Understanding the Liturgy

by Marlon De La Torre

North Texas Catholic

5/7/2019

At times one forgets that as children created in the image and likeness of God, our physical existence reflects the beauty of who God is and how we are called to worship Him. Attuned to this point, the way we position ourselves to profess the Blessed Trinity takes on greater significance when we recognize and acknowledge that God should be adored and reverenced in a holy and acceptable way.

We see this practice on display with specific men consecrated to assist us in worshipping and praying to our Lord in a holy way. These men consecrated as priests, i.e. servants of Christ and His Gospel, wear distinctive liturgical attire representing their sacred duty to provide the faithful with the opportunity to profess Christ and celebrate his ultimate sacrifice through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Their priestly vestments signify a sense of sacredness, order, and sanctity because priestly vestment are aimed to adore Christ. Whether the color of the chasuble is green for ordinary time, or violet for Lent or Advent, the vestments are specifically aimed to assist the Priest who acts in the person of Christ to reflect Him especially in the celebration and our participation in the Mass.

The origins of priestly vestments can be found in the book of Exodus (28:2-3): “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor. Tell all the skilled men to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.” The Roman Cassock for instance serves as the appropriate ecclesiastical or Church garb for all clerics and is typically black to signify simplicity and penance.

The premise of priestly vestments was to assure that a priest was first and foremost a servant of the Gospel meaning his duty was to serve the Church. His liturgical vestments are an extension of his duty and ministry to the Church and reflective of the call to serve in the name of Christ. What are the garments a priest wears and what are they called?  The cincture is a rope that ties together everything the priest wears — including the chasuble, the alb, and the stole — so it’s not flying all over when the priest is celebrating Mass. It symbolizes spiritual watchfulness. 

The alb is a garment of authority, signifying purity. A priest would most likely wear it underneath the chasuble when he celebrates Mass. An acolyte or separate minister assisting at the Mass might also wear this white garment.

The outer garment, the chasuble, is specific to the priest, who was given the ability through the gift of his priesthood to consecrate the elements of bread and wine at the holy sacrifice of the Mass. 

The Roman collar is an adaptation from the 12th and 13th century, attributed to Pope Urban, to give a sense of authority and reverence. The collar was typically also associated with the black cassock as well. 

Father Maurice Moon celebrates Mass at the Middle School rally.(NTC/Juan Guajardo)

 

What is the meaning of the stole?

The stole is a long strip of fabric worn by deacons, priests, and bishops as a sign of Holy Orders. The deacon wears the stole diagonally on his left shoulder, and the priest wears it around his neck over both shoulders.

What are the origins of the priesthood vestments?

They can be attributed to Exodus 28 in particular. This particular chapter really gives an impression of the priesthood vestments and that they should be strictly reserved to worshipping God. And so these vestments are connected to the Holy of Holies or the Holy Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, or the Tabernacle. So whoever is the minister or part of the Levitical priesthood would wear this particular vestment as a preparation for the celebration of the worship of God in the Holy Tabernacle sacrifice.

Why do priests wear black?

Black signifies austerity and discipline, it signifies purity, and it signifies humility. The color black was attributed between the 12th and 13th century as part of the original cassock and Roman collar that priests would wear. The Church wanted a distinction for the priest to stand out and to understand their servanthood with respect to being a priest.

What do different liturgical colors signify?

Development of these colors spans from the beginning of the Church in the first century, all the way through the 16th century. For example, white, typically associated with a priest’s alb, is meant to symbolize purification or making a sacrifice.

Green typically refers to the ordinary time of the Church, beginning prior to the fourth century and developed all the way through the 12th century to describe “normal time” in the Church.

Red is very significant because it signifies martyrdom. The color red is used within the Church for specific feast days; for example, Good Friday, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi. It’s a representation of Christ who died on the cross and His martyrdom that occurred at the three o’clock hour. Red is also used throughout the liturgical year when we have a particular feast day of a saint who died a martyr.

The color black signifies death. It is not uncommon to see black vestments worn by a priest during a funeral Mass or to signify someone who has passed on from this world to the next.

Purple or violet signifies penance. This color received some of its identity around the fourth century and was attributed loosely to St. Augustine and the whole process of the catechumenate, or those who came into the Church. It signifies a willingness to let go of worldly desires and embrace Christ. So typically you have this color during Advent and during Lent because both these seasons center on preparation, anticipation, humility, and sacrifice.

Another color we typically see at different times of the year is rose, which signifies joyful anticipation. Priests wear rose chasubles and stoles on the third Sunday of Advent, as we anticipate the birth of our Lord, and the fourth Sunday of Lent, because we know that Easter is coming.

What does the color gold signify?

The color gold is very significant because it’s attributed to a king. So you would typically see the color gold worn during the feast of Christ the King, or on a significant feast, say the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter that we just celebrated in February. And during the Easter season as well, where you’d see white and gold linens because we say “Alleluia” to our Lord, He is risen, He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

 

At times one forgets that as children created in the image and likeness of God, our physical existence reflects the beauty of who God is and how we are called to worship Him.

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