I have 2 kids debating non-Catholics and they have 2 questions…
1. Why exactly does the priest have to wear vestments (why can’t they just wear their habits was the guy’s question)? Is it the meaning and tradition of each piece?
2. Does the Church have a rule for disposing of a bible ??
1. Why priests wear vestments – The general answer is on the common-sense level. As the groom, I wouldn’t wear my day-to-day clothes to the wedding. Since the priest is representing Christ (!), he is more than just the man who was ordained to the priesthood and he needs to be visibly set apart from his day-to-day self. Thus the vestments.
For the individual vestments, I’ve pulled the from two sources: the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entries on each vestment (below) & on vestments in general and a neat explanation titled Liturgical Vestments by Father William Saunders.
Each vestment has a practical and theological purpose, which can be understood from the prayers that the priest says with each vestment.
a. The amice ( a thin white cloth with ties on the ends) is put on first. It’s practical purpose is to cover up the Roman collar (which are a priests ‘street’ clothes, like the jeans & t-shirt of the groom before his wedding) and to prevent the other, more elaborate vestments from getting wet if the priest should get too hot & sweat. The priest prays ‘Set on my head the helmet of salvation, to fend off all assaults of the devil’, a reminder of Saint Paul’s exhortation (Ephesians 6:17).
b. The alb (the white robe) is put on next. Its practical purpose is to cover the priest’s daily clothes. The priest prays “Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, that being made white in the blood of the lamb, I may merit an eternal reward.” The white alb calls to the mind the baptism that removed our sin and united us to the body of Christ, as well as the saints revealed in the book of revelation whose robes were washed and made white in the Blood of the Lamb (Revelations 7:14).
c. The cincture (the rope tied around the priest’s waist) follows. Its practical purpose is to keep the alb from billowing and to hold the stole, once put on, in place. The priest prays “Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my the fire of concupiscence, that the virtues of continence and chastity may abide in me.” He is reminded of his promise of chastity and the need to be watchful against temptation.
d. The stole (a scarf-like cloth a few inches wide that is the color of the current liturgical season) is the symbol of the priest’s calling. The manner of wearing the stole sets the priest apart from the lower order of the diaconate and the higher order of the bishop. The deacon wears the stole crosswise from his left shoulder to the right of his waist. The bishop wears the stole down from his neck, with the two ends parallel down the front. Priests can wear it in the same way as bishops or with one side crossed one over the other. The priest prays “Lord restore the stole of immortality which I lost through the collusion of my first parents and unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy.”
e. The chasuble (the coat-like garment without sleeves that is the color of the current liturgical season) is worn over the rest of the vestments and practically serves to protect them and the cleric from any elements. The priest prays “O Lord who has said ‘My yoke is sweet and my burden is light’, grant that I may carry it so as to merit Thy grace.” At the rite of ordination in the Extraordinary Form (before the Novus Ordo from Vatican II), the bishop would bishop would bestow the chasuble with the words “Receive the priestly vestment, by which is signified charity”.
2. Disposing of the Bible – Strictly speaking, there is no direction regarding the proper disposal of Sacred Scripture. The key to proper disposal is the reverence and respect. Two common ways of disposing of holy things is through burying them (sacred vessels that are no long suitable & statues, for example) or burning them (Palm Sunday ashes, for example). That isn’t to say that you couldn’t reverently throw these things away either. The key is honoring that these are sacred things. Jimmy Akin has a worthwhile reflection on the issue and common practices when the need arises.
Praise God your kids are willing to share what they know! With charity as the guide, I’m sure they will enlighten hearts & open minds.
your brother in Christ,