Amice and Alb with Apparels
Sometimes when I visit sacristies, I am shown small rectangles of damask or long strips of damask fabric and am asked what they might be. Some think they might be alms bason liners or Bible markers. Actually, these are apparels. Not so very long ago the bottom front and back, and sometimes sleeves of an alb bore beautiful damask rectangles which usually matched or coordinated with the stole, chasuble, maniple, burse and veil (Low Mass Set). The rectangular white vestment which goes on before the alb, the amice, also was embellished with an apparel. This ancient apparel was a border attached to one of the lateral edges of the amice, the plain part of which, when turned down, left the apparel to form a magnificent collar above the chasuble.
The amice should be made of pure fine linen, and should be shaped as an oblong rectangle, measuring 36 inches by 25. It should have a small cross worked in the center upon its upper edge, and strings sewn at each end, long enough to cross over the chest and encircle the body. Whether the apparel of the amice be of needlework or of lace or damask or silk, it must be applied to the linen in such a way, that it may be readily detached when the garment requires washing. A more modern approach to stitching them on is to apply snaps to the apparel with the matching receiving end for the snap sewed on the alb or amice. It will take four across the top of the apparel and four on the bottom of the apparel for the amice. Alb apparels can get by with six, three on the top and three on the bottom.
“That the amice was originally intended to cover the head there can be no doubt. By writers of the thirteenth century the term amice is made synonymous with words that could only apply to a covering for the head ; and, even so late as the memorable year 1539, when Holy Church was bidden to cast all her sacred treasures into the rapacious king’s coffers, the amice was set down as ” kerchief,” — derived from the French ” couvre ” chief,” a head-covering. Hence it was, -and still is, assumed by ministers as symbolical of the helmet of salvation, suggested by the exhortation of St. Paul, Ephes. vi. n, 17. The priest, when preparing for the Eucharistic Service, rests the amice for an instant upon the top of the head, while reciting the following beautiful prayer : — “
Place upon my head, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that ”
I may be enabled to repel all the fiery darts of the wicked «
one.” (From Church Vestments by Anastasia Dolby)
Today the cassock alb has nearly replaced the traditional alb and amice, but there are still some parishes and some priests who prefer the historic garments, and I have never laid out a beautifully appareled amice and alb on a great feast day where a single priest ever objected- because they are very beautiful. They are also very simple to make. Measure the width of your amice across. allowing 1/2 inch extra for the seam allowance, then measure a depth of about 3 1/2 inches and cut the band out. Cut another lining piece of plain silk the same dimensions. Begin stitching the two pieces together, right sides together starting on the bottom length (long side). Sew down the length, the short side end and the top long side, leaving the other short end open so you can turn the right sides out. Clip off extra bulk of the seam allowance and corner excess before turning so you will get nice sharp corners. Close open end neatly with hand stitching and press flat. Apply the top halves of the snaps to the lining side which will match up with the bottom of the snaps on the amice. The same procedure is done for the rectangular apparels for albs only the dimensions are about 8 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches (allowing 1/4 inch seam allowances all around). Your altar guild might like to make a beautiful set for Christmas Eve! After the apparels are finished, a trimming of rich gold lace or embroidered ribbon all around finishes off the edges beautifully. If you are ordering a new set of vestments, most vestment makers will be able to add a set of apparels to the Low Mass set without any difficulty. Just imagine how lovely fine petitpoint apparels might be for those who are adept at needlepoint.