Our diocesan liturgical director is trying to prevent parishes from having altar servers wear cassocks and surplices, claiming they’re “clerical garb,” so lay people can’t wear them. Is his claim legitimate? Is there any official statement to which I can point that says altar boys can wear cassock and surplices?
Ahhh, the diocesan liturgical director inveighing against the use of cassock and surplice. There have definitely been a surplus of this sort of partially-educated tyrant.
Traditionally, the cassock has indeed been indeed “clerical garb.” Which is precisely why attendants of the priest celebrating Mass would wear a cassock. Attendants were considered, ceremonially, to be a certain extension of the person to whom they attended. Think of a squire wearing the colors of his knight, or a page wearing a tabard emblazoned with his lord’s coat of arms. The surplice is a “mini” version of the alb, which harks to the baptismal garment, the garment that most diocesan liturgist-types want servers to wear.
Altar boys have, for several centuries, dressed like mini-priests, if you will, as they attend to Father during the celebration of the Holy Mass. The argument that they shouldn’t do so is a new one, and it is pretty weak. No sane person will confuse little Derek and Ryan, aged 10, for priests, nor will they accidentally make a confession to mop-topped little Billy, because they were somehow confused by seeing him in cassock and surplice.
Bishops (bishops, not liturgy directors) can make diocesan law to govern precisely what altar servers wear (though this would be a petty use of their legiferous authority).
A diocese so nit-picky as to determine precisely what altar boys are wearing is a diocese in which all liturgical abuse has – no doubt – been eliminated, in which Gregorian chant and Latin are being given pride of place in the Mass (as Vatican II called for), and the faithful are so enthused about their faith that seminarians and religious vocations are plentiful.
Speaking of cassocks, a reader sent this…