EVERAL years ago (in 2015), I posted a series of reflections (links below) on the vesting prayers prayed by the priest as he dons the various parts of his liturgical garb. At that time, I did not include the dalmatic, which is the outer vestment proper to the deacon. Having received a reader’s request, however, I am now adding another installment to this series, presenting and reflecting on the vesting prayer that accompanies the dalmatic.
Much like the priest’s chasuble, the deacon’s dalmatic is a vestment for Mass, not for the other Sacraments or devotions, when it would often be appropriate for the deacon to wear a cope. It is a sleeved vestment, worn over the alb, cincture, and stole. Although it is not uncommon to see deacons assisting at Mass vested only in alb and stole, this is not envisioned by the rite. The dalmatic should always be worn when one is available, and parishes that enjoy the service of a deacon ought to have dalmatics available in each liturgical color.
It should be noted, moreover, that the dalmatic is neither solely nor originally a diaconal vestment. It originated, rather, as a pontifical vestment worn by the bishop of Rome beneath his chasuble. According to the Liber pontificalis, it was Pope Sylvester I (314-335) who “decreed that deacons should wear dalmatics in church, and that their left arms should be covered with pallia half wool, half linen.” 1
Still today, on solemn occasions, the bishop may wear the dalmatic underneath the chasuble. For bishops, as for deacons, the dalmatic is a symbol of service. Thus, when the bishop performs the mandatum on Holy Thursday, he removes his chasuble, but not his dalmatic (see Caeremoniale episcoporum, no. 301).
The prayer to be offered as the deacon (or bishop) dons the dalmatic is as follows:
Indue me, Domine, indumento salutis et vestimento laetitiae; et dalmatica iustitiae circumda me semper.
Clothe me, O Lord, with the garment of salvation and the vestment of gladness, and encompass me always with the dalmatic of justice.
This prayer makes clear allusion to a passage from the Book of Isaiah. Using nuptial imagery to describe the new life of the restored Jerusalem, the prophet writes:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my soul shall exult in my God;
for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10, RSV)
There are also echoes of St. Paul’s famous exhortation to put on the armor of God:
Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17, RSV)
As in the case of the chasuble, dalmatics come in several styles. Very commonly, however, they are adorned with two vertical stripes, and frequently with either two crossbars or a solid square on front and back. Images of Saint Stephen invariably depict him dressed in such a dalmatic.
Something similar can also be seen in many depictions of the Annunciation, which often portray the angel Gabriel vested as a deacon. This is very appropriate, since Gabriel is the bearer of glad tidings and, at his word, the Word of God becomes incarnate.
Ravenna, a city renowned for its ancient churches filled with mosaics, had apparently adopted the dalmatic from Rome by the sixth century. This can be said on the basis of an important mosaic on the side of the apse at San Vitale, which depicts Justinian with Archbishop Maximianus. The archbishop and his deacons are portrayed wearing dalmatics with two stripes.
The deacons, moreover, are seen carrying a paten, a Book of Gospels, and a thurible.
Without a doubt, the dalmatic is a very worthy vestment, rich in history and symbolism. Praying the vesting prayer associated with the dalmatic is sure to inspire the deacon (or bishop) who wears it to live more justly, seeking salvation more earnestly and radiating more fully the gladness of Christ.
Part 1 • Introduction
Part 2 • The Hand Washing
Part 3 • The Amice
Part 4 • The Alb
Part 5 • The Cincture
Part 6 • The Maniple
Part 7 • The Stole
Part 8 • The Chasuble
Part 9 • The Dalmatic
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis): The ancient biographies of the first ninety Roman bishops to AD 715, rev. ed., trans. Raymond Davis, Translated Texts for Historians 6 (Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2010), no. 34.7, p. 15.