QUAERITUR: servers using clerical collars

A question came from a reader:

Is it permissible for non-seminarian (male) altar servers to wear the Roman Collar whilst serving the altar?  I’ve heard a lot and read a lot of conflicting reports.  Besides aesthetics, MAY they wear the Collar?  The lay servers at the vatican wear them and so does that that permit all altar boys?

Thanks Father!

There is a strong temptation to say "They do it at the Vatican, so we can do it here!"  But it is true that the boys who serve in the sacristy at St. Peter’s Basilica do wear the Roman collar with their cassocks.  But they also have the privilege of wearing the color paonazza, the violet of prelates.

Also, remember that seminarians who are not deacons are "lay servers", though we can rightly classify them more closely with the clergy.

Getting to your question… yes, I think servers can wear the Roman collar with a cassock.  And the "aesthetics" is not a small reason why I say that.  The squared "military" collar is just wrong without the band behind it around the throat.  It is all of a piece, as it were.  Another reason to wear the collar is that it helps to keep the cassocks clean and in good repair.  Older servers and men should be attentive to protect the edges of the cassocks collar from being damaged against their necks.

I don’t see anything wrong with servers wearing collars, so long as they do so in the proper way.  If they are using a Roman cassock for serving a Roman priest for the Roman Rite, then dress in the Roman manner.

When in Rome, as it were…

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  1. Peter says:

    Perhaps an amice of some kind if a collar is not available?

  2. Rafael Cresci says:

    There are amices that resemble the collar, with the advantage that they are not plastic.

    Now Father, can the same be said about the fascia? Or it is privilege of the ordained?

  3. Beowulf says:

    It is simply a particular style of collar after all, even police women in Italy wear them. It seems silly to regard it as especially clerical dress. I think it is absurd that many seminaries refuse to allow anyone below deacon to wear one.

  4. John says:

    The collar is no less clerical dress than the cassock or the surplice. It is ridiculous to say that lay servers can wear cassock and surplice but not the collar! Note that the collar should be a real one, not that silly plastic tab even priests should not be wearing. As for the fascia, it was a privilege of prelates, honorary prelates, and some clergy, like pastors. The majority of ordinary priests could not wear it in the past, and probably shouldn’t do so now. Lay servers, of course, should never wear it, any more than regular priests should wear other marks of distinction, like the mozzetta, piping, the rochet, pectoral cross etc.

  5. Peter says:

    I thought all priests were entitled to the fascia?

  6. Peter says:

    Re the fascia, Nainfa says “Irremovable parish priests, as a sign of ordinary jurisdiction, and Rectors of Seminaries as a sign of authority, are privileged to wear a black cincture of plain silk with fringes at the bottom”.

    So it would seem priests aren’t automatically entitled to wear it.

  7. sacredosinaeternum says:


    correctly stated. While the collar can be worn WITH the cassock by the non ordained when serving Holy Mass, the fascia can’t. It’s reserved, as Nainfa observes, for priests with ordinary jurisdiction, i.e., pastors, and Rectors, etc.

    Growing up in my diocese during the 80’s, servers wearing cassocks always also wore collars. It was a non issue. As Fr. Z says, “If they are using a Roman cassock for serving a Roman priest for the Roman Rite, then dress in the Roman manner.”

  8. Martin_B says:

    Just on the side:

    The wearing of “paonazza” cassocks isn’t unique to the roman basilicas, or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

    Beside being the color of the episcopal (and some prelatial) choir-cassock, violet is also the colour of the episcopal livery. And as such, it is the “proper” color of the servers of the cathedrals.

  9. Caeremoniarius says:

    The Catholic Encyclopedia reminds us that Urban VIII required in 1624
    that the cassock always be bound by a sash (this is also quoted in McCloud).
    Of course, subsequent legislation could have reversed this, but I can never
    find any ruling on this. Even Nainfa doesn’t give a source re pastors and
    irremovable parish priests. I do know that the M.C.’s for pontifical
    functions in the Institute of Christ the King wear the purple cassock (as
    the Caeremoniale Episcoporum requires) with the purple sash with two tufts.

  10. dominic1962 says:

    The fascia is, basically, an integral part of the cassock for clerics (or seminarians since they aren’t clerics by law anymore) but not for non-clerics/seminarians. The issue of the *silk* (and watered silk to boot, I believe) fascia for permanent pastors or seminary rectors is one of a special fascia worn because of an office held by the wearer.

    It was a CUSTOM (at least in this country) not to wear a fascia because of its missionary status. The fascia isn’t absolutely “necessary”, and probably couldn’t be easily made/replaced out in the sticks.

  11. sacredosinaeternum says:

    In fact, it is not just the silk fascia that is reserved to priests with ordinary jurisdiction, but the fascia itself. Nainfa is an authoritative source in the early 1900’s. You can check this site: http://www.catholicsites.org/clericaldress/

  12. Jeff says:

    I checked the site and obviously it is a debated question.

  13. dominic1962 says:

    Then why is it that practically everyone that wears a cassock also wears a fascia with it, especially the traditional orders? Also, what do we make of the edict of Urban VIII referenced in the Catholic Encyclopedia?

  14. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    I agree with Fr. Z: the Roman Collar and the cassock are of a piece and sholuld always be worn together.

    I wore a roman collar as an altar boy (1960’s) but when I went to the minor seminary (high school and first two years of college)I discovered that it was “forbidden” until one was in the major seminary. I later learned that this was a particularly East Coast Irish- American obsession and that minor seminarians at places like St. Meinrad (Mid- Western & German-American)did use the collar. Related to this was the use in the USA of “clericals” — the black suit with the Roman Collar. This was, for some reason, only used among diocesan seminarians by those in major orders (sub-deacons, deacons) even though canon law made no such distinction with regard to clerical dress. The rest wore a black suite with a white shirt and black tie. On the other hand, members of religious orders and clerical institutes in the USA often used the Roman Collar with a black suite from the time of first profession, since religious profession or incorporation in a clerical institute conferred the privileges and obligations of the clerical state. In all these respects we were quiet peculiar when compared with the rest of the Catholic world. Elsewhere seminarians wore the cassock with the roman collar or religious habit and were generally indistinguishable from priests. (I would add that in diocesan seminaries there was and often still is a rigid segregation between seminarians and ordained faculty. In religious communities there is much less real distinction between the ordained and non-ordained in all matters save the general respect one owes to age and the priesthood: living arrangements, dress, attendance at religious exercised, etc.)

    Of coures all this has changed a great deal in the past 40 years and in many quarters both seminarians and priest have adopted purely secular dress. In addition many bishops and seminary rectors have forbidden “permanent” deacons and seminarians not in deacons orders from wearing clericals (suit or cassock). This appears to be an extension of the erroneous idea drawn from popular culture that the Roman Collar is somehow exclusively reserved for the ordained clergy. This unfortunately undermines the incorporation of seminarians into a healthy clerical identity and service at the altar as a first initiation of boys into the possibility of a vocation.

  15. Peter says:

    A lot of the Roman seminaries’ house cassocks have fascias, which doesn’t seem consistent with fascias not being allowed to all priests, if Nainfa is correct.

  16. mike conlon says:

    Altar boys sporting Roman collars seems to be an arrogation. Boys playing at “dress-up.” Before the advent of shirts with collars, shirts were sold without collars and one could attach one’s own style of collar with a collar stud. One then wore a black tie, usually a clip -on or “undertaker’s tie” with the collar, but beneath the surplice. This was the practice in the Archdiocese of NY, which must have been the hot bed of Irish-American obsession. Pls. note Fr. Logan is a native of the Newark Arch., which was always looked on in askance by NY prelates:-) (of cawss, they were Irish_American).

  17. telcontar says:

    Thankfully the seminary I attend allows, rather requires the collar (after about 1/2 way through first semester). This is either with “clerics” or cassock, of course. There are some exceptions, most of the religious here are in habits, and at least one of those who is not was given permission by his superiors to wear clerics/cassock from day 1. ;-)

  18. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    If the collar is “dress up” then so is the cassock and surplice. But then what is so wrong with dressing up? It is a natural part of childhood as we learn the meaning of social roles and functions. In the military world this goes on all the time. Young boys who join the “Young Marines” actually put on a real Marine Uniform. Of course they also have a high and tight hair cut, the Marine’s answer to the tonsure. This is officially sponsored by the Marine Corp and is one of their many very successful recruiting tools. Hmmm! I wonder if there’s a message here.

    As for the Newark connection, during my final years of grammar school I served Mass at Mt. St. Vincent in Yonkers. Priests of the Archdiocese of New York were the chaplains. Cardinal Spellman and the auxiliary bishops were there frequently and I recall positive remarks from them about how smart we looked in our collars. Down in the road at St. Margaret’s in Riverdale (Bronx) the altar boys all sported huge plastic Buster Brown Collars with bows. Nothing would not have induced me to serve Mass there! These Buster Brown Collars were once worn in our home parish in New Jersey and I have pictures of my father and uncles in them. By the time I came along in the mid-50’s they were reserved for big occasions like Easter, First Communion and May Processions. Otherwise we were expected to have a white, long-sleeved shirt under the cassock. Even then I sensed that there was something a bit inauthentic about this arrangement. It made the cassock and surplice into a kind of costume put on over “real” clothing.

  19. sacredosinaeternum says:

    dominic1962, that is a very difficult question to answer. Just because so many wear the fascia so widely, though, does not mean that they are allowed to. Fr. Shetler, on his site referenced above, gives a good answer to your question and his work to give some help:

    “As part of the reform following the Second Vatican Council, the Church desired to simplify clerical dress and to foster consistency of external forms by eliminating too much variation and particularity. It has been the expressed hope of the Church that “attention should be paid to what is determined by [liturgical law] and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice”.[1]

    Unfortunately, this desired uniformity has not yet been realized. On the contrary, contemporary practices very often differ from what is laid down in the Church’s law, and especially from the Church’s legitimate custom (the “traditional practice of the Roman Rite” mentioned above). A great amount of misinformation is disseminated, both orally and in writing, so that, since the changes, some errors which have crept into the practice of clerical dress (customs of fact, which have no legal weight without approval when contrary to the law[2]) have been solidified in the minds of a great many ecclesiastics.

    Part of the reason this problem remains is that few contemporary authors have taken up the subject of clerical dress from an academic perspective. Some who have written on it have replaced legitimate law and custom with their own preferences and opinions, and, to the extent that these works are relied upon, they have only exacerbated the problem. The most notable contemporary work is Noonan’s The Church Visible,[3] which has been criticized by many for its biases, its acceptance of any and all contemporary Roman practices, and an overuse of Italian names for items of clerical dress. Noonan’s work remains a popular resource, however, largely because there is virtually nothing else available.

    It is the hope of the present writer that this article will not be just another presentation of an individual author’s preferences and opinions, but a scholarly resource based solely upon legitimate law and custom that will be useful to individual Roman clerics, to tailors, and to others interested in this aspect of the Roman Church’s visible life. The subject of clerical dress is here dealt with systematically and synthetically, by applying the prescriptions of the Church’s post-conciliar law to the pre-conciliar practices and customs. While the use of many words from Italian remains necessary, the present article returns to the terminology used consistently by the earlier English-language authors. The intended result is a comprehensive exposition of the current proper forms of dress for all the secular clergy of the Roman Rite.”

  20. dominic1962 says:

    It seems like this would be much like the issue of Americans wearing trousers under the cassock. Does Nainfa not say that the Roman custom was to wear knickers and long socks? If something is customary, it is tolerated or if it becomes custom because of a lack of a law regulating it, it would seem to be a legitimate option. Unless there is an actual law prohibiting the use of the fascia for lesser clergy, it would seem that custom would support the usage of the fascia.

  21. dominic1962 says:

    After having looked at Nainfa, he never says that any cleric is prohibited from wearing the fascia only that altar boys cannot make use of it.

  22. Joshua says:

    Seminarians after tonsure can wear the fascia at the FSSP Seminary in Nebraska. I presume if there were any law contrary, even traditionally, they would not.

  23. Peter says:

    Do they wear a fringed fascia at the FSSP seminary?

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