The Importance and History of Priest Vestments
For Mass, a priest vestment consists of three to five items: alb, stole, chasuble, amice and cincture.
The base layer is an alb, a white robe that reaches to the ankles. A priest stole, a small strip of cloth worn over the neck and resting on the priest's shoulders, is worn over the alb.
Finally, because it is the most noticeable of the priest vestments, the priest wears a chasuble, which is usually constructed of good cloth and likely embellished with decoration.
There are two more items that are optional. The priest amice, which is worn beneath the alb and across the shoulders, and the cincture, which is a rope worn over the alb that acts as a belt by keeping the alb gathered and in place.
The priest may wear the amice if the alb does not completely cover the priest's ordinary attire at the neck and to help keep the alb clean. Labadie added that if the alb is adjusted in this fashion, the priest may choose not to wear the belt-like cincture.
Priest vestments have been worn by priests since the early centuries of the Church, and are an offshoot of Greco-Roman culture, in which those with important positions in the community — often government and judicial leaders — were identifiable by the coverings they wore.
As Christianity developed and was accepted throughout the Roman Empire, it became feasible to designate specific priest garments as liturgical.
If you've ever attended Mass, you've probably noticed how the priest vestments change with the seasons. It's probable that you've wondered why the change occurred and what the various colors indicate. Simply put, each piece of priest garment and color has a different meaning and inspires us to learn more about what is happening during the liturgy.
Priest vestments worn for liturgies in the early Church were the same as the clothing worn in everyday life by Greek and Roman civilizations in the 4th century. When the priest robes worn in Church today no longer matched popular fashion, they became distinctive. Priests and ministers wear this specific form of priest clothing as a mark of Christianity's history and background all over the world.
A Closer Examination at Today's Traditional Priest Vestments
The amice, alb, cincture, stole, and chasuble are the current traditional priest garments.
This optional component is a rectangular fabric draped over the shoulders under the alb. Over the priest's street clothes, the fabric is tucked in around the neck and tied around the waist with two cloth ribbons. It is not a required item, but it has practical applications. It can be used as a scarf to keep the priest's neck warm in the winter, and it can also be used to protect valuable embroidered pieces from sweat and body oils.
The alb, worn over the amice, represents the newly baptized's clothing, as well as the purity of soul required for Mass and the garment in which Pilate clothed Christ.
This cord is used to gather the alb at the waist and serves as a belt. It is usually white, although it can also be a different color according on the day or liturgical season. Funerals may be dressed in white, violet, or black.
A long, narrow strip of cloth worn around the priest's neck and down his front, generally over his alb. The stole is a very important item since it denotes the state of ordained office. The stole, like the cincture, can be the color of the day or the liturgical season.
This is the outermost and final piece of the vesture, and it is the day's or liturgical season's color. The chasuble's traditional connotation is that it represents charity, which covers a multitude of sins.
These priest robes serve to remind us of the mission that all priests have. Pope Benedict spoke of how the priesthood and its priest vestments represent a sort of putting on Christ, speaking and acting "in persona Christi," when reflecting on the priesthood and its priest vestments. The vestments have a specific value for priests; they are clothes of love that symbolize their unique mission and identity in Christ. They are a reflection of their self-gift, obedience, and unique relationship with God. They serve as reminders of who they are and how they must let go of all worldly ties, laying down their life in order to act in Christ's name.
Each of the priest vestments listed above plays an important role in the celebration of the mass. MDS Church Supplies is your one-stop shop for priest vestments, clergy clothing, and priest clothes.