While it is no longer the practice for all priests to offer prayers while vesting for Mass, many do offer these "vesting prayers." The prayers are a good occasion for them to be enriched with a profound humility and willing availability to act in the very Person of Christ at the Holy Sacrifice. In this series, we look at each vesting prayer and its corresponding vestment, as an intimate insight into the spiritual lives of priests at their most vulnerable moment every day, helping all the rest of us also to understand just who we are before God and neighbor.
PRAYER 7 – "Ad casulam" (Prayer used for the chasuble)
"Domine, qui dixisti: Jugum meum suave est et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen." ("O Lord, who has said, 'My crossbeam (yoke) is easy and my burden light' – grant that I may be so enabled to carry it as to follow after your grace. Amen.")
We conclude this series with these comments on the chasuble, the large poncho-like vestment which covers the body of the priest and the other vestments. We most often see the Gothic style, with the chasuble being about as wide as it is long. The Roman style bears the nickname "fiddleback" since the tailoring enabling greater movement of the arms with the often heavily embroidered and even bejewelled vestment gave the appearance of a fiddle to the front of the vestment, called "the back" inasmuch as the priest faced the Sacrifice on the altar along with everyone else.
This prayer for the chasuble is a realistic encouragement to the priest after his having prayed the rather intense prayers for the other vestments. It recalls Jesus' words in Mt 11:28-30: "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my crossbeam (yoke) upon you and learn from me, for I am befriending and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my crossbeam (yoke) is easy, and my burden light."
Imagine that! A "jugum" or crossbeam, an instrument of torture and death, carried in torture to one's death, is here called easy, a burden that is light. If we take a look at the Shroud of Turin, one might get the idea that such a crossbeam was heavy enough to smash our Lord's face right into the pavement. After some rebellion at the shock of being volunteered to carry the cross with Jesus, this prayer becomes that of any Simon of Cyrene.
The prayer has it that it is our Lord's grace which enables us to carry such an instrument of torture and death inasmuch as we follow after His grace, inasmuch as we follow Him. Our Lord commanded us many times not only to take up the cross, but to follow Him by the strength of His friendship. The priest says the consecrations in the first person singular, acting in the Person of Christ. When Jesus lays down His life in giving His Body for us, in pouring out His Blood for us, the priest has to be ready for that eventuality for himself at any time.
The other meaning for "jugum" is yoke, as in that wooden construction snugly fitting over the shoulders of a pair of oxen, distributing the weight of the extreme burden evenly, something not possible for a mere harness. The emphasis in the prayer, however, is neither on the crossbeam-like yoke, nor the burden that follows behind. All attention is placed on the Lord's grace, His befriending us in this manner. The priest comes close to the Lord with the carrying of the cross. In the Sacrifice of the Mass for which this prayer prepares the priest, he is to be on the cross.
The yoke has often been the symbol of marriage, and, in this case, with the priest acting in the Person of Christ, with the priest reciting the marriage vows of Christ in the first person singular – this is my body given for you, my blood poured out for you – the priest is also being married to the Church. Christ is the Bridegroom of His bride, the Church. Jesus' wedding vows redeem marriage which was so very compromised by original sin, before which it was much clearer that male and female, as God created them, united in marriage is the very image of God. Jesus' wedding with His bride, Holy Mother Church, cannot be symbolized by a woman-priest. A lesbian marriage is not what God ever intends with creation or redemption. Priests are men called by God to lay down their lives for the Church, married to the Church, which they love with all their heart, mind, soul, with everything they are.
The chasuble, the wedding garment of the priest, the grace of our Lord, is able to shine out from even the otherwise most inept, most unworthy of sinners. It's our Lord's goodness and kindness which does that. What a great prayer of encouragement in preparation for offering Holy Mass.
One last note. I'm guessing that the family name of our bishop, the Most Rev. Peter Joseph Jugis, is an adjectival derivative of the verb "jungo," referring to being yoked always together by a crossbeam, a priestly name indeed, one surely reminding him of our Lord's goodness and kindness.
Father George David Byers is administrator of Holy Redeemer Parish in Andrews.