I got a question via e-mail:
Hi Fr Z,
I have a liturgical question. What are the rules/customs regarding the different coloured soutanes worn by altar servers. A discussion (revolving around my upcoming nuptials) I am having at the moment is regarding the use of red and black, but also deep purple, maroon and violet for the altar servers of bishops and cardinal’s etc Do you know any answers to this, or know where any ‘rules’ are spelt out?
Many Thanks for the fine blog- a great service to the Church and an inspiration ot many.
There is no real rule for the color of the cassocks for altar boys or men. Of course women and girls should never under any circumstances wear anything resembling a cassock… even remotely resembling. Ugh… sometimes we see such ridiculous things in those church goods catalogues that cater also to non-Catholic parishes. It just seems… grrrr…. nearly pornographic. Hideous. But I digress.
Servers cassock can be any color. Commonly they are black or red, though I have also seen dark blue.
In St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the servers wear paonazza, the same violet color that monsignors, canons and bishops get. Also, the MC for a bishop or cardinal often wears paonazza, by custom. Though I have a faint memory of this being spelled out in some book.
The most important thing, no matter what color you choose for the boys, or men, make sure they treat the cassock respectfully. Help tme to understand that it is a priviledge to server at the altar, not a right. The cassock can help them establish a good esprit de corps, important for boys and very helpful. If the priests wear their cassocks, that can be a great help.