Excerpt: Chasuble

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan at 10:36 AM


Chasuble

For the priest, the next vestment is the chasuble (from the Latin casula, meaning “little house”), a large garment that covers the others, with a hole in the center for the priest’s head.  As he puts on the chasuble, the priest prays:
Dómine, qui dixísti:  Iugum meam suáve est et onus meum leve:
fac, ut istud portáre sic váleam, quod cónsequar tuam grátiam.  Amen.

O Lord, who said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”:       Matt 11:30
grant that I might bear it well,                                                                  
so as to receive your grace.  Amen.                               Rom. 5:2; Heb. 12:15
The chasuble, more than the stole, is the symbol of the “yoke” of Christ.  A yoke is a beam that attaches two animals (often oxen) together to allow them to pull a load, such as a plow.
God liberated Israel from the yoke of slavery they endured in Egypt.  The Exodus of the Israelites foreshadowed the Exodus (cf. Luke 9:30-31) on which Christ leads us by His crucifixion:  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1)  Christ frees us from the yoke of sin and offers us His own in return:  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29-30)  A yoke is never carried alone:  we are either yoked to Satan by sin, or we are yoked to Christ.  The yoke of Christ is above all a duty to love one another.  The chasuble represents His yoke:  the virtue of charity, that is, love of God for His sake and love of others for God’s sake.  The priest cannot love God nor his fellow man on his own; he cannot bear the yoke of charity alone, but needs Christ alongside him to help him.
In addition to writing about the “armor of God” in military terms in his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul told the Colossians to wear the virtues as clothing.  First he tells them to strip themselves naked of vices:  “put them all away:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.” (Col. 3:8)  Then he tells them how to dress themselves:  “put on the new nature.” (Col. 3:10)  This new nature is “compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.” (Col. 3:12)  He also tells them to let their hearts be ruled by “the peace of Christ” (Col. 3:15) and to let “the word of Christ” (Col. 3:16) dwell in them.  Over all these things, Paul tells them to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col. 3:14)
This divine love is represented by the chasuble.  The chasuble is worn over the stole, signifying that authority must be “covered” by love; that is, authority must be carried out with love, for, as St. Paul taught, if we have not love, we are nothing. (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2)  It is worn over the other vestments because “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10), because love exceeds all other virtues and brings them to perfection.
The chasuble is evocative of the seamless tunic worn by Jesus at His crucifixion. (cf. John 19:23-24)  In the Catena Aurea (“the golden chain”) of St. Thomas Aquinas, a compilation of Scripture commentary, Church Fathers and other commentators on Scripture saw the tunic, which the soldiers could not tear apart, as a symbol of the Body of Christ and the Church.  To St. John Chrysostom, the tunic which was “woven from top to bottom” is an allegory for Christ’s divinity (“woven from top,” that is, Heaven) and humanity (“to bottom,” that is, earth, in His Incarnation), which are united in one Divine Person.  To St. Augustine, the tunic is the unbreakable unity of the Church over the whole world; it is also the bond of charity which retains that unity, as God is love, and the tunic is woven from above.  Theophylactus interpreted the tunic as Christ’s body, which was “woven from above” when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary and she conceived the Son of God.  He went one step further, alluding to the Eucharist, saying that this body is indivisible though it is distributed for us to receive in Communion, and each fragment of the Precious Body is the whole substance of Christ.
The chasuble also signifies the purple cloak He was dressed with in derision. (cf. John 19:2)  Purple is a color of royalty, and purple cloak was a mock-symbol of royalty (as was the crown of thorns), and the chasuble, usually the most elegant and decorated of all the vestments, shows forth the royalty and kingship of Christ.  Purple is also a color of penance (as we see during Lent) and so it speaks of the sadness and sacrifice of the Passion.  These two concepts, kingship and sacrifice, are united in the chasuble:  Christ’s kingship is, among other things, one of service in love, and the crucifixion shows us the lengths to which that love drives Christ to serve.

2 comments:

  1. John F H H said...

    Great commentary!
    looking forward to the maniple [its abrogation was permissive, not mandatory, IIRC, and is demanded in the EF], the dalmatic and tunicle, etc.
    Regards
    John UK

  2. Jeffrey Pinyan said...

    I wasn't planning on writing about the vestments particular to the Extraordinary Form (since the book is about the new English translation of the Ordinary Form).

    I'll consider the maniple, given its "fuzzy" liturgical status (although to be honest, I've never heard of a priest celebrating the Ordinary Form wearing one).