Greetings to dearest Sisters in Christ as we continue in Christmastide celebration. Our joy cannot be limited to one day. The Church gives us a full season to happily sweep others into the jubilation! Emmanuel is here! O come, let us adore Him!
Responding to a door bell one day, a pint-sized fellow stared back at me through masked eyes. “I am a burglar.” My sure reply: “Don’t move! My son, Spencer, is going to take care of you!” The mask and attached skull cap and cape were swiftly hurled. “Mom, no… it’s me, it’s me!”Childhood role playing can help muster healthy courage and wisdom to take on identities as we mature and maneuver through life. One might take on the role of student, friend, spouse, mother, neighbor or a vocational path of doctor, engineer, teacher. Some of these personas meet retirement, others might mark our headstones. As Catholics we believe that an ontological change (same being, interior change) takes place in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. When validly administered, these Sacraments produce a permanent change in what a person is and the nature of his/her existence.
While priests still look very much like any other layperson, there is something fundamentally, or ontologically, different about them after their ordination. During the International Reunion of Priests (18 June 1996, Fatima), John Cardinal O’Connor shared: “In my judgment, this concept of the ontological nature of the priesthood, is critical. We don’t just put on vestments; we don’t just receive an assignment. Neither makes us priests. We become priests at ordination. There is an “ontological change” in our spiritual nature. Such is a profound mystery. … A cup of wine still smells like wine and tastes like it, but it is now the Blood of Christ. At ordination an ontological change takes place.”
In respecting the good Cardinal’s statement, priestly vestments can serve to remind both the priest and the laity regarding this irrevocable ontological fact. To this point, Pope Benedict XVI states: “Just as in Baptism an “exchange of clothing” is given, an exchanged destination, a new existential communion with Christ, so also in priesthood there is an exchange: in the administration of the sacraments, the priest now acts and speaks “in persona Christi”. In the sacred mysteries, he does not represent himself and does not speak expressing himself, but speaks for the Other, for Christ.” For the priest, vestments reflect a distinctive mission and identity in Christ. They manifest his total gift of self.
The nature of priestly attire (clericals and liturgical) both reveal and veil. The man clothed in them distinguishes his role while out and about in the world and also during religious ceremonies. Certain features (color, design) might bode familiarity, but deeper meanings subsist. As a priest clothes himself for holy Mass, he prays vesting prayers in preparation. The initial prayer is uttered while the priest washes his hands to prepare to vest. “Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might serve you with purity of mind and body.” The first vestment donned is an amice, a square white cloth with two cords attached. When put on, it is held at the top of the head and allowed to flow down over the shoulders. Tucked all around to conceal the clerical collar, its length amply covers the shoulders while the cords are tied around the chest. “Place, O Lord, the helmet of salvation upon my head, to repel the assaults of the devil.” Next comes the alb, a white robe, symbolizing purity and thus extending over the whole body. “Cleanse me, O Lord, and purify my heart, that washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may attain everlasting joy.” Following is the cincture, a cord or rope worn as a belt, reminding of St Peter’s admonition to Gird your loins. It serves as a reminder of chastity. “Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity and quench in me the fire of concupiscence; that the virtue of continence and chastity may remain in me.” The stole, a generous piece of cloth draped over the neck like a scarf, is next. It falls down over both shoulders and the front of the priest’s chest and then crossed and secured by the cincture. Its origin is the Jewish prayer shawl and symbolic of the spiritual authority of the priest. It is worn for blessings, baptisms, confessions, exorcisms. “Return to me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which I have lost in the sin of my first parent; and although I, unworthy, approach Thy sacred Mystery, grant to me, nevertheless, everlasting joy.” The final vestment is the chasuble, representative of the robe Our Lord was mocked in during His Passion, and thus indicative of the immense charity and endurance essential for the priestly life. It is to be worn over the stole, fittingly symbolizing charity over authority. “O Lord, Who hast said, My yoke is easy and My burden light; grant that I may be able so to bear it, that I may obtain Thy grace. Amen.”
In gaining awareness of vesting prayers, Seven Sisters have a beautiful opportunity: an echo of these prayers in hopes that the priests may live them more fully and an echo of these prayers in hopes that we may grow in the understanding of the character of the priest, the Mass, and ourselves.
St John Eudes to fellow priests: “As soon as you leave the house to go to Mass, you should realize that you are going not merely to attend or watch, but actually to perform an action more holy and divine, greater and more sublime, more noble and admirable than any other in heaven or on earth. Consequently, you must perform it in a holy and divine manner, that is, with thoroughly holy and divine dispositions, with great care and attention of mind and heart, and with the realization that what you are going to do is more vitally important to you than anything else in the world.” Be assured, the priest does not arrive suitably vested at holy Mass to announce he is a burglar. Rather, he offers an invitation to those gathered to prepare their hearts to enter the mysteries of the Faith. For therein, he knows well, that through him and with him and in him, Christ will present Himself, to capture those freely-offered open hearts for His Love.
United in prayer and mission…that our prayers may find the heart of every bishop and priest.… eternal gratitude continues as you each remember to offer a wee Hail Mary for me every day…. “One Ave Maria makes hell tremble” (St John Vianney). Pray that I will not ‘spoil the beautiful work that God has entrusted…’ (St Teresa of Calcutta) … your kind emails and notes and phone calls and generous support always arrive to my heart door at the right moment! Your financial sacrifices are for 100% furtherance of Apostolate. THANK YOU! The letters of testimony are so beautiful and edifying! What glory is given to God through your writing! Eternal gratitude is mine for YOU! Be assured of my continued daily prayers for you at the altar.
Janette (Howe) +JMJ+