The Vesting Prayers and Recollection in the Sacristy

Before celebrating Holy Mass, the priest should be recollected in the sacristy, thinking prayerfully of what he is about to do: to offer the Holy Sacrifice in the person of Christ, the sacrifice by which our sins are taken away, and to consecrate the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ which he will receive in Holy Communion.

Others in the sacristy who are about to assist should also be led in a spirit of recollection, helped to reflect prayerfully on what they are about to do. If this is common, everyday practice, people learn that it is not the time right now to come in with matters of practical business, a comment on the day’s news, or a funny story that they just heard. It isn’t that such things are wrong in themselves, or that the priest has to get cross or make people feel uncomfortable. If the custom is to have quiet and recollection in the sacristy, then most people get to “read” that. We can be patient and kindly to those who don't.

It is helpful for the servers and others if the priest is clearly saying some prayers as he puts on the vestments. Most younger clergy nowadays will be familiar with the vesting prayers, and many who don’t know them will be glad to find out about them. The Windsor Latin Mass Society's website has a copy in English and Latin.

I was interested today to find at the Vatican website a 2010 document the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff on the subject of Liturgical Vestments and the Vesting Prayers. It is a fine presentation of the meaning of the vestments which would be helpful to any priest, or indeed to the laity who participate in the Holy Mass in which the vestments are a visible part.

The document makes a couple of observations that are pertinent to the matter of continuity. You may have heard that the maniple was abolished in the modern rite. The Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff gives attention to the meaning of the maniple, observing that “It fell into disuse in the years of the post-conciliar reform, even though it was never abrogated.” There is no reason why a priest may not wear the maniple when he celebrates the modern rite.

More generally, the document ends by encouraging priests celebrating either form of the Roman rite to use the vesting prayers:
In conclusion, one hopes that the rediscovery of the symbolism of the liturgical vestments and the vesting prayers will encourage priests to take up again the practice of praying as they are dressing for the liturgy so as to prepare themselves for the celebration with the necessary recollection.

While it is possible to use different prayers, or simply to lift one's mind up to God, nevertheless the texts of the vesting prayers are brief, precise in their language, inspired by a biblical spirituality and have been prayed for centuries by countless sacred ministers. These prayers thus recommend themselves still today for the preparation for the liturgical celebration, even for the liturgy according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite.
Many sacristies already have these prayers printed out elegantly and posted conveniently. Of course many of us who say them every day know them by heart, but St Charles Borromeo, long before it was analysed in the experimental psychology that I studied in my youth, knew the importance of reading the text of prayers on paper even when they were well-known. Nowadays it is easy to produce well-designed and dignified copies to help with the general atmosphere of the ante-chamber of heaven, which is how we might think of the sacristy in relation to the sanctuary where the divine liturgical action is to be solemnly celebrated.

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