Vestments and Ceremonial

Incorporating the Liturgical Year and Eucharistic Prayers


The early Church did not wear special vestments except for a white garment worn at baptism that was like 'putting on' Christ. Otherwise people worshipped in their own homes including for the agape meal and Eucharist. Everyday dress was often a white tunic down to the feet, with a knee-length coloured garment with a hole in the centre worn dropped on top. These linea and casula became the special dress of alb and chasuble today. Deacons, who had the care of widows and the sick, adopted the dalmatic tunic of Roman officials, and so it remains worn with the simpler tunicle for sub-deacons.
After 313 CE and the Edict of Milan Christianity became the official religion of Rome and then churches were built in the form of basilicas with greater ceremonial possible. The girdle and pallium (a scarf, to become the stole) were introduced after some time.
After the Roman Empire there was a steady decline in the use of vestments, and any special dress retreated to the clergy.
In the Protestant Reformation, from the 1500s on, the alb and chasuble were replaced by the surplice. This matched the infrequency of eucharists amongst Reformers. The Church of England went through its Puritan disintegration with a radical simplicity of dress and actions and was not greatly restored to any elaboration of worship afterwards. Rationalism and the religion of the State mitigated against special dress.
Much Catholic appearance was restored and developed after 14 July 1833 (John Keble's Assize Sermon) with the Oxford or Tractarian Movement (the publication of many Tracts for the Times promoting what became known as Anglo-Catholic traditionalism. In most Anglican churches, if after a struggle, candles, a surpliced choir, wafers instead of bread, crucifixes, statues, stone altars and stations of the cross appeared. So did mediaevalist Mass vestments, starting with a coloured stole included alb, cicture, collar and chasuble. Then different colours (see below) reflected Christian seasons. So did ceremonial movements (see further below). Even later there were Latin Masses, reserved elements of the consecrated Eucharist and devotions to them, processions, incense, invocation of the saints, and the bishop in greater elaborate ceremonies acquired a hat called a mitre. The derived Gothic Revival affected every denomination to some degree. The Broad Church movement developed a via media of practices as a middle ground of the Anglican Church as a whole, its liberality contrasting with the outer excesses of reinvented traditionalism but also reflecting aspects of tradition.
Today postmodernism promotes the role of the symbolic, the colourful and the different. A function of worship is to stand out and to be distinctive. Into this goes a whole set of rules inherited or revived from the past for authority, legitimacy and a sense of the numinous, and some that look like the past but are more recent (for the same reasons). Postmodernism creates a number of challenges regarding worship. One is its rejection of a metanarrative, when Christian worship is a metanarrative - or at least it is a narrative of the community recognising that other religious communities have their narratives (and remembering that different Christians have their own variations on the narrative through their own traditions). Whilst worship can be striking, a temptation with postmodernism is to regard everything as simulacra and entertainment. It might be simulacra, but it should not be entertainment - whilst aspects can be joyful, worship (however regarded) should lead towards different contemplative states and a reduction in desire. Worship can also reflect different lifestyles: a difficulty with Anglican worship is that even now its texts reflect an agricultural monarchical and feudal society (even in 1662 the Book of Common Prayer had archaism built in) and, inevitably, these have an uncritical reflection of small town and village Middle Eastern society with its supernaturalism from the time of Jesus.
When a bishop calls at a local church he (or she in many provinces) may make some changes. A mitre is worn, a divided hat that represents the tongues of fire said to have come on to each disciple's head at Pentecost. A crozier is carried, shaped in the form of a shepherd's crook for the main shepherd in the area.
Coloured vestments add to the sense of the part of the Church year arrived at and add to the sense of passing through the year.

The Year

The liturgical year is a combination of Lunar time focused at Easter and Solar time focused at Christmas. The time after Trinity and Epiphany stretches and contracts according to variation from year to year.
Easter Sunday comes immediately after the Paschal Full Moon for the year. Equinox is taken as March 20 (Gregorian). It intends to have the same season and relationship to the astronomical full moon that happened at the resurrection date (given as 30 CE). Up to 335 CE Easter Day coincided with Passover, or just after. From 326 to 1582 CE it followed the Julian Calendar (and still does with the Orthodox). The Gregorian calendar took over after that and the English caught up in September 1752. Easter Sunday must bounce between March 22 to April 25, and in 2007 the Julian and Gregorian calendars agreed their Easter Sunday date, and it matched the Jewish Passover as well (unintended at Nicaea in 325 CE).
The Incarnation Season is part of the solar calendar, starting at the beginning of Advent (the beginning of the Christian year) and running up to and including the Presentation of Christ (2 February, ending Epiphany). The effect of adapting the lunar calendar is that ordinary time from the Presentation of Christ and Ash Wednesday contracts and expands year to year. There are up to five ordinary time (solar) Sundays before Lent (determined by adapted lunar time) and the second Sunday before Lent is now given to Creation Sunday (a theme once given to the ninth Sunday before Christmas). The Death and Resurrection Cycle operates between Ash Wednesday and the Day of Pentecost and it is fixed in length. In 2008 Easter Day is 23 March and in 2011 it is 24 April. Ordinary time (solar) starting about Trinity Sunday is also expanding and contracting and there are up to 22, arriving at All Saints Day (1 November). These around summer Sundays are different in that they are not Sundays of a season; all other Sundays are and there are seasonal resources allowing for remembering saints (in festivals, lesser festivals and commemorations), including appropriate collects (prayers with a theme of the day). The Church year ends after the long chunk of ordinary time with Sundays before Advent, known as the Kingdom Season, completed at Christ the King.
The Christian year and liturgical use with Anglican Churches can be calculated and displayed at a touch of a button here. Below shows a distribution of dates across two centuries.

Easter Days
23 March 1913
23 March 2008
24 March 1940
25 March 1951
25 March 2035
25 March 2046
26 March 1967
26 March 1978
26 March 1989
26 March 2062
26 March 2073
26 March 2084
27 March 1910
27 March 1921
27 March 1932
27 March 2005
27 March 2016
28 March 1937
28 March 1948
28 March 2027
28 March 2032
29 March 1959
29 March 1964
29 March 1970
29 March 2043
29 March 2054
29 March 2065
30 March 1902
30 March 1975
30 March 1986
30 March 1997
30 March 2059
30 March 2070
30 March 2081
30 March 2092
31 March 1907
31 March 1918
31 March 1929
31 March 1991
31 March 2002
31 March 2013
31 March 2024
31 March 2086
31 March 2097
01 April 1923
01 April 1934
01 April 1945
01 April 1956
01 April 2018
01 April 2029
01 April 2040
02 April 1961
02 April 1972
02 April 2051
02 April 2056
03 April 1904
03 April 1983
03 April 1988
03 April 1994
03 April 2067
03 April 2078
03 April 2089
04 April 1915
04 April 1920
04 April 1926
04 April 1999
04 April 2010
04 April 2021
04 April 2083
04 April 2094
05 April 1931
05 April 1942
05 April 1953
05 April 2015
05 April 2026
05 April 2037
05 April 2048
06 April 1947
06 April 1958
06 April 1969
06 April 1980
06 April 2042
06 April 2053
06 April 2064
07 April 1901
07 April 1912
07 April 1985
07 April 1996
07 April 2075
07 April 2080
08 April 1917
08 April 1928
08 April 2007
08 April 2012
08 April 2091
09 April 1939
09 April 1944
09 April 1950
09 April 2023
09 April 2034
09 April 2045
10 April 1955
10 April 1966
10 April 1977
10 April 2039
10 April 2050
10 April 2061
10 April 2072
11 April 1909
11 April 1971
11 April 1982
11 April 1993
11 April 2004
11 April 2066
11 April 2077
11 April 2088
12 April 1903
12 April 1914
12 April 1925
12 April 1936
12 April 1998
12 April 2009
12 April 2020
12 April 2093
12 April 2099
13 April 1941
13 April 1952
13 April 2031
13 April 2036
14 April 1963
14 April 1968
14 April 1974
14 April 2047
14 April 2058
14 April 2069
15 April 1900
15 April 1906
15 April 1979
15 April 1990
15 April 2001
15 April 2063
15 April 2074
15 April 2085
15 April 2096
16 April 1911
16 April 1922
16 April 1933
16 April 1995
16 April 2006
16 April 2017
16 April 2028
16 April 2090
17 April 1927
17 April 1938
17 April 1949
17 April 1960
17 April 2022
17 April 2033
17 April 2044
18 April 1954
18 April 1965
18 April 1976
18 April 2049
18 April 2055
18 April 2060
19 April 1908
19 April 1981
19 April 1987
19 April 1992
19 April 2071
19 April 2076
19 April 2082
20 April 1919
20 April 1924
20 April 1930
20 April 2003
20 April 2014
20 April 2025
20 April 2087
20 April 2098
21 April 1935
21 April 1946
21 April 1957
21 April 2019
21 April 2030
21 April 2041
21 April 2052
22 April 1962
22 April 1973
22 April 1984
22 April 2057
22 April 2068
23 April 1905
23 April 1916
23 April 2000
23 April 2079
24 April 2011
24 April 2095
25 April 1943
25 April 2038

Below is a greater breakdown of the colours of the liturgical year as practised within Anglican churches in particular.
1st Sunday in Advent Purple
2nd Sunday in Advent Purple
3rd Sunday in Advent
(Gaudete Sunday)
Rose (or Purple)
4th Sunday in Advent Purple
Christmas Day White or Gold
1st Sunday of Christmas White or Gold
Epiphany White or Gold
1st Sunday of Epiphany White or Gold
2nd Sunday of Epiphany White or Gold
3rd Sunday of Epiphany White or Gold
4th Sunday of Epiphany White or Gold
5th Sunday of Epiphany White or Gold
Purification White or Gold
Septuagesima Green
Sexagesima Green
Quinquagesima Green
Ash Wednesday Purple or Unbleached linen
1st Sunday in Lent Purple or Unbleached linen
2nd Sunday in Lent Purple or Unbleached linen
3rd Sunday in Lent Purple or Unbleached linen
4th Sunday in Lent Rose (or Purple or Unbleached)
Passion Sunday Purple or Unbleached linen
Palm Sunday Red
Maundy Thursday White
Good Friday Bare
Holy Saturday Bare
Easter Day White or Gold
1st Sunday in Easter White
2nd Sunday in Easter White
3rd Sunday in Easter White
4th Sunday in Easter White
5th Sunday in Easter White
6th Sunday in Easter White
Ascension Day White or Gold
Pentecost Red
Trinity Sunday White
Sundays after Trinity Green
4th to 1st Sunday before Advent Red or Green
All Saints' Day White or Gold
All Souls' Day Red or Green
Remembrance Sunday Red or Green
It is worth stating that these colours are not compulsory in Anglicanism and there may be local variation.

Roman Catholic Variant

Advent, Lent, Funerals, Penance and Masses for the Dead
Funerals, Weddings, Baptisms, Feasts of Our Lord, Our Lady and the Saints White
Pentecost, Precious Blood, the Holy Spirit, feast of a Martyr Red
Ordinary Time Green
Solemn Feasts of Our Lord in place of white Gold
3rd Sunday of Advent, 4th Sunday of Lent
Funerals and Masses of the Dead Black


With the restoration of vestments came the restoration of ceremonial. After all, the Puritans did not even clasp their hands to pray. They stood to pray and sat to sing psalms. Theirs was a bare, clear windowed and whitewashed or stone-walled word. Anglo-Catholic practice (and other reactive churchships) added its dramatics to services through a number of suggested set actions.
Standing when:

  • The Cross is carried past
  • Singing
  • The Offering is made
  • The Gospel is read
  • A Creed is said

Sitting when:

  • The Bible is read
  • A Sermon is given

Kneel (or sit) when

  • Praying

Bowing when:

  • Passing before the altar
  • The cross goes past
  • Jesus' name is spoken

Genuflect (priest goes down on one knee) when:

  • Bread and Wine have been consecrated
  • Passing by the Reserved Bread and Wine (marked by a white light)

Sign of the cross at:

  • The priest saying, "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
  • The absolution, given after the confession
  • The blessing, given at the end of the service
  • Completion of the Creed
  • The beginning of the Gospel canticles
  • Remembering the departed
My own question about all this is: when does devotion turn into subservience? Many would not see this as a problem, but I consider we worship and contemplate as full individuals. It is not in any spirit of Puritanism that I do none of these gestures (except kneeling at communion - I have never accepted a blessing at communion) but rather from a view of contemplative meditation as an individual with something akin to an intended cleared mind and an approach of coolness. I like moderate Anglo-Catholicism and its visual theatre (and use of colours to change the mood: in Unitarian days I was persuaded about the use of a gown from a Pagan minister!) but I also like an absence of clutter, and devotion involves a few yet a minimum of reasonable gestures from participating individuals. In other words, the worship derives from what is done, and sometimes doing nothing is an approprate part of worship, just as silence has its place amongst the words and music.

Eucharistic Prayers

The context of vestments, changing seasons and even gestures is the focus on the Eucharist in worship on Sundays and some weekdays, which makes sense in the context of an economic anthropology and theology of a spiritual gift in a material exchange setting that incorporates movement through the year, with changes and movement through the Eucharist itself.
The Eucharistic Prayer is the part where, after The Peace and the Preparation of the Table/ Taking of the Bread and Wine, there is a turning of the pages to a variety of Eucharistic Prayers, to then afterwards come back to the continuing towards the Giving of Communion at the Lord's Prayer. Common Worship (2000) Order One has a variety of Eucharistic prayers and it sometimes puzzles people the basis of each one and why one might be chosen rather than another. Order Two comes from 1662 either retaining the ancient language or using modern language with the old structure. Here is a brief explanation about Order One.
Eucharistic Prayers A, B and C are continuations of the Alternative Service Book of 1980 and have nearly the same structure. Their purpose and differences are to:
  • Promote thanksgiving
  • Places for seasonal Proper Prefaces up to the sanctus (Holy, holy, holy)
  • Many acclamations
  • Prayer A has six places where optionally the congregation can give acclamation of praise and glory
  • A emphasises Easter (triumphant)
  • B emphasises Incarnation
  • C emphasises Christ's sacrifice on the cross
Eucharistic Prayer D intends to be for adults with children. It has a number of features:

  • Short
  • Concrete over the abstract
  • Story telling and dramatic
  • Switch part way where his story becomes our story
  • Clear, short sentences
  • Lower reading age
  • Responses are repetitive after a clear lead - thus no absolute need to keep one's eyes glued to the book
Eucharistic Prayer E suits midweek and evenings, with children and as the Eucharistic Prayer of a parish. Its structure is like A B and C but its words are different. Therefore it has certain features:

  • Place for seasonal Proper Prefaces (38) to add variety
  • Distinctive phrases at the Epeclesis, Anamnesis, Petition and shares with A, B, C and G a variety of acclamations
  • Encourages more praise
Eucharistic Prayer F is more Coptic Church and (if adapted) Eastern Orthodox in character. It is like Prayer VI in the Roman Missal. There is a version in The Episcopal Church and with Lutherans and Methodists also in the USA.

  • Salvation combined with Trinity
  • No seasonal Proper Prefaces
  • No choices of acclamation (...Christ is Risen...) but its own acclamations
  • Easter imagery
  • Use of intercession element
  • God's power in glory and imagery
  • Repetitive statements of communal belief
Eucharistic Prayer G has a Roman Catholic origin and underwent Church of England synodical machinations with, nevertheless, a liking for its style. It is:

  • Evocative and romantic
  • Suggests worshipful experience
  • Emphasises creation
  • Suggests God as Mother
  • Promotes interdependence with growth to maturity in Christ
Eucharistic Prayer H is perhaps the most experimental and arguably distinctive. It is a slight response, perhaps, to the postmodern regarding content and length. It likely suits a small arena such as a small chapel, in a house, or sat around a table. Its features are:

  • Continuous dialogue
  • Very short
  • Rearranges some Eucharistic Prayer features
  • Short attention span
Inevitably churches stick to a limited number of Eucharistic Prayers and use Proper Prefaces for seasons (where some in the congregation look puzzled because the President is obviously not reading from that part of the book, having said where to go in it - and this adds to the increasingly in-crowd nature of Eucharist worship). There is a tendency to continue to use what was in the Alternative Service Book with some modifications; the heaviest used therefore tend to be A and B, but not exclusively so.


Archbishop's Council 2000 (2000), Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, London: Church House Publishing.

Earey, M., Myers, G. (eds.) (2001), Common Worship Today: An Illustrated Guide to Common Worship, London: HarperCollinsReligious.

Wilkinson, R. (1984), Learning about Vestments and Altar Serving, Mowbray's Enquirer's Library, London: Mowbray.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful