Why we wear albs

I’ve decided that it has little historical or theological meaning.  No.  Gazing at my naked  reflection in the mirror this morning as I stepped out of the shower, I realized there are much more important reasons for wearing the alb.

It covers a multitude of flubbery sins.

Things like:  the extra cannoli I had at the office Christmas party.  Or the second slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream that I just had to have at Thanksgiving.  It’s there to provide cover for the cookies and cupcakes they sold at the parish Christmas Fair.  It’s there because of the slab of chocolate mousse I had for desert Christmas night, after that second helping of mashed potatoes.

The heavy drape of clerical vestments provides camouflage for the meatloaf and gravy I had when my sister took us out to dinner the night after Christmas.  Then there’s the cranberry and walnut bread pudding with cinnamon cream sauce that I then HAD to have for desert.  Or the three footlong hotdogs (two with cheese) that I had for lunch yesterday with my in-laws.   And of course:  the tin of Christmas cookies that I grazed on while waiting to go out for another celebratory dinner last night.

Christmas comes but once a year.  But a reminder of its aftermath greets me every morning.  I may try showering in the dark.

If I could get away with wearing an alb to the office every day for the next month, I would.

Yes.  This is why we wear albs.

And this is why God made treadmills.

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28 responses to “Why we wear albs”

  1. Actually, the alb is not very complementary to us of a decidedly greater girth. We tend to look like butcher shop attendants of olden days. In skinnier people of much more spiritual countenance it loos great, but on burlier types like me, it looks like a Zeppelin on upright stand. I think the surplice with cassock is much complementary to us horizontally challenged; of course the surplice needs to be of a heavier fabric that drapes, and not one of the cheap versions that balloons and gets static.

  2. Rudy said:
    “I think the surplice with cassock is much complementary to us horizontally challenged.”

    Albs I think I understand. Long white robes worn in public during the Roman Empire were the sign that the person wearing it was fairly important — a Roman Senator or even the “Shrine-Master/ High-Priest” at a local religious shrine.

    Cassocks and surplices I never understood.

    But what also fascinates me is that when Saint Francis Xavier and other Jesuit missionaries entered what is now East India, they found that when they wore white robes, folks came and gathered around them with much respect. When they wore black, the folks ran and hid.

    It seems as if in that cultural context, being clothed in black was the sign you were already dead — and thus the Jesuits wearing black and walking about — were the local equivalent of “Zombies — The Walking Dead.”

    The white alb, however, was widely respected in that strange culture as the sign of a holy man. Thus when they walked about in that attire, they went with great honor.

    BUT then some “all-knowing” sixteenth-century Vatican functionaries, when they found out that the Jesuits were violating clerical dress rules, objected ferociously. The Jesuits — ever the right-hand of the Papacy — complied but that completely shut-off East India to missionary activity for centuries to come.

  3. My parish priest is always after me and the other deacon to wear cinctures with our vestments. I do not want to use ANYTHING that emphasizes my equatorial region. Easy thing for a skinny guy like him to ask! AND he gets to wear vestments OVER his alb…we do not!

  4. For Christmas Midnight, I had a similar issue with the Dalmatic I wore. It was one of those un-ornamented, tan — almost burlap colored, “generic” ones. It was much tighter than it should have been. But my new pastor has already told me that the two of us are going on a “vestment-search-and-destroy” mission after the first of the year. We’ll have to see what happens. Maybe any newer vestments that he will purchase will not be so “form-fitting”?

    But then my doctor wants me to lose ten-fifteen pounds anyway !

  5. I am eating lunch right now and the description of your delicious meals and desserts has made me hungry.;-)

  6. Ah, the alb. The muumuu of clerical vestments! Just promise me you won’t go all end-stage Marlon Brando and wear an ice bucket on your head (or Val Kilmer as an assistant) as in “The Island of Doctor Moreau!”

  7. John…Yes! And what a help that is, too, since it goes over the alb and adds another layer of camouflage!

    Dcn. G

  8. I believe white is the color of mourning in China…

    When Xavier got to Japan, he dressed like a Buddhist monk. The local population didn’t have much respect for their monks (something about living in luxury and sexual misconduct…). So Xavier decided to dress like a court scholar, in bright fancy clothes, and accomplished quite a bit more.

    So I think the history here is a bit over-simplified.

  9. If the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, then mine is becoming a Major Basilica!
    Especially during this festive season of the year with all the eating and celebrating!
    We are required to wear cinctures in my diocese, so I am more grateful for the dalmatic!
    Also, on those occasions when I am in cassock, I thank the Almighty for the surplice.
    They say black is “slimming?” Not on your life!

  10. My wife and I laughed and laughed. Then she said, “You know it really doesn’t hide much. White makes it look bigger!”

    Could vertical stipes be liturgically acceptable?

  11. This reminds me of the cartoon I saw years ago. A “mr. five-by-five” is in a clothing store, trying on a shirt with foot-wide vertical white and black stripes. The salesman says, “Vertical stripes make you look thinner.” Of course vertical stripes that wide do nothing of the sort.

  12. Postings about albs above make me want to ask…do any of my brother deacons here do full-immersion baptisms? Curious how you make that work. Brother deacon at my parish did one in his alb…left the stole off…and then did not know how to gracefully exit our beautiful baptismal font. Opened up the dripping alb to reveal a wet t-shirt, red trunks, and swim sandals! Gotta be a better way!

  13. “But then my doctor wants me to lose ten-fifteen pounds anyway !”

    My doctor always wants me to lose 10-15 lbs. And I always try to accommodate him. In fact I have been losing the same 10-15 lbs 3 times a year for about 30 years now.

  14. “Gazing at my naked reflection this morning as I stepped out of the shower … ”

    Great. Thanks for that image. I’ll have nightmares for a week.

  15. Ah, you may thing that it cover sins but have you ever noticed they often appear to be getting shorter and shorter and it’s not because those who are wearing them are getting any taller, lol

  16. Great humour here this morning from you Deacon Kendra and posters- I love and will borrow the Temple-Basilica one. Thank you gentlemen.

  17. Our journey Deacon from formation does full immersion baptisms at times. He got the “water socks” to wear into the baptismal font and he uses a different alb. He did the non-immersion baptisms first, then the immersions. He would then go into the sacristy and change into a dry alb quickly to finish the rite.

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