A Note from the Rector – 5/26/19

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.  

A Note from the Rector – 5/5/19

This is the second part of a series of “Notes” about the meaning and purpose of vestments.  Last week I gave an overview of the topic, and a general theological statement about vestments.  Next, I will explore specific garments, starting from the inside and working out.  One thing to note: this stuff has tradition behind it, but, while many people (God forbid I include myself here) can get sort of fussy about vestments, there are no official guidelines in the Episcopal church or instructions in the Book of Common Prayer about vestments.  

The first robe I normally wear on Sunday is not, properly speaking, a vestment.  It is a long black robe called a cassock, which used to be “street wear” for clerics rather than a garment set apart for worship.  The cassock was meant for everyday use.  This can be illustrated by the BBC series “Father Brown Mysteries” based on the mystery stories of G. K. Chesterton, featuring Mark Williams as the eponymous sleuthing priest.  Father Brown is almost never seen without his cassock on.  He even rides countryside on his bicycle wearing it. These days, the everyday wear of clergy people, known as “clericals,” is more commonly the black shirt with a white collar.  More often than not, I only wear my cassock on Sunday mornings.  For me, it serves the purpose of setting Sunday and Sunday worship apart as something out of the ordinary.  

What’s worn over the cassock is much more important.  The robe worn over the cassock is called an alb, which is short for the Latin word, albus, which means “white” (an etymology which might be significant for fans of the Harry Potterseries, written by an Anglican lay woman by the name of J.K. Rowling).  The alb derives from the everyday clothing of ancient Rome. Originally it was similar to the Greek toga.  It is a garment not limited only to priests, deacons, and bishops.  Anybody serving in the liturgy may wear an alb, or a similar garment (I’ll get to similar garments in a moment).  This is because, first and foremost, the alb signifies the ministry of all the baptized.  In the 4thcentury (here we go again), a pilgrim named Egeria travelled to Jerusalem and observed the Easter ceremonies of the Church in Jerusalem. During the Easter Vigil, Egeria observed a number of baptisms of adults (infant baptism was not very common in the early centuries of the church).  Those to be baptized were separated by gender, and they disrobed before they were baptized by full-immersion.  When they came out of the water they were given an alb to put on to signify that their sins had been washed away, and they were now forgiven participants in the risen life of Christ.  So, in one sense, the alb signifies the state and ministry of all the baptized. 

In Revelation 7:14, the author sees a vision of a great multitude of people from every people group and nation, standing before the throne of God in heaven holding palm branches.  They are all wearing albs, and the author is told their robes are white because they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb, who is Christ himself.  All these white-robed saints had experienced persecution and martyrdom.  On several occasions, our liturgy refers to the white-robed army of martyrs.  This is the origin of that reference.  So, the alb signifies the state and ministry of the baptized, and also the purity and faithfulness of those whose commitment to Christ extends even unto death and beyond. I am reminded of these symbolic meanings every time I put on my alb with this prayer: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, and cleanse from me all stains of sin; that, with those who have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, I may have grace to attain to everlasting happiness.”

A local, northern European variation of the alb, called the surplice is another white garment that I sometimes where.  The surplice is cut differently than the alb, with a wider neck, and reallybig sleeves.  It is not worn with a cincture (robe around the waist).  Over time, the usage of the alb versus the surplice was differentiated so that, a surplice is generally worn by those who are not actually celebrating the Eucharist (clergy or lay), and for services such as Morning Prayer where Eucharist is not to be celebrated at all.  It is part of what is known as “choir dress,” vestments for worship other than Eucharistic worship.  On Sundays when we have guest clergy who are not leading us in the Eucharistic prayer, you will notice they will wear either an alb and stole (I’ll talk about the stole next week), or a cassock, surplice, and stole.  The priest leading the Eucharistic prayer will wear a chasuble over his or her alb and stole.  This usage, of course, is not universal.