Sacred Vestments

When officiating in the name of God,
celebrants wear certain specific ornaments.

A parallel can be drawn between catholic liturgy and an opera. Such a comparison may be extended to the use of costumes, as celebrants are obliged to wear particular vestments when carrying out sacred rites.

The Book of Revelation often talks of the heavenly liturgy, with its instruments, songs, processions and assorted movements. Saint John saw: "a huge number ...standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted in a loud voice, 'Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelations 7:9-10)

The white robes of the chosen, a symbol of the purity they need in order to meet God is also reminiscent of the dress of the angels who announce the Resurrection of Christ to the holy women. Equally, the newly baptized receive a white robe, which is the sign of their inner rebirth. During the solemn communion, the communicants wear white albs, which is also the primary vestment of all ministers during liturgical rites, whatever their function; a variant of these robes are worn by those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Alb (from the Latin alba, "white"): the alb is a white robe with long sleeves which covers the entire body, and which is gathered at the waist by a cord. When the alb has neither a hood nor a collar, an amice is worn around the neck. The alb is the basic vestment of all those who take part in liturgical ceremonies: bishops, priests, deacons, acolytes (servers) and lectors. Some servers also wear white surplices over red or black soutanes.

Stole (from the Latin tola, "long robe," which became a liturgical vestment during the eighth century): worn above the alb, it is the minimum that ordained ministers can wear as vestments. It consists of a long strip of cloth made up of two equal bands. Bishops and priests wear it round the neck and the two bands hang down in front parallel to each other.

Deacons wear it across their chests, coming down from the left shoulder. A stitch or a small knot at the bottom joins the two parts together, so that the stole forms a diagonal all around the body, in front as well as behind, like a bandoleer.

Chasuble (from the Latin casula, "small house"): the chasuble is a capacious upper vestment, put over the head like a poncho. It completely envelops the wearer and protects him like a small house, or a tent. It is the vestment which the bishop or priest wears when celebrating the mass; in the chasuble they "put on" the presence of Christ to act in His place during the eucharistic sacrifice. The capaciousness of the early chasuble, has been reintroduced, but we can still find "violin-case" chasubles of the baroque period, so called because they are rectangular at the back, while at the front they are shaped like a violin case, allowing the priest free use of his arms. Chasubles are generally ornate, and are sometimes even richly embroidered.

Dalmatic (from Dalmatia, now Croatia): in solemn ceremonies the dalmatic is the vestment worn by deacons (that is to say "servants," symbols of Christ the Servant) over the alb and the stole. As far as Christians are concerned, "to serve is to reign." This capacious tunic which is split under the arms, ornate like the chasuble and with short sleeves, was originally part of the dress of Roman emperors and of certain Popes in the High Middle Ages.

Cape (from the Latin cappa, "hooded cloak"): a long ceremonial cloak covering the entire body, the cape consists of a semi-circular piece of cloth, with its two folds held together at the front by hooks and eyes. The cape is worn during solemn offices outside the mass. The celebrant wears it over his alb and stole, and it can also be worn by assistants and cantors.

Liturgical colors: liturgical vestments (and ornaments) are colored according to a set of rules. White signifies the time of Christmas and Easter, as well as festivals of saints who were not martyrs. Violet is worn during Advent and Lent, which are times of preparation or penance. Pink is for the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday of Lent. Red is for Good Friday, Pentecost and the festivals of martyrs. Green is for ordinary periods. In certain regions, gold is worn for solemn rites, blue for the Virgin Mary and black for the deceased.

These highly symbolic vestments are set aside for the celebrant and those who surround him, because they are representatives or servants of Christ. This should not create the impression that a celebration of the liturgy is a show put on in front of an audience of the faithful; there is only one congregation in which each person fulfills his role and participates in the celebration of the mystery of the Eucharist, in perfect harmony with and as complements to all the others. The faithful, too, can put on the clothes of Christ, as is witnessed by the white vestment which they receive during baptism and religious profession.

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