ASK FATHER: Liturgy director tries to forbid altar boys from wearing cassock and surplice.

hubert Salentine Theives in the church altar boysFrom a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Our diocesan liturgical director is trying to prevent parishes from having altar servers wear cassocks and surplices, claiming they’re “clerical garb,” so lay people can’t wear them. Is his claim legitimate? Is there any official statement to which I can point that says altar boys can wear cassock and surplices?

Ahhh, the diocesan liturgical director inveighing against the use of cassock and surplice. There have definitely been a surplus of this sort of partially-educated tyrant.

Traditionally, the cassock has indeed been indeed “clerical garb.” Which is precisely why attendants of the priest celebrating Mass would wear a cassock. Attendants were considered, ceremonially, to be a certain extension of the person to whom they attended. Think of a squire wearing the colors of his knight, or a page wearing a tabard emblazoned with his lord’s coat of arms. The surplice is a “mini” version of the alb, which harks to the baptismal garment, the garment that most diocesan liturgist-types want servers to wear.

Altar boys have, for several centuries, dressed like mini-priests, if you will, as they attend to Father during the celebration of the Holy Mass. The argument that they shouldn’t do so is a new one, and it is pretty weak. No sane person will confuse little Derek and Ryan, aged 10, for priests, nor will they accidentally make a confession to mop-topped little Billy, because they were somehow confused by seeing him in cassock and surplice.

Bishops (bishops, not liturgy directors) can make diocesan law to govern precisely what altar servers wear (though this would be a petty use of their legiferous authority).

A diocese so nit-picky as to determine precisely what altar boys are wearing is a diocese in which all liturgical abuse has – no doubt – been eliminated, in which Gregorian chant and Latin are being given pride of place in the Mass (as Vatican II called for), and the faithful are so enthused about their faith that seminarians and religious vocations are plentiful.

UPDATE:

Speaking of cassocks, a reader sent this…

15_09_11_altar_boys

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17 Responses to ASK FATHER: Liturgy director tries to forbid altar boys from wearing cassock and surplice.

  1. JamesM says:

    Isn’t the alb classed as clerical garb?

  2. Legisperitus says:

    Their diocesan liturgical director is male? Lucky.

    Seriously, though, it’s a great joy to read the word “legiferous.”

  3. St Donatus says:

    Nice point: A diocese so nit-picky as to determine precisely what altar boys are wearing is a diocese in which all liturgical abuse has – no doubt – been eliminated, in which Gregorian chant and Latin are being given pride of place in the Mass (as Vatican II called for), and the faithful are so enthused about their faith that seminarians and religious vocations are plentiful.

    Why is it that liberal Catholics don’t see the most obvious thing? The farther a diocese moves away from the traditions of the Catholic faith, the more Catholics leave the faith, the fewer numbers of seminarians they have, the more priests leave the priesthood or get involved in wrong doing, etc. Otherwise, the farther they get from truth, the less the Holy Spirit blesses them.

  4. vandalia says:

    Based on what I have read on certain blogs, the typical Catholic is certainly susceptible to confusion. Apparently the faithful are so confused that if they see a female altar server they will immediately conclude that women can now be priests. Or if a marriage can be manifestly invalid because a man had a secret additional family at the time of a putative wedding, it will cause women across the world to doubt the validity of their own wedding if they had a different high school boyfriend.

    So, yes, if the faithful are so prone to confusion, I can very well see how they will mistake the 10 year old in a cassock for a priest.

  5. TWF says:

    Altar servers, if lay, were traditionally stand ins for clerics in minor orders. Hence the clerical garb is appropriate when performing this function. That being said, altar GIRLS, if permitted (God forbid…) should definitely not wear clerical garb. Always makes me cringe when I see it.

  6. ASPM Sem says:

    The alb is not clerical; it is the garment of all the baptized.

  7. Question: Are the priests in this diocese encouraged to wear surplice and cassock when they serve Mass or attend Mass in choir?

  8. TMKent says:

    I’ve gotta wonder – both sides have used this. In the past, when our parish switched from cassock and surplice to alb we were told it was because cassock and surplice was “clerical garb” and therefore, if female altar servers could not wear it then no one could. Now that we have more orthodox priests, the first step in phasing out the girls was to allow the boys to wear cassock and surplice and to give them varied duties while requiring the girls to retain the alb and only serve the NO mass and only be on the altar through the ablutions. Worked like a charm. A year or two later, we have no altar girls and probably 4 times as many boys and young men!

  9. mdoolittle says:

    It’s my experience that some “liturgists” study liturgy not in order to promote the proper celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, but rather to find justifications for doing what they want to do with the Liturgies of the Church. And if those justifications are lacking, they can fall back upon their “expert status” (i.e., STD or whatever), or make their pronouncements “ex officio”.

    To anyone who approaches the Church’s documents on Liturgy and on Church Music honestly and openly, it’s pretty clear what and how we should be conducting The Mass.

  10. momoften says:

    My great aunt died a few years ago and left some money to a neighborhood church (I don’t attend there) The priest decided to purchase cassocks and surplices for servers. He asked for my help.
    I thought, wonderful…he is moving to all males! I wanted to shoot myself. He not only allows girls to serve, but they have women servers in cassocks and surplices (it made me want to puke, and still does) So wrong…so wrong….so so bad. UGH…..

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    Congratulations, Father. You are the first person to have Google index the expression “partially-educated tyrant”.

  12. Gregorius says:

    Well if one wants to read straight from the modern GIRM then yes, albs are the first thing mentioned as proper vestiture, followed by “other suitable dress”. Plus, the GIRM does not want separation between the sexes in terms of liturgical dress and function. It is a confounding thing for those of us who want to restore tradition.
    Fortescue would hate my parish- altar girls in red cassocks…

  13. Matthew says:

    I have no idea what a liturgical director is.

    I feel so lucky.

  14. Athelstan says:

    The farther a diocese moves away from the traditions of the Catholic faith, the more Catholics leave the faith, the fewer numbers of seminarians they have, the more priests leave the priesthood or get involved in wrong doing, etc.

    For some, the loss in vocations is a feature, not a bug. They have the wrong chromosomes.

    When laity are leaving, it’s because the Church hasn’t become progressive enough yet.

  15. oldconvert says:

    Lets get this clear: NO, I don’t like girls on the altar, but if they are the only available servers, at least they should be properly garbed. And I have assisted at more than enough Masses where the male altar server(s) and/or the priest seemed to think that a T-shirt or shirt sleeves, jeans, and trainers, are suitable clothing, and bouncing around is acceptable instead of moving reverently, to feel that a properly -behaved, reverent young girl, in a cassock, is not such a bad thing after all.

    [No. No cassock.]

  16. GreggW says:

    Athelstan — There have been no chromosome-related changes in who can become ordained, so that would not seem to impact the number of seminarians, the number of priests who leave the priesthood, etc.

    The “progressives” within the Church have had quite a bit of influence in the past several decades. If such “progress” were to be helpful, we probably would have seen its positive impact by now. But what we have seen has been largely the opposite, it would seem.

  17. Athelstan says:

    Hello Gregg,

    Just to clarify: It’s fairly well known now that a number of bishops (and their vocations directors and rectors), both in the U.S. and Europe, actively discouraged vocations, so that in the short term they could put more parishes in the charge of laywomen, and in the long term create the pressure on the Church to agree to ordain women. Many was the seminary that would openly quiz applicants about whether they thought women could be ordained – and rejected those who answered in the negative.

    In short, Archbishop Eldon Curtiss was right when he suggested that the vocations crisis has been in some degree a manufactured one. A feature, not a bug. Other vocations, of course, were discouraged in passive, unintentional ways, because that’s the kind of Church we ended up with in most places in the years after the Council…