Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Best Practices

I’m part of a liturgy discussion group and a recent thread has begun talking about vestments. Our seminary education regarding the mechanics of worship and liturgy were somewhat lacking since our instructor was in the process of being fired when I was in my first year there. We also only had half a term of required instruction in liturgics.

Someone asked what others do and know as far as how we vest ourselves. One question was whether the stole is worn over or under the chasuble. Apparently there’s a rule for this and I almost always break the rule. My chasubles are almost all plain, that is they have no decoration on them. But the stoles are almost all decorated. So I wear the stole over the chasuble. One chasuble, the white one which the church owns (I don’t have my own white chasuble yet), is decorated and the stole is plain so I wear it the other way around. So only during Christmas and Easter and on Baptism of Our Lord, Transfiguration, Christ the King and other white festivals am I vested properly.

I also used to wear a pectoral cross over my chasuble (except the white one because it would hang over the decoration). The "vestment police" once informed me that it was only a bishop’s prerogative to wear a pectoral cross. I continued to wear it anyway. I haven’t worn it for some time because the chain broke and I haven’t replaced it but I do intend to wear it again.

I wrote about this on the discussion site and one pastor responded rather vehemently decrying my lackadaisical practice. He intimated that anything less than BEST PRACTICE was akin to irreverence in worship. As if someone seeing me with a pectoral cross showing would mistake me for a bishop and that would confuse them to such a degree as to distract them from their worship. As if wearing my stole over my chasuble would be so off-putting that it would hinder the proclamation of the gospel.

I responded to his criticism. Regarding the pectoral cross, most people are unaware that it might be a symbol of a bishop’s office and that’s not high on my list of things that need to be taught to my congregation. But in baptism we are marked with the cross of Christ forever and rather than an invisible mark on our foreheads Christians might choose to wear a visible cross on the chest.

And talking about symbols of office then an argument can be made for wearing the stole over the chasuble rather than hiding a symbol of the pastoral office. I don’t find anything irreverent about wearing alb, chasuble, stole, and pectoral cross when presiding at worship. At the beginning of worship I begin with announcements (another no-no according to the liturgy police) and when I conclude them I say, "Let’s have a brief time of silence to prepare our hearts to worship God" and I sit down and pray. Part of my prayer is "May our words become your Word and may the things we say and do proclaim your love and grace." That’s what I believe worship is about. It’s about joyful worship and praise and proclaiming the gospel. I don’t think following some legalistic rules about the order of my vestments does anything to further that. Failing to follow them to some contrived letter doesn’t detract from that either.

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