(Note: The following post was made previous to my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.)
Some may wonder why clergy wear such fancy clothing, when Jesus Himself was poor and humble. Here is some very basic history, some explanations, and a couple of opinions for good measure:
In the context of the function of uniforms and dress codes in general:
“If the Mass is the Royal Marriage Feast of the Lamb, then the priest should dress up for his entrance into the royal court. The robes should therefore be regal in their dignity, their simplicity and their style. As much as possible their beauty should be shown, not by cleverness of design or ornamentation, but through quality materials and fine workmanship.”
– Fr. Dwight Longnecker, Why Do Catholic Priests Wear Fancy Robes?
“It has been customary in every age and country to invest those holding any position of dignity or practicing certain avocations with some uniform or badge…. each has his special garb, marking him as set apart for some definite work. This is done [so] that others may respect and obey him as far as is necessary, and that he may respect himself and be more conscious of his duties and more attentive to them, on account of the uniform he wears.
This is even more true of the religious garb. The priest wears it that he may be thereby distinguished from other men, and that he himself may be always reminded by it that he is “taken from among men to offer sacrifices and holocausts for them “– to be a mediator between the Almighty and His creatures.”
– From Awaken to Prayer, with text by Rev. John F. Sullivan.
On the symbolism of the vestments themselves:
“Over the black cassock of his sinful human condition the priest wears the white alb — the symbol that he, (and his people) are clothed in the righteousness of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Over that he wears a splendid chasuble to show that the final state of the Christian is not just the white robes of Christ’s righteousness, but a share in Christ’s own royal priesthood.”
– Fr. Dwight Longnecker
On in persona Christi and the “obliteration” of the priest’s personality, or, why the garments are not about exalting the priest himself:
“The priest’s robes are a ceremonial vesture—a uniform of their sacred office. They are meant to effectively obliterate the priest’s personality. They are also, by the way, meant to be unobtrusive. They should not be creative or clever or call attention to the smart vestment designer or the wonderful seamstress. They are simply to dignify the office of the priest and dignify and beautify the celebration of Mass.”
– Fr. Dwight Longnecker
On the scriptural significance of vestments and certain protestant objections:
“There’s nothing unscriptural about vestments. God commanded that they be used in the Old Testament. Look at Exodus 28:2:
For your brother Aaron you will make sacred vestments to give dignity and magnificence. You will instruct all the skilled men, whom I have endowed with skill, to make Aaron’s vestments for his consecration to my priesthood. These are the vestments which they must make: a pectoral, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered tunic, a turban, and a belt. They must make sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons, for them to be priests in my service. They will use gold and violet material, red-purple and crimson, and finely woven linen.
The rest of the chapter gives details on each garment.
Nothing in the New Testament requires abolition of priestly vestments. Our Lord attacked the Jewish leaders for a number of sins, but he never condemned their priestly garb. It’s true the early Church didn’t use the Old Testament vestments, but this is because Christians didn’t want to identify their leaders with the Jewish priesthood.
– Staff, Catholic Answers, “Do Priests Vestments Contradict Scripture?“
“There is no record of any special form of [vestments] during the first four centuries. It is probable that the garb of the clergy in those times was the common dress of laymen. The outer garments worn by men of those days were long and flowing, a modified form of the old Roman toga; and consequently the vestments used in the divine service took the same general form. Gradually the custom was introduced of making them of rich and costly materials, to add greater beauty thereby to the rites of religion.”
-Rev. John F. Sullivan
“Part of the problem for Fundamentalists is that vestments set priests apart from the laity. Fundamentalists object to a ministerial priesthood in the Church. They see vestments as a way of expressing a distinction between clergy and laity.
On this they’re right, but there’s nothing wrong with such hierarchical distinctions. The New Testament is full of them (Acts 20:28; Eph 2:20, 4:11; Phil 1:1; 1 Tm 3:1-13; Ti 1:5).
Within Fundamentalism there’s also an unhealthy opposition set up between the spiritual and the material realms. There is an anti-incarnational attitude which views the use of anything material as superstitious. The distaste for vestments is but one example of this.”
– Catholic Answers
And for the holiday, a lovely vintage prayer card via the (sadly shuttered) Holy Card Heaven.
Like a beautiful white dove rising from the midst of the waters, and coming to shake her wings over the earth, the Holy Spirit issues from the infinite ocean of the Divine perfections, and hovers over pure souls, to pour into them the balm of love.
-St. John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars.
Dutch cope, 1890-1900
Altarworthy Handmade Vestments. Web. 01 June 2017.
“Do Priests’ Vestments Contradict Scripture?” Catholic Answers. Catholic Answers, 04 Aug. 2011. Web. 01 June 2017.
“The History and Use of Vestments in the Catholic Church.” Awaken to Prayer. Sacred Heart Church, n.d. Web. 01 June 2017.
Longenecker, Dwight. “Why Do Catholic Priests Wear Fancy Robes?” National Catholic Register. Web. 01 June 2017.
The Met Museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Web. 01 June 2017.
“Restoring the Art of Sacred Embroidery: St. Martha’s Guild.” St John Cantius Church. St John Cantius Church, Web. 01 June 2017.
Sisters of Carmel. Sisters of Carmel, Web. 01 June 2017.
Van Roon, Marike. “Paramentica.” Flickr. Yahoo!, Web. 01 June 2017
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “Dressed for the Royal Marriage Feast of the Lamb.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 04 June 2017.