizes handful of patient work and service, which are precious things to earn the reward of salvation. Suggests wiping off the mind and heart of all sloth or fear of labor.

Prayer while Vesting

“May I deserve, O Lord, to carry this maniple of sorrow and penance so that I may one day enjoy the reward of all my labors.

The Stole

Make-up and Present Use

A long strip of cloth about 3 to 4” wide and from 7 to 8’ long; of same material and color as Chasuble; worn around the neck, across the shoulders, crossed over the breast and fastened in place with the ends of the cincture.

History of Former Use

A scarf or neck piece; later a badge of honor for those enjoying any dignity; or a distinctive mark of duty for those exercising authority.

Relation to Christ

Recalls the seamless garment of Christ, traditionally believed to have been worn by Mary. On Calvary, the soldiers not wishing to divide it into parts, cast dice for it.

Meaning For Us

Symbolizes the all-enveloping yoke of Christ’s service made sweet by His all-embracing love; of His Commandments made possible by the same ever-present love.

Prayer While Vesting

O Lord, Who hast said, “My yoke is sweet and My burden is light,” grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace.

Colors of Vestments

The Amice, Alb and Cincture are usually made of white linen. The Maniple, stole and Chasuble are of different and more precious material. They vary in six liturgical colors according to the feast or church season. Gold may be used in place of white, red or green. White is the symbol of light, joy and purity and used on all Feasts of Jesus, except those of His sufferings; on all Feasts of Our Lady and on Feasts of the saints not martyred. Red is the symbol of blood and of fire; worn in the Masses of the Holy Ghost and on Feasts of Martyrs. Green is the symbol of hope used on Sundays after Epiphany to Septuagesima Sunday and on Sundays after Pentecost and advent. Violet sometimes called purple is the symbol of penance and worn during Advent and Lent. Rose is substantiated as a symbol of joy (during penitential seasons) is worn on the Third Sunday of Advent and Forth Sunday of Lent. Black is the symbol of mourning and worn only on Good Friday


From: used with permission.




Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved