The Chasuble

Luther Rose Chasuble2 (610x350)This is our pastor’s article for the summer edition of our congregational newsletter.


Some of you have asked me over the last several years about the chasuble, the outer, poncho-like garment, I wear during the Lord’s Supper. I hope this article will help explain the origins of the chasuble and why your pastor wears one.

In our adult Sunday-School class, we are studying the Augsburg Confession. That was the first ecumenical dialogue with the Roman-Catholic Church. In that document, we Lutherans confessed what we believed differently from Rome (and to a lesser extent, the other Protestant churches that were forming).

Article 15 of the Augsburg Confession starts out: “Our churches teach that those ceremonies should be observed that can be observed without sin.” With one bold stroke, we asserted that we Lutherans want keep the early, historic church practices, which not only included “worship style” but also vestments for our pastors.

So, this brings us to the chasuble that pastor wears. He wears it as his outer pastoral garment when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But for many of you, Pastor Futrell was your first experience with a Lutheran pastor wearing such a vestment.

Where, then, did the chasuble originate? The chasuble began as a cloak (or poncho-like piece of clothing) worn in everyday life. ChasubleFrom the customs of 1st century, we can infer that Jesus may have likely worn a chasuble (its predecessor) during the first Lord’s Supper. Later, we see the Apostle Paul mention it in 2 Timothy 4:13: “When you come, bring along the cloak [Greek: phelonais] I left with Carpus in Troas.” Eastern-Orthodox priests also wear a chasuble, which they call a “phelonion,” which comes from the same Greek word that Paul used.

The name chasuble comes from the Latin term casula, which means “little house” because it covered most of the man wearing it. As time pressed on, people stopped wearing the casula; however, pastors still kept it as part of their clerical garb.

We find explicit reference to the chasuble as a pastor’s garment as early as the first part of the 5th century. Specifically, pastors wore the chasuble as the clerical garment for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. But why specifically for the Lord’s Supper? First, it was because that Jesus may have worn a chasuble when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. Another reason was to highlight the centrality of the Lord’s Supper for the Christian. The pastor only wore the chasuble when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated, not during other services (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, etc.). And since the Lord’s Supper was celebrated at least once a week during the Reformation, the chasuble remained a distinctive vestment for Lutheran pastors.

Like other parts of the Church’s catholic (universal) heritage, such as the liturgy, lectionary, and church year, we Lutherans also kept traditional vestments for our pastors. Lutheran pastors continued to wear the chasuble into the 17th and early 18th centuries. However, rationalism (a church movement that only wanted to accept what seemed rational) and governmentally forced mergers with other Protestant churches in Europe (which didn’t have such vestments) caused the chasuble and other vestments to fall into disuse.

When our Missouri-Synod Lutheran forebears immigrated to the United States, the ship that carried their church supplies, (chalices for the Lord’s Supper, crucifixes, pastoral vestments, etc.) sunk during a storm. This then started off our Lutheran churches without the usual items they were used to seeing and having.

During the 20th century, some clergy (for example, A.C. Piepkorn) began to recognize the loss of such a rich heritage. They introduced us to the cassock and surplice, which Lutheran pastors originally wore during Matins and Vesper prayer services during the week. Then, some began wearing the alb, the long, white pastoral robe, which most of our pastors wear today. Some of you may remember your first pastor who wore an alb instead of the black, academic robe. With the alb, some pastors also began wearing the chasuble. Introducing the chasuble was part of the movement to reclaim the Lutheran practices of the Reformation.

The question is why? This again goes back to who we are as Lutherans (or, at least, who our Lutheran Confessions describe us to be). We want to be a historic Church that retains the ceremonies and rituals of old, at least “those ceremonies … that can be observed without sin” (AC XIV, 1). Our Augsburg Confession also states, “The Mass [the Divine Service with the Lord’s Supper] is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all the customary ceremonies are also retained …” (AC XXIV, 1).

All our Lutheran pastors in their ordination vows pledge to preach, teach, and practice according to our Lutheran Confessions. But more than that (as if we only did such things because we have to or are supposed to), we want to retain such practices. For by doing so, we not only have a link to the Christian Church of the last 2,000 years, but such practices help show us that we ARE that same Church. If we worship the same God, believe the same doctrines, then it’s a no-brainer that our “worship style” would also be similar.