ASK FATHER: Can religious priests omit wearing an alb for Mass?


Franciscan priest saying Mass wearing an alb.

From a reader…


Is a priest required to wear an alb when saying Mass? I’ve seen on two separate occasions where Franciscan priests would just wear the chasuble and stole over their habit without putting on an alb.

While I was interred in the re-education by hard labor camp run by Hillary Democrats and Communists (redundant, I know), I excluded putting on an alb for celebration of Mass using the tiny fragments of bread hidden from the guards and wine fermented from raisins in the twist off top of an old water bottle squirreled away in the crack of my cell’s wall.

Other than that, I can’t find any good reason – or permission – to exclude wearing the alb.

As a matter of fact, the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum says:

“123. The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole.’ Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated.”

“126. The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books, even when there is only one minister participating. In order that such abuses be corrected as quickly as possible, Ordinaries should take care that in all churches and oratories subject to their jurisdiction there is present an adequate supply of liturgical vestments made in accordance with the norms.”

Hence, the alb is necessary for Holy Mass.   Religious may not omit using the alb, even if they, like Dominicans, have a white habit.  If they do this because they are too warm with the alb over the habit, they can remove some of their habit, but they may not neglect the alb.

That said, may I suggest, Fathers, that you memorize one or two Mass formularies, such as that for Mary on Saturday or the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit?  When you are interred in the camp, you won’t have a book… or an alb.

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  1. un-ionized says:

    The Dominican outfit is three layers rather than the usual two layers so it is especially hot with an alb, even though the habit is usually made out of thin material, not meant for wear as actual outer clothing and mostly treated by them as symbolic. At my former parish one of the priests refused to wear the alb. But he was the one who didn’t like things that were “fussy.” I laugh.

  2. surritter says:

    (Good-natured critique coming…) It would be pretty difficult for a priest to say Holy Mass while “interred” in a labor camp :)

  3. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    Actually, a Dominican in a hot climate who does not want to wear both alb and habit can simply remove his capuce, scapular, and belt/Rosary.

    Since the tunic is essentially identical to an alb, he could use it as such, bind it with a cinture, and put on the rest of his vestments. Problem solved. If he is really hot, he might use a fiddleback chasuble . . .

    The argument from “custom” for wearing no alb when the habit white is no better for omitting presecribed rubrics than the similar “custom” argument adding those suppressed during the reform (e.g. holding fingers together after the consecration).

  4. un-ionized says:

    Fr. Augustine, that is a good non-fussy solution! I also wondered about the guy who held his fingers together saying a novus ordo Mass. I guess it’s not really okay? Or just preference since it isn’t specified? Oh well, it shouldn’t matter to me anyway.

  5. Orphrey says:

    I was at a Mass a couple months ago when the celebrant, a Franciscan priest, wore only his habit and a stole, in a chapel in the the parish house. It seemed odd, but I was not sure the vestments were required. At my child’s scout camp in the summer, the local parish priest did an outdoor Mass at the camp wearing only hiking clothes and a stole. Something seemed wrong about that, too. When I was baptized during Mass, a few years ago, the priest wore only an alb and stole. Why would these priests choose not to wear the proper vestments? Does this mean the Mass is invalid or illicit? What should I do if this happens again? The priest must know he is required to wear the vestments, right? So he’s making a choice not to wear them. Should I go up afterward and say, “Thank you for the Mass, Father. Why didn’t you wear the correct vestments?” That seems kind of confrontational.

  6. PhilipNeri says:

    I used Fr. Thompson solution at my first assignment as a priest. I’ve gotten very lazy in my dotage though. . .As a seminary formator I should give a better example. Mea culpa!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  7. bombcar says:

    The Latin Church requires unleavened bread as matter – would your hasty Mass be valid, assuming the prison bread was leavened? Does the Church provide? Do you have to say the Divine Liturgy illicitly instead as the Eastern Churches require leavened bread?

  8. un-ionized says:

    bombcar, God doesn’t require the impossible. The Road to Hope: A Gospel From Prison is a great book.

  9. SundaySilence says:

    Oh, that isn’t just any Franciscan priest. Thank you for the wonderful photo of my favorite, Saint Padre Pio.

  10. joekstl says:

    Interesting. Use of full vestments might depend on the circumstances. [No, it really doesn’t.] In the early 70s in my parish we had a Lenten program where we had small prayer groups that met in homes on Wednesdays. After prayer we had a home Mass – with our Bishop’s permission. (We imitated the early house churches in the time of Paul.). [I don’t think you did.] The presider- either our pastor or an associate- just used a stole. [Fail.] After the Eucharist we shared a simple meal. I still keep in contact with three of the members of these prayer groups.

  11. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    There is a common view that permission was given for the Dominican priest to celebrate Mass in the habit without an alb. I have never been able to find a source for this alleged permission, and neither have those who insist it exists. Nevertheless, the belief perdures.

  12. Poor Yorek says:

    “Since the tunic is essentially identical to an alb, he could use it as such, bind it with a cinture, and put on the rest of his vestments. ”

    An alb, by any other name, would smell as sweet.

    So, if I ask an O.P. why he’s wearing an alb whilst going about his day-to-day business, you’d say it is “essentially identical to a tunic?”

    Alternatively, a white terry-cloth bath-robe is “essentially identical to an alb,” so one can, presumably, bind it with a cincture (ah, the bath-robe comes with that), and put on the rest of the mass vestments?

  13. un-ionized says:

    but Poor Yorek, terry cloth would be a deficiency of matter. Or something. You are too funny.

  14. hwriggles4 says:


    I wanted to ask about the Scout Mass. I am an Eagle Scout myself, and growing up in the 70s and 80s I would of welcomed a priest for Catholic Mass. Growing up in the South there would only be a 20 to 30 minute non denominational service on Sundays at Order of the Arrow Camps, Lads and Dads, Camporee, Scout Show, etc., and this was in the day before most dioceses had a decent Sunday evening Mass that could be attended by Catholic Scouts after camp concluded. I am glad your Council Camp or District took the time to find a priest so Catholic Scouts could have Mass, and the Protestant Scouts could go to their service as well. Philmont has a couple priests who rotate during the summer (many are former Scouts themselves), and they say Mass daily in base camp, and sometimes at the backcountry camps.

    Now about the vestments – unless the weather was extremely bad that risked destroying expensive vestments (rare, but possible – this happened to us once on an outdoor men’s retreat), the priest should have worn his vestments. I would think since he was scheduled in advance for Mass, the priest would have put vestments in his car, along with the Mass kit. I could see that if a priest was traveling via plane, his luggage containing the vestments could have gotten misplaced, but I don’t think that was the case here, since this was a local priest.

  15. MrsMacD says:

    [Dear hwrighles4, the solution is at once simple and complicated it involves starting a Catholic scout troup and finding a willing young priest to camp, play and say (preferabley TLM in full vestments + alb) Mass with the scouts. Apparently it’s a recipe for vocations.]

  16. Orphrey says:

    Hello hwriggles4, thanks for your reply. I live in Czech Republic, and my daughter is part of a Catholic girl scout troop. I have read that for outdoor Masses, the priest must take every precaution to make sure the altar is secure and protected, proper sacred vessels are used, and I have read he should wear all the proper vestments. In other words, it can be complicated to ensure an outdoor Mass is celebrated properly. This particular priest drove to the camp from his church in a nearby village, so he certainly could have brought along everything he needed. I got the impression he thought the situation was perfectly natural, which seemed to me like a bad example for the scouts of an improper Mass, grateful as we should be for a Sunday Mass for scouts. In fact, I was upset he would put the unsuspecting scouts through the experience of liturgical abuse. Sadly, as you can tell from the other examples I listed, I get the feeling some priests where I live are rather “relaxed” and “informal” about following the Novus Ordo rubrics.

  17. joekstl says:

    “I don’t think you did.” Perhaps you missed my point. The earliest record we have of a Eucharist assembly is in Paul’s Corinthians account of an early gathering in homes. His is also is the earliest record of what today we call the words of consecration. That is what I was referring to in our Lenten prayer gathering in the 70s. We celebrated Eucharist at a home gathering followed by a meal. So, in relation to the early house churches, “we did.”

    All of your posters here would benefit from Joseph Jungmann’s definitive “The Mass of the Roman Rite.” It traces the history of the Roman Rite from the Last Supper to the time of Pius XII. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to comment on subsequent developments. I mention it because of his history of things like “versus populum”, reservation of the Sacrament, and the various rites and their history in the West.

    I am perhaps biased because Fr. Jungmann taught theology at the University of Innsbruck where I completed my STL degree.

    Peace to all and a Merry Christmas.

  18. @Fr. Pius, OP:

    That’s because no such permission exists. A formal search for this permission was made under our previous Master. No such permission was found. An absuse does not a privledge make. A habitual abuse does not a custom make.

    I’d also note that multiple General Chapters in the history of our Order explecetly forbid removing any part of the habit (cappa excepted of course) for the celebration of Mass. If a friar is too hot saying Mass, he should simply offer up the discomfort for the salvation of souls.

    The argument that the tunic and the alb are essentially the same is, I’d suggest, a falty claim. A tunic (of any color) is street clothes and is ideally made of wool or some sturdy material suitable for daily wear. The alb (and amice, I’d add) is properly made of linen and is explicity designed to completely cover either the street clothes or choir dress of the Sacred Ministers. Tunics and albs are simply not the same sort of grament.

  19. Fr Peter, OPWest says:

    I have to concur with Fr. Gabriel. Nowhere do the rubrics provide for the physical comfort and ease of the priest. If the priest is a little hot, so what? He sweats, offers mass, and then removes the vestments. A little sweat is not going to kill someone. Our Lord suffered much more.

  20. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    Or, if the priest’s health is in danger because of the wearing of the alb, then he ought to request a dispensation from legitimate authority. The Church provides a fairly broad ability to seek dispensations from merely ecclesiastical laws. I see no problem with dispensing from these in matters of real necessity. The problem is priests who believe they are authorities unto themselves and grant to themselves general dispensations from otherwise generally applicable norms.

  21. jaykay says:

    joekstl: “All of your posters here would benefit from Joseph Jungmann’s definitive “The Mass of the Roman Rite.”

    I think you might benefit from assuming that a great deal of us actually have read it, before you make definitive statements like “All of your posters would…”.

  22. un-ionized says:

    jaykay, Yes, it would be much more polite to say, “I read XYZ book a while ago and it gave me real food for thought. I highly recommend it.” And then Fr. Z could add the link (I don’t know how) and then everything is hunky dory (that’s an old fashioned American way of saying OK).

  23. joekstl says:

    Didn’t mean to imply anything negative.

  24. un-ionized says:

    joekstl, we know you didn’t. the internet doesn’t provide for facial expression and body language cues.

  25. un-ionized says:

    On the other hand, you don’t want to have to look at me (I break cameras).

  26. jaykay says:

    joekstl: God bless, and blessings to you and yours for Christmas. J.

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