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St. Mary Magdalen's
Catholic Church
Willesden Green
London NW10
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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Last week we concluded our series of questions discussing the Liturgy of the Word. Now we will proceed to think about the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where Christ is made truly present and becomes our food. But before we deal with the Liturgy itself, we will spend some time considering the Eucharistic vestments the priest wears during Mass.

Why do priests wear special dress when celebrating the Mass?
When a priest celebrates Mass, he is required to wear special dress, his vestments. These have their origins in the first centuries of Christianity and have evolved over time in a complicated way. Originally, they were the ordinary, secular attire of priests. The dress priests wore at the altar was the same as that worn in everyday life in the late Roman Empire. It seems that the custom of wearing special dress for Mass developed from priests saving newer and cleaner clothing for the Eucharistic celebration. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this style of dress was preserved for priests and the celebration of the sacraments, while the laity abandoned such styles. Hence, it is an ancient tradition that the priest wear special attire, fittingly decorated, as a powerful sign of reverence for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Though various developments and permutations continued to take place, the form of priestly vestments was settled during the Middle Ages. The development ensured that the vestments they have a powerful symbolic function.

What is the symbolism of the Eucharistic vestments worn today?
Since the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent liturgical changes, the required Eucharistic vestments for the priest are:
 the alb, a long white tunic. The white linen symbolises the purity of heart of a priest. If the alb does not cover the collar of the priest's street dress, he should wear an amice (an oblong of white material with ties on two corners) under the alb to hide his collar. He ties the alb at the waist with a cincture (a length of rope) unless the cut of the alb does not require this. The amice traditionally represents the “helmet of salvation” (cf. Eph 6:17), and the cincture modesty and chastity.
 the stole, a long scarf-like vestment worn around the neck, over the alb. It symbolises the heavy yoke of Christ the priest carries, which Our Lord nevertheless makes light (cf. Mt 11:30). It is the mark of office for priests.
 the chasuble, the outer and chief Eucharistic vestment. Historically, it was like an enormous poncho covering the entire body. Today it takes various forms – the Gothic chasuble which drapes down to the wrists or the Roman chasuble which does not cover the arms. It’s colour corresponds with the liturgical season or feast of the day.

posted by Sinead Reekie at 10:58 am