ASK FATHER: Is a chasuble really necessary for Mass?

From a reader…


I’ve been to Mass (Novus Ordo) in my college chapel where the priest did not wear the chasuble, but just an alb and a stole. Is that permissible? Are there guidelines for the priest on how to properly vest for Mass and which vestments he can and cannot use? I’ve seen cases were the priest does not even wear the cincture around his waste. And of course, the priest not wearing the amice (and very rarely, the maniple in the N.O.).

The rubrics are clear. A chasuble is required for the celebration of Mass. A cincture can be omitted if the alb is constructed in such a way that it is not needed (such as an alb with a sewn-in belt – I hate those), and the amice can be omitted if the alb clearly covers the priest’s street clothes entirely (I hate those).  That means that the shirt collar should NOT be visible.

If (when), however, Father is offering Mass in a prison camp, as priests may be doing in the near future, he must make do with what he has.

If the parish he is at is so poor it cannot afford a chasuble, perhaps a gift from a wealthier parish can be arranged.

Meanwhile, Father should be urged not to go out half naked to say Mass.  It’s embarrassing for everyone.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. John UK says:

    If the parish he is at is so poor it cannot afford a chasuble, perhaps a gift from a wealthier parish can be arranged
    And, if I remember rightly, a white chasuble (or one of any liturgical colour except black) may, pfrom necessity, be used irrespective of the appointed colour.

  2. PostCatholic says:

    Who knew a cincture was headgear? You learn something every day.

  3. Southern Baron says:

    A related question: what about in cases of concelebration? I know what you think about concelebration in general, Fr Z, but if one is going to do it, do all concelebrants wear chasubles or only the “principal” celebrant? I know I’ve seen both.

    On the other hand, my parish has issues but it’s very good about having all the available clergy (usually a priest and two permanent deacons) emerge from the sacristy to help for Communion; presumably since they aren’t celebrants/deacons for Mass but rather Ordinary Ministers, then the alb and stole is prescribed?

  4. Southern Baron asks: …in cases of concelebration? … do all concelebrants wear chasubles or only the “principal” celebrant?

    The answer is found in the GIRM. For a just cause, they may omit wearing the chasuble, but ordinarily, they are to wear the chasuble if sufficient chasubles are available:

    209. The concelebrants put on in the vesting room, or other suitable place, the sacred vestments they customarily wear when celebrating Mass individually. However, should a just cause arise (e.g., a more considerable number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments), concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may omit the chasuble and simply wear the stole over the alb.

    2nd question:presumably since they aren’t celebrants/deacons for Mass but rather Ordinary Ministers, then the alb and stole is prescribed?

    I don’t have time to dig up a citation for this one, but the custom is that they should wear either alb and stole or choir dress (i.e. cassock and surpice) with stole. If they are deacons, they wear the diaconal stole. They should not wear the chasuble.

  5. VexillaRegis says:

    PostCatholic, headgear? I don’t quite get it, but English isn’t my mother tongue :-). However, I really hope no priest uses his cincture to tie up his garbage bags, haha!

  6. Southern Baron says:

    Thanks, Samuel. That’s about what I thought, but I have a feeling that many concelebrants may skip the chasuble “just ’cause” rather than for “a just cause.”

  7. Elizabeth D says:

    Some seem to have a philosophy that it makes sense for the main celebrant to wear a chasuble while concelebrants are in alb and stole. There may be several “alter Christus” but there is only one Christ. In other cases there are more concelebrants than there are available chasubles.

    At a college chapel, Mass (and the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction etc) should be celebrated in a proper way, not with abuses and quirks, because the formation and religious education of the students needs to be kept in mind. Locally the priests at the university chapel do a great job with that and it has massive benefit for the students’ growth in the Faith and a lot of vocations come from there.

  8. ASPM Sem says:

    There was once at my parish we had a visiting priest for daily Mass who was so short that he couldn’t wear any of ours without a high risk of him tripping. He didn’t bring his own as he did with his alb, so he went without that day.

  9. jasoncpetty says:

    I’ve seen cases were the priest does not even wear the cincture around his

    Well if Father’s not even committed to basic hygiene, we can’t very well expect proper rubrical observance, can we?

  10. jeffc says:

    My current pastor, and his predecessor were both really good about wearing the alb, cincture, and chasuble….but neither were big on the stole! Ugh.

  11. Papabile says:

    I have a picture of a Priest saying Mass in Bergen Belsen. His Chasuble, alb and maniple are quite clearly made out of bedsheets.

    I have always found it a poor excuse to ever omit a chasuble as a principle celebrant. If it can be done in Bergen Belsen, it can be done almost anywhere.

  12. CPT TOM says:

    Ditto. This picture is from Iwo Jima. Father seemed to find no trouble wearing his chausable in the middle of all the carnage: Pet peeve warning. Note to whiny Priests, deacons and altar servers: Suck it up…Jesus died on the Cross for our (yours included) sins, you can bear an hour or so in your vestments. Same deal for congregates…dress with respect…not for the beach.

  13. Siculum says:

    What about Mass offered privately in the priest’s own home?

  14. Joan M says:

    Siculum said “What about Mass offered privately in the priest’s own home?”

    Well, my brother says Mass every day in his private oratory at home fully vested. There are many priests where I live who only wear a chasuble on Sundays. To me, it is a red flag, as most of them also ad lib some of the prayers too.

  15. Simon_GNR says:

    A few years ago I wrote to the local bishop about out then parish priest’s practice of not wearing a cincture – I thought it was maybe an abuse not to wear all the appropriate vestments. The bishop wrote back stating “I haven’t worn a cincture for years…” He informed me that under the rubrics relating to the newer form of Mass there were only three essential priestly vestments, the alb, stole and chasuble: cinctures were optional. So, wearing a chasuble *is* compulsory and I haven’t seen a priest celebrate Mass without wearing one for many years. The only time I can remember it was 30 years ago at university, when the chaplain was in the habit of committing various liturgical abuses, as well as holding views contrary to Catholic doctrine about the Resurrection. As far as I know he is still an active priest in that diocese (Hexham & Newcastle, England). Why are these rogues allowed to continue in office?

  16. JARay says:

    Unfortunately, my Parish Priest regularly says Mass without a chasuble. I have chided him for so doing but he just takes no notice. Likewise he often changes words although I do understand why this happens since English is not his first language.

  17. As a priest, I have a poor sense of how common this is, since few priests I know are going to tell me they do this, and I will rarely witness it. My utterly unempirical, gut-sense is that this sort of thing is a lot less common than it used to be.

    I will admit there have been times when I’ve gotten very overheated during Mass, and I thought about removing the chasuble so I didn’t pass out. I don’t recall that I ever followed through. But sometimes people don’t realize that this really can happen. In one parish, we had a small chapel that would get quite full for daily Mass, and in the summer, if someone tinkered with the a/c (it was a window unit), it wouldn’t be able to handle the rapid influx of 20-30 people, so it would get very warm and close, very fast. (I had the maintenance man remove the knob so folks couldn’t tinker with the a/c.) And in many parishes, I’ve found that the combination of: (a) being the one with the most clothes on; (b) being in motion; (c) being under the brightest lights (i.e., on the sanctuary); and (d) being at the highest point (remember, hot air rises, cool air falls), meant that no matter how cool the church, I would get quite hot.

    But, apart from that exception, I just shake my head at priests who are so casual/sloppy. It reminds me of the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s, with the “home Masses” and “dorm Masses” and all that extreme silliness, where Mass would be on a coffee table, and Father With-it might not even wear an alb — just a groovy stole over his jeans. And everyone, including Father, would be crouched around the coffee table, or seated on the couch or the floor. And, no, I am absolutely not making this up.

    And let’s not forget the foolishness of wearing the stole outside the chasuble.

    And if you think I’m being too hard on the priests who did/do these things, I’d like to know why you think I’m being too hard on them. I am so dismissive, precisely because — with the exception of extreme discomfort (which is rare), I see no reason. Am I missing something?

  18. ChesterFrank says:

    I recall from decades ago, our daily school masses were celebrated with the priest wearing cassock, surplice, a stole (not one of those big 1970’s ones). Was that also wrong?

  19. Bob B. says:

    Reminds me of a Jesuit high school where the priest only wore a stole at a faculty and staff Mass because it was too hot (his words). It probably made it easy for him to give Holy Communion to everyone present – half of whom weren’t Catholic (and he knew it).

  20. Gail F says:

    I went to an Easter Vigil this year at which the priest only wore an alb over his street clothes. That’s not correct, is it?

    I can see not wearing the chasuble if the priest is going to pass out! I would think, though, that if this were a regular happening, the best thing to do would be to wear lighter street clothes, and maybe have some hot-weather chasubles made…

  21. jfk03 says:

    A few years back I attended Mass at a certain well known Jesuit church in Spokane. The priest, bless his soul, wore a chasuble with no alb underneath. The basic problem is that the Roman Catholic franchise has no quality control, unlike macDonalds.

  22. Joe in Canada says:

    Of course a priest should follow the Church’s regulations in these matters. It’s a matter of both his integrity in accepting this Order, and the right of the faithful to receive without doubt what Christ wants to give them.

    That having been said, as a priest, I find some of these comments depressing. Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe that someone would honestly ask if there were guidelines, and then say “And of course, the priest not wearing the amice (and very rarely, the maniple in the N.O.).” I came to the age of reason in the vernacular, and I’ve never seen a maniple. I wear an amice if one is available in the sacristy, but I’ve certainly never scrutinized other priests to see if they are wearing one, and I suspect most priests in my generation have never heard of one. It’s hard to convey and perceive tone adequately on-line: this seems to me to be looking for things to complain about.

    I encourage the original poster, and the who can read the mind of the priest at the Jesuit high school, to get to know their priests, to the point where they can have conversations with them about these matters. The fact that the college chapel and the Jesuit high school are not named does not diminish the responsibility of us to deal with these matters privately first, nor does it diminish our responsibility to avoid the sin of Ham.

  23. Charles E Flynn says:

    All fast food franchises have multi-hundred page manuals, which, if adhered to, guarantee that the food will not result in food poisoning. Other aspects of such foodstuffs are more subject to multiple interpretations.

    The Roman Catholic Church has the GIRM, which some do not read, and others ignore. My perspective comes from an in-depth study of industrial design. The Church is in a bit of trouble when it frequently cannot function at the level of a mid-western furniture maker founded by Dutch-reform Calvinsits.

  24. iPadre says:

    I don’t think this is as common as it was about 25 years ago. Time has a way of working things out. I have always wondered why these priests refuse to where the chasuble, but they have the best “secular” clothes.

  25. PostCatholic says:

    VexillaRegis, it was mentioned that the college chaplain’s cincture was worn around the waste, so naturally I assumed it was some sort of belt-like headband.

  26. Papabile says:

    My take on it is, if Priests were so careful not to moor something like the feasible in ages past (for instance, wearing it on the boats which brought soldiers to the beaches on 6 June) why can’t they wear the proper vestments in a parish?

  27. pelerin says:

    Fr Martin Fox assures us that he is not making up the ‘coffee table’ Masses of the 70s. Presumably those too young to remember them are sceptical when the subject is brought up. I attended many of these and although at the time I found it quite moving to be in somebody’s living room for Mass, I would not want to do it now particularly as I would never be able to get up unaided from the bean bags which were all the rage then in English living rooms!

    There was in fact one very good result from the ones I attended as our Priest cleverly matched up several of us who were all young married couples with very young children or children on the way. I can even say that two of my grandchildren are the result of friendships made by their grandparents following the coffee table Masses!

  28. Gaz says:

    My former PP was not a specialist in the Sacred Liturgy; he had other strengths. His best line on this subject was, “He comes, but He’s not happy”.

  29. benedetta says:

    Some priests were “taught” (i.e., threatened/indoctrinated) that people want to see this. Of course that is a falsehood. It does connote the notion that he does not care for his flock enough to be who he is which is an alter Christus of course, and it tends to undermine his pastoral role in that it conveys a sense of instability, as if it were to happen that if the going got tough or if someone strayed that he would not do what is necessary with courage to protect from the wolf. The chasuble is what helps us as the flock to know to whom we may go, imperfect human beings nonetheless. Apparently some were taught an alternative narrative which just plays into the hand of the evil one, namely that somehow without the sign of the alter Christus that the pastor appears more trustworthy and approachable and not less. It does of course make him look objectively weaker, of course.

    Oddly I do know a person who claims to love the EF liturgy and/or spirituality who attends, every morning, a daily Mass wherein his priest comes out sans chasuble. So, perhaps in the end it does not matter all that much? Not sure, just guessing that to some people they do not care at the end of the day.

    I have of course spoken here in an unpopular way on behalf of those who would accept the mantle or yoke and be outwardly identified…I tend to think that sacramentals mean something and the assent to wearing them also means something. So, when the snakes come out to sneer at the cappa magna, I hear defend it vociferously. Not only do I like it and prefer it, I see it part and parcel of our catholicity and our Christian spirituality, entirely. Some see in it merely short term political ends and objectives and would use it for those ends. Fair enough, it has ever been thus. But we all sell ourselves short of Him and the ultimate reality by settling for a scorpion when He will give us the water that will never run dry…the food of eternal life. Be aware, the devil is on the move. And it is not about political goals or religious liberty, entirely. I have said it before and will say it again as necessary: if we let ourselves be divided over things which substitute for caritas of Christ in our Catholic Faith then the evil one wins. To chase after certain things “at all cost”, even good things, things we need, is to play right into his hand. Kyrie eleison.

  30. Imrahil says:

    Dear benedetta,

    Oddly I do know a person who claims to love the EF liturgy and/or spirituality who attends, every morning, a daily Mass wherein his priest comes out sans chasuble.

    It cannot be the job of the laity to see to it that the priests celebrate as they should do – whether by reporting-to-authorities or by voting-with-the-feet.

    It may be a suggestion to this person to look for another Mass, but not more. And yeah, for us little Church-goers what matters chiefly is that the Mass is validly done.

    (The person is not me, but could well be. For the record, I somewhat regularly attend a Mass by a priest who wears a cassock all day – which is really exceptional around here – but for Mass wears nothing but said cassock, stole and chasuble. So he does wear a chasuble, but nothing in between – no alb, no amict, no cincture. There are all sorts of things in God’s big world.)

    Rev’d dear Joe in Canada,

    I suspect most priests in my generation have never heard of one [an amice]
    in Canada maybe. In Germany the amice and the cincture are – despite exceptions such as described by me above – hardly less usual in OF than in EF circles.

  31. Imrahil says:

    Dear Gail F,

    no it’s not, of course.

    Though if he had worn at least a stole, and put on a white chasuble at the Gloria or for the Epistle or at the Offertory, that at least would make some liturgical sense. The rubrics I do not know. (I think he can leave the chasuble away until some point but only if wearing a pluvial instead – that was at any rate what was done in pre-liturgy-reform times.)

  32. The Masked Chicken says:

    “The fact that the college chapel and the Jesuit high school are not named does not diminish the responsibility of us to deal with these matters privately first, nor does it diminish our responsibility to avoid the sin of Ham.”

    Actually, if one reads Matthew 18: 15 – 17, carefully:

    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

    But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

    If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

    one would notice that the sin mentioned is a private sin between two individuals. It only becomes public out of necessity to obtain justice once private appeals have been exhausted. This passage does not refer, however, to public sin – sins which affect more than one person or a group, all at once (or serially, if that possibility exists, as in the sin of rape). Public sins are already in the public domain and private appeal, while possibly an option of respect, is not mandated – it is not going to make the sin less public. Indeed, it may be a matter of urgency to make the rebuke public, as when someone, through negligence, is about to blow up a lab (you try teaching science labs where dangerous devices or compounds are used).

    Vesting for Mass is a public matter (since Mass is the public worship of the Church), so, certeris paribus, the sin in dress, if any, is, likewise, public. While some people (perhaps, many, in this day and age) might not recognize the sin (if any), the sin is, nevertheless, public because the act is public. The general rule is, pari passu – equal treatment for equal sins. If the sin is private, rebuke in private; if the sin is public, rebuke in public (except, if charity permits, in private). This is not showing a lack of charity. Indeed, Christ rebuked the public sins of the Pharisees in public and the public sins of the apostles (arguing who was the greatest), likewise, in public.

    If the issue is of error, inadvertence, or ignorance, on the other hand, one, rightly, discusses the matter privately, first, to ascertain that this is the fact, since, in these cases, no sin has occurred. In the case of a priest not vesting properly for Mass, certeris paribus, there is the assumption that the priest knows the proper vesting requirements (it is supposed to be part of his training). If the priest repeatedly dresses incorrectly, one has the right, without undue haste, to be scandalized. One may, perhaps, investigate to see if there is error or ignorance or some excusing reason (chasible is being cleaned), but, in my opinion, one does not sin by making the matter known to a public authority for investigation. If I show up, repeatedly, wearing a Batman outfit to teach, my students have the right to bring the matter to my supervisor. If I keep forgetting to bring chalk, that is, probably, inadvertence and best discussed, privately.

    Again, this does not apply to private matters between individuals, only to public matters in public.

    As for the sin of Ham, the sin was in making a private sin public knowledge. That does not apply when the sin is already public and, thus, known. There is no detraction in this case.

    At least this is my interpretation of the Scriptural texts and their (non)application to the Mass vesting question.

    The Chicken

  33. benedetta says:

    I greatly admire our shepherds who in humility lay down their lives for the sheep, and accept not only the as the secular world would accuse, “trappings” of ordination to lead a flock out to pasture but the indelible mark itself, and who with courage let themselves be identified for all to see as pastor. The faith is trustworthy. To remonstrate behind closed doors when innocent lives are at stake is to portray to the world and to the vulnerable and on the margins that it is not. Let us not be dual hearted nor speak with forked tongues. Let our yes mean yes…If we are not man enough, let us not shy from the vulnerability of the One who hung thusly but relied only on the power of His Heavenly Father and in His good time and Providence.

  34. oldconvert says:

    I have perhaps been fortunate in never having experienced this neglect of proper vestments. Is it perhaps a hangover from the days when we were all supposed to be aping “how they did things in the early Church” (without knowing in the least how practical things were conducted in the very early years)?

    However I do find it uncomfortable to be confronted (not in my own parish, thanks be to God) with altar servers dressed in jeans, trainers or flip-flops and T-shirts, or extraordinary ministers wearing boots, leggings and anoraks. They look as if they have just that minute wandered in off the street and/or are at completely the wrong location. One could almost sympathize with some priests thinking “why should I bother to vest properly if these folks treat the Mass like a visit to the local cinema?”

  35. Suburbanbanshee says:

    When priests are routinely getting too hot at the altar, it really really would be a good idea to ask for assistance from the sewing crafters in the parish. It is possible to obtain lighter, more breathable materials for making chasubles, albs, etc., and there are patterns for vestments.

    The downside of lighter materials is that they sometimes won’t be as durable, and that you may need to iron them or be more careful about hanging them, to keep them looking good. But again, folks who love to sew also may know good tricks.

    Linen is known for being particularly cooling, but of course it is a little pricey and often requires ironing. Still, it might be worth the potential trouble as an alb, which wouldn’t show crumpling as much. I’ve worn linen while camping in the summer, and it makes a huuuuge comfort difference.

    I don’t know if seersucker vestments are a thing, but I have seen seersucker cloth that is white on white instead of having the usual striping. :)

  36. Imrahil says:

    Altar servers?

    A priest has the authority to effectively see to it that his servers are properly dressed.

    On the other hand, if people (say, not altar servers) come in on a weekday and wear whatever clothes they normally wear at such a time (certainly not even as little dressing up as for the cinema), I’d be rather slow with the rebuke, you know.

  37. ChesterFrank says:

    Not to cause trouble amongst your readers, as I also am not a fan of the alb and a nice stole for the celebration of mass, but I do have a question. I have read that for daily mass, in a place where the priest has other duties throughout the day (such as a school); the priest is permitted to celebrate mass in a cassock/surplice/stole or the modern alb/stole. I also read the chasuble was a requirement for the Sunday liturgy. Is there any truth in that?

  38. Bob B. says:

    Joe in Canada: The Jesuit priest asked his audience “not to tell” because it was too hot and, as the school’s president, he knew who was Catholic and who was not.
    There were other occasions not mentioned: At an in-service, there was great animosity and condemnation of the subject matter (contraception) and of the presenters shown and verbalized by the Dean of Students, who is not Catholic (and is now the school’s vice principal)-the priest was there and I talked with him about the scandal being caused and nothing was done. At yet another in-service, another Jesuit apologized for the required Gospel reading of the day to everyone in attendance after he heard and saw the reaction of the teachers and staff of the school. I once asked this priest if “Jesus was in the Tabernacle” because there was no candle lit anywhere .
    This school also had a 100% NARAL-rated politician on its advisory board, too. The school’s vice-principal would not let recruiters from the armed services on campus because “it was well-known that they prey on the poor” to obtain people for their quotas.
    Oh yes, I talked about these things (and the abysmal lack of Catholicity) and more with this school’s staff and was asked to leave.

  39. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Samuel J. Howard says:

    . . . I don’t have time to dig up a citation for this one, but the custom is that they should wear either alb and stole or choir dress (i.e. cassock and surpice) with stole. If they are deacons, they wear the diaconal stole. They should not wear the chasuble.

    I’ll just add here that I believe the vestment proper to a deacon which corresponds to the chasuble is the dalmatic. Out of the 7 deacons I am good friends with, I’ve only seen one of them wear the dalmatic regularly when assisting at Mass.

    Outside of that, I’ve always seen the dalmatic worn at ordinations to the diaconate – by the deacon who is being ordained and by the deacon who is assisting.

    From Modern Catholic Dictionary; Fr. John Hardon, S.J.
    DALMATIC. An outer liturgical garment worn by a deacon at Mass and in solemn processions. It has wide short sleeves, reaches to the knees, and is open at the sides. It is of the same material and color as the vestments of the celebrant. It was introduced from Dalmatia (hence its name) to Rome as a secular garment in the reign of Diocletian.

    . . . Couple of dalmatic pics HERE

  40. Gail F says:

    An interesting and vivid account of priests being trained to do “creative” Masses by “The Rev. Know-it-All” can be found here:

  41. Grumpy Beggar says:

    @ Southern Baron : I found this in an EWTN answer/article Vesture for Non-Celebrating Priests , written by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university :

    “Finally, non-concelebrating priests or extra deacons who assist in distributing Communion may wear either alb and stole, or cassock, surplice and stole.”

  42. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Grumpy Beggar, the most common colour I’ve seen for a dalmatic is white which rather restricts their use all year round; it’s likely that many (most?) parishes with deacons will not have a full set in all the liturgical colours. So a new market for the ecclesiastical garb suppliers? Although it may be that some of these very same suppliers are part of the problem raised in this thread by producing vestments that do not meet the requirements of the rubrics…

  43. Imrahil says:

    Dear Grumpy Beggar,

    I have to say that I live on an island of the blessed, again (though Mass this morning… but I won’t abuse the combox now). Our deacons regularly wear dalmatics. In any liturgical color, of course.

    That said, the dalmatic [tunicella] is not “the deacon’s [subdeacon’s] chasuble”. It is, if anything, the deacon’s [etc.] pluvial, an ornament of festivity; which is why it’s not that much of a problem if it is left away (the stole, the deacon’s proper garment, is another story). In fact, in the old times, there used to be restrictions on wearing the dalmatic in penitential times. Deacons would then wear a variant of the actual chasuble as a lesser replacement for the dalmatic, which eventually turned into a sort of stole in looks, which then again is the reason for the shape of the actual deaconal stole.

    Which is also why it is regularly more overtly precious than the chasuble itself (though the chasuble often contains more of artwork). By an interesting feature of the Roman Rite, a priest will actually dress down for Mass. We see that quite clearly when on the Sunday in the Extraordinary Form, he comes into the Church fully vested with cope and all even for simple priests, or possibly cappa magna and so forth, and then puts the cope, biretta, cappa magna, tiara and all these nice things down for a chasuble (which just doesn’t display that much of festivity as does the cope).

  44. Bob B. says:

    Here’s one from Vietnam and a Medal of Honor:

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