Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 4: Chasubles and Other Extras

Welcome to the final segment of the Rock That Collar vestment guide! Today, we tackle chasubles, amices, and some other extras that you probably don’t need to buy. It’s still nice to know what they’re for.

almy-chasubleChasuble. A chasuble is essentially a great big tablecloth with a hole for the head.In Catholic and Episcopal (and sometimes Lutheran and Methodist) tradition, you wear it over your alb and stole for the consecration of the Eucharist. The moment when you put on the chasuble communicates something about your theology of worship: Do you believe that the entire worship service is consecratory, including the Liturgy of the Word? Don your chasuble before the service begins. Do you believe that only the Liturgy of the Eucharist is consecratory? Throw that bad boy over your head at the offertory. But make sure you have someone appointed to help you because it’s easy to get lost under a chasuble. You do not want your entire congregation watching as you thrash around inside it, trying to find the head hole so that you can claw your way out.

Well-made chasubles are incredible works of art that cost enough to choke a horse. Unless you are independently wealthy, you will not be buying your own anytime soon. Churches that use chasubles usually have a complete set in the various colors of the church year, ideally with stoles to match. When using a chasuble, always wear the stole that comes with it so that your parishioners aren’t distracted by your clashing shades of green.

What if your church is ready to spring for chasubles but can only afford to buy one at a time? No problem! Get them in this order:

  1. White for Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals. If you’re only going to break out the fancy stuff a few times a year, these are the times to do it.
  2. Green next because it is the color you’ll use the most.
  3. Purple after that to get Lent and Advent covered.
  4. Red last. True, red is the color of Holy Week, but most services during Holy Week are non-Eucharistic anyway. The Feast of Pentecost is one lonely day per year, and if you really want a red chasuble for an ordination or installation you can borrow one from the church down the block. If your church observes a lot of martyrs’ feasts, it probably already has chasubles. Just a hunch.

Almy makes nice-looking, (comparatively) affordable polyester chasubles that do not shriek “POLYESTER!!!” If you can really afford to invest, go for some silk brocade chasubles from Holy Rood.

As with your stoles, resist the urge to treat the chasuble as a blank canvas. No matter how much you love the Virgin Mary, any design you would silk-screen onto a T-shirt does not belong on the vestments you wear in church.

almy-dalmaticDalmatic and Tunicle. Now we are in high Anglo-Catholic territory. Tunicles and dalmatics look kind of like chasubles, except they have sleeves. Dalmatics are customarily worn by deacons and tunicles by laypeople (e.g. subdeacons). The only difference between the garments is the person inside them, although some churches use a single stripe on the tunicle and a double stripe on the dalmatic.

If you’re going to outfit everybody in the chancel with their own tablecloth, keep this in mind when shopping for chasubles and make sure you can find dalmatics and tunicles to match. Almy makes a few quick-ship dalmatics that go with their most popular chasuble styles, and Gaspard will let you customize to your heart’s content. As ever, the most beautiful and bank-breaking options come from Holy Rood.

amiceAmice. An amice (pronounced AM-iss) is a fake hood that you can wear with your alb. It’s good for protecting your alb from your neck sweat, but in Protestant traditions it has become pretty rare. There are several different styles of amice, but most of them, as seen here, drape around your shoulders and have long ties that criss-cross around your front. Should you want an amice, you can pick up a cotton-poly one from Wippell or an embroidered cotton-linen one from Catholic Company.

As a general rule but especially when you are putting on an amice, try to vest in the privacy of your office, not in a public place like the sacristy. Even though the amice goes over my street clothes, I never feel more naked than when I am wearing an amice with no alb.

birettaBiretta. A biretta is a comical little hat that is even more rare than the amice. These days, you will only find birettas on Anglican priests whose faces light up when you say the words “personal ordinariate,” or Catholic priests who are nostalgic for the salad days prior to Vatican II.

As with every tradition everywhere, the Episcopal Church picks up certain regional flavors in different parts of the world. In the United States, the Great Lakes and upper Midwest are known for their Anglo-Catholic bent, which has earned this region the nickname of the Biretta Belt.

If you can’t live without a biretta or its non-tasseled cousin, the Canterbury cap, you can find one at Wippell or Almy. That’s not to exclude Domus Birettarum, which makes rad bespoke (and sometimes bejeweled) birettas for your enjoyment.


Photo credit: Wikipedia

Mitre and Cope. Cool gear that you get to wear if you become a bishop. A mitre (or miter) is a large pointy hat and a cope is an enormous cape. Here’s a picture of one of my ecclesiastical heroes, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Katharine Jefferts Schori, wearing both. She was always the target of a lot of smack-talk about her vestment choices, but I think these are gorgeous.

In this photo, Jefferts Schori is holding a ginormous stick. Why? It is a crozier (rhymes with “closure”; sometimes spelled crosier), a staff that indicates her role as a bishop of the church.

You do not need to buy these things. Yet.

Come back soon for a roundup of awesome things to do with your professional development money!

5 thoughts on “Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 4: Chasubles and Other Extras

  1. Great series! Been ordained 20 years and still enjoyed it. In the Department of Arcane Churchy Objects category, the big stick our former Presiding Bishop is holding is actually her primatial staff, signifying that she is (was) the Primate of the US province of the Anglican Communion. A crozier, carried by a regular diocesan bishop, looks like a shepherd’s crook. (Don’t buy either, ever, unless you have to.)


    1. Thanks so much for the clarification — I learn something new every day, especially when it comes to Arcane Churchy Objects! Thanks so much for reading. I’m delighted that you enjoyed it.


  2. 2 years late to the party, but I agree with your “no bulletin board” comment, lol, so I hope you don’t mind me sharing this:

    We’re semi-yoked congregations (a mission station renting a parish’s facilities, with joint services at high Holy days, and joint fellowship), and have very limited resources. If a congregation has the will, and someone with a modicum of sewing talent (or, in my case, an insane desire to learn how to sew on the fly and try his own patience!), beautiful vestments that aren’t walking signboards can be made for fairly cheap (I think we paid $50 for all the fabric and trim, and I donated my time and tears to this project, lol). Dupioni silk with brocade and damask orpheys can be beautiful, but as you rightly stated, worth a king’s ransom. I know not every congregation can pull something like this off, but I thought I’d point out that (depending on tastes) elegant or beautiful Eucharistic vestments don’t have to break the bank, and can definitely be tailor made to the congregation and church.

    Thanks for letting me share, and thanks for sharing your humourous insight and wisdom with us!


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