January 27, 2019Download the Bulletin as a PDF
“See in your white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
These words happen at just about every baptism nowadays. They are among my favorite phrases of the baptism ritual. In the extraordinary form of Baptism the words are very similar: “Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry without stain before the judgment seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have eternal life. Amen.” The words are accompanied with the placing of a white cloth on the newly baptized baby, which used to be my least favorite part of the sacred event. The little one almost always is already wearing a beautiful white gown on top of which the additional white cloth can seem to be an unnecessary accessory.
That has changed recently on account of two recent baptisms, one celebrated in the ordinary form and the other in the extraordinary form. In late December I celebrated a baptism for a couple whose marriage preparation I had done the previous year. The godmother, like most of those present, was Peruvian. When I handed her the white garment she did something I had never seen before: she placed the white cloth over the top of the newly anointed head of the newly adopted daughter of God as though it were a veil. How surprisingly beautiful and perfect! What I then attributed to religious sentiment stemming from the Southern Hemisphere turned out to have been right under my nose.
At my most recent extraordinary form Baptism I took some time to reread the instructions in the preface of the ritual and not just the red-lettered instructions or rubrics embedded within the ritual. Of course the white cloth was mentioned among the requisites listed but what I did not expect was the description of its use: “A white garment in the form of a little mantle, or a small piece of white linen to be placed on the infant's head.” How had I missed that all these years?! How surprisingly beautiful and perfect! The quintessential baptismal garments include not just the gown, the symbolism of which is taken up again in a bride’s wedding dress and in a priest’s alb but also the little mantle or mantilla which we will see again in a nun’s wimple, a monk’s cowl and the amice that a priest places briefly on his head before tucking in around his collar underneath his alb!
The amice and alb are worn by deacons as well as priests. In ancient times all the faithful would cover themselves in white while attending Holy Mass. That beautiful custom has been maintained in the churches of modern-day Ethiopia which churchgoers wear something like a toga over their regular clothing.
Imagine what we will learn next week! God bless you!
Fr. Christopher J. Pollard
”Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13,8)