On the Catholic Priesthood

Saturday August 18, 2018

Vestments

Historians may discuss and dispute the time and circumstances in which the Christian priesthood began to use an altogether distinctive dress at the altar; but they have to agree that what was so used was held as sacred. The cloak which St. Paul seemed so careful about was early reported to have been his sacrificing robe. The same character was attributed to Thomas the Apostle’s mantle, long venerated at Rome. The centuries of persecution were not a time for elaborating ceremony or dress, yet pontiffs of the period are on record for restrictions in the use of the same garments at the altar and away from it, or by one order of the clergy and by another. The first pope who enjoyed the freedom of peace, St. Sylvester, introduced an improvement that still holds its ground: our sleeved dalmatics were prescribed by him. St. Jerome mentions the white robes of all ministers within the Sanctuary, as ordinary and long-established. Thence down through the centuries there are adaptations to place, or rite, or monastic or secular garb; but the insistence on sacred vestments, on their sacred significance and sacred employment, goes on ever increasing. Holy to the Lord, is the more and more exclusive mark on them, as on those who are privileged to wear them.

And here, my brethren, I have to call your attention to a point that may somewhat escape your notice – though when well considered it is found most practical. The holiness of the priestly vestments is very much for the priest himself. In blessing them the Church asks that the wearer may be fit and apt for so sacred a ministry; but she also implores that he may be filled with the grace of the Holy Ghost, rendered perseveringly agreeable to God, clad with chastity here and with immortality hereafter. ‘Tis particularly in the words she puts on his lips as he takes each vestment that we divine her maternal solicitude for her priest in person. All scriptural sanctities are invoked on him. The amice, with which you may have seen him first cover his head and then tuck out of view all trace of his secular dress, is to be to him an unfailing helmet of salvation. Made white like his alb, and, in the very Blood of the Lamb, he is to be fitted for joys eternal. With the binding of his cincture, concupiscence is extinguished. His manipule tells of the exultant harvesting that will follow his tearful sowing; for of him and his fellow-laborers is it prophetically true that “going they went and wept, casting their seeds. But coming they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves” (Ps. 125). His Stole, the special ensign of the priesthood that is forever, proclaims his right to Everlasting Life and its beatitude; while his Chasuble, though bearing a Cross before and behind, is but the sweet yoke and light burden of the Master who give both the merit and the crown. So it is with these and the other sacred vestures he may have to put on. Panoplied round with them, and with the dispositions they suppose, he is invulnerable to the assaults of every malign spirit. Even human malignity had often to refrain; for Law recognized a peculiarly punishable atrocity in assaults on the vested priest. To the devout faithful there is an attractive sacredness in the robes which come in contact with the Altar of God; for they vividly recall that Garment, the touch of whose hem was health and holiness. And as far, my brethren, as holy vesture can announce and preserve the sanctity of the wearer, the same faithful have good reason to rejoice. Assuredly they may be said to need nothing, after the grace of God, more than they need the holiness of their priests. God’s ordination carries with it that sanction and consequence. ‘Tis markedly the races and nations most devotedly attached to the chaste sacredness of the priestly character who have best maintained the worship of the Son of the Virgin, the Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.

Source:By the Rev. G. Lee CSSP ( A Pulpit Commentary on Catholic Teaching: The liturgy of the ecclesiastical year, 1910)

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