September 25, 2016
Why does the Presider (i.e. Celebrant) wear different robes than the assistant priest, acolytes, and lay Eucharistic ministers (LEMs)?
On Sundays people notice that the Presider of the Eucharist wears the fanciest clothing. The Presider's garments are: Alb (the white robe underneath all the other robes), stole (the long narrow cloth that hangs around the neck), and chasuble (the colorful poncho-like cloth the covers everything else). The reason that the Presider is the only one who wears this combination is that we only have one set of chasubles and stoles for each season. It is quite permissible to have all the priests who serve at the table dressed in these specifically Eucharistic robes. These garments do not signify "Presider." They signify "Priest."
If you watched or saw photographs from the funeral service for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, you may well have seen the extensive numbers of assisting priests who were present for the mass, including one of the justice's own sons. It was striking to see them lined up, each one wearing a chasuble, stole, and alb that matched.
We do not have that flexibility. Our Altar guild has graciously and generously outfitted St. Francis' clergy with a matching set of Chasubles and stoles in Purple (the liturgical color for Advent and Lent), Green (for the seasons after the feasts of Epiphany and Pentecost), Red (for the day of Pentecost and Holy Week), and White (feast seasons of Christmas and Easter, and other major feast days like All Saints Sunday), but we only have one set for each season.
Tracey and I have chosen to array the assisting priest in what came to be understood as Anglican ministerial garb: cassock, surplice, and stole (watch the television shows and movies about the English Church—PBS is a good place to go). One reason for this choice is an issue of taste, the alb without a chasuble appears to be an undergarment (it really is), while the cassock, which was the street wear of Roman citizens in the Empire and still is for some Anglican and Roman priests in England and Europe respectively. We wanted our clergy to look more fully clothed and so we chose what for the Episcopal church was a standard sight before the 1970's.
As to the chasuble and stole, well, the chasuble began as a poncho and was worn over an alb to protect it and keep the rain off of it. As a result it came to be part of the celebration wear of the priests in the Roman Empire. The stole was the mark of office. It was originally worn by Roman officials to show they hold an office and was a garment extended to the Bishops and Priests, as office holders, to wear when they were performing any sacrament, including baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, unction, and reconciliation. Churches change slowly and we kept the Roman Empire's fashion, slightly modified and updated.
The Rev. David Lucey