QUAERITUR: Vesting priests for Vespers

From a priest reader:

At my parish we celebrate solemn sung Vespers during Lent with the congregation. The pastor has asked that the priest celebrant vest in alb and stole using at the basis of his request that the Holy Father uses an alb and stole and likewise the Ceremonial of Bishops prescribes that the Bishop use and alb and stole. Saying that the bishop is properly the celebrant and that what is good for Rome and the bishop is good for the parish as well.

However, in our discussions we have looked in the various rituals for Baptism, Marriage and even exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and found that there is given the option for a priest to wear a surplice (assuming then that the cassock is used). Would you be able to point us in the right direction as to where both are valid options? I’d appreciate any direction you can shoot my way.

Kudos for having Vespers!  A fine tradition.

My understanding is that, for a priest or deacon, the proper dress for Vespers is choir dress with cope.  Cassock, surplice, biretta surmounted by cope, biretta when seated and in procession.   Stole if the Blessed Sacrament is to be exposed, and then one would not wear the biretta when seated.

I am not sure that the Pope’s dress for Vespers is the best model in this case.  It seems that these days the Pope is dressing only as any bishop would.  I am not sure that just because a bishop dresses in a certain way, priests should therefore dress that way.  Also, back in the day, the Pope would usually be present for Vespers but not the celebrant.  And the Pope’s “choir” dress is particular to the Pope.

People more knowledgeable than I can chime in on this.

That said, for priests I believe the usual vesture for Vespers is cassock, surplice, cope with biretta when appropriate.  Let not the overused alb eliminate what priests have always worn.  A sad thing when some late-innovation drives the normal into the category of optional.

Furthermore, this is a situation in which the Extraordinary (traditional) way of doing things can exert its gravitational pull on the Ordinary, and therefore enhance a sense of continuity with our way of praying for a very long time.

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  1. TNCath says:

    In our diocese, for many years when Vespers was celebrated by the bishop for diocesan events at our cathedral, except for the masters of ceremony, diocesan priests attended Vespers in the pews in suits. Lately, our bishop has asked that whenever Vespers is celebrated, the priests sit on the altar in the presbyterium vested in albs and stoles, and it looks very silly to see the priests vested “half-dressed for Mass,” so to speak.

    I have always found the “overuse of the alb” to be very unfortunate. The alb is primarily a Mass vestment and not a catch-22 for every liturgical ceremony. This is the basis for the surplice in the first place: an “extra” vestment used for ceremonies “extra Missam.” I blame this overuse of the alb on the French, many of whose priests discarded the cassock (and clerical dress) completely and opted for those huge albs with the huge sleeves and collars on them. To this day at Notre Dame in Paris, their very beautiful Vespers is sung every Sunday, but their Cathedral’s Chapter of Canons (and even auxiliary bishops) only wear albs. It looks very tacky and out of place. In the U.S., I attribute it to the trend of clergy who became averse to the cassock who “just put on an alb” out of convenience, something from which I’m not sure we’ll ever recover.

  2. jbas says:

    Maybe I’m too practical about this, but I prefer no more vestments than necessary because they are hot. If I turn the air conditioner to a setting comfortable for me, then many in the congregation complain it’s too cold. So, when I can just wear a surplice over the cassock, I do. I consider the alb an added sacrifice for the Lord that I must offer at Mass. And yes, I know that in both cases there are two sets of clothing, but the surplice, especially the thinner, lacy ones, are simply much less hot. I am not aware of anything from Rome ever calling this practice an abuse. [The celebrant needs a cope.]

  3. jbas says:

    However, one should surely do what the Parish Priest says, unless it is contrary to the law.

  4. Henry Edwards says:

    The pastor has asked that the priest celebrant vest in alb and stole using at the basis of his request that the Holy Father uses an alb and stole

    Wrong! Pope Benedict always wears a cope for solemn vespers.

    I watch and record them all. I just checked the last one. The cope is so full that it’s difficult to be sure whether he’s got a surplice or an alb under it.

  5. Ana says:

    Monday, we just had a solemn, sung Vespers service for our Oblates of St. Benedict as the 21st remains a solemnity for the Benedictines and Father wore his cope to preside over Vespers. I would say this would be true for solemn Vespers service at any point, even during Lent. In the past, when we’ve recited Vespers and it was a simple affair, if Father joined us he wore his cassock.

  6. Pedro dAquino says:

    255. Presbyter vel diaconus, qui celebrationi præsidet, super albam vel superpelliceum induere potest stolam; presbyter etiam pluviale. Nihil præterea impedit, quominus in maioribus sollemnitatibus plures presbyteri induant pluviale et diaconi dalmaticam.
    255. The priest or deacon who presides at a celebration may wear a stole over the alb or surplice; a priest may also wear a cope. On greater solemnities the wearing of the cope by many priests or of the dalmatic by many deacons is permitted.

    The regular use of the stole by priests with choir dress may come from an instruction of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy on the reform of choir dress, “Per instructionem” [AAS 63 (1971) 314-15], which concedes the use of the stole to pastors (“parochi”):
    … parochi autem solum stolam adhibeant. [Pastors may use only the stole.]

    Interestingly, the instructions for canons and holders of benefices was carried forward into the Appendix of the Ceremonial of Bishops (1984) but there is no mention there of parish priests and the stole. Further, in the same Ceremonial of Bishops, priests assisting a celebration of vespers presided over by the bishop are described as being vested in cassock and cotta (or alb) and cope:
    209. Even when the bishop presides at vespers apart from the greater solemnities, or when there is a smaller gathering of people and clergy, or in some parish church, at least some priests should be present who properly wear the surplice over the cassock or the alb and the cope; there being two deacons or at least one, vested in alb and dalmatic; the bishop himself wears the vestments described above in n. 192 [(rochet), amice, alb, cincture, pectoral cross, stole, cope, mitre and pastoral staff], or at least the stole and the cope over the alb.

    So it would seem that the cope is required for the priest who presides at vespers celebrated solemnly and the alb and the surplice are both licit. But the surplice has a longer history of use and is more in continuity with the older form. Presumably when vespers are led by a priest without ceremony the cope would be omitted.

  7. mpolo says:

    We have tended to have the celebrant in cassock, alb, stole and cope, and others taking part in choir dress.

  8. Steven says:

    The priests at the seminary where I am currently studying always use a cope for Vespers. The use of cassock & surplice as opposed to an alb appears to be at the discretion of the particular priest. It’s done both ways on a regular basis.

  9. Fr. Basil says:

    Since there is a censing of the Altar at the Magnificat in the usual forms of Western Vespers, the celebrant should wear a stole.

    Clergy merely assisting in choir should wear their usual choir dress, which means no stole.

  10. Centristian says:

    I hate to admit it but I have never seen Vespers offered according to the ordinary form, only the pre-Conciliar form.

    We had solemn Vespers each Sunday at the SSPX seminary I went to, and solemn pontifical (first) Vespers on important solemnities. Solemn pontifical Vespers in the extraordinary form really were something to experience. The bishop used full pontificals with cope and, as at solemn pontifical Mass, his assistant priest and his four assistants at the throne (although there ought not to have been a throne in this bishop’s case) wore copes over cassocks and surplices (with vimpae in the case of the miter-bearer and crozier-bearer). Everyone else dressed in cassock and surplice.

    I want to say that my recollection is that the bishop wore a rochet rather than an alb for Vespers, although I’m not 100% on that. I also do not recall whether or not he wore gauntlets. He certainly wore white pontifical shoes.

    As I have said, I have never seen a public celebration of Vespers in the ordinary form (pontifical or otherwise), so I cannot conceive of what that actually looks like. I can imagine, however, that it’s the difference between the typical celebration of the extraordinary form of Mass (all due solemnity, correct vestments, chant, incense, &c) vs. the typical celebration of the ordinary form of Mass (something disappointing with guitars, ranging from just plain lame to utterly appalling).

    A handful of clerks in chancel wearing oatmeal or off-white albs and ugly modern stoles would not surprise me; that has become the norm. Not that I imagine that there is anything intrinsically wrong with solemn Vespers in the ordinary form, only that I’ll bet when it is celebrated, it suffers the same neglect as Mass. I have no doubt that the ordinary form of Vespers could be celebrated with as much dignity and solemnity as the extraordinary form, but I have to suspect that it seldom ever is. I have to imagine that the art of celebration has died all around, and not only with respect to the Eucharistic liturgy.

    Having seen solemn Vespers done right, I wouldn’t hope to ever see it done wrong. Well, perhaps out of sheer, morbid curiosity, just to see what they’ve managed to come up with to ruin it.

  11. sgtjohn says:

    Yes, the current GIRM allows the alb to be worn for all other-than-Mass liturgies, but let’s remember, as was states above by another commentator, the alb was traditionally a Mass vestment. My understanding-and I’m happy to be corrected on this-was that the only exception to this was in the case of a bishop, who would always wear an alb under a cope, and not a surplice. Hence Benedict always has an alb under a cope, and the way you can be sure it’s an alb and not a surplice is that you’ll notice the cincture.

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