Excerpt: Alb

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan at 8:13 AM


Next, the priest puts on the alb (from the Latin alba, meaning “white”), a long white garment which covers the whole body, from the neck to the ankles.  The origin of the alb as a liturgical vestment is an ancient Roman garment worn under a tunic or cloak.  The priest prays:
Deálba me, Dómine, et munda cor meum;
ut, in Sánguine Agni dealbátus, gáudiis pérfruar sempitérnis.

Purify me, Lord, and cleanse my heart so that,                              Ps. 51:7-9
washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal bliss.            Rev. 7:14
The alb, being white, symbolizes the purity and innocence of baptism, and the proper disposition of the soul for Mass.  The bright whiteness of the alb ought to represent the interior purity of the soul.
The color white is evocative of the divine glory of Christ:  at the Transfiguration, He appeared in garments described by the Evangelists as “dazzling white” (Luke 9:29), “glistening, intensely white” (Mark 9:3), and “white as light.” (Matt. 17:2)  Mocking Christ’s innocence, Herod dressed Christ in a “white garment” (Luke 23:11, DR[1]) when he sent Him back to Pilate.  The newly baptized are dressed in white (often an alb for adults) to signify that in Baptism they have “put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27; cf. Rom. 13:14; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10)
The prayer speaks of being “washed in the Blood of the Lamb,” a direct reference to the book of Revelation.  The Lord promises to the worthy that “they shall walk with me in white. … He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments.” (Rev. 3:4-5)  St. John describes “white garments” (Rev. 3:18; 4:4) and “white robes” (Rev. 6:11), as well as saints dressed in “fine linen” which are their “righteous deeds” (Rev. 19:8, 14):
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches[2] in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” … Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.”  And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9-14)
While other blood stains garments red, the precious blood of the Lamb cleanses and purifies them, making them white.

[1] This is the Douay-Rheims translation; the Latin Vulgate reads veste alba.
[2] The palm branch is usually used in iconography to identify the depicted saint as a martyr.