The Symbolic Significance of Vestments

Although there was much to recommend and rejoice at during the recent DignityUSA Convention held here in Washington, DC, one of the things that troubled me was the ambiguity that seems to pervade some of the organization’s liturgical celebrations, both at the national level and in many local chapters. In particular, it seems that there is a lack of clarity between what a “presider” is and what a “presbyter” is. Nowhere was this confusion more evident than in the convention’s Eucharistic liturgy, as well as other liturgical celebrations.

Without delving in to the many elements of Roman Catholic Sacramental Theology as it relates to Eucharist and Orders, one not-so-small thing jumped out at me repeatedly. It seems that whenever anyone was leading a prayer, he/she wore a stole. Such loosey goosey use of liturgical vesture robs these important vestments of their liturgical value and contributes to confusion.

Liturgist Aidan Kavangh put it clearly:

“Vestments are sacred garments rather than costumes or billboards. They are meant to designate certain ministers in their liturgical function by clothing creatures in beauty. Their symbolic strength comes not from their decoration but from their texture, form and color. The basic vestment of major ministers is the stole, which bishops and presbyters wear around the neck and deacons wear over the left shoulder. No other ministers wear stoles in the Roman Rite,” [emphasis added]. (Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style, Aidan Kavanagh, Pueblo Publishing Co., 1982, p. 19)

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