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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 Cincture occupies the third place in the catalogue of sacred vestments. It is of as high antiquity as the Alb, which it always accompanies; its chief, in fact its only, office being to keep that garment in its proper place on the person of the wearer. Different writers give it different names, such as zone, girdle, band, belt, and the like. It is required to be of linen, and of such a length that, when doubled, it may encircle the body of the priest. Formerly it was wide like a sash, and was often made of the most precious materials—such as cloth of gold, silk, etc.—and used to be studded with gems (Church of Our Fathers, vol. i. p. 488, by Dr. Rock). A cincture found upon the body of a deceased bishop taken up in Durham Cathedral in 1829 is thus described by Raine: “Of the girdle, or cingulum, the portion which we were enabled to preserve measures twenty-five inches in length; its breadth is exactly seven-eighths of an inch. It has evidently proceeded from the loom; and its two component parts are a flattish thread of pure gold and a thread of scarlet silk, which are not combined in any particular pattern, save that, at a very short distance from each selvage, there run two or three longitudinal lines, which serve to break the uniformity of the whole. The lining is of silk” (ibid. 489, note 22). It varied also in color formerly, to suit the different colors of the vestments; but now it is rarely seen of any other color but white, although the rubrics do not forbid other colors to be used at the option of the priest. And as regards its material, according to the present discipline, it is required to be of pure linen, and of nothing else. Terminating both ends are two large tassels, which hang down equally on each side of the priest when vested.

Mentioned in Holy Scripture.—The Cincture is frequently alluded to in Holy Scripture, where many moral significations are attached to it. The prophet Isaias, in describing the Messias, says of him: “Justice shall be the girdle of his loins, and faith the girdle of his reins” (11:5). Our Divine Lord himself, when addressing his disciples, thus exhorted them: “Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands” (Luke 12:35); and St. John, in the Apocalypse, says that he saw “in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle” (1:13).

Cincture in the Old Law.—In the Old Law, as well as in the New, the Cincture occupied a prominent place among the priestly vestments. According to the Jewish historian Josephus (p. 74), its width was four fingers, and it was woven in such a manner as to exhibit the appearance of serpents’ scales. It used to be ornamented with floral embroidery in purple, dark-blue, scarlet, and white. The manner of weaving it was as now. The name given it by Moses was Abaneth; but the more recent Jews called it, in accordance with Babylonic usage, Emia.

Cincture of the Orientals.—The Cinctures of the Greeks and Syrians are much broader than ours, and, instead of being knotted on the person of the wearer, are buckled in front with a hook or clasp. These Cinctures are sometimes made of very precious silk, studded with precious stones. A gilt hook, shaped like an “S,” is employed to fasten them around the waist (Dr. Rock, Church of Our Fathers, i. 490, 491). Renaudot (Comment. ad Liturg. Copt. S. Basilii, p. 161) tells us that, to draw as broad a line as possible between the followers of the Koran and the Christians of Egypt, some of the Caliphs used to oblige the latter to wear a certain kind of Cincture always in common life. To exhort the faithful to bear this intended humiliation with true Christian fortitude, the Fathers of those days delivered many touching homilies to them. While this state of things lasted the Christians of those parts were commonly styled “Christiani de Cingulo”—that is, Cincture-wearing Christians.

The prayer recited in putting on the Cincture is worded as follows: “Gird me, O Lord! with the Cincture of purity, and extinguish in my loins the heat of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me.”

The Russian priests, who wear a Cincture exactly like ours, recite the following prayer in vesting themselves with it: “Blessed be the Lord, who girdeth me with strength, and maketh my path undefiled” (Romanoff, Greco-Russian Church, p. 89).

Venerable Relics.—Among the many sacred relics yet preserved, and exhibited every seven years for the veneration of the faithful, in the great church of Aix-la-Chapelle, in France, is the veritable Cincture worn by our Blessed Redeemer. It is entirely of leather, and bears at its extremities the imperial seal of Constantine the Great. Thousands flock thither from all quarters of the globe to behold this precious curiosity (Catholic World, Sept., 1872). The Cincture worn by Our Blessed Lady is said to be preserved also in the Church of Our Lady of Montserrat at Prato, in Tuscany (Burder, Religious Ceremonies and Customs, 235).

Moral Lesson taught by the Cincture.—The moral lesson intended to be conveyed by the wearing of the Cincture is easily gathered from the prayer recited in putting it on. It reminds the wearer of the great purity of mind and heart that he ought to be filled with in his ministrations before a God of infinite holiness and sanctity. The high-priests of the Old Law were reminded of this solemn obligation by being obliged to wear on their foreheads a golden plate with the words “קדש ליהוה”—Kadesh la Jehovah (Bannister, Temples of the Hebrews, p. 180)—inscribed upon it; that is, Holiness to Jehovah. How much more holiness is required in priests of the New Law, where the Victim of sacrifice is none other than the Son of God himself, the Jehovah of the New Covenant?

Other mystical meanings were also attached to the Cincture, such as promptitude in executing the commands of God; exactness in religious observances; and watchfulness in regard to our eternal salvation, in accordance with that solemn admonition of our Divine Lord himself: “Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands” (Luke 12:35). That is, be ready at all times to appear before the tribunal of divine justice.








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