This is a repeat guest post but I felt it was worthy considering the new short film we are working on. Vestments: Traditional & Modern , it should be released in Novemeber.
‘With the blue, purple and red wool they made the magnificent garments which the priests were to w ear they served in the Holy Place. They made the priestly
garments for Aaron, as the Lord commanded Moses.’
-Exodus 39:1, The Good News Bible
Sacred art was historically used in the Catholic Church as an avenue to educate and speak the gospels to the illiterate, to providing a connection, a relationship with God. God is incapable of creating anything other than his own perfection. Through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the radiance and integrity of artists such as Fra Angelico (The Annunciation, 1430-2)[ii], Michelangelo (Creation of Adam, Sistine ceiling, 1475-83)[iii] and Giotto (Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1305)[iv] were able to demonstrate the truth of God through contemplative silence in their works. Engaging sacred art can also be evident in not only conventional icons, but further in church structure (St. Peter’s Basilica)[v] Gregorian chant and even the vestments the ordained wear during Mass. What will be discussed herein, will be the origin, order and significance of the Roman ‘fiddle-back’ vestments, and how the very nature of the smallest detail in the fabric itself can draw the most unsuspecting parishioner into a deeper intuitive understanding of the Mass.
Prior to the fourth century A.D., Christians had been persecuted for their beliefs and practiced their religion underground in secrecy. With the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. As Christians, we strive to imitate Christ who is our divine model and attempt therefore, to shape our soul’s behavior after this example. The origins of vestments developed inherently from the everyday clothing of the Romans during the 4th century. During this time period,’ a clergy’s attire did not differ from that of the ordinary faithful’[vi]. Recognizing the need of a separation from the common person, priests began wearing their ‘best’ outfits known as a paenula: a top garment worn by the Romans. These garments adopted the term as ‘sacred vestments’ or vests sacrata’[vii] as former Pope Stephen called [it] as early as the third century. When fashion progressed and the old Roman dress was no longer used in daily life, priests identifying the necessity, continued to wear paenula, but now with richer, colored fabric. The quality of the vestments improved in texture a craftsmanship using only the finest linen and even pure gold. Color rubrics and definitions were introduced in the 1500’s. White can symbolizes purity, innocence, rejoicing and light. White is employed during ‘certain periods throughout Christmas and Easter seasons. Also worn on feasts of our Lord, feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, non-Martyred saints, conversion of Paul, Saints John the Apostle and Saint John the Baptist among others. Worn during certain ceremonies such as weddings, baptisms and the burial of children.’[viii] White can be additionally worn during the consecration of churches, altars and bishops. Alternately, the white vestment could be on occasion replaced by gold. Red is symbolic of blood – the Passion and fire. It is representative of the Holy Spirit during the week of Pentecost. Green, the color of nature and signifying hope of eternal peace. The color is used from January 14th to Septuagesa Sunday. Follow the first Sunday after Pentecost is Sunday after Advent. Symbolizing sorrow and piece, violet is worn during Lent and Advent, certain Passion Masses and the blessing of ashes. Gold symbolizes majesty and pleasure and can replace red, green or white. Rose colored vestments are only worn twice per year. One occasion is Gaudete Sunday and indicates joy and is sometimes worn to symbolize respite or augmenut’[ix]. Finally, black is significant in mourning and death, and is worn on Good Friday, All Souls day and Masses for the faithfully departed.
As an important figure at the Council of Trent, traditionalist Saint Charles Borromeo (Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan 1560-1584) fought to ‘preserve traditions and not allow fashion, false doctrine or laxity to push Tradition to one side. As Archbishop of Milan he wrote and legislated in minute detail about the Sacred Liturgy and everything associated with it.’[x] He laid out directives on vestments after finding that those garments that had been passed down for centuries, was being discarded and replaced with progressive fashion.
Now my head bowed and I have my Rosary beads in hand. My knees are beginning to ache; I have been kneeling for some time. I recite my last ‘Hail Mary’ in the decade and I hear the pitch of the bell ringing in my ears. It’s time to stand and sing. The choir dominates filling the church with song, ‘People, Look East, the time is near, of the crowning of the year….’[xi] The altar servers with their hands neatly folded, slowly glide in unison as they lead the procession to the alter in the their black cassocks and plain white linen surplices. As the Master of Ceremonies escorts Father down the aisle behind the alter servers, he gingerly holds the edge of the cope revealing the silken underside. The rich intensity of the color of the cope, the detail and intricacy of each garment that lies underneath; this is the Roman fiddle-back vestment.
Before Mass, Father prepares himself, both mentally and physically. Belonging to the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), by traditional rite he wears a black cassock in his daily wear. At the beginning of his vesting he washes his hands, reciting a prayer. This occurs not only for hygienic purpose, but this has profound symbolism. It signifies passage from the temporal ‘to the sacred, from the world of sin to the pure sanctuary of the Most High. The washing of the hands is in some manner equivalent to removing the sandals before the burning bush.’[xii] The prayer hints at this spiritual dimension:
Da, Domine, virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendum omnem maculam ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire.
'Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might serve you with purity of mind and body.'
Then whilst putting on the amice, which he first puts on his head, and then over his shoulders:
Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus.
'Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.' The amice is an oblong white linen cloth. Historically once worn on the head, then around the neck in a scarf-like fashion, and finally across the shoulders. Originally worn as a head covering and held the symbolism of a helmet of salvation, it serves more now a protectant of the vestments from the body with strings extending and thus tied around the waist.
Dealba me, Domine, et munda cor meum; ut, in sanguine Agni dealbatus, gaudiis perfruare sempiternis.
'Purify me, Lord, and cleanse my heart so that, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal bliss.' The alb is a long white garment worn that may be plain linen, or have minor decorative embroidery on the base or around the cuff. This is the white garment of purity and redemption.
Praecinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis, et exstingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis; ut maneat in me virtus continentia et castitatis.
'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.'
Over the alb and around the waist is cincture. The cincture is a cord woven to appear rope like made of wool or other material that is used as a belt. ‘The cincture may be of different colors according to the liturgical season. In the symbolism of the liturgical vestments the cincture represents the virtue of self-mastery, which St. Paul also counts among the fruits of the Spirit. The corresponding prayer, taking its cue from the first Letter of Peter.’[xiii]
Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris; ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris.
'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 Manipole is a narrow strip of colored silk adorned with a fringe on each end. It is hung over the left forearm and secured by an elastic loop. The Manipole is represented as a symbol of the toils of the priesthood.
Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis, quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis: et, quamvis indignus accedo ad tuum sacrum mysterium, merear tamen gaudium sempiternum.
'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.'
The stole is of utmost significance and represents the state of ordained office. The stole is a much longer fringed strip of colored silk that is worn around the neck. It is crossed over the breast and tucked into the cincture. This is a symbol of immortality, comparible to that of baptism.
Domine, qui dixisti: Iugum meam suave est et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen.
'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.'
‘Finally, the chasuble meaning ‘little house’ is put on, the vestment proper to him who celebrates the Holy Mass.’[xiv] A large outer vestment of colored silk that is slipped over the head and rests at the knees both front and back. The vestment is adorned with a cross, perhaps Roman or even Gothic which will be represented on the back of the vestment reaching forward. This is symbolic of the sweet yolk of Christ. Often there will be accompanying the set of vestments a matching chalice veil and Burse, a square stiff pocket for which the Corporal will be in. The Roman ‘fiddle-back’ style (fiddle-back referring to the front of the chasuble that seems to look like the back of a violin) differs from the shorter – ampled French cut and Gothic bell shaped cut.
The biretta, the black peaked hat with, or with a pom-pom that was used to protect the head. The four peaks represent the four fingers used to grasp the hat off of the head.
Finally, the cope, very much like the chasuble, was previously part of daily fashion. It was a lightweight overcoat. The cope used as a vestment is one of grand splendor and made of rich material and can be with, or without a hood. Copes may have fringes and braided edges and ornamental clasps may be used. Magnificent scenes may be depicted on the back of the cope: vivid colors of Mary and Jesus sitting with a chalice of wine and the bread of life on the table. The intensity of a 100-year-old gold cope, gold not only in color, but of substance as well. The interior of flaming red.
-Renee Long 2010
[vi] ‘Vestments and Church Furniture’, Robert Lesage, Hawthorne Books, 1960.
[vii] ‘Vestments and Vesture’ Roulin, 1931.
[xi] Entrance Hymn.