Words and Phrases

This month I want to talk about some of the special clothing or vestments, that those leading the service wear or might wear.

Anglicans, along with some of the other more traditional or formal Christian denominations tend to have more elaborate vestments (clothing) that is part of our worship. Much of what is worn comes from a time these garments served a different function, in part warmth in drafty churches. So the meanings associated with them have also changed over time, and as with so many of our traditions have taken on multiple means.

On a typical Sunday morning, except in the summer, I will wear a long white robe called a cassock-alb, or just alb. This white robe was intended to symbolize the righteousness of Christ, which as the leader of worship the priest would put on, much like St. Paul calls us to clothe ourselves in Christ (i.e. Romans 13:14). The alb was also intended to cover the street cloths, so as not to draw attention to the leaders, but rather to make them all the same. I also wear a stole, the varied-coloured scarf.  Stoles are worn only by those who are ordained as a sign of their ordination. The Priest’s Stole hangs vertically over each shoulder. The Deacon’s Stole hangs diagonally from the left shoulder and then is secured at the right side.The stole was intended to represent taking on the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29).

The servers at Trinity wear cassocks (black or red) and a surplice. This is also the typical dress of choirs and musicians. The black cassock was traditionally not considered part of the vestments, but was the priest’s street clothes. I am very glad that I do not have to wear a black cassock everyday. Now it is typically worn by others assisting in the service like servers or when there is diocesan gathering by the clergy in the procession who do not have a role in the service.

Over the cassock is worn a surplice, which is a variation on the alb. Surplice comes from the Latin, meaning “over the fur coat”, an example from those cold drafty churches. The surplice was never worn alone, hence the cassock-alb that came to replace it which combined the two. Both the alb and the cassock typically have a rope or cincture that is tied around the waist. The cincture was a functional way of securing the robe, and also could symbolize the rope that Jesus told Peter would be tied around him as part of his ministry (John 21:18).

There are a few other vestments or garments you might see occasionally, although I tend to only wear them for special occasions. The poncho-like garment that is worn over the alb by a person celebrating the communion is called the “Chasuble”. It tends be fairly ornate and is typically in the seasonal colour of the church year.  One meaning was that it was intended to represent the seamless robe which Jesus wore; it was also an additional layer of warmth in cold weather.

Similarly, the “Cope” which is a large cape is a celebration garment, that is more often worn for special services. If I am going to wear them, I tend to wear a chasuble and cope for Christmas and Easter.

I hope this explanation of Anglican vestments or garments helps you understand the symbolism behind the most common items worn by those who are leading the service. As with everything Anglican, there is great individuality and none of it is required.


 *Please note*   Before borrowing any items from the church, please speak with Margaret, the church secretary.