The Purple Chasuble

It was just after the end of the 10:30 service when a girl of about 7 followed her mother into the sacristy. It was full of people getting out of vestments, cleaning vessels, and counting the offering plate. While her mother was busy talking with an altar guild member, the child looked over at the female priest who had just presided at the Eucharist. “Can I try that on?” she said to the priest, looking at the deep purple chasuble. “Sure” the priest replied, pulling it over her head and handing the yards of heavy fabric to the child. Knowing that the priest had to get to a meeting right away, I stepped in. “Do you want me to help you put it over your head?” I gathered up the chasuble and put it over the child’s head. She was quite a sight, a petite little girl with long curly brown hair, big brown eyes and tan skin absolutely swimming in yards and yards of material. I encouraged her to stay in one place so she didn’t trip. We talked about how long ago everyone used to wear chasubles as part of their clothing when it was cool outside. I told her that priests wear them today as a reminder of the early Christians. Almost instinctively she flipped back the fabric that was covering her hands and held up her arms. For an instant she didn’t look like a little girl in her mother’s clothing anymore. Then she laughed, pulled the chasuble over her head, handed it to me, and with barely a look backwards took off for coffee hour.

What a contrast, I thought, between this moment and my own childhood. I grew up feeling welcomed and loved by my parish, but would never in a million years have asked a priest if I could touch anything used in the Eucharist. Those things, holy things, seemed very much off limits. Besides, I was a girl, and I’m pretty sure trying on any vestment associated with the priesthood would have been out of the question.

The parish I come from has had one seminarian in their entire history – me. The parish where I am placed for field ed has had a couple dozen. It makes me wonder about how we treat sacred objects, especially where children are concerned. Not because most people are supposed to grow up and go into ordained ministry, but rather because all people should feel, starting when they are children, that those things which are sacred are theirs too. In the Episcopal church we claim to believe that we are all part of the priesthood of all believers. But is this something we really understand or believe, deep down? Whether we’re the clergy who fail to listen to the lay people, or the lay people who believe that morning prayer or stations of the cross can’t happen without a “real” leader (ie. seminarian at the very least, or preferably a priest), we often need to be reminded of what the little girl in the purple chasuble already seemed to know.

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~ by Sophia on February 16, 2008.

3 Responses to “The Purple Chasuble”

  1. …and I wonder if we forget that children are themselves sacred objects, and thus worthy (whatever that menas) to touch things like purple chasubles?Beautifully reflected.

  2. Hi Sophia! I love your blog, and have been reading it for a long time. I visited the Close this weekend as a prospective MDiv student and your blog entries made me feel like I knew the place a little already…a big help, as I am definitely a country mouse. Thank you for writing!

  3. Oh, honey child, please keep blogging! I love reading it!When I was a kid at the cathedral in Delaware (stop me if I told you this already), I asked if I could be an acolyte. Oh, no! The horror was palpable! I was turned away in tears, and it put me off church for years. This was maybe 1965.In the 1990s, when my parents died, the dean of the cathedral (who buried them) was a WOMAN.Yee-hah!

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