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Amices and Purificators


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 19


The new "Scoot" drew up at the curb before the convent with somewhat of a jerk, and the Liturgiologist laboriously got out, turning to the Antiquary, who remained seated at the wheel, with "Well, if you're late again today, I'll let the sisters give lunch."


"But I wasn't late," protested the Antiquary, "it was you who were early. It takes me longer than it does you to say Mass, and ten minutes getting back to the church and out here again, yet you were ready and waiting impatiently when I got here."


"Well," conceded the Liturgiologist, "there are a good many communions at the church, thanks be to God. And, I suppose I could make a longer thanksgiving. Anyway, hurry back, and 'I'll be waiting there for you' like the lad in the song."


"Girl, if I remember rightly," barked the Antiquary as he threw in the clutch.


The Liturgiologist, with a brisk "Good morning" to Sister Ingressa at the door, walked down the long corridor towards the chapel whispering the "Ad mensam dulcissimi,"[1] paused to give his daily blessing to Sister Vehicula before the old invalid was wheeled into the chapel, and entered the tiny sacristy. On the spotless and unwrinkled amice lay a clean purificator, and the old priest sighed as he made ready the chalice. Afterwards, en route to the rectory with the Antiquary in the new "scoot" he mentioned the satisfaction which these little touches of propriety gave him. "I hope I'm not getting finicky in my old age," said he, "but I must admit that I never could see why so many of the clergy put up, unnecessarily, with one amice and one purificator for a whole week of Masses. We have clean napkins at our dinner table every day, why not at the Lord's Table? And most of us sport a clean collar each morning, why use a wrinkled and more or less soiled amice? Not that I'm criticizing your sacristan, Pere, but after all, is it consideration for the sister, or other pious lady, who does the sacristy wash, or just plain carelessness?


"I suppose it's a hangover from the old days of 'tin collars' and black shirts,[2]" said the Antiquary with a wry smile. "There isn't really any reason for it, it's just a custom (in the uncanonical sense[3]) and hardly anybody gives it a thought. I suppose we ought to be more careful about such details, but as a matter of fact we're not."


"Of course, there's a rule about it, in the general admonitions of the Ritus Celebrandi.[4] It distinctly says that the celebrant himself shall prepare the sacred vessels, putting upon the chalice a clean purificator, just as it prescribes an unbroken host. I don't recall ever having seen a priest go to the altar for Mass with a mutilated altar bread. As for the amice, it would seem to fall under the prescription of section 2 which says that all the vestments must be whole, not torn or frayed, and decently clean, and blessed by the bishop or one having faculties. (By the way, it goes on to prescribe that the celebrant shall wear shoes and vest over his surplice, if it can be conveniently had.) Of course there's the order that the Amice shall cover the collar of his ordinary dress, which is usually interpreted to mean that it shall be tucked in all around so as to hide the collar completely, which means that the linen will be jammed, and quite likely soiled more or less. It may be decenter mundum[5] after one use, but it likely may not. Any way, it seems to me that the provision of clean linens, especially the purificator and amice, should be part of the routine work of the sacristan."


"I certainly agree with you, in theory at least," replied the Antiquary. "The analogy of social usage may not hold good for holy things, but if it doesn't the advantage should be on the side of the holy things rather than with the laundress. I know one Reverend Pastor whose personal mundity almost lays him open to the charge of foppishness, yet his altar linens are filthy, and he calmly rolls up his used purificator (stained with a red wine at that) in his amice, and unrolls them next day, and so on for a week, without a qualm."


"Then there's the entirely extra-liturgical 'stole collar'[6] of linen, tacked by pious hands over the part of the stole that may touch the priest's neck. It isn't usually as clean as it might be-"


"The neck?" interjected the Antiquary, with a shout.


"No, the linen," replied the Liturgiologist, imperturbably. "And it covers the cross on the stole, nine times out of ten, which is quite wrong. The priest must kiss the cross, which is not one of those to be veiled even in Passiontide!"


"Besides, now that I think of it," cut in the Antiquary, "isn't it perhaps that the cross on the stole may be visible that the secular clergy no longer wear the amice as a sort of hood (like the Friars)? The old pictures always show the amice loose and flowing, cover the stole, if indeed that too is not disposed in such a way that it hangs very freely about the shoulders."


"Maybe," said the Liturgiologist, "although most liturgists now want the chasuble to cover the back of the stole. Of course your old pictures always show the amice with 'apparels'[7] which are seldom, if ever, used nowadays. These would likely have a cross embroidered on them, in fact the amice itself is, or should be, of linen and the cross worked on it may be a survival that more elaborately done on the old-time 'Apparel.' However, we wander from the questions-"


"That will surprise nobody," jeered the Antiquary. "It is our usual procedure, both in argument and in motoring! Suppose (as the new 'Scoot' drew up at the open door of the garage in the back yard of the rectory), since you are so keen on clean things this morning, you just put up about five dollars towards a set of dust covers for this elegant upholstery. And he patted the velour cushions of the new "Scott" lovingly.


"One must back one's theories, I suppose," said the Liturgiologist as he returned for the Gruen model billfold.[8]



1 The first line of St. Ambrose's prayer before the Blessed Sacrament "Ad Mensam dulcissimi convivii tui, pie Domine Jesu Christe" ("Lord Jesus Christ, I approach your banquet table in fear and trembling").


2 Referring to the time when clothes were not laundered often, thus heavily-starched collars that could be merely wiped clean in-between uses and black undershirts (versus white) which would hide any stains.


3 "Uncanonical" meaning a custom that does not have force of law, which is the strict meaning of the word.


4 A section in the Missale Romanum that describes how the "Rite of celebrating Mass".


5 Latin for "decently clean".


6 Typically called a "neck protector", which is made out of band of linen stitched to the inside neck edge of the chasuble and stole.


7 Referring to an "appareled alb" which has a square of decorative fabric sewn on the back and front of the alb just above the hem.


8 A type of hi-precision Swiss-made watch.

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