Saw the New York Times photos from the Metropolitan Gala do over the weekend. Read some of the swooning over a purported meeting between faith and fashion. Travesty meets titillation is a more accurate description. The cooperation of the Vatican in loaning vestments, miters, and so on is perplexing. Are there those over in Rome who are so f'ing desperate to seem hip that cooperating in sacrilege is a reasonable option?
The photos included here are a far cry from the grotesqueries of the red carpet at the Met. I took them in a monastic sacristy over the weekend. Fashionable? Probably not by the standards of the pathetic crowd that pranced the red carpet. Faith? Not in and of themselves as pieces of variously cut fabrics. They are, however, conduits to a deeper experience of faith through the liturgy for which they are worn, the only proper place and time to wear them. (Both photos below were taken over the weekend that this travesty was put on. I was at a monastery at the time giving some conferences. The top photo shows the vestments prepared for the conventual Mass on Sunday. Mine are the ones on the back table on the extreme right. The second photo is the vestments I wore. My amice, alb, and cincture with the rest supplied by the community.)
Each of the vestments a priest puts on is associated with a vesting prayer meant to remind him fundamental truths and desires. Many religious who continue to wear the habit, also repeat specific prayers as they put on the various parts of that habit in the morning.
The whole process of vesting begins with the washing of hands while repeating a prayer that begins, "Give virtue to my hands . . . . "
The amice, a rectangular cloth with cords at two corners and a cross embroidered on the middle upper part, is kissed, touched to the back of the head, and then draped over the shoulders. The long cords are wrapped around the midsection and tied at the waist.
The accompanying prayer begins, "Place upon me O Lord, the helmet of salvation . . ."
The long white alb that extends to the floor is put on with a prayer that begins, "Make me pure O Lord, and cleanse my heart . . . "
The cincture is a long to very long (the one I'm currently using is very very long) white cord that is knotted or has tassels at the end. As the priest puts it on he begins, "Gird me O Lord, with the cincture of purity . . . "
The stole is distinct to the ordained minister. A priest wears the stole draped behind his neck and over both shoulders, the deacon's stole is draped over his right shoulder, across the chest, and is joined at the left hip. The color may vary with the liturgical season though white is always an option. The stole is put on with a prayer that begins, "Lord, restore the stole of immortality . . . "
Oftentimes the priest's cincture is not tied around the waist until after the stole is put on. The cincture can then be wrapped and tied in such a way that the long stole is contained closer to the body. On one occasion at a funeral in the Slovenian mountains the cincture prevented my stole from taking wing in a brutally cold wind.
Finally, the chasuble, the large garment put over the head and draped over the entire upper body, sometimes almost grazing the floor. The full prayer that accompanies vesting with the chasuble is: "O Lord, who has said, "My yoke is sweet and My burden light," grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace." Any decoration should be subtle and enhance the visual experience of liturgy. One of the men at the Trappist Abbey in Spencer, MA explained that that they generally avoid figurative decorations as the vestment should be allowed to speak for itself. Would that all vestment makers hewed to this philosophy.
And no, though the abuse is common, the stole is not to be worn over the chasuble.
The party at the Met was, in the end, an exercise in silliness, worthy perhaps of a ten- year old at Halloween, but not much beyond that.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD