1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chasuble

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CHASUBLE (Fr. chasuble, Ger. Kasel, Span. casulla; Late Lat. casula, a little house, hut, from casa), a liturgical vestment of the Catholic Church. It is the outermost garment worn by bishops and priests at the celebration of the Mass, forming with the alb (q.v.) the most essential part of the eucharistic vestments. Since it is only used at the Mass, or rarely for functions intimately connected with the sacrament of the altar, it may be regarded as the Mass vestment par excellence. The chasuble is thus in a special sense the sacerdotal vestment, and at the ordination of priests, according to the Roman rite, the bishop places on the candidate a chasuble rolled up at the back (planeta plicata), with the words, “Take the sacerdotal robe, the symbol of love,” &c.; at the end of the ordination Mass the vestment is unrolled. The chasuble or planeta (as it is called in the Roman missal), according to the prevailing model in the Roman Catholic Church, is a scapular-like cloak, with a hole in the middle for the head, falling down over breast and back, and leaving the arms uncovered at the sides. Its shape and size, however, differ considerably in various countries (see fig. 1), while some churches—e.g. those of certain monastic orders—have retained or reverted to the earlier “Gothic” forms to be described later. According to the decisions of the Congregation of Rites chasubles must not be of linen, cotton or woollen stuffs, but of silk; though a mixture of wool (or linen and cotton) and silk is allowed if the silk completely cover the other material on the outer side; spun glass thread, as a substitute for gold or silver thread, is also forbidden, owing to the possible danger to the priest’s health through broken fragments falling into the chalice.

From Braun’s Liturgische Gewandung, by permission of the publisher, B. Herder.

Fig. 1.—Comparative shape and size of Chasubles as now in use in various countries.
a, b, German. c, Roman. d, Spanish.

The chasuble, like the kindred vestments (the φελόνιον, &c.) in the Eastern Churches, is derived from the Roman paenula or planeta, a cloak worn by all classes and both sexes in the Graeco-Roman world (see Vestments). Though early used in the celebration of the liturgy it had for several centuries no specifically liturgical character, the first clear instances of its ritual use being in a letter of St Germanus of Paris (d. 576), and the next in the twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Toledo (633). Much later than this, however, it was still an article of everyday clerical dress, and as such was prescribed by the German council convened by Carloman and presided over by St Boniface in 742. Amalarius of Metz, in his De ecclesiasticis officiis (ii. 19), tells us in 816 that the casula is the generale indumentum sacrorum ducum and “is proper generally to all the clergy.” It was not until the 11th century, when the cope (q.v.) had become established as a liturgical vestment, that the chasuble began to be reserved as special to the sacrifice of the Mass. As illustrating this process Father Braun (p. 170) cites an interesting correspondence between Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury and John of Avranches, archbishop of Rouen, as to the propriety of a bishop wearing a chasuble at the consecration of a church, Lanfranc maintaining as an established principle that the vestment should be reserved for the Mass. By the 13th century, with the final development of the ritual of the Mass, the chasuble became definitely fixed as the vestment of the celebrating priest; though to this day in the Roman Church relics of the earlier general use of the chasuble survive in the planeta plicata worn by deacons and subdeacons in Lent and Advent, and other penitential seasons.

At the Reformation the chasuble was rejected with the other vestments by the more extreme Protestants. Its use, however, survived in the Lutheran churches; and though in those of Germany it is no longer worn, it still forms part of the liturgical costume of the Scandinavian Evangelical churches. In the Church of England, though it was prescribed alternatively with the cope in the First Prayer-Book of Edward VI., it was ultimately discarded, with the other “Mass vestments,” the cope being substituted for it at the celebration of the Holy Communion in cathedral and collegiate churches; its use has, however, during the last fifty years been widely revived in connexion with the reactionary movement in the direction of the pre-Reformation doctrine of the eucharist. The difficult question of its legality is discussed in the article Vestments.

Form.—The chasuble was originally a tent-like robe which fell in loose folds below the knee (see Plate I. fig. 4). Its obvious inconvenience for celebrating the holy mysteries, however, caused its gradual modification. The object of the change was primarily to leave the hands of the celebrant freer for the careful performance of the manual acts, and to this end a process of cutting away at the sides of the vestment began, which continued until the tent-shaped chasuble of the 12th century had developed in the 16th into the scapular-like vestment at present in use. This process was, moreover, hastened by the substitution of costly and elaborately embroidered materials for the simple stuffs of which the vestment had originally been composed; for, as it became heavier and stiffer, it necessarily had to be made smaller. For the extremely exiguous proportions of some chasubles actually in use, which have been robbed of all the beauty of form they ever possessed, less respectable motives have sometimes been responsible, viz. the desire of their makers to save on the materials. The most beautiful form of the chasuble is undoubtedly the “Gothic” (see the figure of Bishop Johannes of Lübeck in the article Vestments), which is the form most affected by the Anglican clergy, as being that worn in the English Church before the Reformation.

Decoration.—Though planetae decorated with narrow orphreys are occasionally met with in the monuments of the early centuries, these vestments were until the 10th century generally quite plain, and even at the close of this century, when the custom of decorating the chasuble with orphreys had become common, there was no definite rule as to their disposition; sometimes they were merely embroidered borders to the neck-opening or hem, sometimes a vertical strip down the back, less often a forked cross, the arms of which turned upwards over the shoulders. From this time onward, however, the embroidery became ever more and more elaborate, and with this tendency the orphreys were broadened to allow of their being decorated with figures. About the middle of the 13th century, the cross with horizontal arms begins to appear on the back of the vestment, and by the 15th this had become the most usual form, though the forked cross also survived—e.g. in England, where it is now considered distinctive of the chasuble as worn in the Anglican Church. Where the forked cross is used it is placed both on the back and front of the vestment; the horizontal-armed cross, on the other hand, is placed only on the back, the front being decorated with a vertical strip extending to the lower hem (fig. 1, b, d). Sometimes the back of the chasuble has no cross, but only a vertical orphrey, and in this case the front, besides the vertical stripe, has a horizontal orphrey just below the neck opening (see Plate I. fig. 2). This latter is the type used in the local Roman Church, which has been adopted in certain dioceses in South Germany and Switzerland, and of late years in the Roman Catholic churches in England, e.g. Westminster cathedral (see Plate I. figs. 3 and 5).

It has been widely held that the forked cross was a conscious imitation of the archiepiscopal pallium (F. Bock, Gesch. der liturg. Gewänder, ii. 107), and that the chasuble so decorated is proper to archbishops. Father Braun, however, makes it quite clear that this was not the case, and gives proof that this decoration was not even originally conceived as a cross at all, citing early instances of its having been worn by laymen and even by non-Christians (p. 210). It was not until the 13th century that the symbolical meaning of the cross began to be elaborated, and this was still further accentuated from the 14th century onward by the increasingly widespread custom of adding to it the figure of the crucified Christ and other symbols of the Passion. This, however, did not represent any definite rule; and the orphreys of chasubles were decorated with a great variety of pictorial subjects, scriptural or drawn from the stories of the saints, while the rest of the vestment was either left plain or, if embroidered, most usually decorated with arabesque patterns of foliage or animals. The local Roman Church, true to its ancient traditions, adhered to the simpler forms. The modern Roman chasuble pictured in Plate I. fig. 5, besides the conventional arabesque pattern, is decorated, according to rule, with the arms of the archbishop and his see.

The Eastern Church.—The original equivalent of the chasuble is the phelonion (φελόνιον, φελόνης, φαινόλιον, from paenula). It is a full vestment of the type of the Western bell chasuble; but, instead of being cut away at the sides, it is for convenience’ sake either gathered up or cut short in front. In the Armenian, Syrian, Chaldaean and Coptic rites it is cope-shaped. There is some difference of opinion as to the derivation of the vestment in the latter case; the Five Bishops (Report to Convocation, 1908) deriving it, like the cope, from the birrus, while Father Braun considers it, as well as the cope, to be a modification of the paenula.[1] The phelonion (Arm. shurtshar, Syr. phaina, Chald. maaphra or phaina, Copt, burnos, felonion, kuklion) is confined to the priests in the Armenian, Syrian, Chaldaean and Coptic rites; in the Greek rite it is worn also by the lectors. It is not in the East so specifically a eucharistic vestment as in the West, but is worn at other solemn functions besides the liturgy, e.g. marriages, processions, &c.

Until the 11th century the phelonion is always pictured as a perfectly plain dark robe, but at this period the custom arose of decorating the patriarchal phelonion with a number of crosses, whence its name of πολυσταύριον. By the 14th century the use of these polystauria had been extended to metropolitans and later still to all bishops. The purple or black phelonion, however, remained plain in all cases. The Greeks and Greek Melchite metropolitans now wear the sakkos instead of the phelonion; and in the Russian, Ruthenian, Bulgarian and Italo-Greek churches this vestment has superseded the phelonion in the case of all bishops (see Dalmatic and Vestments).

See J. Braun, S. J., Die liturgische Gewandung (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1907), pp. 149-247, and the bibliography to the article Vestments.  (W. A. P.) 

Fig. 2.—Chasuble of Pope Calixtus III. (15th century) preserved at Valencia. Fig. 3.—Chasuble of Pope Pius V. (late 15th century)
at S. Maria Maggiore at Rome.
From a photograph by Father J. L. Braun in Die liturg Gewandung,
by permission of the publisher, B. Herder.
From a photograph by Father J. L. Braun
in Die liturg Gewandung.

Fig. 4.—Chasuble dedicated by Stephen of Hungary (997–1038) and his wife Gisela,
used as the Hungarian Coronation Robe.
(From Braun, Die liturg. Gewandung.)

Fig. 5.—Modern Roman Chasuble of Archbishop
Bourne of Westminster.
Fig. 6.—Modern English Chasuble, used at St Paul’s Church,
Knightsbridge, London.
Fig. 7.—Back of a Chasuble of Italian Brocaded Damask (Red) with Embroidered Orphreys. The Vestment is of the early
16th century, the Orphreys of the late 14th century. (English. In the Victoria and Albert Museum.)

  1. The writer is indebted to the courtesy of Father Braun for the following note:—“That the Syrian phaina was formerly a closed mantle of the type of the bell chasuble is clearly proved by the evidence of the miniatures of a Syrian pontifical (dated 1239) in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris (cf. Bild 16, 112, 284, in Die liturgische Gewandung). The liturgical vestments of the Armenians are derived, like their rite, from the Greek rite; so that in this case also there can be no doubt that the shurtshar was originally closed. The Coptic rite is in the same relation to the Syrian. Moreover, it would be further necessary to prove that the birrus, in contradistinction to the paenula, was always open in front; whereas, per contra, the paenula, both as worn by soldiers and in ordinary life, was, like the modern Arab burnus, often slit up the front to the neck. For the rest, it is obvious that if the Syrian phaina was still quite closed in the 13th century, and was only provided with a slit since that time, the same is very probable in the case of the Armenian chasuble. The absence of the hood might also be taken as additional proof of the derivation of the phaina from the paenula, but I should not lay particular stress upon it. The question is settled by the above-mentioned miniatures.”