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Kathy Wikman wrote:

Hi Mike,

Here's hoping this New Year finds you and yours happy, healthy, and hopeful.

I have a couple of questions that I'm too embarrassed to ask on a forum:

  • Why are the vestments of the Catholic clergy, bishops, cardinals, and Pope, so elaborate?
  • Do they have some special significance?
  • Why do Catholics kiss the Pope's ring?
  • Do they also kiss the rings of others?

Thanks for your time. I really do appreciate your ministry.


  { Why are the vestments of the Catholic clergy so elaborate and do the have some significance? }

Mike replied:

Hi Kathy,

Great to hear from you. Best of wishes for you and the Wikman family as well for 2008.

You said:

  • Why are the vestments of the Catholic clergy, bishops, cardinals, and Pope, so elaborate?
  • Do they have some special significance?

I don't know the answer as to why they are so elaborate. Maybe Fr. Nick can assist me with an answer. The color differences in the vestments are significant because they represent and are used in the various seasons in the Catholic Calendar. Like our Jewish brethren, the Catholic Calendar doesn't start on January 1st, rather it starts with the season of Advent, either in November or early December. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, starts sometime in September.

I found this information from another web site I thought was solid.

Advent Definition and Summary

Advent is the 4 week period before Christmas when the Church celebrates the first coming of Christ and anticipates his second Coming. Advent usually begins in very late November or early December. This year (2007) Advent begins on December 2nd. Prayers: Advent Prayers

Basic Facts

Liturgical Color(s):
Violet (optional: Rose for 3rd Advent)
Type of Holiday:
Season; Fast
Time of Year:
4 weeks before Christmas; Sunday after Christ the King Sunday
4 Sundays and their weeks ending at Christmas Eve.
Alternate Names:
Scriptural References:
Isaiah 2:1-5; 7:10-14, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Zephaniah 3:14-18, Micah 5:2-5a, Matthew 24:37-44, Romans 13:11-14

Christmas Definition and Summary

Christmas, also known as the Feast of the Nativity, literally means "Christ Mass." The feast celebrates Jesus' birth and the Incarnation of the Son of God on December 25. Christmastide is another name for the Christmas season, and currently extends from the first Vespers of Christmas Eve until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Prayers: Christmas Prayers
Basic Facts
Liturgical Color(s):
Type of Holiday:
Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation; Season
Time of Year:
December 25th until the Baptism of Our Lord (Sunday after Jan. 6th)
Christmas: one day; Christmastide: varies, see above
Alternate Names:
Feast of the Nativity
Scriptural References:
Luke 2:1-20, Matthew 1:18-24, John 1:1-18

Lent Definition and Summary

Lent is the period of fasting leading up to the feast of Easter, recalling Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness. Western Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends liturgically on the morning of Holy Thursday, although Lenten penance continues through Holy Saturday. In 2008, Lent begins on February 6 in the Western Church. Prayers: Lent Prayers.
Basic Facts
Liturgical Color(s):
Violet (Purple)
Type of Holiday:
Time of Year:
Immediately following Ordinary Time after Epiphany; varies
Liturgically Lent lasts 44 Days, and includes Sundays. The traditional Lenten fast is observed for 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday, going through Holy Week, excluding Sundays.
Alternate Names:
Great Lent
Scriptural References:
Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Easter Definition and Summary

Easter, also called Pascha, is the feast of Christ's resurrection from the dead. It is celebrated on the Sunday following Holy Week. Easter is also a 50-day season, often called Eastertide. In 2008, Easter falls on March 23. Prayers: Easter Prayers
Basic Facts
Liturgical Color(s):
Type of Holiday:
Time of Year:
Varies; follows Holy Week and Lent
Fifty Days; Easter Sunday up to Pentecost.
The Resurrection of Christ
Alternate Names:
Pascha (Easter is the Anglo-Saxon name)
Scriptural References:
Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20

Ordinary Time Definition and Summary

Ordinary Time is the liturgical period outside of the named liturgical seasons, named "ordinary" because it is derived from the word ordinal or "numbered." It falls immediately after Christmastide and then again after the Easter Season. Prayers: Ordinary Time Prayers
Basic Facts
Liturgical Color(s):
Type of Holiday:
Time of Year:
Evening of the Baptism of The Lord to Lent; After Pentecost to Advent
Total of 33 or 34 weeks.
The Holy Trinity
Alternate Names:
"Sundays of the Year", _th Sunday after Pentecost
Scriptural References:

Ordinary Time gets its name from the word ordinal, meaning numbered, since the Sundays of Ordinary Time are expressed numerically. Ordinary Time occurs outside of other liturgical time periods. Essentially then Ordinary Time is that part of the year that does not fall within the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter.

The Catholic Church celebrates two periods of the year as Ordinary Time. In the United States, the first period begins after the Masses have been said on the evening of the Feast of the Baptism of The Lord (the Sunday after The Epiphany), meaning that the feast itself falls within Christmastide, but the whole day does not. The next Sunday is still reckoned The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, because it is the Sunday of the second week in Ordinary Time. The reckoning can be confusing, and has many asking What happened to the first Sunday in Ordinary Time?
The Catholic Church and other Western liturgical Churches recognize the period after Pentecost until Advent (including Christ the King Sunday) as Ordinary Time, although in some denominations they are often still numbered Sundays After Pentecost.

Ordinary time does not need to be ordinary, and is not meant to mean that somehow we get a break from the Liturgical Year. The opposite is true: everything that does not fit into Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter is celebrated during ordinary time, including the feasts of:

  • the Trinity
  • Corpus Christi
  • All Saints
  • the Assumption of Mary, and
  • Christ the King.

In addition, the Church continues to celebrate Saints days and other events such as The Octave of Christian Unity. The major feasts, when occurring on a Sunday, trump the regular Ordinary Time Sunday lessons and liturgy. In the American Catholic Church, Corpus Christi is celebrated as a Sunday feast, so often there are fewer than the 34 Sundays of Ordinary time that may possibly occur. We also may remember and celebrate the parts of Jesus' life that were ordinary, much like our own lives.

You said:

  • Why do Catholics kiss the Pope's ring?
  • Do they also kiss the rings of others?

Catholics kiss the Pope's ring our of respect for the divine office Jesus established on St. Peter and his successor's. This was foretold in Isaiah 22:15-25 and established in Matthew 16:13-20.

I don't know if there is a priestly tradition of kissing the ring of any other bishop.

Take care,


Fr. Nick replied:

Dear Mike:

In checking my files, this seemed to be a good, concise and inclusive history and explanation the priest's vestments. I hope this is helpful.

The liturgical vestments worn at Mass have evolved over time. Since the earliest days of the Church, liturgical vestments have been worn by priests for the celebration of the Mass. Even though priests of the Old Testament wore vestments in their liturgical rites, the Christian vestments are not really adaptations of them; rather, the vestments of the Christians developed from the dress of the Graeco-Roman world, including the religious culture.

However, the Old Testament idea of wearing a special kind of clothing in the performance of liturgical rites did influence the Church.

St. Jerome asserted,

The Divine religion has one dress in the service of sacred things, another in ordinary intercourse and life.

For the first few centuries of our history, the Church continued to refine who wore what when and how until about the year 800 A.D. when liturgical norms for vesting were basically standardized and would remain so until the renewal following the Second Vatican Council.

For the celebration of Mass, a priest wears the:

  • Amice
  • Alb
  • Cincture
  • Stole, and
  • Chasuble.

The Amice

The amice is a piece of white linen, rectangular in shape, with two long cloth ribbons. The priest places it around his neck, covering the clerical collar, and then ties it by crisscrossing the ribbons in his front (to form a St. Andrew's cross), bringing them around the back, around the waist and tying them in a bow. The practical purpose of the amice is to conceal the normal clerical clothing of a priest, and to absorb any perspiration from the head and neck. In the Graeco-Roman world, the amice was a head covering, oftentimes worn underneath the helmets of the Roman soldiers to absorb sweat, thereby preventing it from flowing into their eyes. The spiritual purpose is to remind the priest of St. Paul's admonition:

"Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, the Word of God." (Ephesians 6:17)

The former vesting prayer was:

"Place, O Lord, the helmet of salvation on my head to resist the attacks of the devil."

The Alb

The alb is a long, white garment, which flows from shoulders to ankles, and has long sleeves extending to the wrists. (The word alb means white.) The alb was a common outer garment worn in the Graeco-Roman world and would be similar to the soutane worn in the Middle East. However, those of authority wore albs of higher quality with some kind of embroidery or design. (Note: Some modern style albs have collars which preclude the necessity for an amice). The spiritual purpose reminds the priest of his baptism, when he was clothed in white to signify his freedom from sin, purity of new life, and Christian dignity. Moreover, the Book of Revelation describes the saints who stand around the altar of the Lamb in Heaven as:

"These are the ones who have survived the great period of trial; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb."

(Revelation 7:14)

In the same way, the priest must offer the Mass with purity of body and soul, and with the dignity befitting Christ's priesthood. The former vesting prayer was:

"Make me white, O Lord, and purify my heart so that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb, I may deserve an eternal reward."

The Cincture

The cincture is a long, thick cord with tassels at the ends which secures the alb around the waist. It may be white or may be the same liturgical color as the other vestments. In the Graeco-Roman world, the cincture was like a belt. Spiritually, the cincture reminds the priest of the admonition of St. Peter:

"So gird the loins of your understanding; live soberly; set all your hope on the gift to be conferred on you when Jesus Christ appears. As obedient sons, do not yield to the desires that once shaped you in your ignorance. Rather, become holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, after the likeness of the holy One who called you."

(1 Peter 1:13-15)

The former vesting prayer was:

"Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity and extinguish in my heart the fire of concupiscence so that, the virtue of continence and chastity always abiding in my heart, I may better serve Thee."

The Stole

The stole is a long cloth, about four inches wide and of the same color as the chasuble, that is worn around the neck like a scarf. It is secured at the waist with the cincture. Traditionally, the stole was crisscrossed on the chest of the priest to symbolize the cross. The stole too is of ancient origin. Rabbis wore prayer shawls with tassels as a sign of their authority. The crisscrossing of the stole also was symbolic of the crisscrossed belts the Roman soldiers wore: one belt, holding the sword at the waist, and the other belt, holding a pouch with provisions, like food and water. In this sense, the stole reminds the priest not only of his authority and dignity as a priest, but also of his duty to preach the Word of God with courage and conviction.

"Indeed, God's word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword."

(Hebrews 4:12)

and to serve the needs of the faithful. The former vesting prayer was:

"Restore unto me, O Lord, the Stole of immortality which I lost through the sin of my first parents and, although unworthy to approach Thy sacred Mystery, may I nevertheless attain to joy eternal."

The Chasuble

Finally, the chasuble is the outer garment worn over the alb and stole. Over the centuries, various styles of chasubles have emerged. Derived from the Latin word casula meaning "house," the chasuble in the Graeco-Roman world was like a cape that completely covered the body and protected the person from inclement weather. Spiritually, the chasuble reminds the priest of the charity of Christ:

"Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect" (Colossians 3:14)

The former vesting prayer was:

"O Lord, Who hast said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light,' grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace."

In the Middle Ages, two popular interpretations of the meaning of the vestments arose. The most prevalent one interpreted the vestments as symbols of Jesus' passion:

  • the blindfold (the amice) and the garment (the alb) as He was mocked and beaten;
  • the ropes and fetters (the cincture) which bound Him during the scourging;
  • the cross (the stole) He carried; and
  • the seamless garment (the chasuble) for which the soldiers rolled dice.

The other popular interpretation focused on the vestments in their Roman military origins and viewed them as symbols of the priest as the soldier of Christ doing battle against sin and Satan.

In all, the vestments used at Mass have a two-fold purpose:

"These signify the role proper to each person who has a special part in the rite, and they help to make the ceremonies beautiful and solemn."

(General Instruction on the Roman Missal, No. 297)

Moreover, the vestments inspire the priest and all of the faithful to meditate on their rich symbolism.

As to the second part of Kathy's other question, she said:

  • Do they also kiss the rings of others?

Bishops wear a ring. In the past, a distinction was made between:

  • the pontifical ring (which would have a gemstone, traditionally an amethyst), and
  • the ordinary ring (which would have the bishop's coat of arms or some other design engraved on it).

The ring, like a wedding band, symbolizes that the bishop is wedded to his diocese. The ring would also be used, at least in previous centuries, to make the important imprint of the bishop's seal in hot wax to authenticate documents. The Holy Father does this today.

Moreover, in Catholic tradition, to reverence or kiss the ring of the bishop, as a sign of respect for his authority, is still proper; interestingly, a partial indulgence was attached to the reverencing of the bishop's ring.

Hope this helps,

Fr. Nick

Kathy replied:


This is marvelous.

Many thanks to you and to Fr. Nick!

I'm happy to say that RCIA is proceeding very nicely; lots of information, but with my Evangelical background, I do wonder where that spirit of evangelism is.

I'm guessing some parishes are probably more active than others, and there are certainly some supportive folks, but at times it has seemed like I am knocking on a door and no one's listening.

Ah well, our Dear Lord said, "Knock and the door will be opened," (Matthew 7:7) so I know what my part is.

Thanks again for your ministry, Mike.


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