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Disregard for an Alb at a Priest-Only Mass

Date: March 8, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Q: One of my priest companions does not want to wear the alb when only some priests are present as concelebrants. When students or faithful attend, he does wear one; but I feel that he should not be satisfied with the stole even when only companion priests are present. How can I convince him? I tried but in vain. – J.L., Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh, India

A: Although it might seem harsh, it must be said that a priest should not need to be “convinced” to do what he is supposed to in virtue of his sacred ministry. If one accepts Christ’s call to follow him in his mission, then this also means taking up the cross and leaving aside many personal tastes and opinions.

Although we are dealing with an external aspect of liturgical law, and one which does not affect the validity of a sacrament, it does affect its ritual integrity as a sign and betrays some deeper errors with respect to the liturgy.

Among these would appear to be an understanding of liturgy more as a public spectacle and not as participation in an act of worship offered by Christ and his Church to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Because the object of liturgical worship is God, there is no fundamental difference between a liturgy celebrated with few or many attendants, although there will be several ritual variations. The liturgy is always public by its very nature, although it is clear that the celebration with the presence of the faithful and a full complement of ministers best manifests the reality of the Church in its fullness.

Therefore, priests, deacons and other ministers should always celebrate according to the mind of the Church.

With respect to wearing the alb, that mind is clearly stated in liturgical laws which see the alb as the basic liturgical garb, not only for priests but for ministers of all ranks. Thus, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:

“336. The sacred garment common to ordained and instituted ministers of any rank is the alb, to be tied at the waist with a cincture unless it is made so as to fit even without such. Before the alb is put on, should this not completely cover the ordinary clothing at the neck, an amice should be put on. The alb may not be replaced by a surplice, not even over a cassock, on occasions when a chasuble or dalmatic is to be worn or when, according to the norms, only a stole is worn without a chasuble or dalmatic.

“337. The vestment proper to the priest celebrant at Mass and other sacred actions directly connected with Mass is, unless otherwise indicated, the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole.”

This has been further stressed by the Holy See in the 2004 instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum”:

“126. The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books, even when there is only one minister participating. In order that such abuses be corrected as quickly as possible, Ordinaries should take care that in all churches and oratories subject to their jurisdiction there is present an adequate supply of liturgical vestments made in accordance with the norms.”

Since the above document classifies the celebration of Mass without an alb as a reprobated abuse, there can be no doubt as to the Church’s mind on this topic nor excuse for continuing to persist in what would be an evident act of disobedience.

The local ordinary should admonish any priest who fails to adhere to the Church’s liturgical law in these and other aspects and, if faced with a clear refusal, would be able to impose adequate disciplinary measures.

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