Catholic Priestly Vestments
What are the vestments of priests?
The following vestments are worn by all priests at the celebration of the mass in Roman Catholicism. The separate garments are to be put on according to ecclesiastical rules in a fixed order, as follows:
The amice (amictus, humerale, more rarely superhumerae) is an oblong linen cloth (at least 32 inches long and 24 wide), which is first placed upon the head and then brought down and drawn about the neck where it is fastened with cords. Originally it served as a head-covering for the priest; at present only a few orders wear it over the head on the way to and from the altar. The existence of the smite can be proved only since the end of the eighth century, and it is probably referable to some ancient priestly ceremonies.
Its reference to the ephod of the Old Testament is purely arbitrary, as is the symbolical interpretation of liturgical writers; the attempt to explain it as a neck-cloth to protect the garment which rests upon it from perspiration is unsatisfactory. As long as the smite was worn upon the head or even projected above the other garments, embroidery or other ornamentation might be shown on it; but it gradually became hidden beneath the other vestments, so that at present only a cross is required; this is kissed by the priest when he assumes the vestment.
History and use
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The alb is identical with the light tunic of antiquity, more precisely with the white tunic with sleeves (tunics manicata) which came down to the feet (tunics talaris, poderis, Gk. podeyes, chiton). Even into the Carolingian period this was ordinarily worn by the clergy as a part of the ordinary dress.
The exclusion of the tunic from daily use raised the alb to the dignity of a specific liturgical garment. Apart from its cut and color, its origin is recalled by the strips of purple or of cloth of gold which were sewed on (clavi, forum; hence the names albce monolores, dilores, trilores), with other ornamental pieces of colored stuffs (paraturce, parurce), in the form of a square or an oblong; as there were five of these, a connection was found with the five wounds of Jesus Christ (cf. the designations plagce, plaguhe). In addition, further ornamentation, even complete pictures, came to be applied.
After the sixteenth century a strong reaction set in; laces and edgings came into use. Recently linen lace is required and linen is also prescribed for the garment itself. The alb is worn by the clerics ranking not lower than subdeacon. The symbolism is purity and innocence.
The cincture (cingulum, cinctorium, balteus) is required by the form of the alb. Linen is preferred, although wool and silk are not excluded. In the Middle Ages the cincture was often a splendid decoration of the higher clergy, and was richly ornamented with gold, silver, and precious stones.
The maniple (mappula, manipulus, fanon) is a narrow strip of material similar to the stole (see below), worn over the left forearm or upper arm; formerly, the ends hung down freely, now, however, they are sewed together. The material was originally linen, but at present it is the same as that of the chasuble (see below). The rich ornamentation of the maniple usual in the Middle Ages, when it was longer, has now almost disappeared. Not more than three crosses are required, while one satisfies the rubric. It is worn by bishops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons, and, as a rule, only during the office of the mass. The origin of this vestment, the liturgical use of which can be proven from the eighth or ninth century, is not certain. It is commonly regarded as having been originally a handkerchief; recently an attempt has been made to connect it with the arm-bands worn by the assistants at the heathen sacrifices. The symbolism is strength, endurance.
The stole (orarium) is a long narrow strip of fabric, which, hanging from the neck, falls down right and left over the breast. During the celebration of mass, the bands are crossed in front, the bishop alone wears them hanging parallel; the deacon, who may wear the stole at greater functions, may only bear it on the left shoulder. The material is usually the same as that of the chasuble. The ornament tion was generally confined to embroidered Latin crosses; in the episcopal stoles, however, it was often very elaborate. The little bells which are sometimes found on the lower edge are based on Ex. xxviii. 33 sqq. The name stola, which was introduced only at a later period and does not apply to the article, obscures its origin, since this name designated an article of female apparel. The parallel orariumsudarium shows clearly that the stole comes from the handkerchief which was worn around the -neck or the arm in ancient time. The symbolism is patience.
The chasuble, the special priestly vestment for the mass, was at first a long sleeveless mantle provided with an opening in the center to admit the head. It was originally worn in ancient times by people of the lower orders, but it gradually found entrance into other circles and so reached the monks and the clergy. The historical development of the alb raised this article, about the beginning of the Middle Ages, to the rank of an exclusively liturgical garment for the priesthood, after it had been used for a time in other than clerical circles. This dedication to liturgical purposes necessitated some modifications; for instance, the mantle was shortened, and it was provided with drawing-strings and slits at the sides.
During and after the Renaissance the chasuble was deformed into the present tasteless, stiff, bass-viol form, so that both parts, loosely connected, lay on the breast and the back. In the earlier Middle Ages wool was almost exclusively the material. The influence of Gothic art led to the more frequent use of silk and this became the rule in the fifteenth century. In the beginning white was in general use, but, gradually a gradation of colors for various times and festivals was established. The ornamentation was confined in older times to a band edging the head-opening and running down on breast and back. Additions were the furcated cross, leaf patterns, armorial bearings, figures, and scenes. Hand in hand with this went the costly decoration with gold, silver, and jewels. The chasuble now in common use is distinguished by a Latin cross on both sides. Common fabrics - linen, cotton, or especially coarse wool - are now forbidden. The symbolism is charity.
The cope (pluvial) was in antiquity an open mantle with a hood, cappa, and came in from secular use. It seems to have been especially worn by the canons in the choir (cappa choralis); it recommended itself for processions also as a protection against inclement weather (cappa pluvialis, pallium pluviale, whence the designation pluviale). It found its way into liturgical use and became obligatory for special services, e.g., vespers (vesper-mantle). It also developed into an episcopal robe of state (cappa pontificalls) with elaborate ornamentation. The cope resembles the chasuble, but is open in front and is held together on the breast by a clasp. Toward the Middle Ages the hood gradually disappeared and was finally transformed into a small piece of cloth with decoration (clipeus), which hung down the back. On the other hand, a train was later added to the episcopal cope.
The dalmatic was introduced from Dalmatia, and resembled the tunic, though it was more elaborate; it was much favored by the higher classes. When it passed out of general use, toward the beginning of the Middle Ages, the Church retained it as a vestment for deacons and bishops especially, to whom its use was eventually confined. The sleeves and skirt were shortened and the sides were more and more cut out. On the other hand, the strips which were sewed on (clavi) and the color (white) remained. The episcopal dalmatic especially was often the object of costly art-workmanship. The Tunicle (tunicella), which is assigned to the subdeacon, differs but little (if at all) from the dalmatic.
The surplice or cotta, a convenient garment for liturgical purposes, permissible to all the clergy, was created from the alb (which became restricted to use at mass) by shortening and simplification. The designation superpelliceum comes from the old custom, especially common in monastic circles, of wearing a linen garment over the fur coats necessitated by the long services. The material is linen.
Alongside the comfortable, widearmed surplice there exists as a variety the closefitting rochet (rochetum, from roccus, "coat"), a privilege of the higher clergy, although it was worn in many regions by the common clergy also. Lay ministrants (sacristans, choir-boys) are also permitted the use of the surplice.
The biretta (birretum) used to protect the head, which was rendered especially sensitive by the tonsure, was small and soft at first, and was made larger only after the fifteenth century, when it was given its present stiff, four-cornered shape.
Vestments and Insignia of Bishops
The robes of the bishops include the above-mentioned vestments. The higher orders have vestments and insignia as follows:
The episcopal shoes and stockings. At the beginning of the Middle Ages the shoes (sandalia, calceamenta) belonged to the general liturgical attire; from the tenth or eleventh century, these and the stockings combined with them (caligce)-of linen, later of silk-are a prerogative of the bishops. The usual color is violet.
The gloves (chirotecce, manias) are not proved to have been in use before the twelfth century; until the fourteenth century they were of white or red silk, after this the liturgical colors appear. The rim was gradually enlarged to resemble a gauntlet. The oldest and most characteristic ornament is the circulus aureus on the upper part of the palm, a gold-embroidered or metal disk, with a figure (Iamb, cross, etc.) and precious stones. From the sixteenth century, the woven glove came into use and the shape was developed mainly after the model of the dress glove.
The ring (annulus episcopalis) can be proven to have been among the episcopal insignia from an early period. At the mass, the bishop wears it over the pontifical glove on the fourth finger of the right hand. Other clerical dignitaries who are privileged to wear a ring must lay it aside on this occasion. According to rule, this ring should consist of a simple gold circlet with a single stone, but numerous rich and elaborate specimens are found.
The rational (rationale; cf. Ex. 28:30) is a light shoulder-cloth of various form which is made up of several strips of material, ornamented with hollow plates on the shoulders or on the breast, or on shoulder and breast, and is awarded by the pope to individual bishops as a special distinction. It is worn immediately over the chasuble and only at the pontifical mass. It can not be determined whether it is patterned after an ancient garment; it is, however, certain that the breast-plate of the high-priest and the Ephod were factors in its evolution.
The pectoral cross (crux pectbralis), which arose from the custom of wearing a cross upon the breast, which according to common opinion acquired a peculiar prophylactic power by means of a relic, was restricted in the Middle Ages to the bishops, who employed this cross, even apart from ecclesiastical ceremonies, as one of the insignia of their dignity. The material is gold.
The miter (mitra, mitre, infula) is the liturgical head-covering of the bishops, including the pope. It is not possible to prove its existence with certainty before the tenth century. The form has passed through many variations. At first it was a round cap fitting the head closely with a brow band and ribbons falling down on the back of the neck. The miter soon developed into a biretta with edges turned up sharply; it then received a tall peaked termination and finally assumed an oval form. An ornamental band, decorated in special cases with precious metals and stones, surrounds the lower rim, a second vertical one divides the breadth. The fabric is also embroidered with designs and figures. The material is silk; only at councils are linen miters prescribed for the bishops, in order to distinguish them from the cardinals.
The crozier (pedum, pastorale, virga) had its origin in the conception of the pastoral office of the bishops in connection with the idea of domination. This emblem is unknown to Christian antiquity, only at the beginning of the Middle Ages are traces of its use encountered. At first it seems to have been a staff with a straight handle, but at an early period alongside of this appeared the crook bent like a chamois-horn. In the course of the Romanic period, this takes on a bolder curve and is combined with designs and figures; the termination of a snake's or dragon's head was much favored. As material, ivory was used; in the Gothic ,period, gilded copper was substituted for the staff and precious metal for the crook. At the same time, Gothic art applies its architectural symbolism and gives the preference to figure-decoration, to scenes from the life of Mary and from the legends of the saints. Fine goldsmith-work now appears. The Renaissance and the rococo periods retain the fundamental form, but the characteristic taste of these periods was asserted in many essential details. The small linen cloth which is attached to the staff just below the crook (pannisellus, sudarium) was probably intended originally for a handkerchief; later it disappeared from the episcopal staff and remained on the abbot's staff, as a distinguishing mark (abbots, as also abbesses, bore the crozier). This emblem, however, is only permitted to the bishop within his diocese. Bishops' and abbots' croziers, from the Middle Ages, have been preserved in great numbers, even from early Romanic times, when the custom existed of laying them in the graves of their owners.
The pallium consists of a white woolen band about three inches wide, interwoven with six black silk crosses; it encircles the shoulders, one band falling upon the breast and the other upon the back. Gold pins fasten it to the vestment beneath. It is worn regularly only by the pope, primates, patriarchs, and archbishops over the chasuble, although certain specially privileged bishops also wore it. The pallia are made by nuns in S. Agnese near Rome, and are supposed to obtain a special consecration by being deposited in the grave of St. Peter.
The manteletta or chimere is an episcopal garment which bishops wear when out of their own jurisdiction, in order to cover the rochet, which is one symbol of episcopal authority. The dignitaries named above also enjoy the privilege of having a cross borne before them (crux archiepiscopalis), the crucifix side being turned toward them.
The mozetta is a vestment which is the usual state dress of a bishop when not performing sacred functions. It is a short cape or cloak, open in front but susceptible of being buttoned over the breast, and has a small hood behind. It may be worn by the pope, by cardinals, bishops, abbots, and others to whom it is permitted by custom or papal privilege, as by canons in England. It is worn over the rochet, but when the prelate is out of his jurisdiction, he either wears it over the manteletta or not at all. By cardinals this vestment and the rochet are worn only in the churches from which they take their titles, except at Rome during a papal vacancy or at con claves. The pope has five of these vestments. From the first vespers of the Ascension during the hot season he wears one of red satin except on vigils or penitential occasions, when the material is of red serge or camlet. The rest of the year the material is of red velvet, except on penitential occasions, when the material is of red woolen cloth; but from Holy Saturday till the second Saturday after Easter the mozetta is of white damask. The cardinals have four mozettas, of red or purple silk, violet silk, rose colored silk, and violet serge. The cardinals are distinguished by purple garments and by a flat broad-brimmed hat from which hang, on the sides, bands with tassels. The proper costume of the pope is the episcopal, although it is in part more richly made and differs in some respects. For instance, instead of the crozier, he bears a tall cross with two or three arms.
A special distinction is, however, the tiara (regnum, triregnum). This is the princely emblem of the pope and is, therefore, worn when his princely authority is to be manifested; in liturgical and ecclesiastical functions he wears in stead the episcopal miter. The tiara does not appear before the eleventh century, and then at first only in the form of a peaked hat edged with embroidery; later it becomes taller and assumes a conical form. Although the tiara has a certain similarity to the miter, it is distinguished from the latter by having only one point. The difference is stir more marked at the coronation. Even into the thirteenth century, a single circlet (reguum) surrounds the tiara, but under Boniface VIII. (1294 1308), a second was added, and finally a papal in ventory of 1315 names three. It is possible that even in the time of Boniface VIII. the triple crown had appeared; in any case, this evolution was not far removed from his pontificate.
Lastly, brief allusion may be made to the liturgical comb, which the priest used for arranging his hair before the celebration of mass. This is also given to the bishop at his consecration as his personal property, and is therefore often found in bishops' graves; the material is ivory, often richly carved. Christian antiquity knows nothing of this article.Other Articles in This Series
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- Victor Schultze, "Vestments." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Baker Book House, 1950).