Saturday, November 20, 2010

The New Cardinals and the Dalmatic of Charlemagne

OK, so here's some interesting historical and theological bits to ponder as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Christ the King this weekend.

Earlier today in Rome, the pope created 24 new cardinals, including two Americans: Cardinal-Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC and Cardinal Raymond Burke, who now serves in Rome.  I was doing a little surfing about the events and came across the liturgical aid used at this morning's ceremony; here it is if you want to read it for yourself.  To my great surprise, of all the artwork available to the Vatican's liturgical planners for this event, they chose to use several images of "The Dalmatic of Charlemagne": and the dalmatic, as we all know, is the vestment now associated with deacons.  The particular dalmatic in question was for many years thought to have been worn by the Emperor Charlemagne at his coronation; hence the name.  It is now thought to date from the 14th century.  Still, this is an interesting choice of image for a number of reasons:

1) As the notes printed at the end of the liturgical aid point out, the mission of the deacon is very similar to the mission of the emperor: to serve the people with joy and justice.  It is important to see the marriage here of the secular and the sacred: both realms come from God and share in the divine mission of providing for all of God's people.

2) The rich embroidery of the dalmatic is also very significant theologically.  On the back of the dalmatic is a depiction of the Transfiguration, which in Eastern catholic theology especially, is associated with the "divinization" (theosis) to which all people are called, and the front of the dalmatic depicts the second coming of Christ.  Christ has emptied himself ("kenosis") and through this self-emptying, leads all to union with God.

Probably the last thing the participants at this morning's ceremonies expected was to be reminded of the diaconate and its meaning in the contemporary church: but someone responsible for planning the festivities clearly wanted to make this connection, and I think it's a valuable source for reflection by all of us, especially during this weekend of Christ the King!


  1. The linked info was 99% not English. Not much help.
    Years ago the Vatican urged that whenever deacons assist at Mass they should wear a dalmatic--not just the stole and alb.
    However few parishes have a full set of dalmatics --although I have visited many parishes that have deacons, almost no dalmatics, but closets full of chasubles--many fairly new, most never used.
    One prof I had years ago at seminary said we should demand at least one full set of dalmatics for our parish--he called appearing in only an alb and stole::appearing in your liturgical underwear.

  2. John raises an interesting point.

    Every dalmatic and stole that I have is my own. Most were given to me as ordination gifts from family and friends.

    Personally, I think it's a little distracting to have a hodgepodge of styles on the altar -- and the dissonance becomes more glaring when mass is concelebrated, and the priests all match, but the deacon, like the cheese, stands alone... :-)

    Deacon Greg

  3. I agree, guys. In fact, the National Directory "directs" that the provision of vestments for the deacon (including dalmatics) is the responsibility of the parish. During my Navy career, it was particularly dicey because you never knew from one chapel to the next whether you were going to have anything to wear or not. My wife made almost all of my vestments back then.

    It would seem that in at least in some places, this is in the process of changing, especially as older vestment sets are being replaced in a parish.

    And, John, sorry about the link, but that's the way the worship aid was written; I had no choice over it.


  4. Over my years as a deacon, I have worked in all four of the parishes in my small town. I am also often "on ceremony" at our cathedral and have been "on ceremony" as deacon in other arch/diocesan settings as well.

    --One of those parishes do have a set of four plain and simple white dalmatics with trims in the four liturgical colors: they also have a matching stole set for each of those four liturgical colors. There is only one set; however.

    --One other parish has an un-ornamented/neutral color dalmatic on top of which you wear a stole of the liturgical color that might be required for the season/day.

    --The other two have no dalmatics at all.

    --Our diocese has several matched liturgical dalmatic sets in its vestry. If you are a deacon assigned to work with the Bishop in any liturgical setting, there will be a dalmatic and stole which matches his set available for you to wear. His "Master of Ceremonies" packs them up and takes them to your local parish upon request.

    --I do not own my own dalmatic but own lots of personal stoles.

    FYI: The only time I customarily wear a dalmatic is on our Roman Catholic "high holydays": Christmas and Easter. I do not wear one normally when I preside: such as in baptisms, weddings, benedictions, communion-services, funerals, etc.

    Deacon Norb in Ohio

  5. The "Dalmatic of Charlemagne" is actually a Byzantine sakkos. The sakkos was orginally the imperial tunic of the basilios [emperor]. After the fall of Constantinople, the patriarch as the ethnarch began to wear the sakkos rather than the phelonion [chasuble]. Today, it is usual for most bishops of the Byzantine rite to wear the sakkos, although not so grand as the "Dalmatic of Chalemagne".

    Deacons in the Eastern Christian Churches do not wear a dalmatic. The sticharion [alb] is worn directly over the anterion [cassock]. It can easily be mistaken for a dalmatic as it is usually made from brocade. The orarion [stole] is worn over the right shoulder and the epimanikia [cuffs] are worn over the sleeves of the anterion.