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New Easter finery has deeper meaning

Clergy leaders say the tradition of wearing new clothes on Easter Sunday hearkens back to early Christian baptisms.
BY CARLA HINTON Published: April 7, 2012

A ritual that hearkens back to the early Christian Church connects individuals being baptized on Easter weekend to the numerous churchgoers who will attend holiday worship services decked out in new Easter finery.

Kristin Smith of Oklahoma City will don a white stole after she is baptized at the Easter Vigil service Saturday at Our Lady's Cathedral, 3214 N Lake Ave.

Meanwhile, another Oklahoma City resident, Lillie Buckner, plans to wear a new powder blue suit and matching hat to Holy Temple Baptist Church, 1540 NE 50, come Easter Sunday morning.

The stole that will be presented to Smith and the new ensemble worn by Buckner are traditions that evolved from baptism rituals of ancient Christianity.

Monsignor Edward Weisenburger, pastor of Our Lady's Cathedral, said early Christian converts donned white robes after they were baptized.

The white garments symbolized purity and newness of life and became a powerful and tangible way to signify the life-altering spiritual transformation that had taken place.

“The white garments or robes symbolized the newness of life that they had taken on themselves,” Weisenburger said.

The Rev. Joseph Alsay, rector of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, 14700 N May Ave., agreed.

“They were putting on Christ,” he said.

That the item was new held as much significance as its white color, said the Rev. William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.

“This indicated that they had lain aside the old way of life to take on a new way of life,” Tabbernee said.

He said the white robes were presented at baptisms held at other times of the year, not just at the holiday that came to be known as Easter. However, he added, more baptisms traditionally were held at Easter time.

Weisenburger said many Catholic churches still drape white robes over newly baptized individuals. In a nod to the Vatican, Our Lady's Cathedral now utilizes white stoles that are placed around the baptized person's shoulders, said Paul Lewis, deacon.

Smith said she and her husband, Brannon, were taught the stoles symbolize that a person has become “cleansed like Jesus.”

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