HE AMICE is a vestment that garners little attention while holding magnificent significance. An amice is simply a rectangular piece of white cloth with long strings attached at two corners. It is worn about the shoulders and used to cover the priest’s clerical garb so that it cannot be seen after he dons the alb. The strings are tied around the waist to secure the placement of the vestment.
Before the priest wraps the amice around his shoulders and over his collar, he first touches the linen to the top of his head, while reciting this prayer:
Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus.
Place, O Lord, upon my head the helmet of salvation, that I may repel the assaults of the enemy.
The text of this prayer elucidates the beauty that motivates the wearing of the garment. It draws upon a text of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 6:17), which speaks about the “helmet of salvation.” This passage comes in the context of a larger description of the armor of God, which is to be put on by every faithful Christian. That this prayer asks God to place the helmet, Himself, is especially beautiful.
The helmet, of course, is a protective garment, meant to shield its wearer from outside forces. At Mass, the most prevalent outside forces are likely not spears or bullets, but profane distractions. Too often, we live under the false assumption that clergymen are immune from such distractions. What types of thoughts could possibly distract a priest celebrant during the Holy Sacrifice? Many things:
A fainting altar boy Frustration with the cantor/organist/deacon/lector Last-minute mental rehearsal of the homily Parish business brought to mind by seeing a certain parishioner in the pews Ugh . . . the music is soooo slow! Did I remember to lock the rectory door? Wondering what’s for lunch/dinner
These mundane thoughts, among many others, afflict priests as much as they do the lay faithful. We would all benefit from offering a prayer before Mass that asks for the grace to overcome the devil’s attempts to distract us.
So many priests do not bother to wear the amice, either because they deem it frivolous or because they wear a style of alb that fully covers their clerical garb. Priests who do wear the amice, in fact, are often written off as “conservative” or “traditional.”
I wear the amice, and I do so not out of nostalgia nor to appear somehow pious or traditional or conservative. I wear the amice because of the rich symbolism it holds. Until my preparation for diaconate ordination, when I memorized the brilliant vesting prayer that accompanies the amice, I was unaware of this symbolism. Now that I am aware, why would I want to offer Mass without the benefit of the helmet of salvation?
Part 1 • Introduction
Part 2 • The Hand Washing
Part 3 • The Amice
Part 4 • The Alb
Part 5 • The Cincture
Part 6 • The Maniple
Part 7 • The Stole
Part 8 • The Chasuble