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Holy Spirit Interactive Youth: Bible Geek: The Priest's White Robe

The Priest's White Robe

I know this might be a little random, but why does the priest wear that white dress looking robe thing underneath his other colored robes at mass? Does that come from the Bible? I figure there has to be a reason because it’s hot to wear that I’ll bet expecially during summer time and it must be for more than to keep his black clothes and collar clean. Can you help me out?

Your question isn’t random at all. In fact, you have no idea how insightful it really is – so, “lemme explain. No…it’s too much, lemme sum up” (that is a line from the movie The Princess Bride, in case you didn’t recognize it).

The white robe worn by the priest at Mass has great significance, both Scripturally and historically. So if you’ve ever wondered, “why the priest wears that dress-looking thing?” than wonder no more.

The alb, derived from albus (the Latin word for white) has been in common use as a liturgical garment, since the latter part of the fourth century. The original symbolism was a direct reference to the seamless white garment that Christ wore during His passion.

Further, it has always been used as a means to remind the liturgical celebrant that his role at that moment is in persona Christi (the person of Christ). Done very simply by taking the white garment and covering his daily clothing, the vestment is (and should be) a constant reminder that he is no longer acting on or in his own accord, for “it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

For more Scriptural references regarding the tunic, take some time and have a read:

Genesis 37:3
Leviticus 16:4
1 Samuel 17:38
Matthew 5:40
Luke 6:29
John 19:23

For more references regarding the symbolism and actions surrounding peoples’ garments and what they signify, crack the Book, once again:

2 Kings 2:12
Job 29:14
Baruch 4:20
Zechariah 8:23
Malachi 2:16
Matthew 22:11
Jude 1:23
Revelation 19:8

Now, want to know something very interesting and quite cool, in my opinion?

For many centuries, the vesting ritual that the celebrant would go through prior to a liturgy was very precise, as each garment carried with it a spoken prayer. The particular prayer for the alb was one that reminded the priestly celebrant to put away whatever worldly cares or worries that they were carrying with them, better enabling them to meet the spiritual needs of their congregation, and allowing them to become tabula rasa – “a blank slate”, on which the prayers and intentions of their congregation could be written.

Next time you see your priest in the alb, stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving for his vocation, his response and for the priesthood, in general, for it is the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

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