For All the Sacramentals, The Vestments (Part II)

Prior to finding Fr. Sullivan’s book The Visible Church, there is no way that I would have learned about the priestly vestments that will be discussed below. So again, for the clergy in the audience, this is nothing new.

But for the rest of us, unless you are a player of the Facebook game called Priestville (I kid you not!), you’ve probably never heard of most of this stuff. As for me, I don’t have time for fun and games like that.

Some of the articles described below are vestments, and therefore they are sacramentals, and some aren’t. Perhaps the ones that aren’t are optional? I really have no idea. But I do like the symbolism of some of these articles.

There is a lot of gear here, but luckily there is no quiz at the end. So relax and let’s have a look,


A Priest’s Vestments. The vestments worn by a priest at Mass are the amice, the alb, the cincture, the maniple, the stole and the chasuble. At certain other services he uses the cope, the humeral veil and the surplice.

The cassock, or “soutane,” the black gown worn by a priest, is not a vestment. It is the priest’s ordinary garb, and in Catholic countries is worn on the street as well as indoors. The Roman collar worn by the clergy (usually with a “rabbi” or stock attached) is not a vestment. The cap worn by priests, known by the Italian name of biretta, is also not a vestment. Its upper surface is square, with three wings—one at the front, another at the rear, and a third at the right side. This peculiar form comes from the fact that the biretta was originally a soft flatcrowned cap; the removal of this from the head caused it to be compressed into folds, especially on the right side, because the right hand is generally used for that purpose; and after a time these folds were sewn together, forming wings—with none on the left side, except in the case of the cap of a Doctor of Sacred Theology, whose dignity is indicated by a fourth wing.

The Amice. This is an oblong piece of white linen, with strings or ribbons by which it is fastened around the shoulders. The name comes from the Latin “amictus,” a wrapper. This vestment has been in use since about the year 800. Formerly it was worn covering the head, and certain religious orders still use it in this way until the beginning of the Mass. It symbolizes a helmet, protecting the priest against the assaults of Satan.

The Alb. This is a long linen gown, extending from the neck to the feet. The lower part is often made of lace. It is a survival of the old Roman dress called the toga. The name is derived from the Latin “alba,” white, and the color, of course, denotes purity.

The Cincture or Girdle. This is a doubled cord which binds the alb closely to the body.

Alb & Cincture

Its name, in Latin, is “cingulum,” a girdle. It may be of the same color as the vestments, but among us it is usually white. It is made of braided linen or of wool, with tassels, and symbolizes continence.

The following vestments vary in color from day to day, according to the object for which the Mass is offered or the festival on which it is said.

The Maniple. This is a small vestment of peculiar shape, worn on the left forearm.
It was originally a handkerchief. The name comes from the Latin “manipulum,” meaning something carried in the hand, a small bundle, a handkerchief, a sheaf of grain; and therefore this vestment is considered symbolical of good works. It is the special badge of the order of subdeaconship.


The Stole. This is a long narrow vestment worn around the neck, and ends hanging down in front. At Mass, the ends of a priest’s stole are crossed, and fastened thus by the cincture. At other services the ends are not crossed. A “preaching stole” is often ornamented with tasseled cords connecting the ends. A deacon at a Solemn Mass wears a stole diagonally, from his left shoulder to his right side. The stole came into use as a vestment about the fourth century, and was originally a robe or cloak, which is the meaning of its Latin name “stola.” It was probably adapted from the court uniform of Roman, judges, and hence signifies authority. It is also a symbol of immortality and of the yoke of obedience.

The Chasuble. This is a large vestment worn on the shoulders and hanging down in front and behind. The rear portion is often ornamented with a large cross. The name comes from the late Latin “casula,” a little house. It was originally a large mantle or cloak with an opening for the head in the centre, and had to be raised at the sides to allow the hands to be extended beyond it. The assistants at the Mass helped the priest by holding it up, and a trace of this practice still remains at Solemn Masses, where the deacon and subdeacon hold the edges of the priest’s chasuble, and at ordinary Masses, chasuble, where the acolyte raises it slightly at the Elevation. It symbolizes protection, preservation from evil—a spiritual suit of armor.

Next time, the Vestments-Part III

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