Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Eucharistic Vestments

The poll at right this week asks our readers about the vestments worn in their parishes at the Divine Service. Within living memory, the vestments customarily seen in American Lutheran churches have undergone nothing short of a revolution. The inestimable Rev. Walter Otten, for example, can tell you the story of his various struts down the catwalk to get voter assembly approval for cassock and surplice and later alb and stole. When he retired not so many years ago, his successor brought in the chasuble without drawing any controversy. While your mileage may vary, it has been my experience that today's laity tend to appreciate the more elaborate, traditional vestments of our forefathers and accept them even where they have not been in use before.

A Lutheran Divine Service in 16th century Denmark. Both of the pictures were thankfully hijacked from Fr. Frahm's excellent discussion of Lutheran worship.

While vestments in the Christian tradition grew up gradually, and usually by baptizing secular dress, we should not commit the etymological error and assume that all they are is secular dress and that they can be changed without meaning or consequence. We must encounter the symbolical world of the Church as we find it, not attempt to explain it away. And in the symbolism of the Church, vestments serve a very useful function: they set apart the pastoral office and each vestment says something about the office as can be seen from the traditional prayers that attend each vestment (which make for a nice Bible class topic, by the bye). Furthermore, they add beauty to the services of God's house and incidentally aid the pastor in proper decorum as it is especially difficult to be sloppy with one's hands while wearing a chasuble!

For these reasons, the wearing of vestments was one of the traditions that the Lutherans were glad to retain at the time of the Reformation. Indeed, when Karlstadt imitated the Swiss by celebrating the Supper in street clothes, Luther famously roared back into Wittenberg with alb, stole, maniple, and chasuble.

Today, I would wager than the cassock cut alb (an invention of the Anglican-catering Almy Co.) and stole is how most LCMS pastors vest for most every service. A more traditional manner to vest would be cassock, surplice, and stole for the non-Eucharistic services where there is preaching (subtract the stole for prayer services without preaching) and alb, stole, and chasuble (and even a maniple and amice) for the Divine Service. This also serves to highlight the Divine Service and goes along well with an attempt to reclaim the celebration of the Lord's Supper on every Lord's Day.

Finally, a full disclosure statement: my mom sews chasubles, other vestments, and paraments so I have a familial interest in their promotion.


Pr. H. R.17 Comments