Cincture (Lat. Cingulum), or, as it is more commonly called in England, girdle, an article of liturgical attire which has certainly been recognized as such since the ninth century. Then as now it was used to confine the loose, flowing alb, and prevent it from impeding the movements of the wearer. But its liturgical character appears from the prayers which even from early times were recited in putting it on and from the symbolism of spiritual watchfulness which then specially attached to it, according to the text, “Sint lumbi vestri praecincti”. The cingulum is enumerated among the Mass vestments in the Stowe Missal, and this very possibly may represent the practice of the Celtic Church in the seventh century. It seems probable, however, that in the Celtic Church, as in the Greek Church of the present day, the girdle was worn only by bishops and priests; the deacon’s tunic was left ungirded. Some few surviving examples of early girdles (tenth- and eleventh-century) show that in the beginning the cincture was not always a simple cord, as it is now. On the contrary, we find narrow bands of silk and precious stuff, often richly embroidered, and these lasted until late in the Middle Ages. Some such bands and sashes were again introduced for the same purpose in the last century, but the Congregation of Sacred Rites has disapproved of the practice, though it permitted those which existed to be used until worn out (November 24, 1899). The material of the girdle is preferably flax or hemp, but wool and silk—the latter especially for occasions of solemnity—are not prohibited. This material is woven into a cord, and the ends are usually decorated with tassels. By way of ornament strands of gold and silver thread are sometimes introduced, particularly in the tassels at the extremities. The prayer now recited by the priest in putting on the girdle, “Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity”, etc., strongly suggests that this vestment should be regarded as typical of priestly chastity. Like the other Mass vestments, the girdle requires to be blessed before use.
Some kind of cincture, we may further note, is included in almost every form of religious or ecclesiastical costume. In certain religious orders it receives a special blessing, and in such familiar instances as the Cord of St. Francis or the Girdle of St. Augustine it is sanctioned and indulgenced by the Church as indicating a profession of allegiance to a particular institute. Again, the broad sash, which forms part of the civil attire of bishops, priests, and other ecclesiastics, has been imitated, apparently for aesthetic reasons, in the costume of choir boys and servers at the altar. It should be said that this last development, while not expressly prohibited so long as certain rules are observed regarding color and material, is not in any way prescribed or recommended by ecclesiastical authority.