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What We Wear: The Alb

February 7, 2012

Hello, and welcome back!  It’s been a while since a post went up and I apologize for the absence.  I won’t bore you with excuses, but will rather get right into it.

Not infrequently, people come up to me with questions regarding the special clothing they see people wearing who serve at the altar, whether they be clergy or laity.  I thought it would be interesting to do a series of posts that identify and define those special garments, which we call vestments.

The first vestment I’d like to take a look at is one that is common to clergy and laity alike.  In fact, in many churches, if you are serving in any capacity, you are wearing one.  At St. George’s, lectors and chalice bearers do not wear these, but in other churches it would be quite common.  The garment in question is the Alb.  It is the plain white, thin, robe-like garment you see pictured on the left.  In recent times, an unbleached linen version has also shown up.  They can be adorned with lace fringe, or unadorned, and they come in several styles with slightly different looks.

They have their history in secular Roman and Greek street wear.  A simple google search will reveal more about that if you’re interested.  Its white color symbolizes the connection to baptism, in which we are washed clean of our sins.  In many places it is a garment you put on following, or wear during an immersion baptism.  The connection to baptism is the most important piece of the alb, and forms the foundation of the understanding that this is a garment common to laity and clergy alike.

As the most basic part of clerical vestments for a church service it serves as an important reminder that our most important, most basic identity is not whether we put “The Rev.” or “The Right Rev.” in front of our name, but the identity we claim as having been marked as Christ’s own forever in our baptism.  It is often girded with a cincture, which we’ll talk about later, and sometimes has another piece under it around the neck and shoulders called an amice, which we’ll also talk about later.  Back when clergy wore black cassocks as their everyday street wear, the alb was worn over the cassock.  Now that shirts and pants are much more common, and cassocks are infrequently worn as basic dress, a vestment called the cassock-alb has been created, which sort of combines the two ideas.  Most broad – to – low churches will feature the cassock alb, while in most high – to- anglo-catholic churches the cassock and alb remain two separate garments.

When clergy vest, some like to say a little prayer when they put on the different pieces of their Eucharistic vestments.  These prayers reflect the symbolism of the particular vestment of which they pray.  When putting on the alb, the appropriate prayer goes something like this (some variation is to be expected):

Purify me, O Lord, from all stain and cleanse my heart, that washed in the blood of the lamb I may enjoy eternal delights.  Amen.

Fr. Ryan+

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brigitte Youngblood permalink
    February 26, 2012 5:03 am

    I am preparing a vesting prayer work for my catechetical class and think the line drawing of the alb is very fine, can you tell me from whence it came so I can find other pictures by the same artist?

    • February 27, 2012 1:54 pm

      Brigitte, I just did a google image search and found it, but be warned – you will also get some pretty inappropriate images for some reason.

      Fr. Ryan+

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