The Meaning of Priestly Vestments
(Adapted from a Vatican Document on the Liturgical Vestments)
The Vestments and the Prayers
1) The priest begins with the amice, a rectangular linen cloth, which has two strings and is placed over
the shoulders and around the neck; the strings are then tied about the waist. The amice has the purpose of covering the everyday clothing, even if it is the priest’s clerical garb. In the Roman Rite, the amice is donned before the alb. While putting it on the priest recites the following prayer: “Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.” With the reference to St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (6:17), the amice is understood as “the helmet of salvation,” that must protect him who wears it from the demon’s temptations, especially evil thoughts and desires, during the liturgical celebration.
2) The alb is the long white garment worn by the sacred ministers, which recalls the new and immaculate clothing that every Christian has received through baptism. The alb is, therefore, a symbol of the sanctifying grace received in the first sacrament and is also considered to be a symbol of the purity of heart that is necessary to enter into the joy of the eternal vision of God in heaven (cf. Matthew 5:8). This is expressed in the prayer the priest says when he dons the alb. The prayer is a reference to Revelation 7:14: “Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward.”
3) Over the alb and around the waist is placed the girdle or cincture, a cord made of wool or other suitable material that is used as a belt. In the symbolism of the liturgical vestments the cincture represents the virtue of self-mastery, which St. Paul also counts among the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22). The corresponding prayer, taking its cue from the first Letter of Peter (1:13), says: “Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me.”
4) The stole is the distinctive element of the raiment of the ordained minister and it is always worn in the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals. It is a strip of material that is embroidered, according to the norm, whose color varies with respect to the liturgical season or feast day. Putting on the stole, the priest recites this prayer: “Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, and, unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy.”
5) Finally, the chasuble is put on, the vestment proper to him who celebrates the Holy Mass.
The prayer for the donning of the chasuble references the exhortation in the Letter to the Colossians (3:14) – “Above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of perfection” — and the Lord’s words in Matthew, 11:30: “O Lord, who has said, “My yoke is sweet and My burden light, grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace.”