Monday, July 7, 2008
The Mass Explained, Part I: The Vestments
For some reason, which I don't know, I've decided to talk about all the symbolism behind the parts, ceremonies, and adornments of the mass. Not the Tridentine, but the reformed missal that most of us usually see. I don;t want the posts to be long, so I'll do it in several parts. Part I is before the mass.
We all know what the mass is. It's the sacrifice of Christ, the same as the cross, only presented to us in an unbloody manner. The mass is the same sacrifice as calvary, because the offerer is the same (Christ, the high priest of the New Covenant.) and that which is offered is the same. ( Jesus Christ, our lord.)
We know that when we receive communion, we receive the true and real body and blood of Christ. But what many of us were never taught is what everything else means. The incense, tha candles, the vestments, it's all wasted on us if we don't get the symbolism. Rather than remove such ceremonies, to be "relevant", it is best to explain them. We begin in the sacristy before mass.
The priest before mass, puts on his vestments, all of which have a meaning, of different virtues, and of the passion of Christ. Originally, all the priestly vestments were the same as the dress of early Christian laymen, only more elaborate, or more decorated. As time went on, these clothes began to be associated with the priesthood, and the Church retained them in her worship, in memory of her roots. They then became even more and more decorated, and made of materials more precious than before.
The Amice is a white linen cloth ,decorated with a small cross, worn over the shoulders and neck, and kept in place by tapes. Putting it on, the priest briefly passes it on the head, and ties it like a hood. Originally, it was in fact a hood, worn in cold drafty churches. Now, it keeps sweat off of the precious vestments, and hides the celebrant's street clothes. It represents the helmet of salvation, (Ephesians 16:17) and also the linen rag with which our lord was blindfolded . (Mark 14:65)
As he puts it, he prays:
"Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil."
Over the amice, the priest outs on the Alb. the alb is a white linen or cotton garment reaching to the feet, and was originally an undergarment. It symbolises the virtues of purity and innocence, (Rev 17:13-15) and also the garment with which Herod clothed Christ in mockery. ( Luke 23:11)
Putting it on, he may say:
"Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that, being made white in the Blood of the Lamb, I may come to eternal joy."
To keep the alb in place, the priest puts on the Cincture, sometimes called the girdle. It was originally a woolen cord used to keep the alb in place, and is symbolic of the virtue of chastity, and the cords with which Christ was bound. Putting it on, he may say:
"Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and extinguish in me all evil desires, that the virtue of chastity may abide in me."
Now optional, some priests wear a maniple. The maniple was originally a rag used to wipe sweat from the face .Now, it symbolises patience, labor, reward, and suffering. (Psalm 125:6)
As he puts it on, he may pray:
"Grant, O Lord, that I may so bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing."
The priest next puts on the stole. The stole is a narrow band of fabric, of the same material and design of the chasuble, and kept in place by the cincture. The stole was originally a kind of towel, that become a sign of authority . It is a sign of immortality, and of the authority that Christ invests his priests.
As he puts it on, he may pray:
"Restore unto me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which was lost through the guilt of our first parents: and, although I am unworthy to approach Your sacred Mysteries, nevertheless grant unto me eternal joy."
Lastly, he puts on the Chasuble. The chasuble was originally a woolen cloak, which covered the entire body. It may be decorated with various Christian motif. The chasuble is symbolic of the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29-30) and of the purple mantle with which Pontius Pilate's soldiers clothed Christ. ( John 19:1-3)
As the priest puts it on, he may say:
"O Lord, Who said: My yoke is easy and My burden light: grant that I may bear it well and follow after You with thanksgiving. Amen."
The vestments come in various colors, which you will see throughout the liturgical season:
Violet, preferably a somber, dark shade, is worn during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. Purple signifies great solemnity, with connotations of both penance and royal dignity. Decoration of the vestments for these penitential season is appropriately simple.
Rose colored vestments may be worn on the third Sundays of Advent and Lent, to suggest a pause or lift in the penitential focus of these seasons, appropriate because of the initial Latin words of the collects for these Sundays, which mention rejoicing.The rose should be a bright feminine pink, but a darker color.
White is a symbol of purity, light, rejoicing, and of the Resurrection, and is used on all special feasts of Our Lord, Christmas and Easter season, Corpus Christi, and at festive occasions such as weddings and baptisms.
Since Vatican II, white vestments may also usually used at funerals, suggestive of the Resurrection; however black vestments should still be used regularly . Interestingly, white signifies mourning in the religions of the Far East, but not in the West.
For Marian feasts and solemnities, some parishes have special white vestments ornamented with blue, symbolizing Mary's fidelity. Blue is not a liturgical color, however, and is not to be used as the main vestment color
Cloth-of-gold, often richly embroidered, may sometimes replace white, especially for very festive feasts, such as Christmas and Easter, or for weddings.
Red vestments are worn on the feasts of martyrs and on Pentecost, Passion Sunday, and feasts of the apostles. The color symbolizes martyr's blood -- also fire, for Pentecost. Usually red is used now on Good Friday, instead of the traditional black.
Green vestments are worn during Ordinary Time, (after Epiphany and after Pentecost.)which is the largest segment of the liturgical calendar including most of the summer. Green signifies new growth, the flourishing of the "vineyard".
Black, signifying absence of light and mourning, is properly used on All Souls Day, and funeral masses.
(Sources: Here, here, )