Second in a Series treating the Symbolism of the Traditional Form of Holy Mass
Fr. François Xavier Schouppe, S.J.
The Mass, inasmuch as it is a lively representation of Christ's passion and death, may be considered as a divine drama whose theater is the altar, whose actor is the priest, representing the person of Christ, and whose action is performed in a series of ceremonies. In the last essay, we described the sacred scene of the altar. In the present essay, we intend to describe the person of the priest adorned with the sacred vestments of his office, and also, consider the different kinds of vestments and their various colors.
|Vested priest at the foot of the altar|
|Aaron in priestly vestments|
The priest, clothed with the sacred vestments, represents Christ and the Christian. He represents Christ who was the priest and victim on Calvary and, likewise, he represents the Christian who bears the reproaches, marks and stigmas of His Lord. The priest resembles more perfectly than any of the old figures the image of Christ, the Great Priest. For Christ was prefigured from the beginning of the world as a priest in Abel, the son of Adam, who was the shepherd of a flock and who offered the first-born and fatlings thereof. "And the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings." (Gen. 4:4) Again, He was prefigured in the person of Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who offered bread and wine to the Lord. He was especially prefigured in the person of Aaron, whom the Almighty Himself clothed with a most magnificent vestment and thus adorned, the Pontiff entered into the sanctuary once only in the year. (Exod. 28) Aaron, also, wore a linen tunic and a hyacinthan vestment reaching down to the feet. The fringe of this vestment was adorned with small golden bells. He was girt with a cincture or a golden belt called Ephod. A rich border was woven round about it. It was worn on the breast in the form of a cross. He wore, also, on the breast the Rationale. This garment was made of gold and purple and was adorned with twelve precious stones, every one of which was engraved and had inscribed thereon the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. On the forehead, he wore the tiara on which there was a golden plate bearing the inscription Sanctum Domino, "Holy to the Lord." God Himself, as the Holy Ghost attests, "made him high in glory. And he girded him about with a zone of glory and clothed him with a stole of glory. [...] He gave him a holy robe of gold and blue and purple [...] with precious stones cut and set in gold and graven by the work of a lapidary for a memorial according to the number of the tribes of Israel. [...] A golden crown upon his mitre, marked with the sign of sanctity and with the glory of honor. His sacrifices were consumed with fire every day. Moses filled his hands and anointed him with holy oil. (Eccli. 45:8-18) Christ, the great High Priest, was prefigured by such splendor, purple, gems, etc., for He was truly adorned with the purple of His own blood, decked with the gems of His wounds and crowned with the diadem of His ignominy. Still, these figures were, in truth, but very faint.
The priest of the New Law represents in our eyes most clearly and distinctly Christ, the great Pontiff, by the admirable adornment of those vestments, which Holy Mother Church, under the direction of the Divine Spirit, assumes and adopts. But the priest not only represents Christ; he also represents the Christian, as will be seen from the following explanations.
The Priest's Vestments
The vestments employed by the priest celebrating the Holy Sacrifice are six in number: the amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole and chasuble. No covering for the head is allowed the priest whilst celebrating at the altar. The inner vestments are always white, but the outer ones admit of a variety of colors. A two-fold signification is here intended: one is allegorical or representative of the Lord's Passion; the other has a mural meaning. One refers to Christ, the other, to the Christian.
The amice resembles a handkerchief or white veil with which the head first and then the neck and throat is covered. The amice has various meanings. In the first place, it denotes the veil of mockery with which the wicked persecutors covered the face of Christ. In the second place, it teaches us the importance of that hope and confidence in God which are the shields of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8); and finally, it reminds us of the custody of the tongue. The words of the Pontifical and Missal make these meanings clear: "Accept this amice by which is designated the restraint of the tongue." "Place upon my head, O Lord, the helmet of salvation to resist the assaults of the devil."
The alb is made of white linen, and reaches to the feet of the priest. It denotes, first, the white rome with which Christ was clothed; second, the innocence of the immaculate and undefiled Lamb, Christ Himself; third, the great purity of soul which is acquired through contact with the Lamb of God and His saving blood. "Purify me, O Lord, and make me clean of heart, that, washed in the blood of the Lamb, I may possess eternal joy."
The cincture, with which the alb is bound round the body lest it should hang immoderately, signifies the cords which were tied around the sacred body of Our Lord. It denotes, moreover, the mortification of the flesh and its vices, and implied consequently the virtue of holy chastity. "Let your loins be girt." (Luke 12:35) Wherefore the priest prays thus: "Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity and extinguish in my loins the heat of concupiscence, that the cincture of continence and chastity may abide in me."
|Vested priest, with visible|
amice, alb, cincture, chasuble
and maniple. The biretta is
removed before Holy Mass
The maniple, which is placed on the left arm, was formerly used as a napkin for removing tears and perspiration. It signifies, first, the chains with which they bound the arms of the Lord; secondly, the tears shed in the spirit of penance which will be wiped away in the Heavenly Kingdom; thirdly, the labor in God's service which is never without fruit. "Receive this maniple by which are designated the fruits of the good works you are to bring forth." "May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow that with exultation I may receive the reward of my labor." The Psalmist says, "Going, they went and wept, casting their seed. But coming, they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves." (Ps. 125:6-7)
The stole was in the beginning a linen garment, white and narrow, which hung from the neck on the breast of the priest, or according to others, it was that vestment frequently spoken of in Scripture and by profane authors as the stola. This stole was the distinctive garment of the nobility. It was decorated in front with a magnificent border (ora), which was called orarium. This border alone the Church preserves. It is called the stole and is placed on the neck of the priest and crossed on the breast. The stole reminds us of the cords binding the neck of our Lord. It signifies, moreover, the yoke of the Lord consisting of the burdens of the sacred ministry and finally, the nuptial garment of grace, the clothing of immortality and glory. "Receive this white stole from the hand of God: fulfill the work of your ministry. God is powerful and will help you with His grace." "Take upon you the yoke of the Lord, for His yoke is sweet and His burden light." "Restore to me, O Lord, the stole of immortality which I lost through the transgression of my first parents and though I approach unworthily to celebrate thy sacred mystery, may I merit nevertheless eternal joy."
The chasuble is the last in the catalogue of the sacred vestments in splendor. The chasuble resembles a column or pillar in front and there may be noticed an image of the cross outlines on the back. The chasuble denotes, first, the purple garment which Christ wore in the courtroom of Pilate; second, it reminds us of the wounds of the Saviour from whence issued such great quantities of blood as to cover Him with a red garment; third, it represents the pillar at which He was scourged; fourth, it represents the cross which was placed on His shoulders; fifth, it indicates the virtue of charity which is not only the perfection of all virtues, but their crown; finally, it signifies the yoke of the Lord, that is, the cross and patience and also the law of the Lord which charity embraces. "Receive this sacerdotal garment by which charity is denoted, for God is powerful to increase within you His charity and bring it to a perfect work." "May the Lord clothe you with the stole of innocence." "O Lord, who hast said, 'My yoke is sweet and My burden light,' grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace."
The tonsure of the head, or the corona, signifies: first, the crown of thorns which was placed on the head of Our Divine Lord; second, a hatred of all earthly things for Christ's sake; third, it points out the great dignity and power of the royal priesthood of Christ. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup: it is Thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me." (Ps. 15:5) "And the inscription of his cause was written over Him: 'The King of the Jews'. (Mark 15:26)
The inner vestments of the priest are always white and are intended to represent the interior purity and innocence of heart which should never be put aside, but which should be preserved under the cloak of humility. The whiteness of these vestments suggests that we should begin by purity of heart and freedom from sin, in order that by degrees we may ascend through the cross and patience to the heights of divine charity.
|Red chasuble, stole and maniple, cincture|
The chasuble or outer garment admits of a variety of colors: first, because charity is the root and parent from which the other virtues spring; second, because charity of itself embraces and manifests all kinds of virtues even as the resplendent lights of the Sun diffuses many rays of all colors. Wherefore, the chasuble represents the glorious vesture of the Church herself, the Spouse of Christ, a garment which is no other than divine charity itself. "The queen stood on thy right hand in gilded clothing: surrounded with variety. [...] All the glory of the King's daughter is within in golden borders, clothed round about with varieties." (Ps. 44:10, 14-15)
|Green chasuble, stole and maniple, cincture|
The Church uses in her liturgy five different colors, viz.: white, red, green, violet, and black. White is symbolic of innocence, glory and joy. Red denotes not only the fire of charity, which the Holy Spirit enkindles and diffuses in us, but likewise the blood of the martyrs - the most excellent flower of charity. Green is symbolic of hope and the desire of heaven. It likewise denotes Christian morals which are sown by the word of Christ and spring up and flourish under the influence of His example. The Lord on one occasion compared Himself to a green tree and said: "if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?" (Luke 23:31) Of the just, it is written: "the just shall spring up as a green leaf." (Ps. 1:3) Violet is a color which holds a medium between red and black. This color is symbolic of penance, fasting, etc., by which we are freed through Christ's most precious blood from the death of sin and hell. Black is the emblem of death and darkness by which we are reminded of the faithful souls mourning in the darkness of purgatory, and for whim we can procure eternal light through the Sacrifice of the Mass.
All the vestments are blessed and signed with the sign of the cross, because they are consecrated to the most sacred of all uses and belong to the sacrifice of the cross.
So far, we have spoken of the celebrant in the sacred drama, viz., the priest who represents Christ, the invisible celebrant. Next, we shall treat of the action itself or the celebration of the Mass. To give to to this matter the fullness and clearness it deserves, we shall first explain some ceremonies common to the various parts of the Holy Sacrifice and which are frequently repeated during its celebration.