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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 Chasuble, so called from the Latin casula, a little house (for, according to its ancient form, it enveloped the entire person of the priest, leaving nothing but the head visible), is the last in the catalogue of sacred vestments. In its present disposition it is open at both sides, and, as it rests on the priest, it reaches down in front to about the knees, and a few inches further behind. Its material is required to be of precious cloth, such as brocade, silk, or the like; and its color one of the five mentioned in the rubrics—viz., white, red, violet, green, or black. Without a dispensation from the Holy See no other kind of Chasuble may be used.

According to liturgical writers generally, the ancient ample-flowing Chasuble was in use up to the sixteenth century (Kozma, Liturg. Sacr. Cathol., 49), but after that period a practice of clipping it set in, first at the shoulders and then down the sides, until it assumed its present shape, which, strange to say, was the work of private individual fancy rather than of any express wish or command on the part of the Church. “Id vero minime,” says Mgr. Saussay, the learned Bishop of Toul, “contigisse ex ullo Pontificum judicio, ecclesiæque lege, sed ex privato genio quorundam” (Dr. Rock, Church of Our Fathers, vol. i. 329). Cardinal Bona makes the same assertion (Rer. Liturg., lib. i. cap. xxiv. p. 237, ed. Sala), and so does Honorius of Autun.

The cause generally assigned for changing the ancient form of the Chasuble was the difficulty that prevailed for a long time, especially about the sixteenth century, of procuring suitable pliant material for making it; for if made of hard, stiff, board-like cloth as it now is, while its ancient shape was preserved, it would greatly encumber the priest in his ministrations at the altar. Since, however, nothing else could be conveniently had but this stiff material, in order to save the Chasuble as much as possible from the wear and tear occasioned by lifting and folding it up so often during the Mass, it was deemed advisable to cut a slit in both sides of it, and in this way its present shape originated.

Another reason, too, and a very good one at that, contributed much towards effecting this change. As long as the ancient form was in use the difficulty of celebrating Mass without the aid of deacon and subdeacon was very great, for the Chasuble of the celebrant needed folding and lifting up at several parts of the service; and as it was not at all times easy to have assistant ministers, and as private Masses became more frequent, a form of Chasuble which the priest himself could manage seemed to be a desideratum; and this, as much as anything else, was the cause of introducing Chasubles of the present make (see Hierurgia, p. 440; Les Cérémonies de l’Eglise, par M. De Conny, p. 256).

The reader will see with what indignation this change in the style of the Chasuble was viewed at first from the following words thundered forth by De Vert. Speaking of vestment-makers, he says: “They are allowed to have the liberty of nibbling, clipping, cutting, slashing, shortening, just as the whim may take, Chasubles, Dalmatics, Tunicles, and other priestly garments or ornaments which serve for the ministry of the altar; in a word, to give these robes what shape they like, without consulting the bishop on the matter” (Church of Our Fathers, vol. i. p. 330, note).

The prayer recited in putting on the Chasuble is as follows: “O Lord! who hast said, ‘My yoke is sweet and my burden light,’ grant that I may so carry it as to merit thy grace.” In its figurative signification, the Chasuble is usually emblematic of charity, on account of its covering the entire person, as charity ought to cover the soul.

Chasuble of the Orientals.—The ancient form of Chasuble is yet in use with all the Oriental churches, whether Catholic or schismatic. The Maronites have obtained permission from the Holy See to use our form, but whether they do so or not we have been unable to learn.

The Coptic Chasuble, which the natives call Albornos, has an ornamental border at the top worked in gold, and denominated Tkoklia; the Arabs call it Kaslet. This, however, is not common to all the orders of their clergy, but is rather the Chasuble of a bishop (Denzinger, Ritus Oriental., p. 130).

Many of the Greek Chasubles are covered over with a multiplicity of small crosses, to remind the priest that he is the minister of a crucified Master, whose Passion should be ever before his eyes. In the Russian Church the bishop’s Chasuble has a number of little bells attached to the right and left sides, and also to the sleeves (Romanoff, Greco-Russian Church, pp. 89 and 399).

The Nestorian Chasuble is a square piece of cloth, of linen or calico, having a cross in the centre. They call it Shoshippa (Badger, Nestorians and their Rituals, i. p. 226).

The Chasuble of the Hungarian Greeks is so clipped in front that it hardly covers the breast (Kozma, Liturg. Sacr. Cathol., p. 48, note 6).

The Chasuble of the Russian priests is now of the same style (Neale, Holy Eastern Church, i. 309).

The Syrians call the Chasuble Philono, a word evidently allied to the general denomination of the vestment with the Greeks—viz., Phainolion—and the ancient Latin name, Penula.

In concluding our article on the vestments, we have thought it appropriate to append what the best authorities have said concerning the reference of each to our Divine Lord. We take our remarks from Gavantus (Thesaur. Sacr. Rit., p. 137):

1. The Amice is the veil which covered the face of our Lord.

2. The Alb, the vesture he was clothed in by Herod.

3. The Cincture, the scourge ordered by Pilate.

4. The Maniple, the rope by which he was led.

5. The Stole, the rope which fastened him to the pillar.

6. The Chasuble, the purple garment worn before Pilate.

The reader need hardly be told that all the vestments must be blessed by the bishop before being used at the altar. Faculties to do this are generally enjoyed by ordinary priests in missionary countries.

There are four other articles of clerical attire, which, though not denominated sacred vestments, yet, because of the important part they fill, we would consider it a great oversight to pass by in silence. These are the Berretta, Zucchetto, Collar, and Cassock.








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