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Can Priests Choose Their Own Vestments?

A listener named Terrie asks Father Dave about the vestments he wears at Mass. “I’ve recently watched the livestream during the week from St. Paul the Apostle, and I noticed that your vestment is not as decorative as the other priests who have celebrated Mass during the week,” he says. “Do you all have your own vestments to wear?”

Father Dave laughs, “I didn’t realize my style is so simple!” He clarifies the question saying, “The term ‘vestments’ can be used as a generic term for whatever sort of ritual clothing that [priests] wear during Mass. So that would include even the alb, the white robe that goes on underneath.” Before celebrating Mass, Father Dave describes how he first goes into the sacristy or “priest’s locker room” and puts on his own alb over his standard black clothes and Roman collar.

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“What Terrie’s asking about, the decorative vestment during Mass, is called the chasuble,” Father Dave continues. After putting on his own alb, he chooses from a selection of chasubles that are shared by his religious community and sorted by liturgical season. In describing a Mass during Ordinary Time, he says, “Any one of us who’s celebrating Mass goes to the green closet, and there’s maybe 20 different green chasubles in there, which is admittedly more than many parishes would have.”

Father Dave explains this difference between St. Paul the Apostle, which is the mother church of the Paulist Fathers, and a parish in a diocese. “A diocesan priest, and even some [in religious orders] like myself, would have maybe at least one chasuble or a set of different colors that might have been a gift to them,” he says. “Maybe it’s given at their ordination, or one that they had made on an anniversary. A diocesan priest would move from parish to parish after he’s reassigned, and he might bring his own vestments. In the religious community that I live in, that’s less typical. It’s usually more like, these are the community vestments, and everybody will wear these.” The selection is larger since there are more priests living there.

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The selection of which chasuble to wear is up to the personal preference of the priest, with the exception of the color dictated for that day’s Mass. “The last couple of weeks, I’ve picked the same one for daily Mass and I think even for Sunday Mass, which is just one that I like,” Father Dave says. “I just like how it flows. Sometimes there are different neck styles: you’ll have the cowl neck, as opposed to a crew neck, like a crew neck sweater. I prefer [the cowl necks], since I like how you can clip the microphone on it.” He describes other functions parts of the chasuble he keeps in mind, such as if a certain fabric slips too much.

He notes for feast days that have different ranks, “If one is a memorial and one is a solemnity, they’re both white. You could say, ‘Well, I’ll wear more of a plain chasuble on the memorial and if it’s a solemnity, like Christ the King, I’ll wear the most decorative white one.’ But none of that is really mandated by the Church; the only thing required is the color itself, not how it’s decorated.”