"I would therefore like to explain to you, dear Confreres, on this Holy Thursday, the essence of the priestly ministry, interpreting the liturgical vestments themselves, which are precisely intended to illustrate what "putting on Christ", what speaking and acting in persona Christi, mean. Putting on priestly vestments was once accompanied by prayers that helped us understand better each single element of the priestly ministry.
Let us start with the amice. In the past - and in monastic orders still today - it was first placed on the head as a sort of hood, thus becoming a symbol of the discipline of the senses and of thought necessary for a proper celebration of Holy Mass. My thoughts must not wander here and there due to the anxieties and expectations of my daily life; my senses must not be attracted by what there, inside the church, might accidentally captivate the eyes and ears. My heart must open itself docilely to the Word of God and be recollected in the prayer of the Church, so that my thoughts may receive their orientation from the words of the proclamation and of prayer. And the gaze of my heart must be turned toward the Lord who is in our midst: this is what the ars celebrandi means: the proper way of celebrating. If I am with the Lord, then, with my listening, speaking and acting, I will also draw people into communion with him.
The texts of the prayer expressed by the alb and the stole both move in the same direction. They call to mind the festive robes which the father gave to the prodigal son who had come home dirty, in rags. When we approach the liturgy to act in the person of Christ, we all realize how distant we are from him; how much dirt there is in our lives. He alone can give us festive robes, can make us worthy to preside at his table, to be at his service. Thus, the prayers also recall the words of Revelation, which say that it was not due to their own merit that the robes of the 144,000 elect were worthy of God. The Book of Revelation says that they had washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb and thus made them white and shining like light (cf. Rv 7: 14). When I was little, I used to ask myself about this: when one washes something in blood, it certainly does not become white! The answer is: the "Blood of the Lamb" is the love of the Crucified Christ.
It is this love that makes our dirty clothes white, that makes our clouded spirit true and bright; that transforms us, despite all our shadows, into "light in the Lord". By putting on the alb we must remind ourselves: he suffered for me, too. And it is only because his love is greater than all my sins that I can represent him and witness to his light. But with the garment of light which the Lord gave us in Baptism and in a new way in priestly Ordination, we can also think of the wedding apparel which he tells us about in the parable of God's banquet.
In the homilies of Gregory the Great, I found in this regard a noteworthy reflection. Gregory distinguishes between Luke's version of the parable and Matthew's. He is convinced that the Lucan parable speaks of the eschatological marriage feast, whereas - in his opinion - the version handed down by Matthew anticipates this nuptial banquet in the liturgy and life of the Church. In Matthew, in fact, and only in Matthew, the king comes into the crowded room to see his guests. And here in this multitude he also finds a guest who was not wearing wedding clothes, who is then thrown outside into the darkness.
Then Gregory asks himself: "But what kind of clothes ought he to have been wearing? All those who are gathered in the Church have received the new garment of baptism and the faith; otherwise, they would not be in the Church. So what was it that was still lacking? What wedding clothes must there be in addition?" The Pope responds: "the clothes of love".
And unfortunately, among his guests to whom he had given new clothes, the white clothes of rebirth, the king found some who were not wearing the purple clothes of twofold love, for God and for neighbor. "In what condition do we want to come to the feast in Heaven, if we are not wearing wedding clothes - that is, love, which alone can make us beautiful?", the Pope asks. A person without love is dark within.
External shadows, of which the Gospel speaks, are only the reflection of the internal blindness of the heart (cf. Hom. 38, 8-13). Now that we are preparing for the celebration of Holy Mass, we must ask ourselves whether we are wearing these clothes of love. Let us ask the Lord to keep all hostility away from our hearts, to remove from us every feeling of self-sufficiency and truly to clothe ourselves with the vestment of love, so that we may be luminous persons and not belong to darkness."