Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church – The Episcopal Ornaments

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu in traditional vestments while celebrating a Solemn Pontifical High Mass at the church of Mary Coredemptrix in Cebu City, Philippines, 26 March 2012; photographed by Arnold Carl Fernan Sancover; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

An innate sense of propriety and reverence prompts us to exchange our ordinary dress for one more costly when about to. appear in the presence of the great and noble. Custom or written regulations may prescribe the material, the colour, and the shape of the dress to be worn by those who seek an interview with royal or imperial majesty, but that custom and those regulations are alike based on the dictates of natural good sense, and of reverence for lawfully constituted authority. All power is from God, and therefore he who slights that power by refusing to show it those exterior marks of honour to which nature and the practice of his fellow-men impel him, slights and insults Him from whom that power comes.

The use, in religious functions, of vestments more costly than those of every day life, and differing from them in shape and colour, is an application of the same principle. If an earthly potentate may justly require that his attendants should manifest the respect due to his exalted rank, by the cleanliness and richness of their garb, may not God, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, exact the same from the ministers of His sanctuary? If silk and ermine and costly stuffs of many a precious dye are in place on the person of an earl, or count, or duke, when waiting on his prince, do they cease to be becoming on the Bishop of the Most High God, when celebrating the tremendous Mystery of the Mass? If the ruby, the sapphire, and the diamond may gleam on the coronet of kings, is the mitre of the Lord’s anointed less worthy of the honour?

The priest of Jupiter and the priest of Jehovah were clad in appropriate dress when performing the solemn acts of religious worship. The priest of Jesus Christ has also a garb indicating his sacred order, symbolizing the virtues which belong to it, and befitting the solemnity of the functions which he exercises. But it does not therefore follow that the ornaments of the Christian priesthood are mere servile copies of the Jewish, or those in turn of the Pagan priestly dress. The use of sacred vestments, like the offering of sacrifice, is common to all forms of religion, no matter how perverted, and hence must spring from a cause common to all, which can be no other than an intellectual perception of the necessity of religion, and a religious sentiment in the heart given to every soul at the moment of creation, by its All-wise Maker. That religious instinct impels man to worship his Creator with both parts of his being, soul and body, thus to acknowledge God’s sovereign dominion over him. Faith, hope, and charity are the worship of the soul; the performing of sacred ceremonies, and the use of vestments, are the worship of the body; and the reception of the sacraments, vocal prayer, and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy combine both kinds of worship.

There are many and striking analogies between the vestments of the Jewish and Christian priesthood. These are owing to the typical nature of the Old Law. Saint Paul tells us (Hebrews 10) that the law had only a shadow of the good things to come. Jesus Christ and His grace were the realities which it prefigured, and its ceremonies were ordained only in reference to the ceremonies of the Christian dispensation. The latter were first in the order of the divine decrees; otherwise the shadow would excel the substance – the figure, the reality. Whenever, then, we refer to any Jewish rite or ceremony, as illustrative of the rites of the Catholic Church, we regard it merely as a symbol or type, not as an original.

Each of the sacred orders has its appropriate dress. The amice, alb, cincture, and maniple are common to all. The tunic belongs to the subdeaconship: the transverse stole and dalmatic to the deaconship; the stole crossed over the breast and the chasuble to the priesthood; the Bishop also wears the chasuble and stole; the latter, however, he never crosses on his breast, but lets it hang straight. The sandals, stockings, gloves, gremial, pectoral cross, ring, crosier, and mitre, belong to Bishops, and are therefore called the episcopal ornaments. The pallium and the processional cross are the insignia of archiepiscopal dignity.

The Sandals

The sandal was originally a wooden sole fastened to the foot with thongs. In course of time the toes were covered with a piece of leather, and then the whole upper part of the foot; thus the sandal became a shipper. Under the Roman emperors, the sandals of the nobility were remarkable for the richness of their material and embroidery. At first, the Church, through reverence for the Sacred Mysteries, commanded all her ministers to wear sandals or slippers when officiating at the altar, but for many centuries their use has been confined to Bishops.

The sandals of the early Anglo-Saxon Bishops were made of leather, beautifully stained, and perforated on the upper part with holes, wrought into various designs, through which the embroidered stocking appeared in fine contrast with the leather of the sandal. Hildebert, an ecclesiastical writer of the eleventh century, thus explains the mystical meaning of these apertures or “windows” in the sandals: “The upper part is perforated in order that the foot may be partially covered and partially uncovered to teach the preacher of the Gospel that he must not indiscreetly reveal to all nor conceal from all the mysteries of that Gospel.” Some are so weak in faith as to need, like the Corinthians, to be fed with milk, while others can bear the strong solid food of Christian doctrine.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the leathern sandal gave place to one of silk, wrought with gold or silver needlework, and adorned with precious atones. It had no apertures on top. In England, the colour of the sandal was scarlet; elsewhere, of black or red.

The sandals are the emblems of an apostolic missionary, of one who travel from country to country to preach the Gospel of Christ. The Bishop fulfills the duties of a missionary in the visitation of his diocese. When our Lord sent out the twelve Apostles two by two, He commanded them to be shod with sandals. (Mark 6:9) The embroidery of the sandal and stockings represents the beauty of the Gospel: How beautiful are the feet of those that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring good tidings of good things.

The Stockings

Became part of the episcopal dress at the end of the tenth century. They are of red or white, according to the colour of the vestments of the day, and are always worn by the Bishop when he solemnly pontificates, except in Requiem Masses.

The Gloves

As part of the sacred dress, seem to have been introduced in the seventh century. At first they were used by both priests and Bishops, but in the ninth century they were restricted to the latter. They were made of very rich material, and were encrusted with gold and precious stones. A cross was wrought on the back of them. Remains of ancient sculpture and painting prove that the episcopal glove sometimes extended above the wrist.

When Jacob wished to obtain the benediction of his father Isaac, in place of his brother Esau, he covered his hands with the skin of a kid, in order that they might resemble the hairy hands of Esau, and then went into the presence of his father. The Bishop clothes his hands with the blessed gloves, as with the merits of Jesus Christ, and then goes to the sacred altar to impetrate from the Eternal Father a benediction for himself and his people. This mystic signification of the gloves is clearly expressed in the prayer which the consecrating Bishop says when drawing them on tho hands of the newly-consecrated prelate: “Clothe, O Lord, the hands of this Thy minister with the cleanliness of the New Man who descended from heaven, that, as Jacob, Thy beloved, having his hands clothed with the skins of kids, obtained the paternal benediction, by offering food and a most agreeable drink to his father, so may he, by offering with his hands the Victim of Salvation, obtain the benediction of Thy grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who, in the likeness of sinful flesh, offered Himself to Thee for us.”

The Gremial

Is a veil of silk or other precious stuff extended on the lap of the Bishop when seated during Pontifical High Mass, to prevent the chasuble from being soiled by the moisture of the hands, or by the missal which the acolytes hold before the prelate. The name of this ornament is derived from the Latin word gremium, which signifies the lap. The priest, deacon, and subdeacon used it in former times, hut now it is exclusively an episcopal ornament. However, “the Dominican friars,” says Dr. Rock, in his book entitled The Church of our Fathers, “if they do not yet, did till a very late period, keep up the use of linen lap-cloths for the celebrant and his two ministers at High Mass.”

The Pectoral Cross

The devout children of the Church, both clergy and laity, wore, from the earliest times, a cross or crucifix, as a memorial of Christ’s Passion, and of the Christian’s obligation of carrying the cross. It was not until the thirteenth century that a cross of silver or gold worn on the breast became a mark of the episcopal character. It reminds the prelate that his sublime and most holy state is one of suffering, and that as he sits on the throne of Christ, he must needs be ready to drink the chalice of Christ’s Passion. The cross may glitter with gold and gems, but still it remains a cross. Belies of the martyrs are sometimes enclosed in its cavity, to show that the Bishop is prepared to bear witness by his blood, his teaching, and his virtues, to the truths of the Holy Faith.

Though full of holy mystic meanings, the pectoral cross is not one of those ornaments which are solemnly given in the ceremony of consecration. The Prelate elect takes it himself when vesting for Mass, thus expressing that the only thing he desires is the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Ring

Macrobius, a Latin writer of the fifth century, informs us that the ancients used the ring, not as an ornament, but as a seal. Several passages of Scripture illustrate this remark. Jezabel wrote Utters in Achab’s name, and sealed them with his ring. (3 Kings 21:8) And king Assuerus answered….Write ye therefore to the Jews, as it pleaseth you, in the King’s name, and seal the letters with my ring. (Esther 8:8) They brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of the lions…. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den, which the king sealed with his own ring, and with the ring of his nobles. (Daniel 6:17) As only the nobles were accustomed to use seals, the ring became an emblem of dignity and authority. And as a seal serves to hide and keep secret what is contained under it, the ring symbolizes also secrecy and fidelity. From this last signification, it came to be used as the pledge of two most sacred contracts – of the marriage between husband and wife, and between the bishop and his church.

The episcopal ring is blessed in the ceremony of the consecration, and placed by the consecrating Bishop on the third finger of the right hand of the new Prelate, with these words: “Receive the ring, the seal of fidelity: that being adorned with inviolate fidelity, thou mayest without stain guard the spouse of God, that is, the Holy Church.”

Dr. Rock, speaking of the episcopal ring of the English Bishops, when England had the happiness of being Catholic, says: “This ring was larger, and in conformity with the style of those times, wrought more heavy than the same kind of ecclesiastical ornament is in our day. Though commonly having for its stone a sapphire, it not infrequently bore a deep broad emerald, or a ruby; and to keep it in its right place, another plain but smaller ring was put upon the finger just above it.”

The Tunic and Dalmatic

Are, as we have said, the peculiar ornaments of the subdeaconship and deaconship, yet the Bishop wears them, made of satin of the colour of the day, under his chasuble, when he pontificates. It is fitting that he who has the plenitude of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and the power of conferring it, should be clothed with all the vestments of each of its sacred grades.

The Crosier

As an ensign of Episcopal authority, has been in use since the sixth or seventh century. Saint Isidore of Seville, a Spanish Bishop, who died in 636, says in his book De Eccl. Officiis, that a staff is given to the newly-consecrated prelate as a sign that he is to rule and correct his people, and bear with the infirmities of the weak.

The form of the Crosier has been different at different epochs. Sometimes it was merely a straight rod surmounted by a transverse piece, so as to form a cross; hence its name Crosier. Some of the Anglo-Saxon Bishops used one capped by a ball. “From those found in the ninth century hanging over the graves of bishops then long since dead, it would seem that they were bent at the top.”

Wood of the most costly kind was one of the first materials used for the pastoral staff. But soon the gold and the silver mines were laid under contribution, and the Crosier of the Bishop began to vie in value and beauty with the sceptre of the king. In the twelfth century, the Crosier was composed of different materials. The stem was of wood surmounted by a ball, to which an ivory crook was attached. Around the crook was the inscription: “In thy anger thou shalt remember mercy;” on the ball was the word man, reminding the pontiff that he was man, and that he ruled not over angels, but frail men. The foot of the Crosier, made of iron, bore the motto spare.

The Pope does not carry the Crosier. Innocent III, who reigned in the beginning of the thirteenth century, says expressly, (De Sacro Altaris Mysteriis, lib. i., cap. 2, xi.,) that the Roman Pontiff does not use the pastoral staff. One account thus explains this fact: Saint Peter sent his staff to Eucher, first Bishop of Treves, who kept at with great reverence in his episcopal city. His successor, Materrus, having been raised from the dead by the miraculous power of the Apostle’s crook, the good people of Treves resolved never to give up so precious a relic, and thus blessed Peter was deprived of his pastoral staff.

A wand or rod has always been considered the emblem of power and jurisdiction; in the hand of a monarch it is called a sceptre, in that of a bishop a crosier. The Lord will send forth thy power out of Sion. (Psalm 109) Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron. (Psalm 2) The sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness. (Psalm 44)

The Bishop’s sceptre is bent like the shepherd’s crook, to indicate that his rule is one of mildness and love. Feed My sheep, feed My lambs, was our Lord’s charge to Saint Peter, a charge in which all the Bishops of the Church participate, in subordination to the Chief Pastor, the Sovereign Pontiff, and for this reason they receive the Crosier, in the ceremony of their consecration, as an emblem of the pastoral charge. “Receive,” says the consecrating prelate, “the staff of the pastoral office, that thou mayest be piously severe in the correction of vice, exercising judgment without wrath, wooing the affections of those who hear thee to cherish virtue, not abandoning a just severity in mildness.”

The mystic meanings of the Crosier are contained in the following Latin verses:

In baculi forma, praesul, datur haec tibi norma:
Attrahe per primum, medio rege, punge per imum.
Attrahe peccantes, age justos, punpe vagantes:
Attrahe, sustenta, stimula, vaga, morbida, lenta.

The form of thy staff, holy prelate, is replete with mystical meaning. The middle is sign of thy rule, the foot, of holy correction. With the crook on the top thou sweetly drawest souls into virtue. Attract all poor sinners, strike the vagrant, urge on the just to perfection. Lure the wanderer, be a prop to the weak, and a spear to the slow-paced.

The Mitre

The 28th chapter of Exodus enumerates the mitre among the ornaments which God commanded to be prepared for Aaron and his sons, and which were to be used by all their successors in the Jewish priesthood. It is hard to determine the precise period of the introduction of the mitre in the Christian Church, as one of the insignia of episcopal or abbatial rank. Some have asserted that the Bishops of the first centuries wore no head dress at all during the celebration of the sacred mysteries; or, if they did, that it was one common to them with the rest of the clergy. The fourth Council of Toledo, held in the seventh century, when mentioning the Episcopal ornaments, says nothing of the mitre. Nor is any trace found of it in the ancient rituals or the works of those who wrote on the rites and ceremonies of the Church.

The account which Dr. Bock gives of the origin and variation in shape and colour of the mitre, in his valuable work on ecclesiastical antiquities, to which we have frequently referred, is connected and detailed, and substantiated by copious quotations from ancient writers, and therefore we shall take it as our guide in our remarks on the mitre.

A circlet or crown of gold and silver was the first ornament which adorned the head of the Bishop. This gave way to a white kerchief of fine linen, fitting close around the temples, and tied by a ribbon, the ends of which fell loose about the shoulders. In the eleventh century this head dress assumed a horned or peaked appearance, just above the ears of the prelate; in shape, however, it continued to be for some time broad and low. The present elevation of the mitre, terminating in two peaks, began to prevail from the thirteenth century.

The ribbon that had been used to tie the linen kerchief became a mere ornament, giving rise to the naps or pendants of the mitre. As around the hem of the Jewish High Priest’s tunic there were seventy-two golden bells, in like manner several little bells of precious metal sometimes hung from the pendants of the mitre. They reminded the Pontiff that as their sweet chiming was music in the ears, so the harmony of his virtues ought to be music in the hearts of his people.

The mitre seems to have been at first made of linen. Afterwards the richest silks were used, and sometimes it was entirely composed of thin plates of gold or silver. The following beautiful paragraph from the Church of our Fathers, shows us what was the splendour of the mitre in the days of Catholic England’s glory: “Every art was bid to come and lend its beauty to this sacred diadem; the embroideress was its willing handmaid, and her needle storied it with saints; the enameller, after his craft, strewed it over with everlasting flowers and devices, and wreathed it about with bands of beautiful design in living and unfading colours; the jeweller sprinkled it with light from every precious stone – with the soft green rays of the emerald – with the fire of the burning ruby – the blue beams of the sky-lit sapphire – and the golden twinklings of the yellow topaz. Nor was the worker in the costly metals behind the rest with the cunning of his elegant mystery; when he was asked to fashion a rich mitre out of gold or silver, he wrought these two thin though solid sheets of which it was to be made up, out of the precious metal in such a way, that they not only opened and shut with the utmost readiness by means of gimmels or hinges, light, though strong, in their frame, and nicely adjusted at the sides, but so bent themselves upon the wearer’s venerable brow, as to sit with ease upon it; two other gimmels held loosely, though securely, the lappets as they swung behind, and all up the edges of the mitre this master of his art taught to creep a purfiing of crockets in silver, the thin, leaf-like veined appearance of which, cut as they were, and tooled to look most light and sharp and crispy, would be gazed on now as a marvel – a very miracle of handicraft.”

As the crosier is the Bishop’s sceptre, so the mitre is his crown. It is the helmet of salvation mentioned by Saint Paul, (Ephesians 6) and therefore the consecrating Bishop and his assistants say, in the ceremony of its Conferring: “We place, O Lord, upon the head of this Thy prelate and combatant the helmet of protection and salvation.” The two horns or peaks of the mitre are emblems of the rays of glory which flashed from the countenance of Moses when he descended from Sinai, after his forty days’ converse with God. They are also typical of the two Testaments, those treasures of sacred science which are contained in the mind, on the lips, and in the heart of the Lord’s anointed.

The Bishop has several mitres, more or less ornate, which he uses according to the greater or less solemnity of the functions which he performs. The Oriental Bishops do not wear the mitre.

The ornaments which we have just described are sometimes worn by those who are inferior to a Bishop in ecclesiastical dignity. Mitred Abbots, when solemnly officiating, are arrayed in full pontifical dress. They cannot, however, use the precious or glorious mitre, unless by express privilege of the Holy See, and a white veil ought to be attached to their pastoral staff. As the veil on the head of the woman is a sign of modesty, and of tier subjection to man, so this veil denotes the inferiority of the office of an Abbot to that of a Bishop. And as a cloth or kerchief is used to remove perspiration from the countenance, so, appended to the Abbot’s crosier, it signifies that his task is one of labour and fatigue. Abbots exempt from episcopal jurisdiction may lay aside this veil. When celebrating Mass privately, they are in no way distinguished from a simple priest.

According to the learned Mabillon, Egelsinus, Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Augustine, near Canterbury, England, was the first mitred Abbot of whom we have an authentic record. The mitre was granted to him by Pope Alexander II, who reigned from 1061 to 1073.

The Cardinals of the Roman Church, although not Bishops, wore the mitre from the time of Saint Leo IX (1049-1055) until the first general Council of Lyons, in 1244, when Pope Innocent IV gave them the red hat, to remind them that they should be ready to suffer martyrdom for the Church.

In some places it was customary for the celebrant and the two assisting sacred ministers to wear mitres. We have found one author asserting that consecrated virgins wore the mitre in the fourth century.

Nor is the use of the ring confined to the episcopal dignity. It is one of the insignia of the doctorate, and it is also placed on one of the fingers of the nun when she solemnly takes the veil.

We cannot more fittingly conclude this account of the episcopal ornaments, than with the prayer of the Roman Pontifical: “And therefore we beseech Thee, O Lord, to bestow upon this Thy servant whom Thou hast chosen for the ministry of the High Priesthood, this grace – that whatsoever the vestments of the Old Law signified, in the shining of gold, the sparkling of gems, and in the variety of diversified works, may beam forth in his life and actions. Fill up in Thy Priest the plenitude of Thy ministry, and with the dew of Thy heavenly ointment sanctify him, clad with the ornaments of perfect glory.”

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