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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

The second vestment the priest clothes himself with is the Alb, so called from its white color—albus in Latin meaning white. It is an ample, loosely-fitting garment of pure linen, entirely enveloping the body, and fastened at the neck by means of strings.

The use of a vestment of this kind is of the highest antiquity, for we find it employed by all nations in their religious services. It is the same as the linen garment ordered to be worn by the priests of the Old Law (Exod. 28; Levit. 8) King David wore a linen Alb when translating the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obededom to Jerusalem (1 Paral. 15:27).

We have said that the Alb is made of linen; this, at least, is the present discipline in regard to it, but formerly it was often made of silk and ornamented with gold. King Ethelwolf, of Anglo-Saxon times, and father of Alfred the Great, presented the Church of St. Peter’s at Rome, in A.D. 855, with a number of silken Albs richly ornamented in this way (Church of Our Fathers, by Dr. Rock, vol. i. p. 426). An ancient Roman ordo, published by Hittorp, prescribes silken Albs for Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday (ibid.)

The Alb, too, changed in color to suit particular occasions. The monks of Cluny used to wear one of pure cloth of gold in the High Masses of the greater festivals; and we find some of green, blue, and red in an old inventory of the celebrated monastery of Peterborough, in England (ibid., pp. 430–433 et passim).

Pope Benedict XIV., De Sacr. Missæ, is our authority for saying that a garment of this kind, but of a black color, used to be formerly worn on Good Friday.

Figurative Signification of the Alb.—According to Pope Innocent III. (De Sacr. Altaris Mysterio, 57), the Alb, from the purity of its color, denotes newness of life, and reminds us of St. Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians, chap. 4: “Put off the old man with all his acts, and clothe yourselves with the new man, who, according to God, is created in justice and holiness of truth.” This beautiful idea of a new life, as signified by the Alb, is very forcibly presented to us in Holy Baptism, where the newly-regenerated receives a white garment with these significant words: “Receive this white and spotless garment which you are to bear before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may possess eternal life. Amen.”

Oriental Usage.—The Greeks call the Alb Poderis, from its reaching to the feet (Bona, Rer. Liturg., 281). This, however, is not the name that it is generally known by, for we find it mentioned in nearly all the Oriental Liturgies as the Stoicharion (Denzinger, Ritus Orientalium, pp. 129–405; Renaudot, Liturg. Orient., i. 161). It is the first vestment of all the orders of the clergy, and, though anciently made of linen, is now, with many of the Oriental churches, of nothing else but white silk (Denzinger, 129).

In the Russian Church a Stoicharion of purple is prescribed for all days in Lent except the Feast of the Annunciation, Palm Sunday, and Holy Saturday (Neale’s Holy Eastern Church, vol. i. p. 307).

With the Copto-Jacobites (or Monophysites of Egypt) it is known indifferently by the names Jabat and Touniat; and with those of Syria as the Koutino, evidently from the Greek χιτώνιον, an under-garment (Renaudot, i. 161, ii. 54). The Copts, too, sometimes call it Kamis (Denzinger, 129), from the Latin camisia and the French chemise, an under-gown. They are very strict in their discipline regarding the wearing of it. No priest would dare enter the sanctuary without it. Should he present himself for Holy Communion, and neglect to have himself clothed with it, he is at once ordered to depart and communicate at the rails with the common people. One of their disciplinary canons on this head runs thus: “It is unlawful for a priest to pray or receive Holy Communion without his being vested with a Chitonion. The thing would be unbecoming and at variance with the canon of holy faith.” And another: “Let not a priest approach Holy Communion on the steps of the altar unless vested with the Stoicharion. Should he not have this he must communicate outside the rails” (Renaudot, Liturg. Orient., i. 160).

Priests of the Latin Church put on the Alb with the prayer: “Purify me, O Lord! and make me clean of heart, that, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may possess eternal joy.” In the Russian Church the prayer is: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, who clothed me in the garment of salvation” (Greco-Russian Church, by Romanoff, p. 89).








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