Since I wrote an article last week on the chasuble, the outer garment worn by the priest at Mass, it seems appropriate to reflect on and explain the other garments worn by the priest at Mass. Chances are that you are unaware of the presence or at least the meaning of at least one of them.
But before we get into it, I just want to let you know that there will not be a Liturgy Corner article next Sunday. I will be away on my canonical retreat (canonical meaning that priests are mandated by Canon Law to make a retreat every year). So please pray for me as I will certainly be doing for you.
Now, let’s get down to business.
“Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.”
This garment became optional after Vatican II under the condition that the alb (explained later) covers the neck of the priest. The amice is a square cloth with strings or length of fabric on two adjacent corners. To don this garment, the priest raises it over his head, taps the top of his head with it and then lets it fall over the back of his neck and shoulders, tying strings around his chest so that the cloth crosses over the front of his neck and covers his black clerical clothing. As the priest does all this, he says the prayer above. This prayer reflects Ephesians 6:16-17, “ besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” One of the collective purposes of the vestments of the priest is to cover up his daily wear, since he acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) at Mass. And so, he “puts on Christ,” covering up the external reminders of his normal persona with symbols of Christ, praying with each garment for the Grace of God to help him perform his Liturgical task well.
“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 alb is a white garment or robe, often of linen, that flows from the shoulders to the ankles. As you can see from the prayer the priest prays as he dons it, this particular garment reflects the purification of Baptism. Hence, all Baptized persons can wear an alb (you may have noticed that our altar servers wear albs as well.) Part of the Baptismal rite is that the adult person or child is adorned with a white garment and the minister prays that they, “Bring it unstained to the everlasting Life of Heaven.” The white garment symbolizes that the person has become a new creation in Christ. The priest, in a particular way, emphasizes this reality in his role at Mass.
“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 abide in me.”
The cincture is a rope or length of cloth, like a thin sash, that is tied around the priest’s waste. This article is also often worn by other ministers at the liturgy, like the Deacon and the Server. It has its roots in Jewish tradition. A garment quite similar to it was a mandated piece of clothing for the priests in the Old Testament. There are other references to the cincture in Scripture, such as Revelation 1:13, “ and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man,[a] wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest.” A belt is also included in the symbolic “armor of God” that Paul lists in Ephesians 6. This particular article is strongly tied to the responsibility of moral integrity and the aid of God’s grace in living up to that responsibility.
“Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the actions of our first parents, and, unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy.”
The stole is a long, narrow piece of cloth, often ornamented at both ends, and has a cross sewn in the middle. The priest kisses this cross and then drapes the stole over his neck with the ends hanging in front. Sometimes, the priest crosses over the ends of the stole and secures them in place with the cincture.
Although not clearly indicated in the vesting prayer, the stole is the vestment that most singularly symbolizes the priestly office (Deacons also wear stoles but in a different manner, indicating their diaconal office.) Because of its priestly character, a priest wears a stole in all situations when he acts in a specifically priestly manner (during confession, during some blessings, when handling the Eucharist at Adoration, when Anointing the sick, etc.)
“O Lord, who has said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light,’ grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace.”
For more on the chasuble, go to the Liturgy Blog on our parish website where you can find the article I wrote for the bulletin last week (October 3, 2021).
Sometimes, the sacristan or the priest will lay out the garments on a table in such a way as to facilitate the ritual of vesting. Altogether, the donning of these vestments along with the recitation of the accompanying prayers form a beautiful, profound and solemn ritual that the priest undergoes in order to prepare himself mentally and spiritually for the great and holy task of offering the Sacrifice of the Mass.