Many would be surprised to hear that the vast majority of people who ask about the meaning of church vestments are among the religious. In this modern, more secular society, liturgical elements are regarded as quaint relics of the past. Many advocate their abolition, citing many reasons that seem logical, at least on the surface.
However, every piece of garment worn during mass has a deeper meaning attached to it and serves different purposes that go beyond ornament or “theatrics”, as many like to put it.
Why do churches use these garments?
Church vestments are an integral part of our commitment to Christ and His teachings. They also serve to “separate” the temporary from the eternal, the mundane from the sacred. These distinctions have a strong foundation in reason; they serve as a subtle reminder that there is an order for everything. Our daily lives can take unpredictable turns and twists at any time. However, when we attend service, we are surrounded by liturgical elements that remind us that there is a divine center that anchors us to God.
The first thing we should know about church vestments is that they were never designed to be different from what others wear in their everyday lives. They have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. Over time, popular clothing preferences shifted and traditional raiments slowly fell out of favor. So, in a way, church vestments serve as a point of reference that tells us how far society has walked away from traditions. Of course, it does not mean our spiritual leaders should tell congregants how to dress, but it is an interesting observation nonetheless.
The only distinctive aspect church vestments had in the old days was that they had to be immaculate and made of the best fabrics. The purpose had nothing to do with being boastful or immodest, but to keep separate sets of clothes for that one day dedicated to God and our families and community.
But what is the meaning of Church Vestments?
For the observant, there are obvious meanings behind eucharistic or church vestments, and they are denomination-dependent. For example, the Church of God In Christ, one of the largest Christian denominations in the US, uses colors and symbols to give visible cues about the hierarchy among their leaders. The ordained is restricted to wearing black, while bishops wear the purple of the office. However, church vestments rarely vary in terms of ornament or even quality, one could even say that those in higher positions often see themselves more restricted. We always provide the best quality and make in all our clergy robes and church vestments.
Roman Robe or cassock
Not technically a vestment but an undergarment for vestments. The cassock is an ankle-length related to the traditional habit worn by monks and friars of yore and derives from the roman tunic and the Greek himation. It was customary for the ordained to use cassocks as clericals or everyday use raiments. However, members of the church slowly started to replace cassocks with banded collar clergy shirts and formal suits, relegating its use almost exclusively for services and official events. Check out our high-quality Roman Cassocks.
The chimere is a direct descendant of the medieval tabard. The tabard was a short sleeveless coat worn by commoners and peasants during the late middle ages, often used as work clothes. The liturgical variation we see today has more in common with the academic tabard. It is usually black but can be purple or red, depending on denomination and hierarchy. The chimere is worn on top of the cassock.
Similar to the surplice, the rochet is a descendant of the albs worn by medieval priests. The modern version of the rochet still retains the whiteness that represents the purity of Christ. However, it went through important modifications that included long baggy sleeves confined at the wrists by a colored cuff that matches the tone of the cassock. It reminds priests of their baptism and the purity of Christ's body.
The tippet or preaching scarf is the long rectangular piece of cloth we often see hanging vertically from a bishop´s shoulders. We can trace its current form back to the 14th century when fur tippets were worn around the neck for protection against cold weather. Liturgical tippets today are plain and symbolize the yoke of the office bestowing priests of authority and dignity, but also reminding them of their duty to preach the word of God and oversee its observance.
The cincture is basically a broad belt worn around the waist. This broad silken ribbon hangs down the waist and it usually sports fringes at the end. Its liturgical significance goes back to Saint Peter´s admonition to gird the loins of our understanding.
These eucharistic vestments work in conjunction with each other and all other liturgical elements during service. Each one has its meaning, but all serve to remind priests and congregants of the duty of their pastor.
It is not uncommon to hear some suggest that church vestments have a more instrumental and mundane purpose such as creating a distance between classes or just signaling organizational hierarchies. But there is nothing further from the truth. If anything, vestments serve as equalizers, reducing the priest´s individual qualities and personal views. At the same time, holy garments remind people that they are participating in something greater than themselves. Ultimately, clergy attire does not confer sanctity. They serve religious leaders as reminders of their duties and that they are part of something holy and contribute to the beauty of the rite.
The importance of church vestments cannot be overstated. If you want to find high-quality robes and liturgical garments to add to your wardrobe, or are just curious about church vestments and their differences, get in touch with us at 877-453-3535. If you are in Hamilton, New Jersey, stop by our physical store and we will be more than happy to show you around.