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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pre-Roman Catholic Vestments of the West

The following illustration of a priest shows the form Western rite vestments had, before they were transformed under the influence of the Roman-catholic church.



Below is a 12th century Western rite alb, from Italy. It is clearly a pre-20th century alb in that the sleeves are narrow. The striking similarity between this garment and the modern day Byzantine sticharion with cuffs is highlighted here not to imply that the Western rite must follow Byzantine precedents, but to show that the gap is not as wide as many imagine it to be. The Western rite, in former days, was comfortable with silk albs of green, red, gold, blue... We can be concerned to keep the gap between ER and WR as wide as possible, as a matter of ritual purism or ethnic pride, but another path is equally available to us--that of emphasising the original harmony between the two rites. Pastoral service should guide these decisions, and rigid lines in the sand should be avoided. For, all too often, we then begin to snipe at those who cross our precious limits.

11 comments:

Michael said...

This is essentially the same form still used in a number of more traditional Anglican places, being a revival of what continued in Britain long after departure into Roman Catholicism. The slender stole, the chasuble that is full as opposed to something that looks like a sandwich-board, the apparels on the amice as well as the cuffs and skirt of the alb, and the maniple that hasn't been foreshortened into a ridiculous-looking flap.

I'm intrigued, though, by the head covering. Is this a monastic priest?

Fr. Aidan said...

Not a monastic priest, as I recall.

This style of vestments can be achieved inexpensively if one manufactures one's own apparels. I'm indifferent as to whether the apparel is a rectangular patch or an around-the-hem applique or design. There are graphics showing around the wrists a kind of permanent sewn-on cuff of rich stuff. I am adding a graphic of a 12th-century alb from Italy, which is strikingly similar to a modern Byzantine sticharion with cuffs. Our history need not rest only with the Vatican and Pugin. The Sarum, for example, has been celebrated across far more than a millennium, with different kinds of vestment styles lining the pathway of its history.

Dale said...

Although disparaged for many years, especially by those under the influence of Vatican Two, my own preference has been for the fiddle-back (this is especially true for those of us living in hot climates)...which corresponds very closely to the Russian, Baroque recession of the more traditional Greek style.

Alpo said...

Are you of that opinion similarities or original harmony between Byzantine and Western rites should be emphasized in modern WR practices? If so, why?

Fr. Aidan said...

Alpo, I am of the opinion that the similarity between the rites ought to be emphasised, but not past the point that missionary outreach to the West is diminished by it. So I am no purist in the matter.

Alpo said...

Father, why do you think that the similarities should be emphasized? So that Western Rite is more easily acceptable to the Byzantine faithful?

Fr. Aidan said...

There are a number of pastoral advantages which help in the work of the Church for the salvation of souls. It's not a bad thing for Western rite to be acceptable to Byzantine faithful, as long as Western traditions are not transgressed. It also allows the faithful of WR missions who need to attend the Byzantine liturgy (for example, while travelling) to feel more at home there. I am not for byzantinising the Western rite, though.

Dale said...

If the tradition is Apostolic, which is certainly the case of the Roman rite, as well as the Coptic et cetera, then this alone is expression that a true Catholic needs of "similarity." Any need to make ancient liturgies all look like the Byzantine are not only misdirected, they tend to be an expression mostly of phyletism.

I would also be careful in saying the rites need to be similar so that a Greek is never left to feel out of place (Do not laugh a famous "English born Greek prelate" [to use his own term for himself] has actually declared that the western rite cannot be used because it will confuse a Greek!)

And as for western rite people attending ethnic parishes and being confused, please, please let us be honest...Russians almost never attend a Greek church because they find them too exotic!

Fr. Aidan said...

Phyletism is also expressed, when the natural similarities between ancient rites are shunned, and the rites are made to be as far apart from each other as possible.

In fact, this is an ultimate phyletism: "This particular tradition is my own Western heritage, but it is overly satisfying and familiar to an Easterner, and therefore I loathe it." And its companion statement is not uncommonly encountered: "This particular tradition does not form any part of the heritage of my Orthodox ancestors. However, it makes Easterners squirm. Therefore, I take glee in it and will promote it as best I can."

The entire Church is one mixed-marriage family. Rites are like languages. At the family reunion, a particular language can be used to bridge gaps, or conversely to widen them.

The Western Rite does not need to be defensive. It does need to be true to its own integrity and it does have its own internal rules which should be respected.

Dale said...

Very well put Father!

Bryan Maloney said...

Divergence of "vestments" really is just a reflection of divergence of ordinary "formal" clothing. It is strange, indeed, to put much stock in this divergence or similarity--one might as well ascribe Father of the Church status to Louis Voutton.