QUAERITUR: priest says not to lift the chasuble during TLM

From a reader:

Our TLM priest has asked the altar servers not to lift his chasuble during the elevations. Says it distracts him.
Anyway, I was wondering if the chasuble lifting is just a tradition or if it is such a tradition that it has become a ‘norm’ so to speak.

I don’t recall that this lifting of the chasuble is – for servers – an actual norm.  In the Ritus servandus in the 1962 Missale Romanum we are told that during a Solemn Mass the deacon is the lift the edge of the chasuble ("fimbrias planetae elevat").  Therefore, I assume that all others do this in imitation of the deacon at the solemn Mass.  That said, this is certainly a long-enduring custom, and a good one.

If this is really a problem for the priest, then it would be okay at a low Mass not to do it.   But… but… why should this be a big problem for the priest? 

Unless the server is yanking on the chasuble backward, I cannot fathom why this should be a problem.  If the server is being to intrusive in the way he handles the chasuble, then the server’s action should be corrected, not forbidden.

Thus, I would say in this case, it really should be done, from custom, and in imitation of the deacon, and from the expectations of the people, and from the desire of the servers (especially when young) to be able to do cool things.   I would say to the servers to be careful with the chasuble.  There is an old adage that "less is more".  Just raise the edge a little.  You don’t have to yank it backwards or raise it above your head.  A couple inches should suffice.

To the priest I would suggest "offer it up" if it bothers you.   This isn’t about you, after all.  Let the young men do what is expected and just deal with it.  In the meantime, be sure you train them to lift the chasuble in a way that is neither abrupt nor asphyxiating.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    This gesture has never made sense to me. I could understand if the edges were elevated during the genuflection immediately before elevation to keep the edges of the chasuble from catching or dragging, but as it stands, the gesture always makes me think of farting at the holiest of moments.

    “How divine a flatus,” one might ask.

  2. smcollinsus says:

    It seems that most of the Anglican Use, even in the most “High Church” of Liturgies, skip this gesture. Our TLM servers only hold the chasuple for the Elevation itself. This is not what I was taught as a child. We reached for the chasuble when the priest bent over to pronounce the Words of Institution. We kept the garment from touching the floor, &c., and gently lifted just a bit during the Elevation, and then kept ahold of it for the second genuflection. We didn’t lift it too high – to make him look like “superman” flying! The way I look at is that we are helping with the weight of the garment – either heavily ornate Roman, with lots of metalic thread, or extra-long, with lining, Gothic style. It makes more sense to be helping through the entire process rather than just the Elevation. Also, that makes it a “moving target” to grab as the priest rises from the genuflection up to his arms lifted. Most of the time the garment is not grabbed symetrically, and the servers’ motions are rushed. The whole affair makes the most important moment of the Consecration very distracting. Maybe it would be better let the chasuble fall as it will.

  3. Ellen says:

    I went to Mass at school Monday-Friday for 8 years and again on Sunday. I NEVER saw this gesture and our priest was a stickler of the old school. Frankly, I think it looks a bit odd.

  4. a catechist says:

    Does this gesture have any meaning? I attended the EF regularly this past summer & found this gesture really puzzling, but didn’t have a chance to ask the celebrant. Touching the floor certainly doesn’t seem to be the issue from what I can see, nor the weight of our fiddlebacks. Any help? thanks!

  5. I suspect that this gesture actually has nothing to do with the weight of the chasuble or preventing it from catching on the priest’s heel. I think that the deacon lifting it is the give away.

    In the Dominican Rite this gesture is prescribed when the deacon is incensing the elevations and (the front this time) when he is incensing the priest, which he does *under* the lifted chasuble. In both cases the obvious reason for the gesture it to keep any sparks or cinders that might escape the turible from harming the vestment.

    I suspect that it has a similar origin in the Roman Rite. When vestments got cut back into the abbreviated bib form of the fiddleback, the gesture ceased to have any purpose but became fossilized.

    As incense is not used at Low Mass, there is little reason to perform it at those Masses, where I also find no rubric requiring it. Nevertheless I always train my servers to do it, as it gets tiresome to listen to complaints about omitting it.

  6. JPG says:

    I have read that this gesture goes back to the days where the chasuble or casula, ” little house” was conical in form and the custom of lifting by the deacon was to help with the elevations by allowing the priest to raise his arms unimpeded. As such it would seem to be an ancient gesture which ought not be discarded lightly. I have read this in Alcuin Reid’s book or in Fortescue( “The Mass” not The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite”) I do not recall where. I do not attend the TLM regularly but given the past 40 years of altering the OF liturgy with impunity my suggestion for the priest is “suck it up” or offer it up would be better. Just because he is uncomfortable so what? The only custom I have seen upon which lay altar servers are not bound is kissing the priest’s hands again I am not sure of the source( that could have been the NLM blog or the above or the above sources) but again given the climate and predilection we all seem to have of doing what we will , I think doing the red and saying the black is an absolute. I would make the observation that the sacrality seemingly inherent in the EF is its demand that all there, both priest and people, are there to follow the Liturgy precisely. It is not there for them to do as they will. One’s subjective sense on being involved in the pews does not hinge on doing something but rather on interior attention which paradoxically is more attainable with the EF rather than the OF.

  7. bjackson says:

    As a former server (From when I was 14-22 years old) my favorite part of Mass was elevating the chasuble. I always started holding it during the Words and did not let go until after the Elevation (obviously I did not yank on it, just touched it). The happiest moment of my life is the first time I served the EF and for the first time I heard the Words and lifted the chasuble.

    I’ve always related this back to the scene in the Gospels with the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.

    I just wanted to confirm what Fr. Z very correctly pointed out, servers do appreciate doing this.

  8. Melody says:

    I always thought the gesture looked a bit silly when the priest is wearing a very lightweight chasuble. It almost seems like the altar boys are seizing him and lifting up the back of his shirt.
    It does look a lot less silly on the rare occasions I’ve been to a TLM with a heavier brocaded chasuble, which I assume was the original purpose.
    In respect of keeping the tradition, I’ve often wished the altar boys at my parish would lift the lightweight chasuble just several inches instead of a foot and half. It just looks weird when the hem is above the priest’s waist.

  9. Ioannes Andreades says:

    “Thus, I would say in this case, it really should be done, from custom, and in imitation of the deacon, and from the expectations of the people, and from the desire of the servers (especially when young) to be able to do cool things.”

    Father, can’t some of the abuses in the Novus Ordo be defended by appealing to some of these arguments, especially the last two?

    If it’s not in the rubrics, it shouldn’t be done.

  10. jesusthroughmary says:

    Ioannes –

    “If it’s not in the rubrics, it shouldn’t be done.”

    I disagree. Custom and tradition carry a lot of weight in our religion. Reducing everything about our worship to what is written down is to fall into the Protestant trap of minimalism and legalism. The reason many Novus Ordo abuses are defended on those bases is because they are legitimate arguments, not for doing something that is proscribed but for doing something that is neither prescribed nor proscribed.

  11. Hidden One says:


    The basic argument for keeping it is longstanding custom. The other points simply augment that argument, and are not sufficient, standing on their own.

    “Longstanding custom” doesn’t apply to any liturgical abuses in the NO.

  12. Joe Magarac says:

    Does this gesture have any meaning?

    I am not a liturgist and I’ve attended less than a dozen TLMs, so take my answer with a grain of salt. But when I first saw an altar boy lift the priest’s garment at Mass, I was reminded of a legend I learned in school about how the Jewish High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with a rope around his waist or ankle to prevent him from flying away due to his proximity to God. Because a priest seems especially close to God during the consecration, I assumed that the altar boy was holding the priest’s garment to prevent him from flying away (or at least to acknowledge the possibility of his doing so).

    A quick spot of internet research reveals that: a) the legend about the rope and the high priest has no documented basis in Jewish scripture or law; and b) there is no evidence that the long-ago liturgists who started the garment-holding custom were thinking of this legend when they did so. But because the legend and the custom are apparently both medieval, there is a possible connection. For whatever it’s worth.

  13. ipadre says:

    A distraction! I had to ask my server if he was lifting the chasuble, because I did not feel anything. The server must be pulling on the chasuble instead of lifting it.

  14. Sam Schmitt says:

    I always thought this had to do with the fact that, with certain chasubles at least, the priest lifting up his arms to elevate the Host and Chalice results in an awkward bunching up of the vestment at the back. I remember seeing this “bunching” once and it looked downright uncomfortable for the priest. It’s like the deacon and subdeacon holding the priest’s vestments when he is incensing at high mass – I always surmised it had a practical origin (making sure his vestments didn’t catch on fire) which then became somewhat stylized without completely losing its practical function.

    Otherwise, it seems a very odd thing to do, especially when I see servers (or deacons) raising it up “on high” so that we can clearly see the priest’s alb and and even his cincture (!).

  15. DetJohn says:

    From 1949 to 1960, I was an altar boy. I was raised in two parishes. In the Capuchin Parish we did not raise the chasuble. In the diocesan parish we did.

    I was taught that the reason for lifting the chasuble was to ease the burden in raising the Host and Chalice because in ancient times the Chasubles were heavely adorned with jewels and other decorations. The custom remained in continuity as did the clerical vestments themselves.

    In a fimed 1941 Easter Solemn High Mass narriated by then Msgr Fulton J. Sheen (posted on you tube) Msgr. Sheen explains that the cpoe was once a raincoat worn by monks during outdoor ceremonies to shelter them from the weather. He also explains that the church has a long standing tradition that it never completely drops something that was once part of a ceremony.

    The reason that we did not do it the the Capuchin parish was that the Capuchins and other Franciscans avowed poverty and did not bejewel their vestments, thus it was not necessary to assist the celebrant in raising the Host and Chalice.

    John Rondina

  16. moon1234 says:

    I say take up a collection and get your priest a nice long S. Phillip Neri style chasuble. I have always liked heavly ornate chasubles. It just adds to the mystery and also to a sense of royatly being present at Mass. After all the priest is in persona Christi and Christ is our king. Why would we NOT want to have vestments that honor our King?

  17. “If it’s not in the rubrics, it shouldn’t be done.”

    So… priests gotta stop breathing during Mass, eh? ;)

  18. pseudomodo says:


    Please provide a reference in the rubrics where is says to take up a collection! ;)

  19. Catholicity says:

    In response to : “I was reminded of a legend I learned in school about how the Jewish High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with a rope around his waist or ankle to prevent him from flying away due to his proximity to God…”

    The rope was tied around the high priest’s waist, not to keep him from flying away, but so that he could be dragged out of the holy of holies in the event that God struck him dead.

  20. Dave N. says:

    If it’s not in the rubrics, then I’d say the action is at the priest’s option. If there are questions, then “say the black, do the red” is always a safe and appropriate option.

  21. Lee says:

    I find it distracting when it is NOT done.

  22. Emilio III says:

    I don’t remember it ever being omitted at a Mass I attended in the old days. New altar boys tended to overdo the lifting the first time or two, but we were trained to correct that before serving at a public Mass.

  23. I am rather suspicious of the story that the lifting of the chasuble was due to the weight or cut of the vestments. This has all the marks of a post facto explanation when the real origin had been forgotten.

    There was no elevation of the Host in most places until after 1205, the elevation of the chalice is much later still. At that point the vestments had already been cut back from the conical shape and were of light material. Protection against flying cinders is a far more likely origin as it explains things like the deacon lifting the chasuble front when incensing the priest: which has absolutely nothing to do with the weight or cut of the chasuble.

  24. BillG says:

    When I was a server in the late 50’s and early 60’s, we did not lift the chasuble at all. At a local ICK oratory, the servers do, but only at the elevation. Jungmann says it is not related to the genuflection which was not prescribed until 1498. The instruction dates back to the 13th century in relation to the elevation. It seems that the old bell-shaped chasubles of that period were quite heavy and stiff. When the celebrant performed the elevation they both distorted badly (“presented a very ugly picture unless there was a helping hand to hold it neat”) and this could also have a choking effect at the collar. (Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol 2, p213-214)

  25. SidMJr says:

    “Because a priest seems especially close to God during the consecration, I assumed that the altar boy was holding the priest’s garment to prevent him from flying away (or at least to acknowledge the possibility of his doing so).”

    That would make sense with St Joseph of Cupertino… ;-)

  26. q7swallows says:

    I’m a layman, not a liturgist or a theologian, but I think about these things.  I find it not only a very charming gesture but a rich and meaningful one.

    When the servers lift the hem of the priest’s garment as he lifts the Body and Blood of the Lord, we, the laity, who are unable to touch Him in that way can only approach the great mystery of Consecration on the hem, on the “coattails” if you will, of the priest.  So, in those sublime moments, we gently lift up what we can (in the fingers of the servers):  the hem of the priestly garment, the chasuble.  

    It is at once a gesture but it is more.  It is a divine collaboration, with each offering up what he can within the confines of his vocation and each in touch–quite literally–with the other.

    The server holds the chasuble in one hand and in the other, a bell.  He is in that moment at the essence of the lay vocation:  on the one hand, he maintains contact with the Lifeblood that is God’s (through His holy priesthood) and with the other hand he calls others to “come and see” with a joyful noise.

    The divine order is also exemplified:  God is uppermost, the priest touching Him directly, and us hanging onto the priest’s “coattails.” If he happens to take flight, this way we might not be left behind!  

    In reverse, it is a reminder of how important it is for us to uplift and support priests so that they may extend the fountain of grace further for the benefit of others…the way the cup of the chalice needs the support of a humble but sturdy stem and base.

    So, yes, I see lots of layers here.  It may be muddled thinking, but I’m open to correction.  Given the above thoughts, however, I hope the tradition is maintained.  

  27. Dear BillG,

    “The instruction dates back to the 13th century in relation to the elevation. It seems that the old bell-shaped chasubles of that period were quite heavy and stiff.”

    This is simply not the true. The 13th century chasubles were of light material and cut back very much like the “neo-gothic” ones used in the modern period. The only cases where lifting the chasuble is prescribed in the thirteenth century are were there was a danger of burns from incense. That is it. I know the manuscript ordo well.

    I discuss this material extensively in chapter 5 of my book _Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes_ (Penn State Press, 2005), winner of the Howard R. Marraro Prize for the best book on Italian religious history in 2005. I hate to “pull rank” but the repetition of common errors on this issue is becoming tiresome.

    I wish you all the most blessed of Christmases.

  28. edmontonn18 says:

    I’ve been serving the TLM almost every week for about 7 years. We raise the chasuble at High and Low Mass However, I do have to gently remind the newer servers that the action is more ceremonial than practical, and should be the lightest of touches – place the hand under the chasuble and support it gently, remembering not to touch the outer fabric of the vestment to avoid it becoming soiled over time.

    And then there’s also the reminder that exaggeration of this action can be somewhat undignified: The action requires one to lessen the weight of the chasuble from the priest’s shoulders during the elevation, not to expose his behind to the congregation.

  29. Konichiwa says:

    Perhaps the lifting creates a change in pressure creating a gust of air underneath the chausable, or the priest may just very shy about his back side. The first time I saw the chausable lifted, I just had an Angels-singing-Alleluiah moment and imagined a beam of light coming down from the clouds. I think I appreciate the gesture very well :)

  30. q7swallows says:

    I forgot to mention that the gesture also conjures the imagery of pages-holding-hems in both kingly and nuptial scenarios–both of which seem entirely appropriate at the moment of Consecration.

  31. ssoldie says:

    Excellent advice Fr. Z to the priest ‘offer it up’ it is not about you, so get over it. It is traditional, there is always a symbol, and it’s the Traditional Latin Mass.

  32. iowapapist says:

    Please ask the reader to send his priest who is willing to say the TLM (albeit w/o chausable lifting) to the Archdiocese of Dubuque. We can send him many priests who make up the Eucharistic Prayers (many times about being non-judgmental and non-homophobic), enforce mandatory hand-holding during the Our Father and only seem to offer Masses which include the music of Dan Schutte, Marty Haugen, Rorey Cooney etc. If this is the reader’s only complaint then the reader has no complaint.

  33. Supertradmom says:

    I have seen this gesture in many, many Latin Masses in the dioceses of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska. Also, this custom was done at the Latin Mass in Ventura, at The Mission Buena Ventura, and Thomas Aquinas College. I cannot remember it being done in England.

  34. Fr Medley says:

    I have found that it makes it easier to elevate the sacred host and the chalice.

    I don’t know where it came from, but I was sure glad when the server lifted up my fiddle back. If he didn’t my shoulders would bunch up and the neck part would get real tight. When he lifts it, the chasuble moves when I do.

    I think it is mere practicality. Therefore if it is not a norm and priest doesn’t like it – do what he says. I prefer it.

  35. Tina in Ashburn says:

    echoing q7swallows: pages-holding-hems in both kingly and nuptial scenarios

    Since we have pretty much killed off all of our monarchs except the Pope, representation of royalty and such customs is lost on the masses. Christ the King who?

    I too have wondered about this custom and finally came to the private conclusion that perhaps this is a sign of reverence for Christ the King in His royal robes.

Comments are closed.