While it is no longer the practice for all priests to offer prayers while vesting for Mass, many do offer these "vesting prayers." The prayers are a good occasion for them to be enriched with a profound humility and willing availability to act in the very Person of Christ at the Holy Sacrifice. In this series, we look at each vesting prayer and its corresponding vestment, as an intimate insight into the spiritual lives of priests at their most vulnerable moment every day, helping all the rest of us also to understand just who we are before God and neighbor.
PRAYER 2 – "Ad amictum" (Prayer used for the amice)
"Impone Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus." ("Place upon my head, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, for conquering diabolical assaults.")
The amice is a piece of cloth placed over the head like a helmet, then put around one's neck and shoulders. The word comes from the Latin "amictus," which refers to a covering in the sense of military headgear.
The idea is not that we have the power to beat down whatever diabolical assaults there may be during the ultimate religious battle during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, what with all of hell broken out on Calvary, and all of heaven watching as the Soldier, Christ Jesus, lays down His life for us. Instead, the concept for this prayer is that we cannot ourselves beat down any diabolical assaults, so we humbly ask the Lord that He Himself cover us with the grace of salvation, which, of itself, conquers the assaults of the Evil One. We are reminded of St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians 6:12-17: "For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
Just as a helmet protects the head, a spiritual helmet fends off untoward assaults of a spiritual nature. Such spiritual assaults can be mind games the devil puts before us, about which St. Paul instructs and reprimands us: "For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the ... evil spirits in the heavens."
As it is, the temptation is for us to dumb down the spiritual battle to that of flesh and blood, laying ourselves wide open to diabolical assaults, having us be filled with rancor and discord, political correctness and horrific clericalism of every kind and, to justify ourselves, disobedience to the faith, ignoring the Living Truth who is Christ Jesus. It can and does happen that priests offer Holy Mass with such a deficient attitude. We need prayer.
When St. Paul speaks of taking on "the helmet of salvation," he immediately adds taking up "the sword of the Spirit," which is the word of God. The priest, who offers the Word of God to our Heavenly Father during Mass, leads others into reverence before these sacred mysteries by the word of God he preaches. In times past, a cleric would receive the amice from his bishop, who would call the amice "a castigatio vocis" – "a castigation of the voice" – for if one's mind is preoccupied with all that is heavenly, one's speech will edify the mystical body of Christ.
Sin entered the world through the deception of Satan, who tried to get flesh and blood to battle with flesh and blood, with rancor and discord. This prayer is a mockery of Satan's assault against Adam and against all of mankind throughout time. This prayer points to the promised Redeemer of Genesis 3:15. Having taken the initiative to crush the head of Satan and to be crushed while He does that – what is happening at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we priests prepare to offer with this prayer – our Lord provides us with the helmet of salvation so as to repel the deceit of the Evil One.
When our Lord Himself was especially assaulted by Satan during those 40 days in the desert, the temptation was about things of flesh and blood (the bread), about egoism (gaining the whole world) and rancor and discord (mocking God). Jesus' response to each temptation was about His bond of union in all charity with the Father: God will not be mocked. Love conquers all mind games. The helmet of salvation means to have one's mind focused on loving God and loving one's neighbor with the same act of love, love which is the Living Truth.
Father George David Byers is administrator of Holy Redeemer Church in Andrews.