What color are your vestments?

In sacrifices we make in the Mass we must live each week, we must ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’

By Richard F. Stika

“All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” — Galatians 3:27

Identity and clothing. Fashion designs often strike me as odd, and more than occasionally as silly, immodest, or even just plain vulgar. But in general, people tend to pay great attention to their clothing. For it is an expression of their identity, of who they see themselves as and want others to recognize as well.

But there is no clothing that is more dignifying and communicates more beautifully our true identity and purpose in life as those of a priest’s vestments. For they help us to better understand the great dignity of our baptismal identity and life in Christ, and the “spiritual” vestments of our daily sacrifices when offered in union with Our Redeemer’s upon the cross.

With the Lenten season that begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, let us strive to “put on” the vestments of Our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 13:14).

Baptismal garment. When Adam and Eve fell prey to Satan’s temptation and sinned, they divested themselves of God’s garment of “light and glory” by choosing to exercise their human will apart from its fruitfulness in the Divine Will, thereby bringing sterility and death upon them and all their descendants (cf. Genesis 3:7, 21).

But by descending from heaven and taking upon Himself the poor clothing of our fallen humanity, Jesus brought our sins to the cross and paid the price of our salvation so that we might be clothed anew in Him, with “the finest robe” as the prodigal son was (Luke 15:22)—a “robe dipped in blood” (Revelation 19:13).

So, it is through baptism that we receive the white wedding garment of sanctifying grace—of supernatural life and fruitfulness in our heavenly Bridegroom as His brides in the Church. Now do the mysterious words said of Moses by his wife have their true meaning in Christ—“You are a bridegroom of blood to me” (Exodus 4:25).

A priestly people. Through baptism, not only are we clothed anew with the “garment of immortality,” but as members of Christ’s Mystical Body we also have a “common” share in His royal priesthood. For as Christ is “a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:17, 21), our baptism unites us to His priestly sacrifice upon Calvary, which is re-presented in an unbloody manner upon the altar of every Mass.

And since the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the action of the whole Christ—Head and Mystical Body—so Christ’s priestly sacrifice must include ours. As Father Clifford Howell, SJ, explains in his wonderful 1952 classic Of Sacraments and Sacrifice, which can be read online:

“On Calvary Christ offered Himself as He then was—possessing only His physical body. And in the Mass He offers Himself as He now is: and now He has a Mystical Body. And you are Christ’s Body—members of it. Therefore, in the Mass you are offered; you are victims! And as you are offering, it follows that you must
offer yourselves.”

A beautiful quote from a French priest, Father Raoul Plus, SJ, (1882-1958), further expresses this:

Christ, the High Priest, we as subordinate priests;
Christ, the Chief Victim, we as co-victims!
But, Christ and we—total Priest, and total Victim!

Spiritual sacrifices. St. Peter reminds us, “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

And what are the spiritual sacrifices that we should offer?

They should represent all that we are and do of body and soul—our crosses, anxieties, sufferings, our marriage and children, our work and frustrations, our loneliness, our prayers and longings of heart, our joys and disappointments. And it is during the offertory of the Mass when we should especially make this offering.

The vestments of sacrifice. The offertory is that crucial hinge in the Mass where we transition from the Liturgy of the Word—from the ambo—to the Liturgy of the Eucharist—the altar.

This is the decisive part of the Mass that truly determines the measure of our full and conscious participation. For it is what we offer—our spiritual sacrifices—that Christ takes and joins to His offering upon the altar during the consecration.

Though the ordained priest of the altar is vested to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, we, too, are “spiritually” vested in the spiritual sacrifices we offer.

And the exercise of our baptismal priesthood doesn’t end with Mass but should continue in the Mass we live throughout our week with all the spiritual sacrifices we make in dying to our selfishness so as to be the face, the hands, and heart of Christ to others.

The colors of our vestments. In the Mass we live, the spiritual vestments of our sacrifices should represent all the liturgical colors. Our vestment should always be “white,” representing the baptismal garment of our purity in Christ as His bride.

In the sufferings and crosses we offer up, our vestment becomes “red,” representing our share in Christ’s sufferings.

Our vestment should also be that of “gold,” reflecting the kingly dignity and sacrifices of our moral life in Christ. Even the little crosses or routine sacrifices of each day can be the “green” vestment of our “ordinary” sacrifices.”

The “violet” vestment represents the penitential practices that help us say “yes” to God more readily in all He asks of us in the various circumstances of life.

The rarest color is that of the “rose” vestment representing the “sacrifice of joy” (Psalm 27:6) that should accompany our every sacrifice for love of God and neighbor. And in standing at the foot of the cross with those who mourn, the heavily burdened, the sick and dying, there is the “black” vestment of our compassion and solidarity. Though black vestments were traditionally worn for funerals, it is rarer today. But it should remind us not only of life’s brevity but also of the vestment of “light and joy” that awaits us, having died in Christ so as to rise with Him in eternal life.

The vestment of Our Lady’s children. Though the laity do not wear material vestments, it is most recommended by the Church that they wear the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Consisting of only two simple pieces of brown wool worn over the shoulders, it is likened as the vestment of Our Lady’s children who labor in the world for the coming of God’s kingdom. It is a visible and beautiful sign of our baptismal consecration and love of Christ as His co-workers in the Father’s vineyard. Only a priest can invest one with the scapular.

Here, I would recommend the book by Father Jeffrey Kirby, A Journey to Mount Carmel, which offers a nine-day preparation for investiture in the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Vested with Christ Jesus. During this Lent, may you reflect upon the many ways you can exercise your baptismal priesthood in Christ for love of others.

And in the Mass you live, may you “put on” the sacred vestments of Christ our High Priest (cf. Hebrews 9:11) and complete in our “living sacrifice” (cf. Romans 12:1) what is “lacking in the afflictions of Christ,” in His Body, the Church (cf. Colossians 1:24).

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