It seems to be increasingly “fashionable” for priests and deacons not to wear a cincture. The cincture is the rope-like thing that is tied around the waist over the white gown called the alb. Here are two cinctures that I have here in Rome:
I don’t know what the reasons might be that some clerics omit the cincture nowadays. Maybe some just don’t want to bother with it. Maybe they think it’s superfluous. Maybe it is due to laziness. Maybe they are self-conscious about their weight and don’t want their gut to be accentuated by tying up their alb around it! (But without the cincture it often looks like they are wearing a liturgical muu muu…!) There could well be other reasons. Who knows!
Is the cincture optional? Not by my reckoning, though I think current law does provide a loophole to those who interpret it very broadly.
Here is what we read in the relevant document, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, with my boldface and underlining added (source):
336. The sacred garment common to all 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 used. [,,,]
The “escape clause” is the one that I have underlined. What I suspect it was referring to is the type of alb that has a cincture band built in (usually closing with velcro), which pulls it in closer around the waist. This is, after all, the purpose of a cincture: to bring the alb in closer. Thus, a reasonable and sane reading of this rule, which takes into account the purpose of cincture, would indicate that it is required to wear one unless the alb is made in such a way that it is already close-fitting at the waist, or has a cincture built in, etc.
But let’s face it: reading this norm in a much broader sense, we could say that any alb that is the right size for a particular priest has been made to fit him without a cincture: if it goes over his head just fine, is the right length, etc., then it fits! It might look like a muu muu, but it fits! Hence, the loophole.
The older liturgical law, as found in the Ritus Servandus, took the cincture for granted; it use was generally foreseen without exceptions indicated (source):
3. First, taking the Amice by its ends and cords, he kisses it in the middle, where the cross is located, and places it over his head. Then he brings it down over his collar, and covering the collar of his garments, brings the cords under his arms, around his back, and again to his breast, where he times them. Then he takes the Alb and places it over his head and places his right arm in the right sleeve and his left arm in the left sleeve. He adjusts the Alb to fit his body, and raising it in the front and at the sides, girds himself with the Cincture, which shall be handed to him from the back by the minister. The minister raises the Alb over the cincture so that it may hang at the proper length so as to cover the clothing beneath, and carefully adjusts the border so as to hang evenly above the floor at a finger’s length, or thereabout.
I think a rediscovery of the symbolic nature of the different vestments might help to reinforce why it is that we should use them properly, and add a bit of spirituality to our following of the law. Here, for example, is the vesting prayer that used to be obligatory to recite while putting on the cincture:
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 abide in me.
The vesting prayers are no longer obligatory: they are optional and recommended. In fact, I believe they have been included in the latest edition of the Roman Missal. Those interested may wish to read a short essay on these prayers, written by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, available at this link. Pope Benedict XVI also preached a spectacular homily on the priestly vestments, in which he mentioned some of these old prayers – read it here.
Let’s get rid of the “muu muu look” and go back to the “cincture of purity”, properly worn around a clean and pressed alb!
BONUS: click the following download button for a copy of the vesting prayers that can be printed and framed, to be hung in a fitting place in the church’s sacristy.
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