The priest acts ‘for Christ’ at Mass

The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.

In the first reading, we are reminded that our ways are not as God’s. Did you know that when you attend Mass, there is one among us on whom an extra expectation is placed to strive to have the ways and thoughts of Jesus Christ, the Anointed One sent by God? (We all are to act like Christ, since we were baptized into Christ.)

The priest is sometimes referred to by two terms regarding his actions at the Mass. The first, Alter Christus, states that a priest should be like another Christ. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explained this as the priest being “in Christ, for Christ and with Christ, at the service of humankind.”

When a priest celebrates Mass we sometimes also say he is in Persona Christi. Quoting Pope Benedict, this means that “in the sacred mysteries, (the priest) does not represent himself and does not speak expressing himself, but speaks for the other, for Christ.”

The vestments are intended to show that the priest has put on Christ and is acting “for Christ.”

The first article a priest places over his clerical clothes is the amice. This rectangular cloth goes over his shoulders with long ties that crisscross his chest and tie around the waist. In its earliest form, the amice was a hood worn by a monk to cover his head and block out worldly distractions. Worn by the priest, it is meant to put him in the right frame of mind and heart to celebrate Mass. When a priest dons an amice, it is also with the intention that he be one with the Lord in his listening and speaking so that those entrusted to his pastoral care may also be drawn closer to Jesus.

Next, the priest puts on a white alb which we all can wear as a symbol of baptism. In the Book of Revelation, we are told that those chosen by God had robes washed white in the blood of the lamb. When wearing an alb, the priest is to remember that God’s love and mercy is greater than any sin or human weakness the priest may possess. The alb gives witness to the redeeming light of Christ.

Over the alb, the priest places a stole. It is about four inches wide and matches the chasuble in fabric and color. The stole is a unique symbol of ordination and reminds the priest not only of his authority and dignity as a priest, but also of his duty to serve teh needs of the faithful, especially through the sacraments. The priest uses a cincture — a long cord with tassels — to secure the stole over the alb. The cincture represents the virtue of self-mastery.

Lastly, the priest dons a long garment called a chasuble. The chasuble may have symbols or other adornment. This vestment aligns with the colors of the liturgical year: white or gold for feasts of Christ (except Palm Sunday) and his saints, purple for Lent and Advent, green for Ordinary Time and red for feasts of the Holy Spirit or in remembrance of martyrs. Priests are taught to see the chasuble as representing the yoke of the Christ. In the person of Christ, the priest takes on this yoke to be a man of prayer, gentleness, humility and servanthood.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.