Why it matters what the bishop is wearing Print
What's That All About
Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

What's That All About column by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

The fourth in a series by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf about the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

We are looking into what bishops do when they celebrate the Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Since you may see reports that Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison occasionally offers these Masses, you may be wondering what that's all about, what he's up to.

Last week we closed with a look at how the fine elements of reverent liturgy, the beautiful vestments and so forth, are not really about the glorification of the priest or bishop. They are about the perfect spotless only Holy One, Christ the High Priest/Victim at the altar of Sacrifice.

Holy Mass is the unbloody renewal of Christ’s once-for-all-time, perfect, bloody Sacrifice on the Cross.

It is the most sacred act we engage in as a Church. Mass deserves care, devotion, and beauty.

What the bishop is wearing

One of the things people notice when they attend Pontifical Masses in the traditional Roman Rite is that the bishop wears a lot more gear.

He has two miters, one ornate and one simple (no, he doesn't wear them at the same time).

He wears special shoes, called "buskins".

He has gloves. Beneath his outer chasuble, the priestly garment, he also wears the vestment of a deacon, which shows that he retains the ministry of service like a deacon.

Vesting prayers

Each vestment has its symbolic meaning. The bishop says special prayers as each piece is brought to him and put on him while he is vested by others.

For example, when the bishop puts on the shoes, or "buskins," or rather they are put on him as he patiently endures the attention, he is to pray, "Shod my feet, Lord, unto the preparation of the gospel of peace, and protect me under the cover of thy wings."

This prayer quotes Ephesians 6:15 and Psalm 60:5. You can look those verses up on your own.

Remember: There is an indulgence granted for reading Sacred Scripture for a half hour!

When the gloves are put onto the bishop’s hands for him, he prays, "Place upon my hands, Lord, the cleanliness of the new man, that came down from heaven; that, just as Jacob Thy beloved, covering his hands with the skins of goats, and offering to his father most pleasing food and drink, obtained his father’s blessing, so also may the saving victim offered by our hands, merit the blessing of Thy grace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who in the likeness of sinful flesh offered Himself for us."

Note the references to Genesis 27:6-29 and Romans 8:3.

When he receives the ring, he says: "Adorn with virtue, Lord, the fingers of my body and of my heart, and place upon them the sanctification of the sevenfold Spirit." Fingers "of my heart"! Very poetic. Each object has its meaning.

Importance of prayers

The texts of the vesting prayers, carefully sculpted over centuries of spiritual experience and reflection, are dense in meaning. They breathe biblical images.

Priests, too, have their set of prayers to say as they vest. These vesting prayers are still recommended by the Church as a preparation to say Mass also in the Ordinary Form.

They help the priest to remember who he is -- for you -- at the altar and what an awesome action he is about to undertake for the sake of many souls, both the living and the dead.

Mass is not some mundane activity, like anything else we might do during the day.

It is the interconnection of the human and divine. The older, traditional form of Mass, with its details and gestures, offers many helps to keep us focused on the awesome significance of the sacred action.

To be continued . . .


Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, "Father Z." a Catholic priest ordained by St. John Paul II, has a background in classical language and patristic theology and worked in the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei." He has been a weekly columnist for The Wanderer and the UK's Catholic Herald and runs his award-winning blog (fatherzonline.com). He lives and works in the Diocese of Madison and travels, giving talks, conferences, and retreats.