QUAERITUR: shirt collar showing over cassock collar

From a reader:

Should altar servers (who wear cassocks) have “street clothes”
sticking up over the collar of their cassock?

I would argue that according to GIRM 336 that if clothes must be covered when wearing an alb, then it would follow that the same concept is in effect when wearing “other lawfully approved vesture”, such as a cassock & surplice.

The GIRM says:

336. The sacred garment common to ordained and instituted ministers of any rank is the alb, to be tied at the waist with a cincture unless it is made so as to fit even without such. Before the alb is put on, should this not completely cover the ordinary clothing at the neck, an amice should be put on. The alb may not be replaced by a surplice, not even over a cassock, on occasions when a chasuble or dalmatic is to be worn or when, according to the norms, only a stole is worn without a chasuble or dalmatic.

337. The vestment proper to the priest celebrant at Mass and other sacred actions directly connected with Mass is, unless otherwise indicated, the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole.

338. The vestment proper to the deacon is the dalmatic, worn over the alb and stole. The dalmatic may, however, be omitted out of necessity or on account of a lesser degree of solemnity.

339. In the dioceses of the United States of America, acolytes, altar servers, lectors, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other suitable vesture or other appropriate and dignified clothing.

It seems other conferences of bishops could have other guidelines.   dd

First and foremost, we have to get priests to cover their street clothes when they vest for Mass.  I think everyone has seen priests with their black and white collar sowing over their chasuble.  That is not only against GIRM 336, it is just… I don’t know… vain? Showy?  Any way you put it, it is wrong.

The priests Roman collar is his street dress, his ordinary, daily wear.  What happens at Mass is sacred and requires sacred garb.   We cover over the secular for the sake of the sacred.

As I was writing it occurred to me that, perhaps, the person involved may have been exposed in youth to priests who, when wearing their cassock or a habit, have part of the linen collar over the top of the cassock collar, as do, for example, the Oratorians.

In any event, it seems to me that if the sacred ministers are required to have their street clothes covered, then the same should apply to other servers.

This might not be immediately practical.  It could take time to let the concept seep in.  It may be that the priest himself doesn’t observe this properly.  It could be that proper garments have to be obtained.

But I think it is proper that, when wearing the cassock to serve, that street clothes, including the collar of the shirt, be covered.

That said, this is not one of the things that gets much of my attention.   When I see someone with his shirt collar sticking out of a cassock collar my first thought is “Tacky.”, while my second thought is, “One of these days he’ll figure it out.”

Let servers wear cassocks properly.  Let sacred ministers cover their street clothes.

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  1. Pater OSB says:

    I get the impression that the correspondent is referring to regular shirt, be it oxford, golf or t-shirt, collar showing around the edge or possibly in the ‘notch’ of the cassock collar. Which raises the questions – ought the servers wear Roman collars with the cassock? This is not typically the case in my experience, and this is why the street clothing underneath the cassock shows. Is there some reason for the altar boys to omit the collar?

  2. ray from mn says:

    Give me a break! I used to be a “liturgy cop.” But at some point you have to realize that the Church has authorized no such position to carp and publicize errors from deviations from its requirements and standards by using slavishly literal interpretations.

    You are to be at Mass to worship, give thanks to and make requests of your God. Not to criticize priests, servers and musicians. When you see something that might invalidate the Mass, then it might be time to inform your Bishop. But chances are, he already knows about it.

    If you don’t like it, find another parish; if there is none nearby, then just offer it up in reparation for the sins of the world. That should keep you busy.

  3. devthakur says:

    ray: let’s be more charitable. This may not be a question from a liturgy cop. It may be a question from someone who serves the Mass, for example, and just wants to know he is doing the right thing, and wants to know if he is in the right before he gently makes a suggestion to a fellow server.

    Servers, who are actually allowed into the Sanctuary (what a daunting and tremendous privilege) should be zealous. They should be very careful to edify others by their example, and it is important for them to think about vestiture, posture, how they turn, how they hold their hands, how they pass objects, etc. etc.

  4. DWB says:

    Ray: I must most respectfully disagree. I should be able to attend Mass at the Parish closest to my home with the expectation that the Mass will be celebrated according to the norms the Church (and our Lord) have established – including those set forth in the GIRM.

    In the last 30 days my wife and I had the good fortune to visit two of our children attending colleges out of state. Both universities are state universities. Both are supported by a “university” Parish. We attended Mass with each of our children during our visits. To my delight (and, I must sadly admit, surprise) each Mass was celebrated in a reverent manner and according to the GIRM – including the vesting of the celebrant and servers.

    It is a great feature of our great Church that it is universal. And, for me, one of the key aspects of this universality is constancy; a faithful adherence to the teachings and instructions of the Church so that “from East to West” we celebrate the same perfect offering.

    I mentioned parenthetically that I was surprised to find the Mass at each of these university parishes celebrated in accordance with the GIRM because, in my own diocese, I cannot find it at the two Parishes closest to my house. Should I be required to move or travel the additional distance because of this, or should the pastor of the Parish closest to my house celebrate Mass in accordance with the GIRM?

    You may think that vesting properly is a small thing. It is not. In my parish, our pastor is very fond of wearing colorful and decorative stoles OVER his chasuble. This raises many serious concerns for me – concerns that are a real distraction not only during Mass itself, but also in my relation to that pastor, my parish, our bishop for allowing it, and ultimately my faith.

    It is a distraction because I know that the priest is purposely choosing not to follow the dictates of the Church when celebrating, as Christ’s representative, the most Holy of the Mysteries of our faith. It is a distraction because the particular manner of vesting is “protestant” in appearance. What is my pastor choosing to “protest” about the Church’s teachings in vesting this way? It is a distraction because the coloring and design of the stoles do not correspond to the liturgical color of the day and beg the question – “what is the pastor trying to say?” Does the multi-colored stole that I am forced to look at during the celebration of the Mass have a meaning other than that intended by the Church? What about the stole with cartoonish characters with a universalists look?

    Should I really have to Parish shop in order to find a reverent and faithful celebration of the Mass?

  5. Obumbrabit says:

    At my last parish, we (the servers) would take off our collared shirts in the sacristy and just wear our undershirts in cassock and surplice. Dark undershirts were preferable because then the undershirt was not even perceptible in the notch in the front of the cassock neck. Not wearing our long-sleeved collared shirts also had the dual purpose of keeping us from sweating more than we had to on the warmer days of the year in our church.

  6. czemike says:

    When I was serving (long before it was ever called the extraordinary rite) we were required to wear white oxford shirts such that a white collar was the only thing visible above the black of the cassock. Of course, we were allowed to get away with wearing shirts with blue collars on Marian feasts — the only “liturgical blue” that was ever allowed/tolerated by the cantankerous Spanish who was in charge of things back in those days… :-)

  7. czemike says:

    DWB said: “Should I be required to move or travel the additional distance because of this, or should the pastor of the Parish closest to my house celebrate Mass in accordance with the GIRM?”

    I realize this is primarily a discussion about the “ordinary rite” but many who prefer the “extraordinary rite” travel great distances to find a Mass according to the older Missal. Where I attend Mass the majority of folks live 20 miles or more from the chapel; some drive as much as two hours each way for what Cardinal Newman called the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven”.

  8. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    Does that mean womyn lectors can use the alb and cincture? That’s a slippery slope.

  9. raitchi2 says:

    There should never be a woman lector. There isn’t much else to say. No need to worry about how a female altar serve should vest.

  10. DWB says:

    czemike: I understand your point. Still, I suspect that you would be (rightfully) outraged, if you traveled such a distance to find that the priest celebrating the Mass in the Extraordinary Form felt it necessary to add a personal touch or two “to the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.” It is inconceivable that this would happen during the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. It should be equally rare when celebrating Mass in the Ordinary Form. We are, after all, one Church.

    Both forms are valid. In my opinion, there is no reason why one form should be celebrated strictly in accordance with the rubrics and instructions, and the other form should not.

    Let me add an anecdote as relates to vestments and the apparent disparity between the relative numbers of young men discerning for the priesthood in orthodox parishes, and those that are less so (or worse). I have three sons. All are fine young men, with a strong sense of service and a strong faith. Two were attracted to the military. And, I can tell you that one of the reasons was the uniforms. All three serve the Church is some manner, but as laymen. Honestly (and I mean no disrespect here), there is little to set a priest – or priestly service – apart for a young man considering what to do with his life, when Sunday after Sunday he attends Mass celebrated by a priest who vests to the very minimum of what might be considered appropriate; and whose role seems to take a back seat to that of the excess number of lay people (a majority of whom are women) the priest has involved in the mass in one way or another.

  11. papaefidelis says:

    I have a photo of JP II wearing vestments (stole, chasuable, and pallium) directly over his zimarra, with no amice or alb to speak of. Of course, this was in a subequatorial region and, well, he’s the supreme pontiff and may have granted himself a dispensation due to heat.

  12. Re: the alb and cincture

    The alb is the baptismal robe. All baptized Christians have the right to wear albs to church if they like; we just usually don’t do it. In Heaven, Revelation says that we will indeed all wear albs.

    This said, I’ve seen women wear albs in a creepy way and in a non-creepy way. Wearing a HUGE HONKIN’ CROSS NECKLACE over your alb, whether male or female, is creepy and presumptuous to boot (unless you’re a bishop who’s not fully vested yet).

  13. dominic1955 says:

    Why should one “form” of the Mass be celebrated strictly according to the rubrics? Because it can be!

    There is a HUGE gulf between the detail of the Ritus Servandus and the lack thereof in the GIRM. Trying to celebrate the NO “strictly” according to the rubrics is like nailing jello to the wall. What you end up doing is following your own notion of what those rubrics (or lack thereof) should be.

    As to the original question, either they should wear the Roman collar w/ a cassock or have some other type of cassock without the square notch in the front that practically screams to be filled by the aforementioned collar.

    What’s by far much worse than a shirt collar seen peeking through the notch up front is khakis or jeans sticking out from below. You can’t put an amice on that…

  14. Golatin5048 says:

    Ok, as I being a Altar server and wear Black and White’s as we nicknamed it, (I only wear it sometimes, because we have girl servers and my associate pastor does not like having girls in albs, or even serve with boys for that matter, and boys in cassocks together, and we only have 3 cassocks), It is actually, kind of hard to keep your collar under the cassock, I have served almost always with a polo shirt, but i must say, sadly, I have severed in a t-shirt, but that was because I went to Benediction at the last minute and could not change, and saw no one was there and went up.

    I always keep my collar down in the front, but the back is a little harder to keep down, still working on that!

    God Bless.

  15. MJ says:

    I like how Fr Z put this one…when I see a collar sticking out I think “tacky” but then “maybe one day he’ll figure it out”.

    I think it’s a matter of proper training and teaching the servers not to be sloppy. Oftentimes I see wrinkled and (gasp) dirty cassocks, and that’s just not right…if we dress our best to attend Mass the servers should look their best when they serve Mass.

  16. dominic1955 says:

    To hide a regular shirt collar, you simply fold it under into the shirt.

  17. DWB says:

    dominic1955: There nevertheless are matters that are very clearly spelled out that are frequently ignored.

  18. asperges says:

    ..what Cardinal Newman called the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven”.
    Forgive the pedantry, but in fact, it was Fr Faber, not Newman.

  19. I would love to have nothing more upsetting than a visible shirt collar. At my former parish, the pastor only wears a chasuble for masses on Sunday and Holy Days. For ALL daily masses, he wears ONLY an alb and a stole, even with concelebrants. This has gone on for so long that it seems pointless to complain. The Bishop must surely know about this. When the Bishop doesn’t care, what can one do?

  20. Kaneohe says:

    This is too funny – seeing a priest’s roman collar sticking out above his alb! Really, where would I have to go to actually see a priest in a roman collar? All priest within a 100 miles of where I live all wear either sport shirts or tee-shirts – or often just white undershirts either V or crew neck (and this is all in public. ) I’ll take seeing a roman collar peeking over an alb any day and give thanks.

  21. joanofarcfan says:

    A bit off subject, but can’t we also get black dress shoes to be the required footwear for altar boys and get rid of the oft squeaky, colorful and unattractive athletic shoes? For altar girls…well, I don’t know what to say. Don’t like ’em.

  22. nanetteclaret says:

    But Our Lord did not say, “Just be faithful in the big things and we’ll let the little things slide.” He said:

    “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” Luke 16:10
    “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Matthew 25:21

  23. TrueLiturgy says:

    Priests’ street clothes….I know quite a few Priests that wear legit street clothes. This past Sunday I could see the Priest’s khaki slacks from underneath the chasuble…. :-(

  24. Jayna says:

    “The priests Roman collar is his street dress, his ordinary, daily wear.”

    Try telling the priests around here (down South) that the collar is their street dress. For many of them, that’s their Sunday best. I’ve known one priest in my entire life who wore his cassock on a regular basis (and I mean all the time; in the ten years I was in his parish, I don’t think I ever saw him in anything but his cassock). Apart from him, I’ve had one priest who I’ve seen wear his cassock three times in the four years I’ve known him. And even that is surprising given that he wears a clerical shirt maybe two or three times a week.

    I try not to criticize, I really do, but when it’s spelled out so clearly in black and white (pun only partially intended), it’s hard not to be annoyed by it. I like it when priests look like priests, it makes me think they’re proud of the fact.

  25. tioedong says:

    doesn’t this keep the holy vestment clean (i.e. no “ring around the collar”?)

    Here in the Philippines, in the poorer provinces, we often see folks put a towel under the back of a shirt to protect the uniform or dress shirt from becoming soaked with dirt or sweat from the neck.

    In the good old days, wasn’t there a vestment that did the same thing?

  26. ray from mn says:


    I serve Mass once or twice a week. If I had a question as to whether or not it was appropriate if my collar showed, I would ask the priest celebrating the Mass.


    I doubt that there are any rules regarding the collars of servers, including their color.

    It is specifically required that the celebrant’s stole must be under the chasuble. It does not invalidate the Mass if it is not worn that way.

  27. DWB says:

    Thank you Ray. I suspect that our point of view is irreconcilable. I grieve to think that the standard is not to strive to celebrate the Mass in a manner that is true to the Church’s intructions, but simply to make sure that the Mass is not invalid.

  28. czemike says:

    DWB said: “I suspect that you would be (rightfully) outraged, if you traveled such a distance to find that the priest celebrating the Mass in the Extraordinary Form felt it necessary to add a personal touch or two “to the most beautiful thing this side of heaven… Both forms are valid. In my opinion, there is no reason why one form should be celebrated strictly in accordance with the rubrics and instructions, and the other form should not.”

    I don’t know about the “ordinary form” but I know that the ruberics of the 1962 missal are defined such that deviating to add a ‘personal touch’ is ipso facto a mortal sin and materially an act of schism (taking into one’s own hands the power to change the liturgy that was reserved to Rome by the Bull Quo Primum). I don’t know if the newer form has such penalties built into the rules of the liturgy.

  29. czemike says:

    asperges said: “Forgive the pedantry, but in fact, it was Fr Faber, not Newman.”

    My fault; I couldn’t remember who said it and was ready t0 give credit to Klaus Gamber before mis-Googling it. I thank you for correcting me on this point.

  30. Panterina says:

    I do what dominic1955 says: I fold my collar under my shirt. But I would have never figured it out on my own if it wasn’t for the training of our more experienced MC–hence, MJ is right: “I think it’s a matter of proper training and teaching the servers not to be sloppy.”

    In having the privilege to serve, my mantra has always been Matthew 5:48.

    BTW, I sometimes forget to unfold my collar after Mass. I must look at a dork–which I don’t mind at all outside of the sacred liturgy.

  31. frival says:

    The first Mass I ever served, shortly after entering the Church through RCIA, the priest – no liturgical stickler himself – physically stopped me from leaving the sacristy in order that he might turn my collar under. I have never forgotten that example and often reflect on what it symbolizes. We are to do the best we can for God at all times, not least of all during the Mass. It takes ten seconds – certainly a small mite to offer up. Some day, some how, I’ll get that through my son’s head – although I think it’s less a case of not wanting to do it than just forgetting all together given his age and at times lack of sobriety in my parish’s sacristy before and after Mass.

    FWIW, I, as Panterina, have occasionally found myself walking around with a tucked-in collar after Mass. I may have looked a dork, but it was a Catholic dork!

  32. RE: the collar question
    Just take off your dress shirt. That’s what we seminarians do when we’re in cassock and surplice. If you just have an undershirt, then you don’t have the problem of a collar sticking up and you don’t have to worry so much about the heat. (Granted, we also wear Roman Collars, which makes it more or less essential to take the shirt off to get the collar on)

    RE: Roman Collars
    The Roman (Clerical) Collar is a sign of Holy Orders. It should only be worn by priests and seminarians. (The specifics of when seminarians can is a little more grey, it’s pretty much up to the bishop until you’re in theology and have received Candidacy, and even then I’m not sure that you can wear it for much outside of classes and Mass.) That’s why regular altar boys don’t wear them – they aren’t in either of the aforementioned categories.

    RE: priest’s collar showing
    I don’t find it all that problematic. I’d certainly rather have the priest cover it, but I wouldn’t make much of a big deal out of it. There’s worse things that can and have been done.

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