Vestments Used By The Priest At Mass
BEFORE entering upon an explanation of the ceremonies of the Mass, which
is our principal act of public worship, let us examine the meaning of
the vestments worn by the priest during the celebration of that august
sacrifice. First, it is well to remember that these vestments come down
to us from the time of the apostles, and have the weight of antiquity
hanging upon them. Hence, if they did not demand our respect as
orials of Christ, they are at least deserving of attention on account
of their antiquity.
The 28th chapter of Exodus tells us the sacred vestments God wished the
priests of the Old Law to wear during the public worship. "And these
shall be the vestments which they shall make: a rational and an ephod, a
tunic and a straight linen garment, a mitre and a girdle. They shall
make the holy vestments for thy brother Aaron and his sons, that they
may do the office of priesthood unto Me." As God in the Old Law
prescribed vestments for the priests, so the Church, guided by God,
prescribes sacred vestments to be worn by the priest of the New Law
while engaged in the sacred mysteries.
The long black garment which the priest wears around the church in all
the sacred functions is called a cassock. Kings and officers of the
army wear a special uniform when performing their public duties; priests
wear cassocks and other special garments when performing their public
duties. These vestments are used to excite the minds of the faithful to
the contemplation of heavenly things.
Who, for example, can behold the cross on the chasuble the priest wears
without thinking of all Christ suffered for us on the cross? As the
priest in celebrating Mass represents the person of Christ, and the Mass
represents His passion, the vestments he wears represent those with
which Christ was clothed at the time of the passion.
The first vestment the priest puts on over the cassock is called an
amice. It is made of linen, and reminds us of the veil that covered
the face of Jesus when His persecutors struck Him. (Luke xxii. 64.)
When the priest puts on the amice he first places it on his head, thus
recalling to mind the crown of thorns that pierced the head of Jesus.
The alb (from albus, white) represents the white garment with which
Christ was vested by Herod when sent back to Pilate dressed as a fool.
(Luke xxii. 11.)
White is emblematic of purity. Hence the wearer is reminded of that
purity of mind and body which he should have who serves the altar of the
The cincture, or girdle, as well as the maniple and stole,
represent the cords and bands with which Christ was bound in the
different stages of His passion. St. Matthew says in the 22d verse of
the 27th chapter, "They brought Him bound and delivered Him to Pontius
Pilate, the governor."
The chasuble, or outer vestment the priest wears, represents the
purple garment with which Christ was clothed as a mock king. "And they
clothed Him with purple" (Mark xv. 17). Upon the back of the
chasuble you see a cross. This represents the cross Christ bore on His
sacred shoulders to Calvary, and upon which He was crucified.
In these vestments, that is, in the chasuble, stole, and maniple,
the Church uses five colors--white, red, purple, green, and black.
White, which is symbolic of purity and innocence, is used on the feasts
of Our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, of the angels, and of the saints
that were not martyrs.
Red, the symbol of fortitude, is used on the feast of Pentecost, of the
Exaltation of the Cross, of the apostles and martyrs.
Purple, or violet (the color of penance), is used in Advent and Lent.
Green (the color of hope) is used on all Sundays when no special feast
is celebrated, except the Sundays of Lent and Advent.
Black (the color of mourning) is used on Good Friday and during the
celebration of Mass for the dead.
Thus we see that each vestment and color used has a special
All are calculated to attract our attention, elevate our minds to God,
and fill us with a desire to do something for Him Who has done so much
for us--to at least keep His commandments.
One word about the use of Latin in the celebration of Mass will perhaps
be appropriate here. History tells us that when Christianity was
established the Roman Empire had control of nearly all of Europe, Asia,
and Africa. Wherever the Roman flag floated to the breeze the Latin
language was spoken, just as English is spoken where the sovereign of
Great Britain or the President of the United States holds sway. The
Church naturally adopted in her liturgy the language spoken by the
In the beginning of the fifth century vast hordes of barbarians began to
come from the north of Europe and spread desolation over the fairest
portions of the Roman Empire. Soon the Empire was broken up. New
kingdoms began to be formed, new languages to be developed. The Latin
finally ceased to be a living language. The Church retained it in her
liturgy, 1st, because, as her doctrine and liturgy are unchangeable, she
wishes the language of her doctrine and liturgy to be unchangeable; 2d,
because, as the Church is spread over the whole world, embracing in her
fold children of all climes, nations, and languages--as she is
universal--she must have a universal language; 3d, because the Catholic
clergy are in constant communication with the Holy See, and this
requires a uniform language.
Besides, when a priest says Mass the people, by their English Missals or
other prayer-books, are able to follow him from beginning to end.
The Mass is a sacrifice. The prayers of the Mass are offered to God.
Hence when the priest says Mass he is speaking not to the people, but to
God, to whom all languages are equally intelligible. Are not these
sufficient reasons for the use of the Latin language? Are not good
Catholics more attentive, more devout at Mass than others at their
prayer-meetings? The good Catholic knows that the Mass represents the
passion and death of Christ; that the passion and death of Christ are
the sinner's only refuge, the just man's only hope; that it can not but
be good and wholesome to turn our minds and our hearts toward this
subject; that frequent meditation on Christ's passion will move us to
avoid sin, which caused it; and that nothing can more efficaciously
cause us to think of Christ's passion and death than the holy sacrifice
of the Mass.