The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) describes very little of what is intended to take place prior to the beginning of Mass and following the conclusion of Mass. It recommends silence in the church and in the sacristy prior to the celebration (GIRM, 45). If incense is used in the procession, it is blessed prior to the procession, either in the sacristy or some other suitable location (GIRM, 120). The General Instruction does not describe the manner in which the ministers vest, but an appendix to the Missal provides several prayers for the preparation for Mass which the celebrant may use ad libitum. A fuller description of the gestures and postures which accompany the preparation of the ministers for Mass is found in the Ritus servandus missae of 1962. The traditional practice of the Roman rite regarding the gestures associated with vesting for Mass can be found described there. The Ritus servandus of 1962 provides the framework for the suggestions made below.
In the Sacristy
The celebrant may spend some time in the church prior to Mass in prayer. He might pray one of the hours of the Divine Office, whichever hour is most suitable. He then goes to the sacristy where the vestments and everything needed for Mass have been prepared. He sets the ribbons of the Missal to the appropriate texts, and then washes his hands while saying the prayer, “Give virtue, O Lord, to my hands, that every stain may be wiped away; that I may be enabled to serve you without defilement or mind or body.” Then he prepares the chalice if necessary and verifies that wine, water, and sufficient hosts have been prepared. He then proceeds to vest for Mass. The vestments for Mass are normally prepared on the vesting cabinet in front of the sacristy crucifix. They are placed on the cabinet in reverse order, meaning what will be worn first is uppermost and so on.
First taking up the amice (if necessary) at the two upper corners (where the strings attach to the body of the amice), the celebrant kisses the amice in the middle where the cross is. Swinging his right arm over his head, he places the amice on his head momentarily, before bringing it down around the neck and shoulder. Meanwhile, he says the prayer, “Place, O Lord the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.” He arranges the amice at the neck to cover his collar entirely, placing the right side over the left side in front, and crosses the strings across his chest and under his arms, wraps them around his back, and then ties them in front before his chest.
Alb and Cincture
Then he puts on the alb, first putting it over his head (if necessary), and then the right arm through the sleeve, followed by the left arm. As he does so, he prays, “Purify me, O Lord, from all stain and cleanse my heart, that, washed in the blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal delights.” Using both hands, he girds himself with the cincture which has been passed to him by the deacon or server standing behind him. Normally, the cincture is doubled, with its tassels held in the celebrant’s right hand, and the other end held in his left hand. While taking the cincture, he prays, “Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may remain in me.” Making a loop in the left hand at the end of the doubled length of the cincture by folding the end upon itself, he passes the two tasseled ends through the loops with the right hand and tightens the knot at the front.
Taking the stole with both hands, he kisses at the cross on the neck and says, “Restore to me, O Lord, the state of immortality which was lost to me by my first parents, and, although I am unworthy to approach your sacred mysteries, grant me nevertheless eternal joy.” He adjusts the stole around his neck so that it hangs equally from both shoulders. The celebrant uses the two ends of the cincture to secure the stole on both sides. With the knot of the cincture at the front of his body, the celebrant takes the length of the cincture on either side and places it over the stole before passing a portion of each length (not the entire length) of the cincture over the portion of the cincture around his waist to create a loop below the waist. He passes the tassels of each end of the cincture through these loops on either side, and adjusts the knot in the front and the loops to each side.
Finally, the priest takes the chasuble as he prays, “O Lord, who said, ‘My yoke is sweet and my burden light,’ grant that I may carry it so as to obtain your grace. Amen.” The deacon or server may assist him so that the chasuble falls freely on all sides (Fortescue, O’Connell and Reid, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, 64-5). Some chasubles, those said to be of Roman design (i.e., “fiddleback”), fit very loosely over the shoulders and therefore can move considerably during the course of Mass. For that reason, they often have long ribbons sewn into the interior of the lining which are used to secure the chasuble and prevent movement during the gestures of the Mass. The interior ribbons of the chasuble are worn in the following way. First, the celebrant crosses them before his chest. Then he passes them behind his back, and then brings the ribbons forward in order to tie them before the chest, just as he did with the amice.
A deacon vests in the same way but prior to the celebrant, so that he may be free to assist while the priest vests.
If time remains before Mass, the celebrant may remain standing in silence before the sacristy cross, or he may continue the prayers of preparation found in the Missal. This kind of intentional preparation for the celebration of Mass is conducive to the spirit of recollection which celebrants should foster. The ministers of Mass will participate more attentively and devoutly, free from distractions, if the time spent before Mass has similarly been spent attentively and devoutly, and free from any mundane concerns. Unfortunately, this kind of recollection is not possible in most parish sacristies today.
Traditionally, the sacristy has been considered an extension of the church, a kind of chapel, where the sacred actions of the liturgy begin, already surrounded by a measure of dignity and decorum. In practice, most sacristies now function like the control room of a bustling airport, with many a volunteer, parishioner, and minister coming and going, seeing to the various needs of a busy Sunday morning. Formerly, one sacristy was reserved for the vesting and preparation of the servers. Another sacristy was reserved for the priest celebrant, the deacon, the subdeacon, and the master of ceremonies. There is some wisdom in once again creating a vesting sacristy for the exclusive use of the celebrant and the deacon. It may be easier to leave the other ministers in the main sacristy, since that is the location where they are accustomed to prepare for Mass. But it may be possible to create a separate vesting sacristy for the priest and deacon out of the former servers’ sacristy, or from some unused space near the main entrance of the church. Sometimes there is abandoned space either on the floor directly above the main sacristy or below it. These are all possibilities for the celebrant looking to create a more recollected time before Mass begins.
The next post will describe the practical gestures associated with the final preparations for Mass as well as the gestures of devotion which often take place in the sacristy following the conclusion of Mass.
Monsignor Marc B. Caron, S.T.L., is a vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Portland, ME. He has served as a pastor, as the director of the diocesan Office for Worship, and as a chancellor of the diocese. Most recently, he was a member of the faculty of St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA, where he was also director of liturgy. He received his licentiate degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL. He is the author of a number of articles which have appeared in The Jurist, Worship, Catechumenate, and in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.