Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Real Men in Black . . . Vestments

Here’s something most Catholics my age or younger have probably never seen – black vestments. Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Kansas City hosted a special Mass for All Souls Day using antique black vestments. Good Counsel Pastor Monsignor William Blacet presided, assisted by Deacon Ralph Wehner, Director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph. The vestments were over 180 years old.

The Mass was not celebrated ad orientem – You see Monsignor’s back in the first pic because he wanted to show the congregation the intricate design on the vestment. Click the pics for a much larger view.

Scott McKellar, Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute, did a little interview with Deacon Ralph about the use of black vestments. Here it is:

Scott McKellar (SGM): Deacon Ralph can you explain the use of black vestments in Mass?

Deacon Ralph: In the Latin liturgy (usus antiquior) the rubrics required that only black vestments could be used for All Souls day and for funeral or Requiem Masses.

SGM: Does this rule only apply to the extraordinary form of the Mass?

Deacon Ralph: No - In the modern Roman rite, black, violet or white vestments may be used for All Souls day and for Requiem Masses, even when the Mass is celebrated in the vernacular.

SGM: Haven’t some people objected to the use of black vestments because they felt it was opposed to the Christian virtue of hope?

Deacon Ralph: Yes that is true, but this thinking is false.  The fact that we are indeed a people of hope rooted in the resurrection does not invalidate the natural emotional response of sorrow or mourning, nor does it take away our need to continue to be aware of the reality of sin, death and judgment.

SGM: So the color black is a reminder of our fallen sinful condition?

Deacon Ralph: Yes, the somber and reserved tone of black vestments can be understood as a reminder of the sorrowful reality of sin. This includes both the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve which we call original sin, with the result that death entered the world through the Fall. It reminds us as well of our own personal sin and encourages us to manifest a kind of holy and prudent reserve.  It also serves to emphasize the reality of purgatory and the need for prayers which we should offer for the dead—one of the seven spiritual works of mercy. We the living, are accordingly reminded of the four last things and the need to care for the state of our own souls, working out our salvation.

SGM: So the color black can have a pastoral effect?

Deacon Ralph: Black pastorally acknowledges and unites itself to the natural and perfectly normal emotional response to the loss of a loved one; of the sorrow which entered the world through sin and death. Our current culture seems to not want to recognize or think about this.  By the use of black vestments the Church can minister to this need, seek the good of those souls.

SGM: So this can help us to prepare for our own inevitable death?

Deacon Ralph: Yes, at the moment of death, our souls appear before the Throne of God to be judged. There are only two possibilities - Heaven or Hell. Those who are not yet perfectly purified of their sins, but who are judged worthy of heaven must pass through purgatory.  Those of us left among the living do not know for sure the judgment our loved one has received.  Except for canonized saints, we must assume they are in need of our prayers.  It is a longstanding tradition of the Church to pray for the souls in purgatory and to apply our sacrifices and works for them, thus aiding to Heaven sooner. The use of the Black vestments helps us to maintain a proper balance between our hope of everlasting life with our Lord and our need to be reminded of the four last things and to pray for all the poor souls.