Eucharistic vestments

Re-enter the chasuble...

At its meeting in September [2004] the PCC agreed to the proposal that Eucharistic vestments be worn by the presiding priest at celebrations of the Eucharist on major festivals at St Peter's. However, the PCC asked that I should write just a brief explanatory note for the Magazine before introducing them.

Those of you who travel around our churches will know that vestments are worn at all Eucharists at both All Saints' and St Mary's, so it is not a major innovation for us. However, I realise that for some it may be a change that needs a little rationale.

The wearing of a chasuble - the loose over-garment that is coloured according to the season of the year, and in effect is the only addition that we will be making - has become more and more widespread in Anglican churches over the last century, and particularly became popular with the introduction of the Parish Communion in the 1960s. Although it is customary attire (though not universally so) within the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, there is nothing doctrinal or theological about it as a form of liturgical dress that would associate it especially with either of those traditions. It was the normal attire for clergy at Communion services probably from the 4th Century, and although it more or less disappeared from Anglican usage at the Reformation, it was more because the place of Holy Communion in the programme of parish worship changed than because there was any particular objection to it per se. The rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer are less than clear about what was permitted, and it was always clearly accepted - even expected - that clergy in cathedrals should wear copes - the heavy, cloak-like garments, also coloured for seasons of the year, that you will have seen me wear at Christmas and weddings. The Canon Law of the Church of England clearly allows for 'customary usage', or in other words, for each parish to make up its own mind!

Why introduce vestments? I am not into great ritual. I think our worship should be well-ordered, attractive, simple and easy to access for the many visitors we welcome. But as I have said in sermons on a number of occasions, I think worship is a sensual activity as much as it is intellectual, perhaps more. I think sometimes we are too cerebral. St Peter's has always eschewed elaborate additions to the liturgy - except in music, that is! We have a glorious musical tradition. Although some will argue that it too is perhaps too cerebral or monochrome, we certainly seem to want the sensuality of the choral tradition. Oh, and then there are the flowers! We love the church to look good, and take great pride in the skills of the team of flower arrangers. Then there has been the warmth with which the new triptych has been received, generally (not universally!), and we are looking forward to a new engraved glass window in due course. And some of the nicest comments that I have received recently have been about the look of the church at Christmas, when we make the best we can of candlelight, and this year have developed the crib. These are all additions to our worshipping life that are about engaging the senses.

To add vestments on feast days and special celebrations will add to that. More often than not the chasuble will be white, because this is the colour worn for the great celebrations - Christmas, Easter, All Saints, Epiphany, and many major saints days. At Pentecost we wear red, as we do for feast days of apostles and martyrs - so red would be worn for St Peter's Day; and violet or purple is worn for Advent, and probably for Ash Wednesday.

The other major reason for suggesting this change is to do with rootedness. This too is very important - the sense of being part of a community that is both of today, immersed in the world, but which is also part of a continuous stream of worshipping Christians from the earliest days. Eucharistic vestments grew out of ancient Roman forms of dress, and there is a sense of continuity that goes with them. Its a bit like travelling to different parts of the world visiting an Anglican Church, and realising, even if things are different - language, music and so on - nonetheless it is home. It is recognisable and familiar. It is rooted.

So I hope that you will feel that this is a good and helpful innovation. There will be no cost involved, because I have sets of vestments that can be used at least for an experimental period. Obviously, if it is felt right to make this a permanent feature, a relatively small outlay will equip the church with four sets. I hope too that we shall move ahead with equipping the High Altar with new frontals, again in the four liturgical colours (green, white, red and purple).

We will wear vestments for the first time on the Feast of the Epiphany, Thursday 6 January [2005] at 7.30pm when the choir will be singing, and we will celebrate so far as we can by candlelight on this wonderful, resonant, sensual feast. Please join us.

Andrew Deuchar
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 1st January 2005