Um… what’s with the robes?

Kneeling clergy in robes on church stage
When you first walk into Resurrection’s sanctuary, you’ll notice that some people onstage are wearing robes. Some are simply white, while others are brightly colored and ornately patterned. So, what do they mean? And why are some people wearing them while others aren’t?

These robes are known as “vestments.” Vestments are primarily worn by clergy, who are leaders in the church who have been ordained to special offices. (Click here to learn more about ordination.) But as you’ll see, some of the vestments can be worn by anyone (so get down to Wheaton Religious today!). Ultimately, it is out of respect for the holiness of the Word and table that we wear these unique garments.

The precedent for vestments comes from the Bible’s instructions for priestly ministry (see Exodus 28, for example), and the Psalms, which direct us to worship in holy attire. Vestments remind people that something unusual and sacred is happening, and their beauty points to the beauty of God and of worshiping him.

Vestments also serve as equalizers. This is ironic, because at first they seem to set people apart when you walk into our church. But once you get used to seeing leaders in vestments, you realize that they diminish the distinctiveness of any one leader or clergy member. Like a police officer in their uniform, vestments signify that the priest, deacon, or lay leader is part of something bigger than themselves; it’s not about them, it’s about the office and the function that it serves for the church. 

Without vestments, you could be as easily distracted by the fashion of the clothes that the pastors are wearing each week, and what those choices might signify. With vestments, it doesn’t change (except for the seasonal color). The long-term effect is that you pay less attention to the appearance of any individual clergy. 

Like a police officer in their uniform, robes signify that a priest is part of something bigger than himself; his appearance is not about him, but about his service.

 Examples of Vestments You Might See

Black Cassock: This is streetwear, not liturgical; in some traditions is the everyday garment for clergy. It is all black because it is a sign of death to the world that clergy chooses in their receiving of an ordered life through ordination. However, this vestment is not restricted to the clergy. Anyone can wear it for the same reasons.

Alb – This is an all-white robe that is a sign of baptismal purity that has been put upon us by Christ. Again, this is not something that only clergy can wear. You will sometimes see people at Resurrection attending to the communion table or praying for people who also wear these robes.
Stole: This is a sign of the mantle we’ve received from Christ for His Church, it also signifies the “yoke of Christ.”  This is also representative of the towel Christ used to wash the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper. The stole is worn only by ordained priests. When they wear it, it is a signal that they are acting in their official capacity for the Church and in the authority of Jesus, just as when a police officer wears their badge. 

Chasuble: This is the “big poncho” that the Celebrant wears. It signifies the love of God and is specifically tied to the administration of the Sacraments. 

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