QUAERITUR: Must priests always use an amice?

From a reader:

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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Kaneohe says:

    Aloha Fr. Z.,
    Wonderful to see you are well and clothed in good humor. It was most revealing to see through this posting. There is nothing like a search for the ultimately bare truth that leaves nothing concealed and exposes all to the searching mind.

    The press often exhibits little concealed attempts to denude the Church in the public square. Where would we be without any true “amicus”. You’ve obviously got it covered.

    Naturally yours, Kaneohe

  2. disco says:

    Theological/moral/canonical issues aside – the amice is super cool.

  3. Presenting oneself to vest in the nude – surely even the liberals would object? The barefaced cheek of it.

    Some years ago I made the effort to learn the old prayers and I find they help me recollect myself before Mass. Since I wear the Capuchin habit with I have adopted the Franciscan practice of covering the hood and lowering it into place after I have put on the alb and cincture – the hood is covered and in place (not folded flat under the alb which I find uncomfortable). Some of our friar-priests, citing ‘penal privilege’, wear the hood outside the alb (I admit I did it too for a time) and some even concelebrate with the stole only over the habit (I’m not talking about the very old!). The more I learn about the Liturgy the less I can stomach that.

  4. acardnal says:

    Unfortunately, I cannot recall any priest ever using an amice except in EF/TLM Masses.

    One of my pet peeves is a priest wearing his stole over and outside of his chasuble. A no-no according to the GIRM.

  5. iPadre says:

    A few years ago, I did a post on the vesting prayers. In that post, I have both the vesting prayers (in Latin) and prayers of preparation with statement of intention suitable for framing. I made them for my sacristy. You can find that here: http://www.ipadre.net/2009/12/liturgical-vestments-and-the-vesting-prayers/

  6. APX says:

    I’ve only seen one priest use an amice (outside of the EF), and that was by a brand new priest. Though, given the amount of priest who don’t wear clerical garb anymore.

  7. APX says:

    Continuing from my last post…
    I find it refreshing to see a priest’s collar during Mass.

  8. AnnAsher says:

    Do the new vestments cover the collar by design? I recall being surprised at how concealing the vestments at TLM are initially. Praise God!
    I wonder is there a rule on foot nudity?

  9. lucy says:

    Funny story (or not)….My husband is the MC for our traditional Mass (because no other young man has come forward for the role and we were in a bind). He was in the sacristy after Mass when the next priest for the teen whacky Mass came in. My husband was still in his cassock and surplice. Father, who was not at all dressed like a priest said to him, “Am I supposed to be here?” My husband responded, “Yes, Fr., I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be here.” Fr said, “Aren’t you a priest?” My husband says, “No, I’m an altar boy.” Fr. says, “Isn’t that funny? You aren’t a priest and look like one. I’m a priest and don’t look like one.”

  10. Marcin says:

    It’s very disturbing… this scenario.

    (Horribile intellectu.)

  11. Father S. says:

    I recall some years ago when I was visiting a friend who was in residence at a major seminary in the US. I was preparing to offer the Holy Mass there one morning when another priest came into the sacristy and asked if he could concelebrate. As I was vesting, I proceeded to impose the maniple after having washed my hands. I was borrowing an amice with very short ties, so I could only tie it in the back. He commented that when he was a young priest, the amice was to be tied in the front. He was at that time pulling his alb over his blue jeans and flannel shirt. I said to him that, indeed, that is how it is typically done. I then asked him where his amice was, and he said that they are no longer required. When I responded that they are requisite in the case of showing forth one’s street clothes, he was absolutely incredulous. The conversation was very kind, but he thought that if this were still the law, he would have been taught it.

    I give this longish story simply to make the point that the amice seems, in my experience, to have largely fallen away out of ignorance of the law. While in the seminary, in my course on the Sacrament of Penance, in order to pass, we had–among other things–to recite the Formula Absolutionis. I think that the same requirement ought to be in place for the vesting prayers.

    On a final note, anyone who has ever read Msgr. R. H. Benson’s “The Lord of the World”–and not just its knockoff, “Father Elijah”–has run into the phrase “ab amictu ad amictum,” or, “from amice to amice.” It is a clever way of describing the Holy Mass.

  12. acardnal says:

    @Lucy: You have highlighted a serious problem that has been a major issue over the last 40 years: clergy who want to leave the sanctuary and dress and behave like laity, and laity wanting to behave and dress like clergy! duuuuhhh!

  13. beez says:


    Almost immediately after I was ordained, I created the same thing. I printed it on card stock, laminated it, and I keep it in my drawer in the sacristy. I still use it, but I have only been a priest for 32 days.

    APX: most of the priests with whom I have served as a seminarian, deacon or priest in my diocese use the amice. I have used it regularly, even as a deacon.

  14. acardnal says:

    iPadre, thanks for being a faithful priest and one who celebrates the EF/TLM. God bless.

  15. acardnal says:

    iPadre: I like the pdf of the vesting prayers in Latin. Do you have the same pdf design in English?
    I would like to print them in Latin and English using your design and frame them and give them to my pastor for use in the sacristy.

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