Sunday, 30 November 2008

Advent "Blue"

At the beginning of this Season of Advent, a debate regularly emerges about the use of blue vestments. The use of blue has advocates and fierce opponents.

Exactly what colour, however, is being suggested as Advent "Blue"? Is it the same colour as the flowers called "violets"? If so, then using that colour in Advent is not only permissible, but is embedded within the Church's Traditions. Just over a year ago, I prepared an article about the history of the use of "violet" for vestments of the Roman Rite.

Click the links for Part One of the article and Part Two of the article.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Rose Solemn Mass set

The Saint Bede Studio has completed a rose Solemn Mass set for the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta (Georgia USA). The vestments are made from a magnificent lightweight cotton damask, lined in deep green and ornamented with a braid in the art nouveau style.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Church of Saint Aloysius Caulfield

The Saint Bede Studio is engaged in a range of projects for the beautification of Saint Aloysius church, Caulfield (Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia). The Latin Mass apostolate for the Archdiocese has its home at Caulfield.

A group of four Relic Houses is being prepared to adorn the High altar on Greater Days. These have been designed to replicate a civory or canopy in the Gothic Style. The prototype is shewn in the adjacent photograph.

A chasuble in the "Philip Neri" style was also recently completed for the Caulfield church, made from a splendid Roman damask in crimson and gold.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Pope Benedict at Saint Paul's Without-the Walls

On Sunday morning, 5th October Pope Benedict celebrated the opening Mass for the XIIth General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Mass was offered in the Basilica of Saint Paul's Without-the-Walls.

This post is a continuation of two previous posts on Rorate Caeli about the form of the 16th century chasuble. Please re-read these posts here and here.

On the occasion of the Opening Mass, Pope Benedict wore a green chasuble almost identical in shape and dimensions with the famous statue of Saint Philip Neri by the sculptor Algardi. A digitally-enhanced photograph of that statue is adjacent.

This green Papal chasuble conforms very closely with the dimensions set down by Saint Charles Borromeo at the end of the 16th century governing the size of the chasuble. Note that this chasuble differs significantly in its length and shape from another style of chasuble from the 16th century, which is sometimes referred to as the "Philip Neri" style. A purple and a red chasuble in this "Philip Neri" style were made for the use of Pope Benedict earlier this year (see adjacent photographs).

The Saint Bede Studio makes chasubles in both these styles of the 16th century.

Photographs of the green chasuble at the beginning of this post from the Papa Ratzinger Forum: with thanks. Click on each of the images below for an enlarged view.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Chasubles of 16th and 17th centuries

At the New Liturgical Movement blog last week, an article was published written by the English architectural scholar Fr Anthony Symondson SJ about the so-called “Borromeon” chasuble. In a previous post on Rorate Caeli, I made a response to points made by Father Symondson.

In this post, I wish to discuss a famous statue of Saint Philip Neri in the sacristy of the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome. This marvellous 3-metre tall statue was completed in 1638 by the famed Italian sculptor Alessandro Algardi.

Attached is a digitally-enhanced photograph of the statue. I emphasise that this enhancement is NOT intended to depict actual colours or decoration. It is intended to show more clearly the form and decoration of the chasuble that Algardi sculpted.

This is a chasuble in the Roman tradition. It is very long at the back, reaching almost the full length of the alb; at the front it is slightly shorter. It has a curved shape, rather than being squared-off at the bottom. Note that the chasuble falls gracefully over the body, indicating that it is not interlined to stiffen it, as chasubles were of the later Baroque period. It largely corresponds to dimensions set down by Saint Charles Borromeo (whilst Archbishop of Milan 1560-1584), but it is slightly narrower, since as sculpted it falls only slightly beyond the elbow, rather than approaching the wrist.

Very prominent on the chasuble is the massive tau, with adjoining panels supporting the neckline. Almost certainly, the rear of the chasuble would have been ornamented with a single column. These ornaments are formed from a floral scrollwork damask, outlined with a galloon (probably 3cm wide).

In terms of studying the history of the development of the chasuble, this statue is most significant. It is important to note that the statue was sculpted within the living memory of Saint Philip (he died in 1595). And yet, it reflects a style of chasuble found in the first quarter of the 17th century.

Several paintings exist of Saint Philip, and his contemporary Saint Ignatius Loyola, shewing them in sacred vestments. Many of these artworks, however, were painted long after the deaths of Neri and Loyola, even a century later. As such, it cannot be asserted that the chasubles depicted in these later paintings necessarily reveal the style of chasuble of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. They depict vestments of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, by which time it was common that the width of the chasuble was less ample and it had begun to be interlined to stiffen it.

And yet, let us also remember this. Saint Charles set down dimensions for the chasuble out of a desire to prevent its form being cut back in a manner he considered inconsistent with Sacred Tradition. It would be foolish of us to imagine, however, that his instructions were adhered to strictly, or even widely known. As a result, in this period of the history of the chasuble (say, the century between 1550 and 1650), several different styles of chasuble would have been extant, some longer and wider than others. The width of the woven fabrics would also have determined, to some extent, the width of the chasuble, to say nothing of the personal taste and preferences of priests, bishops and the vestment-makers themselves.

To illustrate, I also attach one of the two famous painting of Saint Ignatius by Rubens. Even though it was painted at much the same time as the Algardi statue was sculpted, it depicts a completely different style of chasuble. It is much narrower and stiffened with interlining to support the lavish embroidery: most assuredly not a “Borromeon” chasuble.

A word on the albs in the two pictures. Both a very ample, falling to the ground in graceful folds. The sleeves are extremely long but, since the cuffs fit the wrist so snugly, the sleeves do not fall over the hands. The close-fitting sleeve is most appropriate to these styles of chasuble. The alb in the statue of S’ Philip is trimmed with a small amount of lace.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Papal Mass Photographs

I am pleased to be able to include some further photographs of the Papal Mass in Saint Mary's Cathedral, Saturday 19th July. This photograph shews Pope Benedict leaving the Cathedral sanctuary at the end of the Mass. He is assisted by Rev'd Mr Andrew Benton (left) and Monsignor Guido Marini (Papal Master of Sacred Ceremonies).

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The Cathedral Sacristy

I had the enormous privilege of being present in Saint Mary's Cathedral sacristy for the Papal Mass on Saturday 19th July. My role was to vest the deacons of the Mass, but as things turned out, because everyone was extremely busy, I also assisted the Papal entourage to vest for Mass, including the Cardinal-Secretary of State. An unexpected turn of events! Afterwards I had the pleasure of conversations with the three Papal Masters of Ceremonies.

Many have asked me "What is Monsignor Marini like?" During the Sacred Liturgy, he presents a serious and reserved demeanour, which is entirely appropriate. My impression from meeting him is that he is an extremely warm and charming man, very welcoming and unassuming, good-humoured and enthusiastic. But of obvious sanctity.

Adjacent are two pictures shewing the Papal vestments laid out in the Cathedral sacristy before the Mass. Subsequently, Monsignor Marini laid out the Papal alb etc. for the vesting of the Pope. Naturally, the Pope vested and unvested behind closed doors, assisted by Monsignor Marini. My observation is that the Pope wears a cassock without the small shoulder cape when he is celebrating Mass.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Off to Rome

I had the great privilege of being present in Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney as His Holiness celebrated Mass on the morning of Saturday 19th July. This was a Mass for Seminarians and young Religious as part of the World Youth Day celebrations. The Mass was in all respects thoroughly splendid and inspiring.

It was an overwhelming moment for me as I watched the Successor of Saint Peter emerge from the door of the Cardinal's sacristy wearing the vestments I had made. Afterwards I met with Monsignor Marini and the assistant Papal Masters of Ceremonies (Monsignori William Millea and Enrico Vigano) who congratulated me on my work and told me that they are taking all the vestments back to Rome! What an unbelievable honour. Photographs courtesy of the Papa Ratzinger Forum and the Daily Telegraph (Australia).

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Opening Mass of World Youth Day

The deacons assisting Cardinal Pell at the Opening Mass of the World Youth Day this evening wore dalmatics made last year for Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.

The adjacent photo, shewing the Cardinal incensing the altar at the beginning of the Mass, was taken by a photographer of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Monday, 14 July 2008

Vestments for His Holiness Benedict XVI

In March, the Saint Bede Studio was contacted by the Archdiocese of Sydney with a request to submit designs for sets of vestments for the Papal Mass in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Saturday, 19th July. Designs were prepared for vestments decorated in three different styles: the Gothic Revival; Carolingian; and according to the traditions of Rome. These designs were then submitted by the Archdiocese of Sydney to the Prefect of Pontifical Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, who selected the design for vestments ornamented in the Roman style.

A chasuble and stole, Pontifical dalmatic and mitre were to be prepared for the Pope’s use, in addition to the three dalmatics for the deacons assisting the Pope at the Mass.

In preparing the design, certain considerations were paramount. Firstly, that the vestments be beautiful and dignified, as is fitting for vestments used by His Holiness. Secondly, that the vestments be convenient for the use of His Holiness. Lastly, that the vestments be visually related to Roman traditions for ornamenting sacred vestments.

The design for the chasuble is inspired by a 16th century Saragossan painting of Saint Martin of Tours. But the semi-conical shape of that chasuble was changed to accord more with the shape and dimensions set down in the same century by Saint Charles Borromeo.

The fabric for these vestments is the magnificent silver and gold "Edwardine" silk damask which is figured in the Italianate style of 18th century. The front of the chasuble is decorated with the “tau”: an ornament in continual use in Rome for almost 1000 years. The ornament of the chasuble, Pontifical dalmatic and dalmatics of the three deacons is in yellow "Lovebirds" silk damask, trimmed with a 2cm wide qautrefoil braid of red and gold, especially designed by the Saint Bede Studio. All the vestments are lined in crimson-red silk and bear the Papal coat of arms.

The mitre is made from cloth gold upon which is embroidered mediaeval scrollwork in gold, silver and crimson thread. These embroideries are derived from the historic mitre of Saint Thomas Becket (12th century) kept at the Sens Cathedral. The lappets of this mitre are also embroidered with scrollwork and bear the Papal coat of arms. The embroidery of the mitre was carried out splendidly by Fullerton Design Embroidery (Lithgow NSW).

Attached images shew the original design submitted to the Holy See; the individual Papal vestments; the mitre of Saint Thomas Becket and a reproduction of the painting of Saint Martin of Tours, upon which the vestments were based.

The Saint Bede Studio has regarded it as the most tremendous privilege to make these vestments and has given of its best to produce something worthy. It was a project with its ups and downs but, protected by the Divine Hand, it was possible to bring it to a happy conclusion. But there were also human agents whose generous assistance I gratefully acknowledge: Fr Don Richardson, Sydney Archdiocesan Prefect of Ceremonies; Mrs Louise Thygesen (Canberra), Mrs Helen McLoughlin (Maitland), Mrs Barbara Little & Mrs Kyoko Peacock (Newcastle) and Mrs Sandy Fullerton (Lithgow) whose practical support enabled this project to be completed in time for the Papal visit.

Ut in omnibus Deus glorificetur!

Monday, 28 April 2008

Bishop Elliott launches Order of Mass book

Responding to the Pope’s initiative in Summorum Pontificum, the Ignatius Press has now released an Order of Mass for the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, prepared by Michael Sternbeck of the Saint Bede Studio. The Mass-book may be purchased online here. This is a completely new edition, not a reprint of previous books, published under the Imprimatur of the Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, the Most Rev’d Denis Hart.

The new Mass-book will be made available to World Youth Day Pilgrims for use at Juventutem Liturgies in the Extraordinary Form in Melbourne and Sydney.

Well-known liturgist and auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, the Most Rev’d Peter J Elliott, recently launched the Order of Mass book at a ceremony in Melbourne.

The ceremony was preceded by a Solemn Mass celebrated in the bishop’s presence in the church of S’ Aloysius, Caulfield (Archdiocese of Melbourne). The Old Mass community of Saint Aloysius graciously made available their facilities for the launch ceremony. The bishop was welcomed on the occasion by Father Glen Tattersall, chaplain to the Old Mass community in Melbourne. Following the bishop’s speech, Michael Sternbeck made a brief reply explaining his philosophies and aspirations in preparing the Mass-book.

The following is a slightly-abridged version of the Bishop Elliott’s launch speech:
Michael Sternbeck has done a great service to all English-speaking Catholics in preparing this beautiful book, The Order of the Mass, The Missal of Blessed John XXIII, Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Ignatius Press have presented it in a convenient and elegant form, first in terms of the noble cover design by the author, who is a noted expert in the field of liturgical art and sacred vestments. The book is enriched by noble and symbolic drawings of key moments in a Solemn Mass, a reminder that this is the normal way of celebrating the Roman Liturgy.

The Order of the Mass is a timely response the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. The text of the Motu Proprio has been included in this work, together with the important covering letter the Pontiff provided to explain his magisterial ruling and to promote and reinforce its generous provisions.

As the title indicates, this is primarily a worshipper’s guide to the Order of Mass Missale Romanum of 1962, authorised by Blessed Pope John, the last edition of the so-called “Tridentine” missal. The first edition of this universal missal for the Roman Rite was authorised by Pope St Pius V in 1570. The 1962 edition may be further enriched by including various new prefaces from the post-conciliar Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI, and the author has included a good selection of these prefaces. This provision is recognised by the Ecclesia Dei Commission and will no doubt be incorporated in some future edition of the Missale Romanum, “extraordinary form”. Here Michael Sternbeck has anticipated what a further stage is the organic development of liturgy.

In a most affirming forward, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Most Rev. Denis J. Hart, says: “The book will serve to help us understand the prayers and be united with the priest in offering the one, perfect, unbloody sacrifice to God the father, which brought our redemption.”

I see this assistance being offered to the reader at several levels. At one level this book may be used as a guide to the Mass, providing a rich liturgical and theological commentary, deeply spiritual in tone, full of interesting but relevant details, presented with an originality which engages the reader. This work can serve as an introduction for those who may not be familiar with the “extraordinary” form. The explanatory material wisely assumes that the reader knows nothing about the classical rite, particularly celebrating towards the East, the use of Latin and the sacred setting. Yet this is not done in a patronising way. Those of us familiar with the rite will find original nuances in the explanations which invite us to deeper faith in the Divine Mysteries. The author writes in the best perspective - “faith seeking understanding”. So there is another level of Eucharistic catechesis offered to the reader.

At the same time, at a deeper level, this book is meant to be used during Mass to promote that authentic participation in the liturgy, pioneered by the Liturgical Movement and endorsed by the Second Vatican Council. There is provision for the dialogue Mass. But, as Michael reminds us, echoing Pope Benedict, full participation is spiritual and interior, not merely by word or posture, and participation therefore includes personal prayer.

The interior dimension of participation is supported in this book by a careful selection of traditional devotions from the East and West. Some of these prayers are not well-known but they are of a quality that avoids cloying pietism. I also note a gentle ecumenical touch, the inclusion of a beautiful private prayer before Mass written by the seventeenth century Anglican divine, Jeremy Taylor.

Returning to the original quality of this work, I am delighted to find the unusual translation of the Canon, derived largely from Mgr. Ronald Knox. In his translations, Mgr. Knox was able to give us the style of the Latin, retaining the pace and rhythm of the ancient tongue in English, and that is no easy feat. At various points, this paraphrase helps the jewel at the heart of the Liturgy to shine more brightly. One discovers surprising nuances in the meaning of various stages of the Canon, certainly absent in the banal English paraphrase currently used in the ordinary form of Mass, soon to be replaced by a richer and more literal translation. In Michael Sternbeck’s book, the worshipper is able explore the depth and scope of this great prayer of thanksgiving, consecration, oblation, and intercession. This reinforces my belief that the supreme Eucharistic prayer of our Western liturgical tradition surely goes back, at least in part, to the age of the Holy Apostles.

As I launch this book, I wish to express my own gratitude to the author, anticipating the gratitude of all who will use it. This will be a key instrument in the spread of the classical form of our Roman Rite. I take up the words of the Holy Father in the opening sentence of Summorum Pontificum. I believe this book responds well to “the constant concern of the Supreme Pontiffs…to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy worship to the Divine Majesty, ‘to the praise and glory of His name’ and ‘to the benefit of all His Holy Church.’ ”

In addition to a new and fresh translation into English of the prayers of the Mass, placed alongside the Latin, there is an excellent introduction to the Mass, instructive to those familiar with the Rite and those who are not. Here is an excerpt:

In 1970, when the New Order of Mass was introduced, much was changed pertaining to the celebration of Mass and everything associated with it. The nature of the Mass, of course, did not change, but how it was presented changed very markedly. It was far more than a change from Latin to English: it involved a change in emphasis. In trying to simplify the Sacred Liturgy and make it more readily comprehensible, the architects of the New Order of Mass have emphasised the communal aspect of the Mass. Typically, the celebrant stands on one side of the altar, facing the congregation, and all are gathered around the table of the Lord, to partake of the Sacred Banquet. Very often there is a strong emphasis on active external participation.

When the celebrant is not facing the congregation, however, the entire atmosphere of the Mass is changed: both priest and people are facing the same direction to pray. Many have forgotten that from earliest Christian times, Mass was celebrated looking towards the rising sun (a great symbol of the Resurrection, and of Christ’s Second Coming in Glory): everyone faced this direction. Furthermore, the Mass is not limited to the confines of the building in which it is being celebrated, but is a cosmic event, involving the angels and saints and the souls of the faithful departed who are yet to receive their eternal reward. Simply by changing the position of the celebrant, a different sense of the Mass as a sacred event is conveyed to all present. The great silences, the solemn ritual actions of the celebrant and the beauty of the ancient Latin prayers, all reinforce the mysterious and sacred atmosphere of this More Ancient Use of the Roman Mass.

The sense of the sacred is not only manifest in the celebration of the Liturgy itself, but in all the things that surround it: the way the celebrant is vested, the manner in which the altar is decorated, the manner in which the celebrant and his ministers conduct themselves in the sanctuary - all of these things are governed by rules which the Church in her wisdom adopted over the course of centuries.
The translations themselves deserve our attention, this being the rendering of the prayer Suscipe Sancta Trinitas at the Offertory:
Accept, holy Trinity, this offering which we make to you in remembrance of the passion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in honour of blessed Mary ever Virgin, of blessed John the Baptist, of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, of those whose relics rest here, and of all the Saints. To them may it bring honour, and to us salvation; and may they, whose memory we keep on earth, be pleased to intercede for us in heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Furthermore, commentaries on the prayers and rites of the Mass are included, such as this one (on the prayer Suscipe Sancta Trinitas, translated above):
This beautiful prayer, a summary of the things a Catholic should keep in mind when praying the Mass, is deserving of especial attention. It reminds us firstly that all our worship is offered to the One God, who is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Secondly, in reflecting the Anamnesis after the consecration, the prayer insists on the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery that is re-presented for us in sacramental form: His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. Finally, it asserts that a secondary end of the Mass is the honour of the Saints (that is, the victory of Christ in His members is being praised), and accordingly it begs their intercession for us on Earth. Make a point of praying this prayer in the silence of your heart, uniting yourself with the words of the celebrant.
This is a section of the translation of the Last Gospel:
The Word is the true light, who enlightens every soul born into the world. He through whom the world was made came into the world; but the world did not recognise him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. But to all who did receive him and who believed in his name, to these he gave power to become children of God: those who were born, not of blood, nor by the will of flesh, nor by the will of man, but are born of God.
Following remarks made by the Pope in Summorum Pontificum, and previous permissions of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, this new Mass-book includes as an Appendix a selection of Prefaces from the 1970 Missal. These are: Preface of the Baptism of the Lord, Preface of Saint John the Baptist, Preface of the Annunciation, Preface of the Angels, Preface of Pentecost, Preface of Pastors, Preface of the Transfiguration, Preface of Martyrs, Preface of the Assumption, Preface of Religious & Holy Virgins, Preface of the Immaculate Conception, Preface of Matrimony, Preface of the Apostles Peter & Paul.

Other prefaces, which had been included in some post-1957 editions of the Missale Romanum, are also included. This is the translation of the Preface of the Lord’s Supper (for use on Holy Thursday):
It is truly fitting and just, right and profitable for our salvation, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Lord, holy Father, almighty, eternal God, through Christ our Lord, the true and eternal High Priest and, alone, the Priest without stain of sin. In the Last Supper, establishing the form of the eternal sacrifice, he firstly offered himself to you as a victim, thus teaching us the noblest and best offering. By his body, sacrificed for us, we are now fed, we are now strengthened; by his poured-out blood we are now given drink, we are now cleansed. And so, with the Angels and Archangels, with the Thrones and Dominations, and all the strength of the heavenly host, we sing without ceasing this hymn to your glory:
Pictures attached to this post shew the cover and also one of several line drawings which were prepared especially for this book.

Lastly, attention might be drawn to a small but lovely collection of devotional prayers included in the Mass-book. This is one:
For the Church
(Missal of Robert of Jumieges - 11th century)
Almighty, Eternal God, by ever giving strength to our weakness, you enable the Church to flourish even amidst its trials, so that when it appears to men to be utterly cast down, then rather does it gloriously prevail. Whilst, then, it accepts affliction as a proving of its faith, let it persevere, by your grace, in triumphant loyalty.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Styles and Tradition
in the chasuble of the Roman Rite

If Saint Charles Borromeo (Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan 1560-1584), were alive today I suspect he would be regarded as hero to those who cherish the traditions of the Church. An important figure at the Council of Trent and confidant of Popes, he was anxious to preserve traditions and not allow fashion, false doctrine or laxity to push Tradition to one side. As Archbishop of Milan he wrote and legislated in minute detail about the Sacred Liturgy and everything associated with it.

Saint Charles laid down regulations about the dimensions of vestments for the Sacred Liturgy because, it would seem, he was concerned that the form of the vestments, which had been handed down for centuries, was being cast aside in favour of something convenient and “fashionable”. The chasuble, derived from the Latin word for “a little house” had been for centuries an ample garment. In the 15th and 16th centuries, there had been significant divergence from this Tradition, however, resulting in a form of chasuble that wasn’t ample, but cut right back so that it comprised a sort of narrow pendant, front and back, on the wearer. We know this form of chasuble as the “Roman” or “fiddleback” chasuble, and some claim that this is the form of the chasuble that is truly “traditional”. But Borromeo didn’t think that: he thought it represented a break with Tradition. And he specified the minimum size to which he expected chasubles to conform. They were to be at least 51 inches (130cm) wide and, at the back, they were to reach down almost to the heels of the wearer.

So, why was the chasuble drastically modified? Let’s answer that question by first tracing the origin and early development of this garment.

The ancestor of the chasuble is a Roman garment called the paenula. It was a semi-circular cloak, sewn together down the front and completely covering the arms. It was a garment for everyday wear by the lower classes, but was also worn by the upper classes and by women for travel and in bad weather. From the 5th century, a garment of similar shape but made in richer material was adopted by the Roman upper classes for ceremonial wear and this planeta was the immediate ancestor of our chasuble. Then, from the 9th century, a third name was given to a cloak which was still in the shape of the early paenula, and like it was a protective outer garment for the poor: casula (Latin for “little house”). For a time, the secular and liturgical use of these three similar garments continued side by side. It was the shape of these garments, rather than their use which came to be associated with the liturgical chasuble.

From the 10th century, what we know as the chasuble consisted of a semi-circle of material with the two halves of the straight edge folded together and sewn down the front leaving an opening at the neck. The neck opening was sometimes widened slightly, leaving a short horizontal opening near the top of the centre seam. This shape is referred to as the conical or bell chasuble. It was not until the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries that the chasuble was recognised everywhere as the vestment exclusively to be used for the Mass. But even until well into the 11th century, it continued to be worn by deacons, lectors and acolytes, not exclusively by priests.

It was only from the time of its use exclusive use by the celebrant of the Mass in the 11th century that its decoration became more ornate.

Perhaps three significant reasons brought about a desire to reduce the dimensions of the chasuble. The first was the introduction in the 13th century of the Elevations during the Canon of the Mass. The second was the rise of the private Mass, in other words, a Mass where the celebrant would not be assisted by a deacon and subdeacon (who were to lift and hold back the chasuble at certain points in the Mass to free the arms of the celebrant). Consequently, the celebrant had the need for a greater freedom of movement for his arms and the chasuble was redesigned in order to accommodate that. Additionally, the types of fabrics used for vestments changed from the 13th century and were heavier (often embroidered) and stiffer than the silks and wools used in previous centuries. In short, there were practical reasons to modify the dimensions of the chasuble.

How what is modified? Modification happened in stages and not uniformly across the Church in the West. In the first instance, the semi-circular shape of the chasuble was cut back in such a way that the bulk of fabric to be supported on the arms was reduced. Subsequently, shoulder seams were introduced and the length of that seam reduced from the conical form. The chasuble of S’ Thomas Becket is an example of this earliest modification (see figures 6-7). Notice that what had been a bell-shaped garment has become pointed. Once shoulder seams were introduced, it became possible progressively to reduce the length of that seam. The chasuble attributed to Saint Bernard is another example of this modified form.

But the more significant modification to the chasuble was that the angle of the shoulder line was decreased. This measure substantially changed the way the chasuble sat on the celebrant, so that it no longer wrapped around him in folds, like the ancient Roman toga, but instead rested on him somewhat like the modern-day Mexican “poncho” (see figure 5 & 8). This measure would have freed the arms of the celebrant significantly. Not content with that, however, vestment makers cut back the width of the chasuble more and more. These latter modifications (beginning in Northern Europe in the 15th century), went beyond what was needed to make the chasuble more practical for the celebrant to wear. In the 16th century, Saint Charles, objecting to these extreme modifications, laid down his regulations to remind priests and vestment-makers of the importance of preserving the centuries-old Tradition. It was obviously regarded by S. Charles as most important that the chasuble continue to be a garment that fully covered the celebrant, being both long (reaching almost to the heels) and wide (51 inches, between the elbow and the wrist).

When “The Borromeon style” of chasuble is referred to, it is important to remember that the cut of chasubles varied and were the work of craftsmen, not mass-manufacturers. I’d be rather sure that the vestments used by Saint Charles himself were not all precisely the same in cut. Furthermore, other styles were also prominent in the 16th and 17th centuries. One style we find in the various paintings of Saint Charles’ contemporary, Philip Neri. This chasuble was narrower than the 51 inches set down by S. Charles, but it was still very long. A variant of this “Philip Neri” style of chasuble was found in northern parts of Europe and in England. Yet another form, the Spanish style, is depicted in the famous painting of Saint Idelfonso.

Something might be included here about the ornamentation of chasubles. The early casula and planeta largely lacked any form of ornamentation. Because there was but one seam that formed the garment into its bell shape, that seam (which ran vertically down the front of the chasuble) came to be covered with a narrow braid-like band. In order to strengthen the fabric around the opening for the head, braid was also added. This is the origin – purely practical – of what is referred to as the “tau” style of ornament (“tau” being the letter of the Greek alphabet which corresponds to our “tee”).

It was a logical step from here to find that a corresponding strip of braid was applied to the back of the chasuble (even though it was purely decorative and not supporting seams etc.). The width of these braid-like ornaments came to be increased over the centuries from something that was no more than 3 – 5cm to something that became up to 20cm in width. And, very early on in the development of the chasuble, these strips ceased to be purely functional and became the focus of elaborate ornament and embroidery.

By the 14th century the chasuble had come to be ornamented in three common forms (with many variations). One is the Y-shaped orphrey (thought to be derived from Roman and Jewish ceremonial garb), which was mainly found in Northern Europe and England. Another is the “tau” shaped orphrey, which was an ornament applied to the front of the chasuble, but with the back of the chasuble ornamented with a simple column. This was the usual Italian or Roman style. The third form consisted of the back being decorated with a Latin Cross. This last style was not so frequently found in Italy, but was very common elsewhere in Europe.

In the 17th and particularly from the 18th century, authorised by no Ecclesiastical authority, the form of the chasuble almost universally used was that pendant-like form which we call the “Roman” chasuble. There were only a few voices raised in objection to setting aside the Tradition of the ample chasuble. And then, although it only occurred by degrees and over a period of time, that pendant form of chasuble, which to S. Charles represented such a break with Tradition, became regarded as THE legitimate Tradition. Pause to reflect on this, when you read expressions such as “Traditional Roman vestments” etc. We have the strange situation where the very dimensions of chasuble that Saint Charles strove to preserve, have been described by many latter-day “Traditionalists” as “un-traditional”!

We should also be careful about the use of the term “Roman” vestments. Roman vestments are those used for the Roman Rite: they do not refer to any particular style or shape. The pendant-style chasuble did not have its origin in Rome, but in northern Europe. Rome did not readily adopt it. Saint Charles legislated against it.

From the 19th century, scholars began promoting a return to the earlier, more ample style of chasuble. We find such chasubles appearing in England and parts of Europe. Sometimes these are referred to as “Gothic” vestments, although it is not certain why. These “Gothic” vestments were similar to the proportions insisted upon by S. Charles. Strangely, Rome (which for two centuries had held out against the introduction of the pendant-like vestments) did not welcome the 19th century interest in reviving these “Gothic” or “Borromeon” chasubles and in 1863 letter warned against the use of vestments that departed from the “received form”. How short, it would seem, was the Roman memory. In December 1925, at a time when vestment-makers in Europe and beyond were creating magnificent chasubles of Borromeon proportions, the Congregation of Rites published a rescript that the more ample form of chasuble was not to be used for the Roman Rite, except by special permission of the Holy See. What a peculiar decision this was, given that earlier in the same year an Exhibition of the Liturgical Arts had been held in Rome and newly-made vestments, according to the Borromeon proportions, were shown in a special audience with Pius XI, who approved their use and blessed them. A famous photograph exists of Pius XI celebrating Mass in S’ Peter’s in a 16th century style chasuble: some years after his Congregation of Rites had attempted to prohibit their use! The 1925 letter of the Congregation (which had been widely ignored!) was reversed by a new decision in August 1957, granting Diocesan bishops leave to permit the use of the more ample form of chasuble.

Eight years later (1965), Rome herself followed what was already occuring world-wide. The 18th century style of vestments used in Papal ceremonial was replaced with something very different but austere: somewhat like the ethos of the 1960’s itself. Somebody put to me once that many people were greatly upset and even scandalised when Papal Rome made this change. Consequently, and for precisely this reason, there is a very negative attitude amongst some to modern expressions in the style of vestments. And, to be frank, concerning vestments made from the 1970’s onward, there is ample scope for negativity.

But had 1960’s Rome just invented a new style of vestment and thrown out Tradition? In fact, no. The vestments which emerged in Rome from the mid-1960’s were a modern “take” on the Borromeon form of chasuble (see figures 19-20): this was a return to an earlier tradition. It’s a pity that Rome didn’t take the trouble to make that point very clear. Comparison of the picture of the Borromeon chasuble in Saint Mary’s Major with chasubles worn by Pope Paul will illustrate this very clearly: the form is almost the same (cf fig 1 & 19). If 1960’s Rome had decided to use beautiful and elaborate damasks for the Papal vestments instead of the plainest of silk, perhaps attitudes to the new Papal array might have been different. For, if anything, the vestments of post-Vatican II Papal Rome have lacked creativity and splendour. In Advent 2007 and Lent 2008, we witnessed Pope Benedict and his ministers using vestments of violet damask, quite different from the plain silks we have become accustomed to see. Even though those vestments (of the later Baroque style) were not particularly attractive, it is encouraging to see something different. May we not hope for something even better?

This article has attempted to be a comprehensive, but not an in-depth, study of the history of the chasuble. Consider it more as an illustrated lecture than a scholarly treatise. I refer you to these works for more detailed information:

Die liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient, Joseph Braun, 1907
The Vestments of the Roman Rite, Adrian Fortescue, 1912
Vestments and Vesture, Dom E Roulin, 1930
The Catholic Encyclopaedia (1911) and The New Catholic Encyclopaedia (1967)
High Fashion in the Church, Pauline Johnstone, 2002
A Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, 1972.