Sacristy Tips: How To Correctly Wear a Conical Chasuble

I originally reprinted this piece almost a decade ago, but as I have noticed some fuller conical or semi-conical chasubles appearing as of late, often worn in the way that is shown as incorrect here, I thought it might be useful to once again bring it to the fore.  It was originally published in The Catholic Art Quarterly in 1957 -- SRT

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How To Wear the Classical Chasuble

Dom Samuel Stehman, O.S.B.

UNLIKE other varieties of the vestment, the classical chasuble has to be worn in a special way. It is not enough just to settle it on the shoulders. Since the garment covers the whole body, including the arms, it is obvious that these must be disencumbered. It is the freeing of the arms that causes the pattern of folds characteristic of this type of chasuble. Everything depends on disengaging the arms correctly, in a way that gives the garment the full beauty of its specific "hang", and at the same time gives the celebrant a reasonable freedom of action.

The illustrations show the stages in this movement. A few words of explanation may help.

First, put on the chasuble, pulling it a little backward but not enough to stretch the crosspiece at the neck opening. Make sure that the vertical orphrey is exactly centered in front. Let both arms drop at the sides. This stage is indispensable. To omit it changes the effectiveness of the action. (fig. 1)

Fig. 1
Next, with the elbows straight, slowly raise the arms, keeping them a little towards the back. The arms should be roughly at right angles to one another, repeating the right angle formed by the chasuble when laid out flat. (fig. 2)

Fig. 2
Continue the action, lifting the arms slowly with slightly bent elbows. The chasuble begins to lift and to form folds. (fig. 3)

Fig. 3
Raise and lower the arms gently two or three times somewhat in the manner of a flying bird. This will cause the folds to slide together of their own accord into the angle of the elbows, and will expose about four inches of the sleeves of the alb. (fig. 4). Join the hands.

Fig. 4
During Mass, the priest's gestures are of course limited to those enjoined by the rubrics. The very shape of the classical chasuble precludes exaggerated movements such as the wide stretching out of the arms either horizontally or vertically, and the lifting of the elbows, especially in genuflections. Instead, the vestment itself imposes the reserve that is required by the ceremonial. The most pronounced gestures of the Massare the elevation of the host and chalice, and if these are made properly, they are perfectly adapted to this chasuble. The same is true of the genuflections. If these are correctly made, the hands being placed on the altar and the elbows kept close to the sides, the chasuble falls gracefully into the beautiful pattern of folds shown in fig. 5.

Fig. 5
The annoying and graceless dragging which results when these restraints are not observed is shown in fig. 6.

Fig. 6 (Incorrect wear)
If the chasuble tends to slip during Mass, either on account of the nature of the fabric, or of the lining, or because of the gestures, it may be pushed back into the angles of the elbows. Such slipping is always from front to back rather than towards the hands, as is obvious on account of the conical shape. Therefore the folds must be gathered into the elbows as well as towards the front. Slip the hands under the edge of the garment, leaving the thumb on top. This makes it easy to lift the mass of the material and move it over the elbows towards the front.

It takes but a short while to learn to put on the chasuble properly, and once this is learned it will be found to move very little. Even when the hands are placed on the altar, its folds stay caught in the angle of the elbows, its edge resting on the sleeves of the alb.

Seen from the back, the chasuble sits higher and lower on the wearer's neck depending on the breadth of his shoulders. (If the shoulders of the cassock are padded it rises especially high and makes an awkward angle. The classical vestment presumes the absence of such artificialities.) The point of the cone -- slightly modified, of course -- comes just at the top of the back.

There are two ways of escaping the difficulty thus imposed, and the choice between them depends on how the amice is worn. Only one of these solutions, however, is really a satisfactory one, and that is with the amice pulled down like a cowl. This is the better solution aesthetically, for the amice so pulled down finishes off the top of the chasuble, and also because it is a return to the original meaning of the amice. (A former issue of L'Ourvoir Liturgique No. 20, 1954 was devoted to a description of the classical way of wearing the amice.)

All this shows how important it is that the classical chasuble be put on correctly. What happens if is not? If you neglect the three gestures we have described, and free your arms as is possible with a chasuble of the "gothic" type, the garment lifts up a great deal too much, and in the front only. (fig. 7) In front you have a sort of half-chasuble (fig. 8), and from behind the effect is that of a vertically falling cope. (fig. 9)

Fig. 7 (Incorrect wear)
Fig. 8 (Incorrect wear)
Fig. 9 (Incorrect wear)
And finally, as to size. The chasuble shown in the illustrations (cut from the pattern given in L'Ouvoir Liturgique No. 26 and No. 27, 1956) is too large for priests of small stature only if wrongly worn. Well draped and straight, it lifts up enough to be adapted to all figures. The priest who appears in the illustrations is five feet eight inches in height.

The custom of wearing the amice inside is so well established that we can hardly hope to change it before the general adoption of the classical chasuble. So, for the priests who will continue to fold the amice around the neck the solution is to turn down the top of the chasuble itself.

For this it is best to make use of the assistance of another person. The band that surrounds the neck opening makes this easy. The folder over of this band gives a finished appearance to the chasuble with no trouble. (fig. 10) This band takes somewhat the place of the apparels with which the folded over amice may be ornamented.

Fig. 10
One last piece of advice. It is most important that the alb should reach down as far as possible. The classical chasuble loses much of its dignity when worn with a short alb. To be exact, the bottom of the alb should just brush the insteps.

This article was originally published in The Catholic Art Quarterly, 1957, Vol. XX, No. 3, Pentecost

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