Discourses on Solemn Mass: Part III
After the amice and alb, the sacred ministers don the cincture, a long cord made of linen or silk adorned with tassels at its ends. Though strictly-speaking only a white-colored cincture is required, often it is the same color as the vestments. The cincture is put on in a curious fashion: first having been doubled-up end to end (tassel to tassel), the cincture is held behind the minister with the looped end on his left, through which he places his left hand while taking the tasseled ends with the right. The minister draws the doubled cincture ends around his waist and makes a loose knot through the loop with the tasseled ends, allowing them to hang evenly on either side of his body so they nearly touch the floor.
This vestment piece is of course the predecessor of our modern-day belt, which is its practical function: to secure both the flowing alb – and we shall see in a moment – and stole to the body. Symbolically, the cincture signifies girding the loins (or rather loose-fitting garments) in readiness for work – in this case, the Lord’s vineyard through the sacrificial action. Another important spiritual allusion can be found in the prayer said by the minister while putting on the cincture which beseeches God that he may be girded with purity while the desires of concupiscence may be extinguished, thus maintaining the virtues of continence and chastity.
We now come to the most visible of the sacred ministers’ vestments, what we might call their “outer vesture” (e.g., the celebrant’s maniple, stole and chasuble) distinguishable by their color and richness of decoration. But first a word is in order concerning the types of materials and colors prescribed for the liturgical services of the Roman Church.
The dignity of divine worship of Almighty God requires that we give our best (or first fruits) to Him, especially at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Thus we see that even the most diehard of saints devoted to the evangelical counsel of Poverty (e.g., Sts. Francis of Assisi and John Vianney), nevertheless strove to obtain vestments (and other accouterments) of the best quality for the celebration of Mass.
It is thus in keeping with this spirit that the Church has prescribed the precious and costly fabric of silk be used in the making of the outer vestments. This though may be mixed (either of equal or lesser quantity) with other materials such as wool, cotton, or linen, as well as silk derivatives such as satin or velvet, or even silver and gold metallic thread. Though again silk is preferred, the inner linings may be of any suitable fabric. These vestments may also be decorated with embroidered motifs or trimming, though not strictly required (e.g., the chasuble is not required to have a large symbol of the cross, either on the front or back sides).
Concerning the various liturgical colors, while today we are accustomed to certain colors being strictly assigned to a particular feast or Mass, in ancient times a church would simply use what they had on hand, often using the most beautiful vestment set – whatever its color (other than black, that is) – for the biggest feast days. However, by St. Pius V’s codification of the Roman Missal in 1570, the following five liturgical colors had been strictly established for particular instances according to their symbolisms:
Here it is important to explain that violet (viola) technically differs from purple (purpurea), not only in color and use, but more importantly in significance. Both colors are made from a mixture of red and blue, but violet has more blue (like its namesake flower), while purple has more red. Also, while violet signifies penance (hence the expression “to feel blue”) and so used for penitential liturgical vesture, on the other hand, purple signifies joy and royalty (e.g., the “royal purple”) and is used for a prelate’s personal garments (e.g., a bishop’s sash, zucchetto, and choir cassock).
We must finally conclude with two colors that are allowed to be used out of custom:
The next discourse will continue with the outer vestments of the sacred ministers.
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