Monday, May 18, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: Priestly Vestments

Yesterday at Mass, we had a visiting F.S.S.P. priest. My pastor assisted, along with another visiting priest. As all three entered in the processional, they were clothed in the most gorgeous vestments - gold brocaded chasubles with intricate embroidered designs, with a large cross on the one for the priest. The inside lining was a vivid red.

As they proceeded toward the sanctuary, I felt my eyes well up with tears. I was slightly surprised by the depth of emotion I felt and after, pondered my reaction. Why get all choked up about clothing? I suppose it has something to do with my growing awareness of how worship is meant to separate us from the world. Worshipping God should be different than any other activity we engage in. Clearly defining the experience of worship is important.

I had an interesting conversation with my husband last night about this issue. He brought up the point of "house churches," when the early Christian church met from house to house as their numbers grew. Many times throughout history, and in countries today that forbid the open practice of Christianity, believers have had to go "underground" and meet in homes. Obviously during those times, a group of believers is limited in their worship activities.

However, I pointed out the circumstances of the Israelites, after they left Egypt and were wandering in the desert. God had them stay in a certain spot, and then gave them instructions for the Levitical priesthood, complete with what Catholic would call "rubrics" or standards, including the craftsmanship of sacred objects to be used in worship. I said to my husband, "God thought this was more important than anything else. He didn't say, 'Build a recreation center' or 'Build a school.' He said 'Build a temple to worship Me.'" And He had very specific instructions for how to do this.

When I first returned to the Catholic Church last year, I was fascinated with sacred vestments. Not only that, I felt sad when I saw priests or nuns wearing "regular" clothes. Something just didn't seem right about it. I remembered posting in several places a question about the meaning of sacred vestments (Catholic Answers being one of them). I never received a response. I turned to God and said, "Please help me understand, if You will, the meaning and importance of these vestments." I think God is starting to give me understanding.

Although there have been times when Christians were not able to fully practice temple worship, I believe this is what God has intended as the 'norm' for His people. Our worship as Christians has roots in Judaic worship; and why wouldn't it? The believers in the early church were Jews as well as Gentiles. The Gentiles had no specific framework from which to approach worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus, as a Jew, said He had come to not destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. Would it not make sense to continue the Judaic form of worship but with the addition of Jesus Christ's fulfillment of Himself as the Paschal Lamb; sacrificed to take away the sin of the world?

I believe so. And along with that worship, comes sacred vestments. The vestments are a way to help transport us from the world to heaven. We know when we witness a priest wearing such garments that something is different. We are entering a holy place and for that; holy things are needed.

When I was involved in non-denominational churches, I never did agree with the "casualness" that permeates the service. Everything from bringing in a cup of coffee to chattering away endlessly before service and sometimes during; made me long for a demarcation between "the world" and "worship." I don't know why it's difficult to find reverence within a worship service, but I am convinced Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, deserves no less.

I'm still pondering, but wanted to share with you my thoughts so far about worship and vestments. I'd love for you to share what you think and if you have any resources. I was thrilled to find a woman through Twitter who will soon be releasing a book about the roots of Judaic worship in Christianity. I am looking forward to reading it.

4 comments:

Jillian said...

Mass yesterday was BEAUTIFUL!

As far as Judaic worship in Christianity goes, have you seen this website/book before? http://www.secondexodus.com/

Chris said...

very interesting post today, Mary Rose! Just a few random thoughts from me...
I know that the overall "purpose" (if you will) of the vestments is to cover the person of the priest, because in the Mass he acts in persona Christi, and not on his own behalf. I think this is also why in my very traditional parish ;D you don't see the priests in the back after Mass shaking hands and chatting with everyone while they are still in their vestments. There is a disctinction between the person who is the priest and the priest as he functions in the Mass.
I like that on the older style, Roman chasubles you can see the distinct cross on the back of the priest. (I think they look nicer than the more modern, flowy Gothic chasubles too.) It makes sense because when the Mass is said ad orientem, the cross of the chasuble is facing the people and that is what we see- not the face of the priest.
(I never thought I would care so much about vestments either! :D )

JoannaB said...

I think it is about being 'set apart' for God, especially for the religious - they are set apart from the world and their clothings represents that - we are all called to be 'in the world' and not of it and more so for the religious. As well, the different priestly garments help us to focus on the church's year and on the occasion that we have come to celebrate.

JoannaB said...

I think it is about being 'set apart' for God, especially for the religious - they are set apart from the world and their clothings represents that - we are all called to be 'in the world' and not of it and more so for the religious. As well, the different priestly garments help us to focus on the church's year and on the occasion that we have come to celebrate.