Quaeritur: If a priest approaches the sanctuary in the nude in preparation for Holy Mass, need he put on an amice? Since there would be no “ordinary clothing” to be covered, it would seem that he need not do so. Am I wrong? Inquiring minds want to know.
Hmmm… this is a serious question!
Let’s get some bare facts.
An amice, from Latin amictus, “a garment put on over other clothing”, in turn from the verb amicio “to throw round, to wrap about, to cloth”, is a rectangular linen cloth which has strings at two corners on one long side. It is placed, first on the head, and then over the shoulders and around the neck. The strings are then crossed over the chest, passed around the back and around to the front where they are tied, so as to keep the amice in place.
The naked truth is that an amice, by etymological definition, is something you put on over other clothing. If the priest has no other clothing, you don’t put it on, right? C’mon! Think it through!
If that weren’t enough in itself, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, in part,
336. “… Before the alb is put on, should this not completely cover the ordinary clothing at the neck, an amice should be used.”
If I am reading this correctly, Father is not be obliged to put on the amice before putting on any alb… in this scenario.
By the way, GIRM 336 goes on to say “…the alb may not be exchanged for a surplice…”, which is a very good thing … in this scenario.
On a related issue, however, when you see a priest’s “Roman” collar sticking up out of his vestments, that is a liturgical abuse. His collar must be covered because his collar is “street clothes” as opposed to sacred vestments.
It can happen that the alb or amice will slip away to reveal his street clothes. That is not an abuse. That is an accident. What is an abuse is purposely vesting in such a way that the collar is revealed.
I wonder… when priests do this are they trying to distinguish themselves from all the laypeople in the sanctuary to whom they have abdicated their own priestly role? Hmmm… But I digress.
In the older, venerable, traditional form of Holy Mass, in the Extraordinary Form, the amice is always used, regardless of the shape of the alb. The priest first washes his hands, saying a particular prayer, and when the priest puts on the amice, he lets it rest on the top of his head briefly and he says the prayer:
Impóne, Dómine, cápiti meo gáleam salútis, ad expugnándos diabólicos incúrsus … Upon my head, O Lord, place the helmet of salvation, so that I may defeat the assaults of the devil. (cf Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:17, 6:11)
I think seminarians and priests should memorize and use the vesting prayers, as of old, even before Mass in the Ordinary Form.