top of page

Summer Vestments


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 27


This chapter quaintly returns us to the days when churches did not have the comfort of air-conditioning in the summer, and in some cases, not even fans!

* * * * *


“You really drive surprisingly well for a beginner,” grudgingly admitted the Antiquary, as he stepped from the “Scoot” at the end of his third or fourth ride beside the Liturgiologist.


“Why is it,” said the corpulent but usually cheerful priest, “why is it that the clergy always seem surprised when someone else does something they do, and odes it quite as well as they? I don’t pretend to be a mechanical genius, neither do you. You learned to run a car when you were well stricken in years, and I, though younger by far, have achieved the same skill. Transeat![1] Next time you drive: you’re quite sufficiently recovered to take your share of the arduous toil of guiding this machine through the interstices of traffic.”


So the bright summer days found the two friends going further and further afield, taking turns at the wheel, admonishing each other in highly technical language for cutting corners, running blocks, taking chances at crossings when a train whistled three miles away,[2] and otherwise observing the rules of the road. The Antiquary was back in harness, taking his share of the work of the parish as well as the literary activity of the editorial household. The Liturgiologist was, as usual, writing a book. Between times they racketed about the country quite as in the old flivver days, taking in every Confirmation and Jubilee within a radius of fifty miles, and discussing what they had seen on the way home and afterwards.


“Those were very nice thin vestments Fr. Rusticus[3] had,” said the Liturgiologist, “no linings, sheer silk, quite the thing for hot days like this.”


“But why should he have the veil, stole and maniple unlined?” queried the Antiquary. “Surely the chalice doesn’t fell the heats of the day, and the stole and maniple simply will not stay in shape without some slight stiffening. Summer vestments are a practical necessity in this climate, but both beauty and convenience (to say nothing of economy) could be attained by simply getting an unlined chasuble and using the rest of the pieces from another set. Then, too, since the matter of ‘Ample Vestments’[4] may yet be settled in favor of them, don’t you think that, for a thin unlined chasuble, the ancient form would be more appropriate?”


“Perhaps, perhaps!” conceded the Liturgiologist, who was not keen on “Gothic.” Being of a plethoric habit of body, he much appreciated thin vestments for summer, and had but recently persuaded the pastor to get a set (and they were not “ample.”) “It’s easy, of course,” he went on, “to overdo the thing, and I get some sheer material which is semi-transparent and too flimsy to hold its shape. Myself, tho I suppose it’s heresy, I think it would be far more practical to use an all-linen alb, and dispense with the cassock. But that is precluded by the rubric which requires vestis telaris.”[5]


“The same rubric also requires him to vest over the surplice, si commode habere possit,[6] yet nobody does it,” was the Antiquary’s dry rejoinder. “I concede the technical point about the cassock, but practically, for the edification of the people and so on, the all-linen alb would serve all purposes, and Mass on hot days would be less a trial.”


“You’re touting for all-linen albs, Pere!” laughed the Liturgiologist. “But there is something in what you say. The cassock is still the official dress of the clergy, even in this country, but its use outside of church functions seems to be growing more and more rare. We are supposed to wear it in our houses, just as much as our churches, for visiting the schools, and on sick calls, at least in the sick-room itself. But how many of us do? Especially in summer! To be sure, there are lots of thin silk cassocks flying about, in spite of the S.R.C. and Roman etiquette which prescribe silk only for prelate, and not for all of them by any means. Nainfa has a good deal say about this, but I notice that bishops are wearing silk cassocks, yet only those who have been appointed Assistants at the Pontifical Throne[7] and are actually living in Rome have the right to use silk; all others should content themselves with cassocks of woolen material in winter, and merino[8] in summer. The same is true of the cappa magna,[9] which is never of silk for any prelate of less rank than cardinal. (Caeremoniale Episcoporum I, iii, 3.) As Nainfa remarks, no custom authorizes the use of a silk cappa magna by a bishop. Some monsignori[10] have the use of a purple silk cassock during certain seasons of the year.”


“I’m afraid you’re a pedant, Father,” laughed the Antiquary (who hadn’t forgotten his old velvet biretta). “But it’s a matter of the history of liturgical costume, that every change in material or shape has been brought about by usage against the regulations. The mere toleration of certain things by Rome, results in their becoming established, as witness the lace alb. The rule still stands, that lace on the alb a cingulo deorsum[11] is only tolerated on the more solemn days and for dignitaries, canons,[12] I believe (S.R.C. 3804 ad XII). Linen is the prescribed material, cotton is specifically forbidden, and it may be supposed that this prescription and prohibition extends to the lace itself if it forms a major part of the garment.”


“I suppose the same remarks apply to surplices,” mused the Liturgiologist.


A fortiori,”[13] assented the Antiquary. “Mutatis mutandis.”[14]


Secundum quid,”[15] jeered the Liturgiologist. “I say, Pere, why not the two of us go together to get a Domciscan Father[16] to look after our parish job for a couple of weeks, and go off for a little tour in this admirable bus of ours?”


Utique, I’m game!”[17]  said the Antiquary solemnly. “When do we start, and where do we go?”



1 Latin for “there you go” or “there you have it”.


2 This is a joke: there is no danger of making such a crossing when a train is so far away!


3 As repeat readers will remember, this name is a pun for a “country” pastor from the English word “rustic”.


4 Referring to the conical or “gothic” style vestments, particularly the chasuble.


5 The Latin term for the cassock.


6 Latin for “if one is available”.


7 This is an honorary distinction given to patriarchs and archbishops and were considered intimates of the Holy Father. During the Papal Mass they wore a cope and were positioned near the throne and altar, though they did have any actual duties.


8 A high-quality type of wool from the merino sheep, which has exceptional insulation properties.


9 Latin for “the great cape”, literally a cape with a very long train (typically held by a trainbearer) which is worn by a bishop during his non-liturgical entrance into a church in preparation to pontificate. It is also worn on various papal occasions, sometime let down and sometime held in a gathered fashion. This cape signifies the princely state of prelates.


10 An Italian title that means “my lord”, but used in reference to the elevated priest called “monsignor”. There is no ordination for this promotion, of which there are three classes: domestic prelate, chaplain of His Holiness, protonotary apostolic. A monsignor is a minor prelate (thus his style of dress) and a member of the papal household. Before Pope Paul VI’s reform, protonotary apostolics had the privilege of using pontificals (gloves, simple mitre, pontifical canon, bugia, bacile, etc.) for certain occasions.


11 Another type of high ranking priest who either belongs to the cathedral chapter, or an order of regular clerks—the Augustinian Canons (and thus also Dominicans, as they follow St. Augustine’s Rule) are one example. Many chapters of canons have particular privileges concerning their dress (e.g., ermine mozetta, use of the pectoral cross, etc.), often relying on very ancient customs.


12 Latin for “from below the cincture”.


13 A Latin phrase meaning “even more so”.


14 A Latin phrase that means to “modify (only) what needs modifying”—in this case, the cut and size of the surplice versus that of the alb.


15 Here this Latin phrase could be simply interpreted as “but of course”, though more technically it would be “(yes) according to the particular circumstance”.


16 A combination of the names “Dominican” and “Franciscan”, both mendicant orders and in olden days often called upon as substitutes for secular priests when they went on vacation.


17 Latin for “by all means”.

bottom of page