There’s really no exciting way to lead into albs and amices, so let’s just dive right in.
GREAT, ROBUST, AMERICAN VESTMENTS EXTRAVAGANZA
The alb is the flowing white tunic worn in a variety of liturgical celebrations. Its name comes from the Latin word for white, alba. That’s where we get the word albino, as in “albino monk assassin.”
The alb is the vestment required for all “instituted and ordained ministers.” Really, the alb is the garment proper for any baptized Christian, because it is meant to be “a symbol of the sanctifying grace received in the first sacrament and is also considered to be a symbol of the purity of heart that is necessary to enter into the joy of the eternal vision of God in heaven.” If you’re baptized, the alb belongs to you, in a sense. However, please do not strut into church next Sunday wearing an alb. That would be weird.
What type of fabric is used? At Granda, we make 100% linen albs and a 51% linen/49% wool blend. We do this because linen wrinkles easily, but incorporating wool makes it more wrinkle-resistant and easier to iron. I’ve never heard of a cotton or (cringe) polyester alb before, but maybe they exist somewhere.
Sometimes a priest or parish will have a set of albs with lace or other ornamentation for feast days or solemnities, but this is not required.
Revelation 7 ends with a beautiful and striking passage about a “great multitude” who “have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Recalling this, the vesting prayer for the alb is:
Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward.
Related to the alb is an oft-forgotten and usually invisible vestment called the amice. This is the good stuff, folks—this is what you come to A&L to read about. The amice used to be mandatory at all times, but now is only required if the wearer’s ordinary clothes aren’t totally covered by the alb in the neck region.
Its form is essentially a rectangle with strings at the corners. It goes over the back of the neck and then is fastened using the strings. It must always be made of linen and is customarily embroidered with a cross. It is permitted to use an amice with lace edging for feast days.
Here’s a photo of some textiles we make in our workshop at Granda. The top thing is the amice (the other two are called a purificator and manutergium). You can see the openings in the top corners where the strings are laced through.
Paul writes to the Ephesians telling them to “put on the helmet of salvation…which is the word of God.” This passage is recalled in the vesting prayer for the amice:
Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.
In this photo of St. Josemaria Escriva saying Mass, you can see both alb (the lace around his sleeves) and amice (around his collar).