ROME, 18 DEC. 2009 (ZENIT)
In this article, Father Mauro Gagliardi, a consultor of the
Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff,
explains the prayers the celebrant says while vesting for the
the reciting of which is an ancient custom
are brief, but very rich from a biblical, theological and
spiritual point of view.
"Such a liturgical practice must be retained rather than
jettisoned," he explains. "Its beauty and utility for the
priest's spiritual life needs to be rediscovered."
* * *
The vestments used by the sacred ministers in liturgical
celebrations derive from ancient Greek and Roman secular
clothing. In the first centuries the raiment of persons of a
certain social level (the "honestiores," persons of rank with
property) was adopted for the Christian liturgy and this
practice was maintained in the Church, even after the peace of
Constantine. As we see in some Christian writers, the sacred
ministers wore the best clothing, which was most probably
reserved for liturgical use.
While in Christian antiquity the liturgical vestments were
distinguished from secular clothing, not by their particular
form but by the quality of the material and their special
decorum, in the course of the barbarian invasions the customs
and, with them, the vesture of new peoples were introduced into
the West and brought about changes in profane clothing. But the
Church kept, without essential alteration, the vestments used by
the clergy in public worship; in this way the secular use of
clothing was distinguished from the liturgical use.
Finally, in the Carolingian epoch (which began in roughly the
8th century), the vestments proper to the various degrees of the
sacrament of orders, with a few exceptions, took on their
definitive form, which they retain to this day.
Function and Significance
Beyond the historical circumstances, the sacred vestments had
an important function in the liturgical celebrations: In the
first place, the fact that they are not worn in ordinary life,
and thus possess a "liturgical" character, helps one to be
detached from the everyday and its concerns in the celebration
of divine worship. Furthermore, the ample form of the vestments,
the alb, for example, the dalmatic and the chasuble, put the
individuality of the one who wears them in second place in order
to emphasize his liturgical role. One might say that the
"camouflaging" of the minister’s body by the vestments
depersonalizes him in a way; it is that healthy
depersonalization that de-centers the celebrating minister and
recognizes the true protagonist of the liturgical action:
Christ. The form of the vestments, therefore, says that the
liturgy is celebrated "in persona Christi" and not in the
priest's own name. He who performs a liturgical function does
not do so as a private person, but as a minister of the Church
and an instrument in the hands of Jesus Christ. The sacred
character of the vestments also has to do with their being
donned according to what is prescribed in the Roman Ritual.
In the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite (the so-called
Mass of Pius V), the putting on of the liturgical vestments is
accompanied by prayers for each garment, prayers whose text one
still finds in many sacristies. Even if these prayers are no
longer obligatory (but neither are they prohibited) by the
Missal of the ordinary form promulgated by Paul VI, their use is
recommended since they help in the priest's preparation and
recollection before the celebration of the Eucharistic
sacrifice. As a confirmation of the utility of these prayers it
must be noted that they are included in the "Compendium
Eucharisticum," recently published by the Congregation for
Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Moreover
it is useful to recall that Pius XII, with the decree of Jan.
14, 1940, assigned an indulgence of 100 days for the individual
The Vestments and the Prayers
1) At the beginning of his vesting he washes his hands,
reciting an appropriate prayer; beyond the practical hygienic
purpose, this act has a profound symbolism, inasmuch as it
signifies passage from the profane to the sacred, from the world
of sin to the pure sanctuary of the Most High. The washing of
the hands is in some manner equivalent to removing the sandals
before the burning bush (cf. Exodus 3:5).
The prayer hints at this spiritual dimension: "Da, Domine,
virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendam omnem maculam; ut sine
pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire" (Give virtue
to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might
serve you with purity of mind and body).
After the washing of the hands, the vesting proper begins.
2) The priest begins with the amice, a rectangular linen
cloth, which has two strings and is placed over the shoulders
and around the neck; the strings are then tied about the waist.
The amice has the purpose of covering the everyday clothing,
even if it is the priest's clerical garb. In this sense, it is
important to recall that the amice is worn even when the
celebrant is wearing a modern alb, which often does not have a
large opening at the neck but fits closely around the collar.
Despite the close fitting neck of the modern alb, the everyday
clothing still remains visible and it is necessary for the
celebrant to cover his collar even in this case.
In the Roman Rite, the amice is donned before the alb. While
putting it on the priest recites the following prayer: "Impone,
Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos
incursus" (Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that
I may overcome the assaults of the devil).
With the reference to St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians
(6:17), the amice is understood as "the helmet of salvation,"
that must protect him who wears it from the demon's temptations,
especially evil thoughts and desires, during the liturgical
celebration. This symbolism is still more clear in the custom
followed since the Middle Ages by the Benedictines, Franciscans
and Dominicans, who first put the amice upon their heads and
then let it fall upon the chasuble or dalmatic.
3) The alb is the long white garment worn by the sacred
ministers, which recalls the new and immaculate clothing that
every Christian has received through baptism. The alb is,
therefore, a symbol of the sanctifying grace received in the
first sacrament and is also considered to be a symbol of the
purity of heart that is necessary to enter into the joy of the
eternal vision of God in heaven (cf. Matthew 5:8).
This is expressed in the prayer the priest says when he dons
the alb. The prayer is a reference to Revelation 7:14: "Dealba
me, Domine, et munda cor meum; ut, in sanguine Agni dealbatus,
gaudiis perfruar sempiternis" (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).
4) Over the alb and around the waist is placed the girdle or
cincture, a cord made of wool or other suitable material that is
used as a belt. All those who wear albs must also wear the
cincture (frequently today this traditional custom is not
followed). For deacons, priests and bishops, the cincture may
be of different colors according to the liturgical season or the
memorial of the day. In the symbolism of the liturgical
vestments the cincture represents the virtue of self-mastery,
which St. Paul also counts among the fruits of the Spirit (cf.
Galatians 5:22). The corresponding prayer, taking its cue from
the first Letter of Peter (1:13), says: "Praecinge me, Domine,
cingulo puritatis, et exstingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis;
ut maneat in me virtus continentiae et castitatis" (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).
5) The maniple is an article of liturgical dress used in the
celebration of the extraordinary form of the Holy Mass of the
Roman Rite. It fell into disuse in the years of the post-conciliar
reform, even though it was never abrogated. The maniple is
similar to the stole but is not as long: It is fixed in the
middle with a clasp or strings similar to those of the chasuble.
During the celebration of the Holy Mass in the extraordinary
form, the celebrant, the deacon and the subdeacon wear the
maniple on their left forearm. This article of liturgical garb
perhaps derives from a handkerchief, or "mappula," that the
Romans wore knotted on their left arm. As the "mappula" was used
to wipe away tears or sweat, medieval ecclesiastical writers
regarded the maniple as a symbol of the toils of the priesthood.
This understanding found its way into the prayer recited when
the maniple is put on: "Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus
et doloris; ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris" (May
I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in
order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors).
As we see, in the first part the prayer references the
weeping and sorrow that accompany the priestly ministry, but in
the second part the fruit of the work is noted. It would not be
out of place to recall the passage of a Psalm that may have
inspired the latter symbolism of the maniple.
The Vulgate renders Psalm 125:5-6 thus: "Qui seminant in
lacrimis in exultatione metent; euntes ibant et flebant
portantes semina sua, venientes autem venient in exultatione
portantes manipulos suos" (They that sow in tears shall reap in
joy. Going they went and wept, casting their seeds, but coming
they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their maniples).
6) The stole is the distinctive element of the raiment of the
ordained minister and it is always worn in the celebration of
the sacraments and sacramentals. It is a strip of material that
is embroidered, according to the norm, whose color varies with
respect to the liturgical season or feast day.
Putting on the alb, the priest recites this prayer: "Redde
mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis, quam perdidi in
praevaricatione primi parentis; et, quamvis indignus accedo ad
tuum sacrum mysterium, merear tamen gaudium sempiternum" (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).
Since the stole is an article of enormous importance, which,
more than any other garment, indicates the state of ordained
office, one cannot but lament the abuse, that is now quite
widespread, in which the priest does not wear a stole when he
wears a chasuble.
7) Finally, the chasuble is put on, the vestment proper to
him who celebrates the Holy Mass. In the past the liturgical
books used the two Latin terms "casuala" and "planeta"
synonymously. While the term "planeta" was especially used in
Rome and has remains in use in Italy ("pianeta" in
Italian), the term "casula" derives from the typical form of the
vestment that at the beginning completely covered the sacred
minister who wore it. The Latin "casula" is found in other
languages in a modified form. Thus one finds "casulla" in
Spanish, "chasuble" in French and English, and "Kasel" in
The prayer for the donning of the chasuble references the
exhortation in the Letter to the Colossians (3:14)
"Above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of
and the Lord's words in Matthew, 11:30: "Domine, qui dixisti:
Iugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare
sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen" (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).
In conclusion, one hopes that the rediscovery of the
symbolism of the liturgical vestments and the vesting prayers
will encourage priests to take up again the practice of praying
as they are dressing for the liturgy so as to prepare themselves
for the celebration with the necessary recollection.
While it is possible to use different prayers, or simply to
lift one's mind up to God, nevertheless the texts of the vesting
prayers are brief, precise in their language, inspired by a
biblical spirituality and have been prayed for centuries by
countless sacred ministers. These prayers thus recommend
themselves still today for the preparation for the liturgical
celebration, even for the liturgy according to the ordinary form
of the Roman Rite.
 Cf. for example, St. Jerome, "Adversus Pelagianos," I,
 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Città del Vaticano, 2009),
 We are using the text of the prayers that is found in the
1962 "Missale Romanum" of Bl. John XXIII (Harrison, NY: Roman
Catholics Books, 1996), p. lx.
 The "Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani" (2008) at No.
336 permits the amice to be dispensed with when the alb is made
in such a way that it completely covers the collar, hiding the
street clothes. In fact, however, it rarely happens that the
collar is not seen, even partially; hence, the recommendation to
use the amice in any case.
 No. 336 of the "Istitutio" of 2008 also allows the
cincture to be dispensed with if the alb is made in such a way
that it fits closely to the body without the cincture. Despite
this concession, it is important to recognize: a) the
traditional and symbolic value of the cincture; b) the fact that
in the traditional style, and especially in the modern style
only fits snugly to the body with difficulty. Although the norm
foresees the possibility, it should only be regarded as
hypothetical when the facts are taken into account: indeed, the
cincture is always necessary. Sometimes today one finds albs
that have a cloth fastener that is sown about the waist of the
garment that can be drawn together. In this case the prayer can
be said when this is tied. Nevertheless, the traditional style
remains absolutely preferable.
 "[T]he Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to
the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be
vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated."
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments, "Redemptionis Sacramentum," March 25, 2004, No. 123.