What is an Alb?

7 comments

In the Catholic Church, there are many items used during the liturgy and otherwise that we see on a regular basis. For whatever reason, we often don’t actually ever learn what these things are called. I think the alb is one such thing for many Catholics.

An alb is one of the basic liturgical vestments that a Catholic priest wears. It is the large plain garment made of (usually) white linen that is worn over their clothes or cassock and under other special vestments. Usually, it is worn with a belt, or cincture, around the waist.

Adopted from the long linen tunics that the ancient Romans wore, it is said to be the oldest liturgical vestment used by the early Christians. It was primarily used in the celebration of the Eucharist, but, over time, has become a common vestment used in all Christian celebrations by clergy and laypersons alike – especially priests, deacons, and alter servers.

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Chris Weidenhamer August 4, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Interesting.

So, are there any parts of common Catholicism that go back beyond Rome? Are there any carry-overs (clothing, practices, etc.) that come from Judaism? One thing I noticed over the years as a Christian is that our faith is very much a completion of the Jewish faith (Jews awaited the messiah, we celebrate the messiah and await His return), and yet there isn’t much that carried over from the Temple-and-sacrifice days.

Norm August 4, 2009 at 4:54 pm

I think something that has been carried over from the Temple/Sacrifice days is the Eucharist, which may come as a surprise. In short, the Eucharist was instituted at the Passover meal and is in fact a Passover sacrifice. Christ is the Passover lamb and thus since the Eucharistic host becomes the Body and Blood of Christ the Eucharistic celebration is a continuation of the Passover. For a more detailed description of this, google “Fourth Cup” to find a presentation about the Eucharist and the Passover.

Chris Weidenhamer August 4, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Sure, we just covered that in Vacation Bible School. Of course, we call it communion, but you get the picture.

I guess I was thinking more about the “other stuff”. For instance, the OT refers to the Ephod and a lot of other adornments the Levites and temple priests wore. These were what came to mind when Matthew mentioned vestments.

Matthew Warner August 5, 2009 at 9:49 am

Good question, man. I’ve read some stuff before on it but can’t find it again at the moment. I know there are a LOT of similarities, though. And that one can see a natural flow from Judaism into Christianity in terms of a lot of practices and methods.

In what I’ve studied, I think I’ve more often found such similarities in terms of theological understanding. Many of the other things in terms of clothing are often times tied to the culture of the time. Whereas the theological similarities remain helpful. The sacramental aspect of Christianity is a major one I think.

For instance, you mentioned communion. The idea that any kind of act would have been purely spiritual or only symbolic would have been very foreign to the Jewish people I think. Their experience of God came through interaction with very real physical things that also had very deep spiritual meaning as well. And why shouldn’t it…God made us physical beings, able to communicate and understand Him via our physical body.

And we definitely see that continued by the early Christians in their understanding of the sacraments. They believed in a real, physical presence in the Eucharist. That they physically (though mysteriously), literally received the body and blood of Christ. That the water itself of baptism, or the anointing of oil itself is efficacious (only by the power of God, of course) – not only a symbol. The Jews had a very sacramental faith, just like the early Christians. That’s just one example I can think of.

If I find that source I was thinking of I’ll pass it along! Sorry I can’t find it! You might check out Rosalind Moss. She’s a convert from Judaism to evangelicalism to Catholicism. And she has a good understanding of what they share in common.

Cynthia August 6, 2009 at 9:34 am

IIRC the very word alb is derived from albus (Latin, white). Regarding the imports from Judaism, not sure how many things would have come directly due to the effects of persecution in the early centuries of the Church etc. Don’t forget that the chasuble — the “poncho-y” thing — is derived from a Roman “overcoat”; the vestments are in many ways an elaboration of Roman street wear of the early centuries because people needed to blend in (just as many monastic habits are derived from the clothing of the poor of their day). Don’t have any facts though.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01251b.htm New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia on the alb

Matthew Warner August 14, 2009 at 10:57 am

Chris,

I actually just realized a friend of mine is coming out with a book on precisely that topic. you might be interested! I plan on checking it out as well. The author is a very interesting and brilliant fellow as well.

http://cantuar.blogspot.com/2009/08/my-new-book-crucified-rabbi-judaism-and.html

Lee Carver August 30, 2012 at 11:48 am

Matt, I need a detail for a novel. A priest is buried in a vault beneath a German Catholic church. The burial was in 1850 or so. He is not a cardinal nor any high-ranking priest, and the church is not a cathedral. What is the priest wearing? Is the alb black or white? Does he have any sort of headpiece? Can you help?

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