QUAERITUR: What to wear when serving Mass

I received a question via e-mail:

Recently we have been trying to introduce the Tridentine Mass to my parish, and fortunately we now have a new priest who is open to tradition. We have yet to overcome several obstacles, including sending our priest to be properly trained, but I am confident our efforts will be realized. I have offered to serve Mass in the Tridentine form and I have ordered the necessary literature and training information. My problem is I have looked online and have had no success in finding instructions on what garb I am to wear. I assume a cassock and surplice, but I was wondering if you could inform me of any rules regarding dress and also a quality site to order from online. These questions may seem very obvious, but my parish is currently very uninformed about most aspects pertaining to the Tridentine form. On a separate note: I am an avid reader of your blog and I truly enjoy your posts.
Thank you for your time.


In a pinch, anything decent would serve, so to speak.  If necessity strikes, wear your "Sunday Best".

However, the traditional garb would be, as you surmise, cassock of some color, black might be best depending on what the priest wants for his servers, and white unadorned surplice of some style.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Un Mexicano Tradicional says:

    At the Latin Mass Magazine Conference in Monterey in February of the present year,
    the priest had a server who was dressed in Sunday clothes. it did not seem like anybody
    minded, and the Server, who was from Los Angeles was reverent, and fulfilled the role of
    server very well.

  2. Mark M says:

    We all serve in Cassock and Surplice. No rabat.

    If it’s an important feast, or you’re Thurible, then you get some lace. Otherwise, plain.

  3. Deusdonat says:

    What I have always found odd, is that in almost every TLM peformed in a parish church, at the moment when communion is distributed, there are 1 or 2 (depending on the size of the crowd) priests who come out to help…ALWAYS dressed in the post Vatican II style vestments. It’s almost as if they are doing it begrudgingly.

  4. Cory says:

    You can try gaspardinc.com They have cassocks and surplices that you can order online. I assume you are living in the U.S. and if you live near Wisconsin, you can go to their store, which is just outside Milwaukee, and try on some for yourself. They are also reasonably priced, with surplices going for 30 bucks or something like that. Also, wear black pants with black shoes so that it conforms with the cassock. Hope this helps!

  5. Derik Castillo says:

    At my parish, the usual garb is a black cassock (with snap fasteners) and a white, plain surplice with square yoke. The surplice is not knee-long, but the shorter type. IMHO it is desirable for servers to wear matching color shoes and trousers.

  6. We started out trying most of the U.S. suppliers ordinarily mentioned, but now order all our servers’ cassocks and surplices from Philadelphia-based

    St. Jude Religious Stores
    888-662-2356 (toll free)

  7. Chris Murphy says:

    In Dublin we just have cassock and surplice, but I found that the cassock is armless (only covers shoulders if even) so I would recommend maybe wearing a black shirt aswell. And also I thought that all priests not celebrating mass but “in coro” were supposed to wear cassock and surplice aswell but if they were giving out communion they were supposed to have a stole of the colour of the vestments. Am I right in saying this is stated in the rubrics/liturgical manuals?
    In Nomine Christi

  8. PNP, OP says:

    I concelebrated the first Mass of the friar with whom I was ordained.

    All four of his altar servers were girls.

    All four wore pink flip flops.

    Fr. Philip, OP

    P.S. He did not pick these young women to serve. They were the servers assigned for that morning Mass.

  9. Nathan says:

    Fr. Phillip,

    There seems to be, unfortunately, a key piece of information missing from your post. Did the flip flops have buckles?

    In Christ,

  10. Richard says:


    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

  11. Daniel Muller says:

    Lo these many years ago — thirty to thirty-five or so — there were Butterick or Simplicity patterns for boys’ (as opposed to men’s, of course) cassocks and cottas (which we called surplices or really “surpluses”). My mom made a few. If there is any interest, I just might be able to scare the patterns up if they are not already somewhere somehow on the Internet.

    I cannot recall the brand that the store-bought were — any Catholic goods store would be able to help — but I do remember that they were quite economical.

  12. Aaron Traas says:

    At my parish, we use black cassock ans white surplice — the adults have nicer stuff than the kids, for now.

    The rule to wear stuff under the cassock: black pants, black socks, black shoes. It just looks a lot nicer, and makes us look more uniform. The pants and socks aren’t as important for the adults — our cassocks are tailored to fit. The kids grow out of cassocks quickly, however, and we don’t have a full range of all the sizes in stock, so usually there’s up to 3 inches of their pants showing.

    As for shirts… I usually wear a synthetic wicking-fabric t-shirt under my cassock, because in our parish it’s 10 degrees hotter in the sanctuary than in the nave.

  13. Ken says:

    Also, the tradition is usually square neck surplice for servers with the men and/or boys in the schola wearing round neck cuts.

  14. John Hudson says:

    Presuming cassock and surplice are available, the thing that is most likely to ruin the whole effect is inappropriate footwear. Shoes should be black and not runners/trainers. Most servers I know wear black dress shoes or brogues, usually smartly polished.

    When we chant vespers in choir — i.e. liturgical choir in the Sanctuary — we are similarly attired. I have a friend who wears black Chinese slippers, which are actually quite nice because he moves around silently as cantor. I, it should be admitted, have been known to wear sandals in summer, which some people would probably frown on. I wouldn’t if serving, but in choir it seems innocent and vaguely monastic.

    Oh, and if your trousers are not black, it is better to roll them up so that they do not show below the cassock, since that is distracting.

  15. Al says:

    I’ve seen ‘Sunday best’ at the London Oratory (at an EF Low Mass years ago – I don’t know what they do there these days).

    Black cassock and square-necked surplice is surely the classic serving vesture. I may be flamed down for saying this, but I think a nice, traditional appareled alb can be beautiful too.

  16. momoften says:

    When you purchase cassocks be certain NOT to purchase the polyester….it may not wrinkle, but it is VERY warm!!! I believe the last we purchased were from AUTOM….We also require our servers to wear black trousers underneath, black shoes and socks…then if they grow out of the cassock faster than we can replace it, it still looks dignified. I have been looking for old patterns for surplices….if you can find them I would love to have them. We are looking to sew some to economize.

  17. Fr. PNP felt obliged to obey, but needs to have a talk with his Bishop. Pink flip-flops? How offensive to one’s sensibilities

  18. Stéphane says:

    Why an “unadorned” surplice? Is there anything wrong with lace on surplices? Is there any official rule about this?

  19. Maureen says:

    Wouldn’t lace be a little harder to take care of? I mean, you’d have to starch the lace or something, wouldn’t you?

  20. anamericanmother says:

    I was just in the fabric store looking for ribbon to match a gown, looked through the pattern books, and saw the patterns for surplices, cassocks etc. are still available.

    Both Simplicity and Butterick have them – don’t know about McCall’s. They are in the “costumes and uniforms” section of the pattern books. Both adult and kids sizes.

  21. Daniel Muller says:

    Both Simplicity and Butterick have them – don’t know about McCall’s. They are in the “costumes and uniforms” section of the pattern books. Both adult and kids sizes.

    Hmm. I could not find them on the Web sites; I only found a picture of the one that my mom had — she is checking to see whether she still has it. Apparently, it was a McCall’s from 1969. Thank goodness the female model is discreetly holding an octavo.

  22. Fr. Angel says:

    Daniel Muller:

    Here is the link for the Butterick pattern:


    When I was in the seminary, a sister of mine made me a cassock using this pattern. It turned out very decently, although it was a lot of work for her.

  23. Why didn’t anyone site Trimeloni? Fortescue? O’Connell? Martinucci?

    Why “unadorned”? Where’s that official rule? In the pics of the Mass for the Feast of the Assumption in NJ, Fr. Z is not wearing an “unadorned” surplice…. Why would that be?

  24. Fr. Angel says:

    At the McCall website, the boy’s cassock patterns are limited as McCall has discontinued the pattern and they will sell what they have left in stock.

    The cassock is sold as a “Matrix” costume, although it seems to be a cassock nonetheless for boys.

    Here is the link:


  25. latinmass: When people ask you the question, then you can give your answer.

    I think people starting out as servers should stick to the unadorned and simple, so that lace doesn’t become their real interest.

    In the case of the photo of Fr. Z at the Mass in Camden for the Assumption, you are looking at 1) a priest, not a potential altar server and 2) the preacher of the sermon for the Mass. Given the occasion and the role, the lace was the right choice.

    Otherwise, I don’t believe any of the old pre-Conciliar decree ruled on lace. I recall that most authorities recommend restraint. Some people will say that “Roman custom” suggest that lace has something to do with ecclesiastical rank, but that seems rather odd to me.

  26. 1) The reason why I mentioned those Rubricists was because, as implied in the question, the person wants to know what is the official or semi-official practice/rule (if there is any) in relevance to the traditional Mass. I do not think that the person who asked wanted to know what people do in their parishes… especially because different people will do different things and will claim a different reason as an explanation.

    2) I agree whole-heartedly that the issue of lace should not become the real interest of the people serving. However, lace is not the greatest obstacle that could be possible for many Altar servers. Besides, the servers who serve with sincere devotion and dedication will not even give it a second thought to the whole issue of “I have more lace than you do” that may occur in Sacristies.

    3) If other people can give an answer even when the question was not directed at them… why can’t I?

  27. PNP, OP says:

    Nathan, I believe the flip-flops were unbuckled and of the $.99 Fred’s Dollar Store variety. I was more than a little put off b ut I was merely concelebrating. I can assure you that the celebrant would have never allowed such a thing if he had had any advanced warning.

  28. My copy of Fortescue is loaned out at the moment… here’s O’Connell’s take in “The Celebration of Mass”:

    “When at all possible, the server, even though not a cleric, should wear a cassock and surplice, but when this is not possible, he may serve Mass in his ordinary dress. It is desirable that a server should wear slippers when taking part in ceremonies. A server is not allowed to wear gloves or a girdle, or any other ornament.” (353)

    I’ve never seen slippers worn at the Masses I’ve been to in New York City, Western New York, and Virginia, nor heard of them being worn elsewhere (except in the comment above.)

    Fr. Z writes: “Some people will say that “Roman custom” suggest that lace has something to do with ecclesiastical rank, but that seems rather odd to me.”

    It’s part of the custom of the United States, if not that of Rome. A connection of lace with rank is found in the Baltimore Ceremonial, the authority of which is raised by the legislation of the Councils of Baltimore, which ordered its creation and that it be observed.

    Here’s the relevant quote from the eighth edition (1893):

    “It is difficult to give any precise rule regarding the size and shape of the surplice. It would, however, seem more fitting that lace surplices should not be used except by Prelates. The surplice might very properly have a narrow edging of lace.” (pg. 135 footnote)

    Note that speaking of edging here, the reference is to priest’s surplices. I don’t think this rises to the level of a mandate, but I’d generally counsel restraint in the wearing of lace. Surplices made entirely of lace would seem particularly ill-advised for priests and a fortiori for seminarians. I have seen such used.

    The First Council of Baltimore was interested in the question of surplices. It would be interesting to dig up the text of the Decrees of the First Council submitted to Rome James O’Kane writes:

    “The first Provincial Council of Baltimore, prescribed for the American clergy a particular form of surplice, which it described in its decree as the form used in Rome. But the Sacred Congregation observed that the form described could not be affirmed to be the only form used in Rome, and directed the decree to be altered, so as to order simply: ‘Superpelliceum esse debere mo destum, decorum et sacris functionibus conveniens.'”

    I understand it is the custom in some Eastern European countries to wear the surplice over ordinary dress. Also in some places Boy Scouts serve in the uniforms and members of religious orders, congregations or confraternities serve in their habits.

  29. Of course if your servers are prelates, go nuts! ;)

  30. JA says:

    How about cassock, surplice and academic hood, anglican-style, for a bit of colour? Perhaps just at universities.

  31. Fr Martin says:

    In Australia, as a boys in a Dominican parish, we wore the tunic of the Order, a plain surplice, and the Order’s capuce. We did not, of course, wear a scapular.

    With this Dominican outfit black shoes were required; however, in neighbouring diocesan parishes where boys wore a red soutane, red slippers were usually kept in the sacristy for the altar boys to use.

  32. JA: I would say not. Mass is not really an academic event, even when it is at a university.

  33. J R Benedict: So, it seems I was pretty much no target.

  34. Aaron Sanders says:

    While the Council of Baltimore’s mandates ought to be taken into account, ought not we also remember that the restrained tastes of 19th century American prelates might have something to do with living in a (still-somewhat-to-rather-hostile) Calvinist country? We ought to balance out the choices of the Americans with the choices of, say, the Spanish or Austrians in order to get a better picture of the rather nebulous “custom” governing our present-day decision.

  35. Josiah Ross says:

    Are glove really forbidden? I hope not. It’s been the parish custom for servers to wear gloves for quite a few years at my parish. (Which has lead to many, many jokes between all the servers about finding a proper pair.)
    We wear black pants/shoes/socks with a white shirt under black cassock and white surplice. Red Cassocks during Christmas season and Paschal time.
    I own a surplice myself, trimmed with a thin edging of lace, and one with more lace. I found both being thrown out.I haven’t had the courage to ask to wear one.

  36. Daniel Muller says:

    Okay, this is not for boy altar boys, but for men, but if anyone is interested in the following cassock pattern:

    2079 McCall’s
    Men’s Large
    Collar 16-16 1/2, Chest 42-44

    please write me at dmuller commercialat dcccd dotedu

Comments are closed.