Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cut Chasubles, East & West

The history of the chasuble is well-documented on New Liturgical Movement. It is essentially common male clothing that covered the toga and provided protection much like a suit jacket or overcoat might for a well-dress gentleman today. By contrast, the dalmatic—the tunic worn by the deacon—was a uniform of state administrators adapted by the seven deacons of Rome who ran the bureaucracy of the diocese of Rome; Byzantine deacons preceded the Romans in using the dalmatic (sticharion), and their bishops eventually took up the practice in the middle of the second millennium.


Joseph Braun, SJ posited that around the 9th century deacons wore the chasuble during stational processions, but removed the vestment when entering the church. During penitential times they retained the chasuble rather than don their ornate officials' uniforms. The "folded" part of the folded chasuble shares an origin with the practice of lifting the priest's vesture during the incensations and elevations (not that they originated at the same time, they just originated because of the same problem). Chasubles were normally made of layered wool, often embroidered and layered with additional materials to create motifs, scenes, or ornamentation; some even carried heavy jewels and ivory veneers. The ample cuts that prevailed until the Reformation broke out combined with the heavy properties made movement very difficult. Since deacons and subdeacons did quite a bit of carrying things (lectionaries, the gifts, the chalice) they began to roll up the fronts of their vestments.

Good baroque: $$$$
What is fascinating is that the phelonion, essentially the Byzantine chasuble (yes, we can call it that, both originated in the same religion and the same Roman culture), shares its properties with the Western folded chasuble. Rather than rolled, the front is simply cut out for the priest to manipulate or carry books, the gifts, the spear, or to give Communion.
Sadly, the Western way of adapting the priest's vestments to his need to move was an inelegant one: cut off the sides. Silk, which does not breath as well as light wool or cottons, became the preferred material for vestments during the Renaissance and the age of exploration. At first they merely reduced the scope of the vestment, as with the "Borromean" and "Philippian" chasuble styles. Eventually, someone just cut off the arms and snipped the thing at the knees to create the sandwich board style we all know and don't love. It would be wrong to call the vestments most popular before Vatican II, and hence what it almost exclusively used in Traditionalist circles today, "Roman." Roman vestments were a bit more ample, almost like the Borromean and Philippian styles, and had the perpendicular inserts in the back, a continuation of the medieval parish chasuble style. The dominant pre-Vatican II style is really French: still material, bulging maniples, open fronts, no break in the back, and always a Cross on the back. As with most baroquerie, it can work, but only with the best and most expensive of materials. Otherwise, the chasuble becomes a canvass for kitsch.

In a fit of ludicrous regulation befitting an Italian bureaucracy, the Vatican decreed that traditionally cut Latin rite vestments should not be made without the permission of Congregation for Rites. Pius XI eventually dismissed this rule, but it ranks with some of the sillier things anyone has seen worthy of regulation.

2 comments:

  1. Didn’t that rule lead to A.W.N. Pugin’s madness?

    French sets work best for Low Mass. IMHO more and more trads are going for Roman sets, if not conical/Gothic, then at least they are the softer styles of the late Renaissance and early modern period. I also wonder just how close to that style, in the arms I mean, people approached ca. 1500. The surviving vestments seem to indicate that they approached the Neri style but not much was needed to get the style we know. And Soanish chasubles have less in front than the French.

    It is interesting that monks and some medieval uses (OPs for example) just drop the vestment while others have folded chasubles but they get removed to sing readings.

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  2. Yes. Ancient Roman paenula, or... this. Tunic and toga. I like that very much.

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