Why do priests wear a chasuble?

07-24-2016Why do Catholics do that?

A while back I spoke on the different colors that priests wear at Mass; however, I did not go into much detail regarding the actual reason the priest wears a chasuble. The chasuble is the long flowing outer garment. Since we are in Ordinary Time (think "ordered time", not "plain ole' time") the priest is wearing green. The word chasuble comes from the Latin "casula" which means "little house". In the late Roman Empire these were common traveling garments,but later took on theological significance.

There is very rich symbolism in the chasuble that helps us understand the role of the priest during Mass. The chasuble represents charity. It is worn over all other vestments just as charity is above all other virtues (Col. 3:14). It hangs down both front and back, representing love of God and love of neighbor. Two traditional symbols that appear on most chasubles are the vertical bar down the front and the cross on the back. These two symbols represent the principal instruments of the Passion of our Lord: the pillar upon which Christ was scourged and the cross upon which Christ was crucified. The Cross can be a standard Latin cross or the ancient Y shaped cross which depicts the way our Lord's hands and arms would have been seen by us as He hung on the cross. This cross shows the priest's willingness to take up the Cross of Christ on behalf of his flock. It reminds us that at the heart of the priesthood is sacrifice. Truly it is the duty of the priest to offer sacrifice, but also the whole life of the priest is a holocaust offered to God. These symbols are particular important for us to reflect on during the Holy Mass, which is the re-presentation of Calvary in an unbloody manner.

When a priest is vested for Mass he is standing "in persona Christi": In the person of Christ. Traditionally when a priest processed down the aisle, the people in the congregation would make a profound bow as he went by, showing their belief that this priest is standing in the place of Christ who is offering the Mass. In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, it is not uncommon that the congregants will actually reach out to touch the priest's garments as he goes by, just as the hemorrhaging woman reached and touched the cloak of Christ and was healed. For those who remember the Traditional Latin Mass, the server would raise the chasuble of the priest during the consecration. This comes from the same idea.

I highly recommend the new book Nothing Superfluous by Fr. James Jackson, FSSP. I credit this book for much of the information above.

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