You may not believe, dear reader, that the core content of this post was planned well before the Church of England gained publicity for, at the meeting of its General Synod, debating what clergy are to wear at services. I wasn’t even aware this debate was coming! Prescience? Prophecy?
The 1559 Book of Common Prayer included the “Ornaments Rubric”:
…such Ornaments of the Church, and of the Ministers thereof, at all Times of their Ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the Authority of Parliament, in the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth.
This rule stayed in place through future revisions – including 1662 and 1928.
Edward VI began to reign on 28 January 1547. During the second year of Edward VI (which began 28 January 1548), clergy and others wore albs, tunicles, dalmatics, copes, chasubles, maniples, mitres, etc. (see image above).
The Church of England has allowed surplice and scarf instead of alb and stole (Canon B8). The recent meeting of its General Synod has relaxed this rule (the change still requires the Queen’s assent). Not wearing what was previously required will be able to be done with the agreement of the parochial church council. And for weddings, funerals, and baptisms, the consent of the principal participants must be gained.
NZ Anglicanism has
The presiding priest at the Eucharist should wear a cassock and surplice with stole or scarf, or an alb with the customary vestments. (NZPrayer Book p.515)
One might note that this is a “should wear” rubric which is ‘weaker’ than, say, “wears” or “shall wear”, and stronger than “may wear” (see my “Rubrics and Grammar” series – Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; The Movie). Rigorist rubricists will notice that what one wears with an alb is in the plural!
What surprised me, in response to the first post in this series, What to Wear? Part 1, I discovered that The Episcopal Church doesn’t have any vesture instructions except in its ordinal. You can find the discussion I initiated around this here.
I also suggest that those who want to explore this in more detail, read the comments, especially by Kurt Hill, in the post, The Bishop’s Mitre. A lot of prejudices (eg. against catholic/universal traditions) are not supported by actual historical scholarship.
In the vast online discussion around the change to the Church of England rule, there are a lot of older people saying that young people would come to church if clergy weren’t robed. Anecdotal evidence is no substitute for causal statistical analysis. My own anecdotal evidence is that robing is not a deterrent to young persons, and that young people are more focused on justice, climate change, and such, than on what many older people think the church should concern itself about. One Anglican priest pointed to a Keep the Church Weird talk and said, “Here is an actual young person reflecting on what attracts GenX and Millennials” – I love the fact that church people think someone nearing 40 is an actual young person! I recently was a visiting preacher and at the conclusion of the service was congratulated concluding with enthusiasm that the church is in good hands with young people like me! End of aside.
Here is what I wrote about vesture in Celebrating Eucharist:
The presider’s vestments can be simple yet beautiful. Stole and chasuble (like the alb) are conservative garments ordinarily worn at the time of Christ (and still worn in many parts of the world). They are not symbolic (efforts to give them symbolic value are “allegorical”). Wearing them can no longer be construed as promoting a certain “churchmanship” or theology of the Eucharist. They are more akin to a uniform. As such they are undergoing modification. The maniple is seldom seen now, many are no longer wearing the girdle, and the stole is now often worn over the chasuble.
The colours of the vestments are an example of signs which require some education to appreciate. Any symbols on vestments need to be simple, visible from a distance, and easily understood. (Do many worshippers know what IHS stands for, or XP?) Large vestments which may be required for a spacious worshiping environment, may be completely out of place in a small chapel, home group, or house communion.