The first point we need to understand is something I referred to in last week’s column. The vestments we wear take us back 2,000 years, to the time when Jesus walked the earth in His human body. Specifically, whenever we celebrate the Mass, we are taking part in what Christ did at the Last Supper, the night before He offered His life for us on the cross. If you think of the images of Jesus that you have seen, He is generally wearing a long, flowing robe, often of white. So the first vestment that the priest puts on in an alb, a white garment that hangs down to the floor. It is important that this garment be white, and in fact the very name comes from the Latin word alba, which means “white.” White is a color of cleanliness, and so it represents holiness in the sense of being clean from the stain of sin. The alb relates to the white garment that our parents put on us at our baptism. In that sense, it is not only a reminder that the priest is to be holy; it is also a reminder that every other vocation of our lives begins with our baptism. Notice, then, that the priest’s alb is essentially the same thing that our Altar Servers wear at Mass.
On a side note, you may notice that our Servers are no longer wearing crosses with their albs. I had always thought that there would come a time when they would start wearing out, and that I would not replace them. The alb itself is a sign of our baptismal dedication to Christ, and so the cross on top of the alb does not really add to the significance of the Servers’ vesture.
On top of the alb, a priest wears a stole, a piece of cloth that goes around the back of the neck and hangs down the front on two sides. The stole comes from a kind of mantle that people in Christ’s time would wear to show a particular role that they would have. So the stole is the sign of the office of priesthood. A deacon shows his ordination by wearing a stole over his left shoulder, hanging down diagonally in front and back, with the two sides joined together on his right. You will see an example next week when Deacon Tim Killmeyer, who will be part of our grouping in October, comes to visit and assist at all of the Mass.
When talking to the children, I sometimes tell them that the stole is kind of like a necktie that a man might wear to something important. That means that the outer garment is something like the suit coat. The chasuble was the outer coat that someone would wear. It shows that we are celebrating something of great importance when we celebrate Mass. I should also say something about the colors of the chasuble, but I am already at the bottom of the column.