For All the Sacramentals, The Vestments (Part I)

Today, the series on Sacramentals continues with the vestments worn by the clergy. As a rookie Catholic, I understood some of the significance of the vestments, the colors, etc. But if I had to take a quiz and answer the question, “True or False: Are vestments a sacramental?,” my answer would have been a guess, and I would have gotten this one wrong.

Now if the quiz would have been about Marine Corps uniforms, from Dress Blues, to Service (Greens), and Utilities (what you may know as “cammies”) etc., I would have passed with flying colors.

Speaking of colors, that is what Fr. John F. Sullivan’s first lesson on vestments is about. What do they mean? Ponder no more, as Fr. John will make it clear. After this lesson, you will be ready for the quiz.


Vestments are garments worn by the ministers of religion while performing their sacred duties. They are sacramentals, being blessed by the Church to increase devotion in those who see them and those who use them.

The word “vestment” is from the Latin vestimentum, signifying simply clothing. In every religion the priest has had a distinctive dress; just as others who hold positions of dignity or of authority wear a uniform or badge, so does the minister of God.

Among the Jews every detail of the vestments used in the worship of God was provided for by divine command. In the Catholic Church these details have always been prescribed by church law, and many changes have been made at different times in the number and form of the priestly vestments. During the first four centuries there were no special vestments; the clergy wore their ordinary garb, flowing robes and long cloaks, at the Church’s services; but gradually these were altered and ornamented until they became vestments as we have them now.

The Colors of Vestments

The Church ordinarily uses five colors, and each has its meaning. The Mass is offered for many purposes and in honor of many classes of saints; and each of these is symbolized by the color of the vestments worn during the Holy Sacrifice.

White vestments denote purity, innocence and glory. They are worn on the feast of the Holy Trinity and on festivals of our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, of Angels and of all Saints who were not martyrs.

Red is the color of fire and of blood. Vestments of that color are used in Masses of the Holy Ghost, such as on Pentecost, to remind us of the tongues of fire which descended upon the Apostles; on the feasts of the Holy Cross of our Lord, and on the festivals of all Saints who shed their blood for their faith.

Purple, or violet, is expressive of penance. It is used during Lent and Advent (except on saints’ days), and on the sorrowful feast of the Holy Innocents.

Black is the color of mourning. It is worn at all Masses of Requiem, and on Good Friday.

Green denotes the growth and increase of our holy Church, and is also a symbol of hope.
It is used on all days during the year that are not saints’ days, except in Lent and Advent.

Gold vestments may be used as a substitute for white, red or green—not for purple or black.

Rose-colored vestments, when obtainable, may be used at the Solemn Mass on the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), and the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), because these Sundays are somewhat joyful in the midst of penitential seasons, and the rose-color is less penitential than the purple.

Next time, the “Priestly Vestments.”

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