Liturgical Vestments You Should Know

Daniel Witham

Liturgical Vestments You Should Know

In a previous post, I discussed how the the Church’s liturgy is the Catholic faith in action. We said that knowing and studying the liturgical expression of the faith is a key to a better understanding of the faith itself. My previous post discussed a number of liturgical items, their names, and symbolism.

Now that we are in the Easter season, it is a popular time for dioceses to ordain new priests. In a continuation of my last post, this article will give the name and symbolism of each of the different liturgical vestments worn by bishops, priests, and deacons. Each vestment has a particular symbolism that is beautiful and edifying to learn about. Where applicable, I have also included the prayer said by the person as he puts on each of the vestments.  

Amice: The amice is an optional vestment for the priest and deacon. It is a linen in a rectangular shape; the priest briefly touches it to his head before tying it around his neck. As he does, he prays “Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil." Each of the priest's vestments have an accompanying prayer which is suitable to help him prepare to celebrate Mass.

Alb: The alb is a long white gown worn by ministers. It is a baptismal garment, formerly worn by the neophites during Easter week. It symbolizes the purity given the Christian in baptism. As the priest puts on the alb he prays, “Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward.”

Cincture: Next the priest ties a cord as a belt around his waist, called a cincture. It is sometimes white, and sometimes the color of the day. The corresponding prayer is “Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me.” 

Stole: The stole is a piece of silk, of the liturgical color, worn around the neck. It is a symbol of the authority of ordained ministers. While priests wear the stole over both shoulders, deacons wear it draped diagonally on one shoulder and over the torso. The prayer is, "Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, and, unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy."

Chasuble: The priest's outermost vestment is a chasuble. It is only worn for Mass. It is also of the color of the day, and may even be decorated with images. When he puts it on he prays, "O Lord, who has said, 'My yoke is sweet and My burden light,' grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace."

Cope: The cope takes the place of the chasuble for other liturgies, such as benediction or the divine office. It is a large cloak tied in the front but which hangs open.  

Humeral veil: The humeral veil is used by a priest or deacon to hold the monstrance at benediction. It is worn over the shoulders and draped over the hands. It symbolizes the great sanctity of what he holds.

Dalmatic: The dalmatic is worn by the deacon. Similar to a chasuble, but having sleeves, it is the liturgical color of the day. It is considered a sign of joy. Like the priest's vestments, it has an assigned prayer: "Clothe me, O Lord, with the garment of salvation and the vestment of gladness, and encompass me always with the dalmatic of justice."

Mitre: The mitre is a bishop's headdress. It symbolizes his authority as a successor to the apostles. It is pointed and has two tassels handing from the back.

Crosier: The crosier is another object proper to the bishop, but in particular it represents the diocesan bishop's authority of office. The symbolism is more obvious; it is a shepherd's crook.

Pallium: The pallium is a white wool circular vestment hung around the shoulders. It can only be used by metropolitan archbishops. It is received personally from the Pope as a symbol of the unity between the pope and the metropolitan archbishop. A fun fact about the pallium is that it is made from wool taken from lambs on St. Agnes’ day each year.

Each vestment has a particular symbolism that is beautiful and edifying to learn about. But furthermore, we should reflect on why our sacred ministers wear vestments at all. The priest in his clothing is set apart from the rest of the congregation; his vestments mark him as a key figure who represents Christ to the liturgical assembly. Just as we have a special time, a special place, and a special way of speaking that is used in worship, it is fitting that the liturgical minsters are also set apart with a special costume. I find this exterior clothing a fitting reminder of the way in which each of our hearts should also be prepared for the celebration of the paschal mystery. I hope this exploration of the vestments used at Mass and other Catholic rites has been enriching for each of you!