Thursday, November 27, 2008

Vestments, Do we need them?

Not too long ago, I found myself in a discussion with one of the local
youth group leaders. It turned out to be quite an interesting discussion,
and it turned out that we were both interested in Liturgy. Eventually we got onto the
topic of vestments, and my other friend chimed in about the vestments
we use for the first Friday vigil. The question, why do we
wear appareled amices (as well as why do we use so many candles) was asked.

My response was because they look good. The conversation kept going until,
the question grew to; why do we wear amices, why do we wear cinctures and why
do we wear cassocks underneath it all, an alb alone suffices. Quite right, the GIRM,
only mandates that just an alb be used and if it is constructed as not to require a cincture
and amice, then they are not required, as they serve no practical purpose. In the same way, a certain Latin Mass Chaplin I know thinks of the maniple, as not having any useful purpose; it’s just a useless ornament.

I responded, “well if you think about it, all the vestments serve no practical purpose”. These days we no longer need a chasuble to shield us from the elements, we don’t need a robe, a hood, or a belt, as well as two different forms of handkerchiefs.

Vestments for all intents and purposes, serve no useful purpose - the same can be said of incense, candles and churches, or for that matter religion (science can explain everything after all). You can all see where this is going, a very nihilistic end. “No so, the stole is still useful, it’s a mark of authority” was his response. But by that logic, then the chasuble, since it is a mark of charity is useful, same can be said of the chastity of the cincture, or the protection of the helm of salvation (Amice). Vestments suddenly take on meanings, beyond the mundane. They become symbols of heavenly realities.

Drama, evolved from liturgy, the ancient Greek plays were forms of worship of the gods. So just as the actor today puts on a costume and uses props, so to do our priests wear vestments and uses liturgical gear. The actor puts on a costume to be someone else. So does the priest and his ministers, they put on “Christ” , charity or as St Paul wishes to call it, the “armor of salvation”.

We believe that the sacraments convey grace. They are more then just the symbols we see, and the same can be said of vestments. Perhaps the priest, who only wears his stole, relies on his authority, or perhaps the priest who makes a point of wearing the cincture fosters chastity in his life. When we look from this angle, things suddenly become clear. Would there be some hidden agenda show by the priest refusing to wear the chasuble?

Vestments are symbolic, that’s why I prefer Gothic vestments, and they are fuller signs of the realities they represent. The long flowing chasuble is a better sign of the charity that should envelop all, the appareled amice gives us a better understanding of the term helmet of salvation, and the fullness of the surplice communicates to us more effectively the great baptismal grace we all receive.

Vestments are hot, bothersome and impractical, but then again, so is religion…….

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