Vestments are clothing worn by priests solely for performing a sacred function such as saying Mass. These liturgical items have a history dating back 1500 years and, while the ornateness may have changed, the basic style and function remain the same with the colours and fabrics having spiritual significance.
Types of Vestments
Many types of vestments have been worn Catholic priests through out the ages. One of the most common vestments worn by priests today is the Alb, a long white linen and lace garment which covers the entire body and is worn during Mass. The Chasuble is worn over all other liturgical garments, and was originally very ornate and heavy. The term Chasuble is Latin meaning "Little House" and resembles a long poncho in it's shape. The Chasuble is colour of the Mass or season being celebrated. The Stole is a long scarf-like garment worn by priests to signify they are on official business. A Priest wears the stole on visits to hospitals and nursing homes in addition to daily Mass. The Cincture is a cord used like a tie belt to secure the Alb. A Cassock is an ankle-length garment, fastened down the front with 33 buttons for each year Jesus lived. The traditional colour for a cassock is black. The Surplice is a white garment often decorated with lace or embroidery and worn over a cassock by alter boys, seminarians and clerics. This garment is shorter than the Alb, falling mid-calf, with wide-cut sleeves.
Vestment Colors and Their Meanings
Catholic priests wear seven vestment colours during the liturgical year to represent a season or occasion. White, which represents purity, joy and triumph, is worn during the Christmas and Easter seasons, on the Feasts of All Saints and Apostles, and at Weddings. White is the colour of the Pope. Red is used on Pentecost and Palm Sundays, and the feasts of the martyred because it symbolises fire, blood and the Passion. Catholic Cardinals wear red as their non-liturgical colour. Purple, which signifies penance and humility, is used during the seasons of Advent and Lent, during vigils, and on Good Friday. Bishops and Arch Bishops wear purple for their non-liturgical dress. Green represents the Holy Ghost, hope and life eternal. It is used during the period after Epiphany and Pentecost. Black is worn on All Souls Day and Masses of the Dead to portray mourning or sorrow. Gold can be worn in place of white and represents joy. Rose also signifies joy, and is worn on the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Modern vestments are made of polyester, linen, lace, Duponi silk, satin and brocade woven expressly for liturgical garments.
Not Just for Catholics
Many Christian religions, in addition to the Roman Catholic rite, Anglicans, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox religions wear shared vestments. However, the Protestant sects have their own liturgical garments in addition to the shared clothing.