What Is An Amice?
A short linen cloth, square or oblong in shape and, like the other sacerdotal vestments, needing to be blessed before use. The purpose of this vestment, which is the first to be put on by the priest in vesting for the Mass, is to cover the shoulders, and originally also the head, of the wearer. Many of the older religious orders still wear the amice after the fashion which prevailed in the Middle Ages; that is to say, the amice is first laid over the head and the ends allowed to fall upon the shoulders, then the other vestments from the alb to the chasuble are put on, and finally, on reaching the altar, the priest folds back the amice from the head, so that it hangs around the neck and over the chasuble like a small cowl. In this way, as will be readily understood, the amice forms a sort of collar, effectively protecting the precious material of the chasuble from contact with the skin. On leaving the sanctuary, the amice is again pulled up over the head, and thus both in coming and going it serves as a head-covering in lieu of the modern birretta. This method of wearing the amice has fallen into desuetude for the clergy at large, and the only surviving trace of it is the rubric directing that, in putting it on, the amice should for a moment be laid upon the head before it is adjusted round the neck. The subdeacon at his ordination receives the amice from the hands of the bishop, who says to him "Receive the amice, by which is signified the discipline of the voice" (castigatio vocis). This seems to have reference to some primitive use of the amice as a sort of muffler to protect the throat. On the other hand, the prayer which the clergy are directed to say in assuming this vestment speaks of it as galeam salutis, "the helmet of salvation against the wiles of the enemy", thus emphasizing the use as a head covering. Strictly speaking, the amice, being a sacred vestment, ought not to be worn by clerics below the grade of subdeacon.
In tracing the history of the amice we are confronted by the same difficulty which meets us in the expressions used by early writers. The word amictus, which is still the Latin name for this vestment, and from which our word amice is derived, seems clearly to be used in its present sense by Amalarius at the beginning of the ninth century. He tells us that this amictus is the first vestment put on, and it enfolds the neck (De Eccles. Offic., II, xvii, in P. L., CV, 1094). We may also probably feel confidence in identifying with the same vestment the anagolagium spoken of in the first Ordo Romanus, a document which belongs to the middle of the eighth century or earlier. Anagolagium seems to be merely a corruption of the word anabolium (or anaboladium), which is defined by St. Isidore of Seville as a sort of linen wrap used by women to throw over their shoulders, otherwise called a sindon. There is nothing to indicate that this last was a liturgical garment, hence we must conclude that we cannot safely trace our present amice farther back than the above-mentioned reference in the first Roman Ordo (P. L., LXVIII, 940). It is curious that this anagolagium, though it was also worn by the papal deacon and subdeacon, was put on by the Pope over, not under, the alb. To this day the Pope, when pontificating, wears a sort of second amice of striped silk called a fanon, which is put on after the alb and subsequently folded back over the upper part of the chasuble. The amice, moreover, in the Ambrosian Rite is also put on after the alb. At what date the amice came to be regarded as an indispensable part of the priest's liturgical attire is not quite clear; for both Bishop Theodulph of Orléans (d. 821) and Walafrid Strabo (d. 849) seem to ignore it under circumstances in which we should certainly have expected it to be mentioned. On the other hand, the "Admonitio Synodalis", a document of uncertain date, but commonly referred to the ninth century (see, however, Revue bénédictine, 1892, p. 99), distinctly enjoins that no one must say Mass without amice, alb, stole, maniple and chasuble. Early liturgical writers, such, e.g. as Rabanus Maurus, were inclined to regard the amice as derived from the ephod of the Jewish priesthood, but modern authorities are unanimous in rejecting this theory. They trace the origin of the amice to some utilitarian purpose, though there is considerable difference of opinion whether it was in the beginning a neck cloth introduced for reasons of seemliness, to hide the bare throat; or again a kerchief which protected the richer vestment from the perspiration so apt in southern climates to stream from the face and neck, or perhaps a winter muffler protecting the throat of those who, in the interests of church music, had to take care of their voices. Something may be said in favour of each of these views, but no certain conclusion seems to be possible (see Braun, Die priesterlichen Gewänder, p. 5). The variant names, humerale (i.e. "shoulder cloth", Germ. Schultertuch), superhumerale anagologium, etc., by which it was known in early times do not help us much in tracing, its history.
As in case of the alb, so for the amice, linen woven from the fibre of flax or hemp is the only permissible material. A little cross must be sewn to, or worked upon the amice in the middle, and this the priest is directed to kiss in putting it on. Approved authorities (e.g. Thalhofer, Liturgik, I, 864) direct that the amice ought to be at least 32 inches long by 24 inches broad. A slight lace edging seems to be permitted by usage in case of amices intended for use on festal occasions, and the strings may be of white or coloured silk (Barbier de Montault, Costume Eccl., II, 231). In the Middle Ages when the amice was turned back over the chasuble, and thus exposed to view, it was commonly ornamented by an "apparel", or strip of rich embroidery, but this practice is no longer tolerated.
- article from the Catholic Encyclopedia at www.newadvent.org