Pre-script: I think what I don’t make clear is that this is a piece I wrote lamenting my own lapse into bad patterns as I can now just rush into the sacristy two minutes before mass starts and am not forced to take more time to prepare. It really is about finding discipline in practice and not about the alb – I’m missing that extra layer of time and preparation that traditional vesting requires. It should also be noted that I was simply amused by the hyperbole of the title. The Church has resisted all manner of things through time, exists in the heart of God, and will hardly be brought down by poor choices in attire. R
OK, so the title might be an exaggeration. There are hundreds of things more important than albs vexing the Church but there is little more pressing than our approach and discipline around worship.
This morning, in jest, I posted a vesting prayer for donning a cassock alb to Facebook. It read, “Place upon me, O Lord, the polyester potato sack of ease that I may speedily and conveniently enter Your Presence.”
The post garnered some amusing responses. Having not worn them before and now having worn them for a year – I think they represent some unfortunate trends in the Church. Sometimes an alb isn’t just an alb.
They represent an ease that makes me uncomfortable. When we approach worship our chief task is to spiritually prepare ourselves to be in the Presence of Christ. This is a responsibility that is all to easy to take lightly. The repetitive nature of our pattern of worship poses challenges to our need to come to the Sacraments with reverence – treating each encounter with Christ as a precious thing. The quickness and ease of the cassock-alb reinforces a desire to just “get on with it” and to get ready with haste.
It also represents our desire to make the encounter with God an easier thing – we remove the more disciplined and difficult preparations to streamline the encounter and even domesticate it a bit. The cassock-alb represents a certain dumbing down – a lowest common denominator approach to preparation in which we substitute comfort and haste for careful adherence to older patterns of care and preparation.
It is an innovation for the sake of comfort that too much resembles other short-cuts we might take in our spiritual and devotional life.
The cassock-alb exists for one reason – haste. It takes longer to vest properly. It is inconvenient and the added layers are hot and uncomfortable. Yet, there is little in the Christian faith that is truly comfortable and there is virtue in taking our time to make ourselves ready to offer our selves, and souls, and bodies in worship and adoration.
The cassock-alb is the strip mall of vestments. Convenient, unattractive, and accessible – its impact is less one of commission than it is one of negligence. It, like a strip mall, reflects our lack of discipline and attentiveness rather than causing it. It is not a real thing – in the way that fast food is not real food. It is there as a sloppy habit that takes the place of investing the time and energy into a more focused and present experience.
When preparing for the source and summit of Christian life – the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist – it is a good and holy thing to take some extra time. It’s good to fumble with amice strings. It’s good to add layer to layer in preparation. It’s good to get the knots right on the cincture. It’s good to ponder the correct arm for the maniple.
It’s a good and holy thing for our approach to mass to be paced, deliberate, and even a little confusing. Maybe the cassock-alb itself isn’t causing the collapse of the Church but sloppiness, haste, and a lack of thoughtful encounter with the Living Christ will hardly serve to build up the Body or draw those around us to a transformed and challenging new life.