Excerpt: Amice

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan at 3:10 PM


After having washed his hands, the priest can put on the amice.  The amice (from the Latin amicire, meaning “to cover”) is a square of white linen wrapped around the shoulders close to the neck and tied in place; in the Middle Ages it was worn as a hood, especially by monks.  As he puts on the amice, the priest prays:
Impóne, Dómine, cápiti meo gáleam salútis,
ad expugnándos diabólicos incúrsus.

Place, O Lord, the helmet of salvation upon my head,    Isa. 59:17; Eph. 6:17
that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.                                Eph. 6:11
The amice is a symbol of the “helmet of salvation,” which is the virtue of hope. (cf. 1 Th. 5:8)  Having hope cover his head means that the priest should have his mind occupied with the things of Heaven and the care of souls, free from the fleeting worldy cares which can so easily distract him.  His thoughts should be fortified against needless worry by confidence in God and hope in His promises.  It should be no wonder that priests, who work for the salvation of souls, would be subject to “the assults of the devil,” who – during the celebration of Mass more than ever – would want to deprive him of peace in his soul, heart, and mind.
The amice also represents Christ’s humanity, humility, and death.  As it was once worn as a hood (thus going over the head), it is a sign of His humanity which He took up, veiling His divine glory.  It is a sign of His humility during the Passion, when He endured being blindfolded and struck. (cf. Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64)  Furthermore, after Christ died on the cross, He was wrapped not only in a bodily shroud (cf. Matt. 27:59) but also with a cloth around His head. (cf. John 20:6-7)  The amice, then, evocative of the death of Christ, calls the priest to die to himself and live for Christ (cf. Gal. 2:20), the supreme exercise of humility.
The virtue of humility, following the example given by Christ, is indispensible for the priest; this was reaffirmed in the Vatican II Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis (PO):  “Among the virtues that priests must possess … none is so important as a frame of mind and soul whereby they are always ready to know and do the will of him who sent them and not their own will.” (PO 15)  Humility disposes the priest’s will to recognize his dependence on God, revealing his own boundaries and limitations.  Humility also calls the priest to understand his true relationship to his neighbor; he must be willing to serve all, from the richest to the poorest, remembering that ministry “to one of the least of these” (Matt. 25:40) is ministry to Christ.  Humility is closely bound to charity, by which we love God above all else for His own sake, and we love others for God’s sake.
As five men were being ordained to the priesthood, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York City alluded to the need for humility as he said that we must praise God “that their ordination is God’s doing, not ours; that this is a pure gift from God, not an earned trophy; that His call trumps our curriculum vitae.”  In ordination, priests receive extraordinary powers, and they tend to attract more respect (or at least more attention) than the average person.  Without the virtue of humility, a priest would forget Who made him who he is:  indeed, no priest is a self-made man!  It is by “this humility and by willing responsible obedience [that] priests conform themselves to Christ” (PO 15), whose ministry they carry out.