The Zion Blog > Ask the Pastors > Divine Service

Pastors’ Robes and Special Clothing

Question: Hey Pastor, I have a question!? Why do pastors wear robes and special clothing such as the colored strip of cloth draped over the shoulders?? Also, during the Christmas season and then beginning on Easter Sunday you seemed to ?disappear? from the chancel right after you handed the offering plates to the ushers.? When you came back, you were wearing some sort of covering over top of your robe.? What is that covering called and what is its purpose?? Oh, and, no offense, but isn?t all this a little ?too Catholic??

Just Wondering

Answer: Dear Just Wondering, thanks for your questions.? A brother Lutheran Pastor answered some of these same questions for a member of his congregation.? I borrow from his work to help us all understand.

Liturgical clothing, or vestments, serve a number of purposes.? Before we discuss them, we need to be absolutely clear that the wearing of vestments in no way implies that the wearer is more holy or is closer to God than other people are.? Likewise neither Holy Scripture nor our Lutheran Confessions require the use of particular clothing.? While the ministry of the Old Testament had elaborate and costly vestments specifically mandated by the Lord (Exodus 28), the ministry of the New Testament has no such regulations with respect to clothing.

So why are vestments used?? Vestments accent our continuity with the past.? Christianity is an historical faith rooted in God?s saving work in history.? The New Testament church has a history reaching back to Pentecost.

Most of today’s vestments go back to the early centuries of Christianity.? The white robe, called an alb (Latin: albus meaning ?white?), is a 5th Century garment.? The colored band of cloth worn by a Pastor, called a stole (Latin: stola), has pre-Christian origins in the synagogue, and has been worn by ordained clergy since the 6th Century.? The stole is sometimes likened to that of a yoke worn by beasts of burden or servant animals such as oxen.? (Read Mt. 11:29-30 to see how Jesus used this term.)? Thus the stole symbolizes that the Pastor is a servant of God to His holy people.? The chasuble, the flowing overgarment that you observed me wear, is sometimes worn by the celebrant at Holy Communion.? Its roots and usage are from the 4th Century.

At worship services when the Lord?s Supper will not be celebrated (and it?s not too hot!) I will often wear a cassock and surplice underneath the stole.? The cassock is the long full length black garment.? The surplice is the shorter and loose fitting white garment that is worn over top of the cassock.? Again, the use of these garments dates back to the ancient church.

That gives some answers to what the garments are.? But why are they worn?? Vestments are visual signals of the office or work that a person has.? Judges in our civil courts wear black robes.? Policemen, firemen, and medical personnel all wear uniforms that tell us what they do.? While clothes do not make the person, they do tell what office a person holds.? The vestments peculiar to the office of the holy ministry are the stole and the chasuble.? They show who in the congregation has been entrusted with the administration of the Word and the Sacraments.

Also, vestments help to cover up the personality of the person.? This is true also for acolytes, assisting Elders at Holy Communion, and the choir.? The servant disappears behind Him whom he serves.? Our Lord must increase; we must decrease.? Whether the pastor prefers polyester or wool, power ties, a ?clergy shirt? or even an open collar, the clothing items worn are not to distract us from the office he administers.? He is there as Christ’s servant.? In the Liturgy, pastors are visually interchangeable.? ?For they do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ.?? ?He who hears you, hears Me.?? (Apology 7,28; Lk. 10:16).

Finally, vestments serve as festive adornment for the Lord?s gifts.? Celebration typically involves decoration.? We use fine china and crystal, silverware and linens for those ?extra special? occasions.? When we go to a 4-star restaurant at 4-star prices, we expect the servants to be well attired.? How much more do we expect the celebrant at the Lamb?s high feast of victory to be properly dressed where God bestows the gifts of Calvary to His people!

Thanks for your questions.

Pastor Rock