Preparing for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Author: Janice Smyth


Imprimatur: Msgr. Richard J. Burke Diocese of Arlington September 11, 1985

Book may be ordered from: Our Lady of the Rosary School 904 W. Stephen Foster Avenue Bardstown, KY 40004

Table of Contents

Introduction A Brief History of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass The Sacrifice of Christ Where the First Christian Worshipped The Papal Mass in St. Gregory's Day Holy Mass: My Sacrifice and Yours Romanum Missalae or Former Rite of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Novus Ordo or New Rite of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass The Christian Altar: the Altar of Sacrifice A Brief History Ecclesiastical Vestments: a Brief History The Four Major Vestments and Other Vestments of the Roman Catholic Church Sacred Vessels and Other Accoutrements Sacred Linens The Books for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Preparing for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass The Church Sacred Vessels and Linens Priests' Vestments Deacons' Vestments Preparing for Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament The Church Priests or Deacons' Vestments Making the Sacred Linens Care of Sacred Linens Suitable Embroidery Patterns Sources of Fabrics, Trims, Patterns, and Directions Bibliography


In the Old Testament, God not only regulated the details of divine worship, but He also prescribed the type of dress to be worn by the priests in the performance of their priestly office. "You must make sacred vestments for your brother Aaron to consecrate him to serve as priest to me. The following are the vestments you must make: a pouch or breastpiece, an apron, a robe, a brocaded tunic, a mitre and a girdle, and they must use gold, violet, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen." (Exodus 28).

In the New Testament no such regulations were laid down. Jesus recalled the life of Paradise when He said, "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body what you shall put on." (Matthew 6:25) Perhaps for this reason, the early Church chose the chasuble of the peasant instead of the toga or pallium of the free Roman citizen. However, in all iconography, from the early Christian centuries, Jesus Himself is invariably clothed in tunic or toga or pallium, never in a chasuble. Very often the saints shown in early frescoes and mosaics, as well as in medieval manuscripts are also so portrayed.

The ecclesiastical vestments of the Christian Church developed from articles of dress worn in the Roman empire; the basic forms were inspired by classical Greek attire. Christian archeology shows conclusively that ecclesiastical apparel from the first century onward consistently follows the Greco-Roman pattern and manner of wearing the tunic and the mantle.

The Greeks perceived that the tunic, like all form-fitting types of clothing that drape from the shoulders, was expressive of the body and its movements. They perceived that the enveloping cloak which draped around the body with the head in the center, expressed the spiritual and intellectual perfection of man. In the tunic, adapted by clasps at the shoulders and held at the waist by a cord or a belt, and the mantle or cloak, which was worn over the tunic.

The Church chose to accept the inspiration of classical Greece without being bound by its proud rigour or intellectual formalism. The tunic or alb continued to express the bodily nature of man, and the enveloping, circular chasuble continued to express the fallen spirit of man healed by redemption but not yet in possession of the robe of glory. In the full liturgy of the Western rites, only the priest-celebrant is perfectly clothed, up to and including the encircling chasuble. He is the complete man.

In the Greco-Roman world, a man at work wore only a tunic, but no Roman of any standing appeared in public without a toga, the more elaborate Roman form of the mantle. The tunic of the ordinary citizen was made of plain white wool. On the tunics of knights and senators stripes of garnet color descended from the shoulders to the hem of the tunic, front and back. The mantle of the poorer classes was gradually supplanted by the paenula, or casula ("little house"), a semi-circular piece of cloth whose ends were brought together and sewn up the front, allowing enough room for the head, and forming a bell-shaped garment. Originally worn only by slaves, soldiers and others of low station, the casula was adopted during the third century by persons of fashion as a convenient riding cloak. Finally, by law of the Emperor Theodosius in 382 A.D., it was prescribed as the proper everyday mantle of senators. The toga was reserved for state occasions.

Another garment that came into fashion in the Roman world during the second century was the dalmatic which is a loose, unbelted tunic with very wide sleeves, worn as an outer garment over the long white tunic. The dalmatic was striped in the same way as the tunic of the knights and senators; it has not changed form and is the outer garment of deacons today.

By the 4th century, garments worn at liturgical functions had been separated from those in ordinary use, though they were still identical in form. Priests could be distinguished by certain ornamentation added to everyday dress, but there is a vast difference between the Jewish High Priest officiating in his special vestments which were prescribed by God Himself and the Roman priest officiating in the garment which every gentleman wore every day. As late as the 6th century, the under tunic and the upper tunic (dalmatica) and the chasuble (paenula or casula) were common to both clergy and laity, and were worn in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in everyday life.

During the 4th and 5th centuries, the first distinctive vestments, the sacred pallium and stole, made their appearance as ensigns of office and dignity of the priesthood. The major development of specifically ecclesiastical vestments took place between the 6th and 9th centuries. Secular fashions altered with changes of taste and because of the barbarian invasions. The Church retained the dress of the Roman empire of the 4th century, which still conserved the modified classicism of a vertically draping undergarment in the tunic or alb and an enveloping outer garment in the chasuble.

The first mention of a special liturgical garment for divine worship comes from the East in Jerusalem. Theodoret in his "Church History," records that the Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D. presented to the new church he had built in Jerusalem a "sacred robe" of gold to be used by the bishop at the solemn baptisms of the Paschal Vigil. But while this seems to be a special liturgical vestment, we hear nothing more until 375 A.D. when we read in the Apostolic Constitutions that the bishops "should celebrate the Eucharist clad in a splendid raiment." But the garment would seem to be a better version of the ordinary dress of the upper class of this period not a priestly garment like the priest of the Old Testament used. (The Origin of Priestly Vestments by the Very Rev. Alan J. Borsuk, V.F.)

The documents of the period reflect that many were divided on the question of special liturgical garments. Tertullian rejected special dress while Clement of Alexandria advocated it. Saint Jerome recommended it on the basis of the Old Testament while Rome regarded the whole matter with suspicion. Pope Celestine I stated, "Bishops should be distinguishable from the people not by costume but by doctrine."

The period between the 9th and 13th centuries marked the final development of eucharistic vestments in the West. Since by this time the clothing worn by priests in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was almost completely distinguished from secular dress, vestments came to symbolize a special dignity. In the second quarter of the 9th century, bishops, when fully vested, wore a camisia or shirt, girdled, a neck cloth or amice, an alb girdled, a tunicle, a dalmatic, a stole, a chasuble, and a sacred pallium. This is observable on the ivory towers of a 9th century missal preserved in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Until the 9th century vestments had been very plain; what splendor they had was the result of material and color and the ample folds of their drapery. But from this time onward they tended to become more and more elaborately decorated.

In the 9th century, pontifical gloves appeared. In the 10th century, the mitre appeared, in the 11th century, the use of liturgical shoes and stockings reserved to cardinals and bishops.

Today, following the Second Vatican Council, the Church speaks thus, "The beauty and dignity of liturgical vestments is to be sought in the excellence of their material and the elegance of their cut, rather than in symbols or figures employed in decorating vestments should be sacred in character and exclude anything inappropriate. (#306 Vatican Council II the Conciliar and PostConciliar Documents.)


1. The ALB

The alb is a sack-like, full-length white tunic usually made of linen, with long sleeves, secured at the waist by a cincture of white linen, silk or cotton cord. Albs were originally plain, but about the 10th century, the custom arose of ornamenting the hem and cuffs with embroidery, and this became common in the 12th century. Such ornamentation at first encircled the whole hem and cuff, but soon it became customary to substitute rectangular patches of embroidery or fabric. These "apparels" or "Orphreys" were usually four in number, one being sewn on the back and another on the front just above the hem, and one on each cuff. A fifth was occasionally added just below the neck opening.


The Chasuble, the outermost eucharistic vestment, worn over alb, amice and stole, is the distinctive priestly garment and the Mass vestment par excellence. It retained for hundreds of years in both East and West the classical form of its ancestor, the Roman paenula or casula. But in modern times, no vestment is so difficult to recognize as descending from the earlier Christian centuries.

Ornamentation was the first element that began to alter the appearance of the chasuble. In order to strengthen the single front seam, it was covered by a band, as seen in the 13th century sculptures at Chartres; the neck opening was also strengthened and a transverse band became common. This "T" led to the placing of crosses on the chasuble. The medieval custom was to add oblique side bands to the central column, forming a "Y" or fork. This is typical of chasubles from 13th to 16th centuries. As the sides of the chasuble came to be cut down in later centuries, the "Y" was squared off to form the Latin cross, which was transferred to the back of the vestment to symbolize the carrying of the Cross.

Today there is no requirement for placing a cross or any other decoration on the chasuble, however.

Traditionally, the chasuble, the stole, and the chalice veil are of matching fabric and ornamentation. The frontal and antependium on the altar are optional, but should match the vestments if used.

For guidance in selection of materials and ornamentation of vestments, see Document #306.

The colors of the vestments necessary for a full set of Ecclesiastical Vestments are the following:

a. White is the symbol of purity and is used at the following offices and Masses:

1. Christmastide Eastertide other than those concerning the Lord's passion 2. Feasts and memorials of the Blessed Virgin Mary 3. Feasts of the Angels 4. Feasts of the Saints who were not martyrs 5. Feast of All Saints (Nov. 1) 6. Feast of Saint John the Baptist (June 24) 7. Feast of Saint John the Evangelist (Dec. 27) 8. Feast of Saint Peter's Chair (Feb. 22) 9. Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul (Jan. 25)

b. Red is the symbol of fire and blood and is used for the following offices and Masses:

1. Passion Sunday 2. Good Friday 3. Pentecost 4. Commemorations of the Lord's passion 5. Commemorations of the martyrdoms of the apostles the evangelists and other martyrs

c. Green is the symbol of hope in Christ and is used in the following offices and Masses:

1. Those times (ordinary time) of the year which are not particular seasons.

d. Purple is the symbol of repentance and is used in the following offices and Masses:

1. Penitential seasons of Lent and Advent 2. Masses for the Dead (optional)

e. Rose is the symbol of joy and is used on the following Sundays:

1. Gaudete Sunday, third Sunday of Lent 2. Laetare Sunday, fourth Sunday of Advent

f. Gold is the symbol of special occasions and can be worn on all special occasions such as Easter and Christmas.

g. Black may be used for the Masses for the Dead, but rarely is.


The Dalmatic is a more elaborate tunic with color and fabric the same as the vestments of the celebrating priest. The form has remained identical to the original with open sides, wide sleeves with bands about bands the cuffs and colored bands descending from the shoulders. As in early Christian times, it is worn without cincture or girdle. The dalmatic became the distinctive garment of the deacons of the city of Rome during the 5th century and it is retained as the diaconal vestment.

4. The COPE

The Cope is a mantle reaching the heels of the wearer and worn when the chasuble is not used. The use of the cope as a liturgical vestment can be traced to the end of the 8th century. By the 13th century, the cope as an ornamental, colored garment of finer material had supplanted the chasuble in all non-Eucharistic functions. It is worn by priests and deacons.


The Stole is the sign of the authority of the Priesthood of Christ. It symbolizes immortality and reminds the priest of how sweet it is to serve Jesus. While putting on the stole, the priest may say, "Give me, O, Lord, the help to be able to come to You in heaven." He kisses the cross on the center back of the stole as he places it over his head and around the back of his neck.

The stole is a band of silk or other fine fabric eight feet long and four inches wide, marked in the center with a cross. If the stole is worn over the alb and under the chasuble, the ends are worn loose. Bishops always wear the stole over the chasuble with the ends of the stole hanging loose. A stole is worn when a cleric is exercising his order in celebration of Mass or in administering a sacrament such as Penance (Confession) or the Sacrament of the Sick.

The Deacon's STOLE

A deacon wears a stole from the left shoulder to his right side, attached at the hip level with a chain or tie. He wears the stole over the alb and under the dalmatic when he is assisting at the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when he preaches the Word of God or when he assists at weddings. He can wear the stole over the alb when he is baptizing or when he is preparing to wear the cope for Exposition and/or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.


An Amice is a rectangular vestment made of white linen and measuring 36" x 24" with two 36" strings of twill tape. It is worn under the alb, covering the neck and shoulders of the priest and/or of the deacon at Mass. Originally, it was a neckcloth to protect the valuable chasuble and stole. Also, it is known that the amice was at one time a head covering for priests and monks in cold monasteries. In legend, it is the helmet worn by the priest going forth to do battle for his people. The amice is no longer obligatory if the alb covers the neck.

While putting on the amice, the priest may pray, "Lord, give me strength to conquer the temptations of the devil."


The Humeral Veil is worn so as to cover the back and shoulders (where it gets its name) and its two ends hang down in front. To prevent its falling from the shoulders, it is fastened across the chest with clasps or ribbons attached to the border.

The Humeral Veil is worn by the priest or deacon in processions of the Blessed Sacrament, in giving Benediction, in carrying the Host to its repository on Holy Thursday, and bringing it back to the altar on Good Friday. In processions of the Blessed Sacrament and at Benediction given with the monstrance, only the hands are placed under the humeral veil; in other cases, it covers the sacred vessel which contains the Host. The Humeral Veil is usually and properly some shade of white (from ivory to white is acceptable).

It is not possible to determine when the Roman Ritual first prescribed the use of the humeral veil in processions of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, but it was probably towards the close of the Middle Ages. In many places outside of Rome, the humeral veil was not adopted for these functions until very recent times. Saint Charles Borromeo prescribed its use in Milan for processions of the Blessed Sacrament and for carrying Holy Communion to the sick.