A Strategy for Providing Pontifical Vestments for Pontifical Use

In previous articles, I have spoken on the history and use of pontificals such as pontifical gloves, pontifical sandals and pontifical buskins. Today I wanted to delve a bit more deeply into that subject, but with something more practical in mind.

Before we go there however, I would remind our readers that these liturgical objects are not the inventions of later centuries. Rather, these elements of liturgical dress have all found expression within the first millennium of the Church's liturgical history. (I note this because of the all too common assumption that these things are merely by-products of the late medieval, renaissance or baroque periods; imported items having more to do with worldly and courtly pomp than anything properly liturgical, but that is not in fact the case)

At any rate rate, while these pontificals have found expression in the majority of the Church's history, following the implementation of the modern Roman liturgy these and some other pontificals fell out of common use. However, with growing interest in the usus antiquior, we have seen a revival taking place as more and more people -- even some bishops -- are interested in reclaiming these rites and their associated symbols.

If a gradual revival is on the books -- and it certainly seems to be -- we face a challenge. Fifty years ago, these were standard supplies and each and every prelate would have simply procured and provided them for his own liturgical use, sized and fit accordingly. Today, because of the aforementioned circumstances, that is seldom ever the case. The end result is that we often see occasions where only some of these pontificals are used, or in other instances they are skipped altogether. Neither are ideal -- nor insurmountable.

What, then, can we do?

Given the current circumstances it seems to me that the ball is clearly in the court of those of us who wish to reclaim this patrimony. We need to take the initiative to ensure that we are making the necessary vestments available for our prelates to use. (To be clear, we are speaking here about private benefactors or parishes procuring them out of their own financial resources.)

There are two ways that this could be approached. Which approach will be most sensible will depend upon your local particulars.

I. Targeted Procurement

The most ideal and traditional scenario involves acquiring pontificals for a specific prelate -- like they used to do for themselves. In this scenario, these pontificals can be tailored to their particular requirements.

In some diocesan scenarios this could mean procuring these for the local bishop (after coordinating this with him of course) and then either holding possession of them within one's own sacristy to have on hand for when the bishop makes a pastoral visit, or, alternatively, it could mean directly gifting them to the bishop himself, to be kept by him and used whenever and wherever necessary.

Beyond the local ordinary, we know that at any given time there are also a certain set of popular prelates who are invited all over the world to offer the pontifical rites for particular occasions.  Here too it would be highly desirable if some benefactor or benefactors would coordinate with these prelates to gift these pontificals to them; pontificals which could then be brought by them to these various  liturgical engagements.

II. The Law of Averages

The second possible approach to this question is tied to a very common situation where a parish or chapel has no specific recourse to any one particular prelate, instead relying on whomever is willing and able to pontificate at a given time.  It is this sort of situation that can unfortunately result in the absence of these pontificals altogether -- or at least some sort of hodge-podge arrangement where some are used and others are not.

For those pontificals that are not size-specific, being of a "one size fits all" in nature (e.g. buskins, pontifical dalmatic and tunic, gremiale and even some pontifical gloves) this is easy enough. These simply need to be procured in the various liturgical colours.

As for the size specific items like pontifical sandals (or possibly gloves), a strategy that can work in this scenario is to procure two of the most common sizes, one being on the smaller end of the average spectrum and one on the larger. (For example, this might mean procuring a size 10 and a size 12 sandal in each liturgical colour.)

What does this do? In the first instance, it covers off two of your most common/average shoe sizes, but beyond that, it also covers off a number of the other sizes since one can wear a shoe size up if need be. (e.g. someone with a size 11 shoe size could easily and comfortably wear a size 12 pontifical sandal).  By selecting two common sizes on the larger and smaller end of the spectrum, one gains a number of potential uses in this way, while still keeping them proportionate and practical to wear.

The idea here would be for these pontificals to be held in the possession of the parish/chapel/seminary/religious institution in question so that they would have them on hand for whatever prelates might come through their doors.

Concluding Thoughts

The main intent of this article, ultimately, is to spark the idea in the minds of benefactors, parish priests, religious superiors, etc. that they can actually do something strategic to help promote the revival and increased use of these pontificals.  In our present circumstances, it isn't realistic to expect our prelates to provide these pontificals for themselves (given how infrequently they use them at this point in time) so that places the onus upon us to facilitate this restoration.

If you are going to approach this idea, as I hope you will, my recommendation would be to start with the most commonly used liturgical colours where pontifical Masses in your area are concerned. From there you can expand to the other liturgical colours.

As for where you can source out these traditional pontificals for purchase, there are many vestment makers who can or will make them for you. The best thing to do is inquire with some of them (such as some of those who advertise here for example) and ask for samples of their work, pricing, etc.   But if you are after a specific name, I can certainly tell you that Gammarelli's in Rome makes all of these pontificals, including the pontifical sandals.

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