A series of vestments: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

A blessed Sunday of Rogation to you.  Also, I wish everyone the best during tomorrow’s remembrance of those who have died in service to this country.   

We celebrate Rogation day the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension, which is this Thursday, May 30th.  Rogation comes from Rogare which is the Latin verb “to ask.”  Rogation is a time to ask for God’s blessing on the agriculture and the resources of creation.  It recognizes these resources as gifts from God upon which all humans rely for life.  Our celebration of Rogation Sunday involves a procession to Wynnewood Valley Park next door, where we will read some scripture and pray a brief series of prayers and blessings.  It is also reflected in today’s Prayers of the People which are excerpted from the Great Litany.  The Litany is traditionally prayed on Rogation days because it represents the universal Church’s intercession and petition for itself and for the whole world. The prayer book version of the Litany that we pray in a much abbreviated form (we chanted the whole thing on the first Sunday of Lent, if you remember) was composed in 1547 by Thomas Cranmer as a pastoral response to ongoing wars between England, Spain and France.  It is truly one of the treasures of our Anglican heritage.  

The past four weeks I have been writing about vestments.  I promised to come back to that fancy cape thing I wore at the Easter Vigil, and will do so by discussing choir dress a little more.  Choir dress refers to vestments worn when there is no celebration of the Eucharist, for instance at a service of Morning Prayer, or Evensong. Choir dress is cassock and surplice (I wrote about those in the second part of this series), followed by an academic hood if the person is so entitled.  Clergy can then wear a black scarf called a tippet.  A tippet is generally wider and longer than a stole and is always black. Military chaplains or clergy who served in the military may attach any metals and other honors to which they are entitled to the tippet, and it is customary to sew patches to the tippet representing dioceses or seminaries.  As you can see, there is more of a customary usage to choir dress that has to do with titles and ranks and styles.  This puts it at odds with some of the theology of vestments that I have been trying to convince you of in previous posts, but it also pertains to the fact that ours is a church with a long and varied history and embedded tradition.

 Choir dress was very common before the 1979 prayer book when Morning Prayer was the principal Sunday service in most Episcopal churches on most Sundays.  Pictures of the earliest services here at Holy Apostles show the clergy and choir so appareled.  Also part of choir dress are “preaching tabs” small white bands of cloth that hang from the neck, typically denoting who is going to preach; and several variations of black hats: one called the Canterbury cap that has three corners, and one called a biretta that has three corners, a “fin,” and large pom-pom on top.  Trust me, I know how ridiculous that sounds.  Google it sometime, and then you will know how ridiculous it looks!  Much of the garments in choir dress share a common origin with academic regalia (the mortar board is related to the biretta) and with the traditional attire of the legal profession (Supreme court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s white neck ruffles are related to preaching tabs).  The reason for this has to do with the fact that the earliest universities of the western world were institutions of the Church, and the first lawyers trained at such institutions were canon lawyers, that is, lawyers engaged in the interpretation and litigation of the Church’s laws and policies (yes, they’re that complicated!).  

The cope is also part of choir dress.  The cope is a semi-circular cape-like garment, open at the front, and held in place by a clasp of metal or cloth.  It probably shares its origin with the chasuble: garments worn by dignitaries of the Roman empire in the 4thcentury.  It came to be used as garment “in choir” and especially for processions.  Processions in the medieval church were often longer than just a leisurely jaunt down the center aisle of the church, and were often outdoors.  On Rogation days in medieval England (some places retain this tradition today), it was common for a procession to encircle the boundaries of the entire village, or parish, with stations along the way for prayers and scripture and blessings to be said.  This is called “beating the bounds.”  Our procession to the park this morning originates in this practice.  Aren’t you glad I don’t want us to process down Haverford road to City Avenue and then back up Earlington Road!  That’s not to say I didn’t entertain the thought…

Anyway, the cope is worn by the clergy and by cantors in these sorts of processions, and at other formal services that involve a lot of movement.  The cope is never worn during the Eucharistic prayer, so if a priest wears the cope for the first part of the service—as I did for the Easter Vigil—then it replaced by the chasuble before the Eucharistic prayer begins.      

The cope that belongs to us came from St. Faith’s.  It was made by J. Theodore Cutherbertson a  vestment maker based in Philadelphia in the early and mid-20thcentury.  It is a very fine piece of work, made of silk and velvet.  

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