ASK FATHER: Lace during Lent

From a reader…


I was wondering what the rules are if any about wearing lace albs or cottas [surplices] by priests during Lent. Is there a prohibition on lace being worn during Lent?

I don’t think there is. I haven’t found any proscription – or prescription – of lace during Lent. However, it could be argued that it makes sense to back off with decorations of all kinds during Lent. If we don’t put flowers on altars, perhaps we should also back off on other decorations as well.

If it’s all lace all the time, you really have no where to go when Annunciation comes during Lent, or St. Joseph, or Holy Thursday and Easter.  Right?

His scriptis, wearing lace in Lent wouldn’t be wrong, provided – as always – that it isn’t exaggerated (i.e., comprising too much of the alb or surplice), that it is in decent condition, etc.

On a personal note, I don’t use lace very often.  If I am a guest and it is laid out for me, sure.  When important feasts come along, great.  I have some really nice albs and surplices with lace, but for most Sundays and weekdays, I use a plain alb with little or no decoration… except some wrinkles… linen is tough to keep smooth, a less ornate surplice.

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, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Gregory DiPippo says:

    This has come up from several times on NLM when we have published photos of albs with lace used on (e.g.) Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, so I did a bit of research on the question. There is absolutely no official regulation as to whether lace or how much on albs, surplices, etc., ought or ought not to be used on certain days. I agree with you, Father, that it is sensible to reserve the more elaborate stuff for major feasts, but there is no requirement that one do so.

  2. Pastor in Valle says:

    Our beloved Pope Benedict used lace on Good Friday. Not something I would do, I think.

  3. mschu528 says:

    The SRC dubia answered in regard to lace (3191(v), 3780(v), 3804(xii)) all refer to dies solemnes, with either affirmative responses or “tolerari posse” for wearing lace embroidery. The English-language rubricians seem to agree that it should not be used for ferias or penitential ceremonies, though none offer a definitive citation.

    JB O’Connell: “Lace is, too, a sign of festivity, and so an entirely plain alb should be worn on ordinary days and for penitential or mourning functions” (The Celebration of Mass, XII, v).

    Fortescue: “The colour of the season is violet from Septuagesima to Easter, the use of plain albs and surplices is apposite” (Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, XXV, 5).

    L O’Connell: “On greater feasts albs made of lace or embroidery from the cincture down may be tolerated” (The Book of Ceremonies, I, ii).

  4. mschu528 says: not be used for ferias or penitential ceremonies, though none offer a definitive citation

    Pretty much my answer, above. It is good to have the cites.

  5. jbazchicago says:

    FR. Z:
    Regarding wrinkles.

    I recall choosing material for an alb. I actually veered away from linen, until one of the most eminent seamstresses in the country (Eunice Farmer, who had a syndicated column in almost every major paper for years) said to me, “but it wrinkles so beautifully!”

  6. jbazchicago says: linen… wrinkles so beautifully

    I was just remarking the other day that a well-ironed linen alb is great. Then, after a first use, it looks awful with the first few wrinkles. Then, after a few more uses and wrinkles, it look okay again.

    Also, once upon a time the rule was that albs, etc., had to be made of linen.

  7. Latinmass1983 says:

    It is true that some people can overdo the use of lace, but then people can overdo anything else.

    The “war” against the use of lace as an “inorganic element” in the Roman Rite (because the East does not seem to use lace) started in the early 1800s, when people began to desire and rebelliously bring about the “triumphant return” of the “gothic” chasuble and the “mythical” folds of the long and voluminous Albs and Surplices (a little to Anglicanish if someone asks me).

    The idea that lace should not be used (or should be used in a limited manner) whenever the sacred ministers wear purple and/or black vestments seems to be mostly an idea that developed in English-speaking lands. I would not doubt that protestant fashions for vestments had a role in that. Many people who convert from some type of Anglicanism tend to despise the use of lace, as well as the use of Roman chasubles (“fiddlebacks”). So, in this case, the idea could be seen as an Anglican importation of “High vs. Low church” type of thing, where High Church (lots of lace and “flamboyant decorations”) could mean theologically liberal views, but Low Church (no lace, simpler vestments, etc.) could mean very conservative views in matters of liturgy and theology.

    Another element that seems to have affected the view some rubricians (like the great Fr. Adrian Fortescue) had about Roman vestments and lace was his interest in the Eastern practices. He seems to have been fond of Eastern vestments, especially the fact that their vestments tended to be longer and they did not know what lace was (at least in his days). There was, back then, this inaccurate notion that the more we resembled the East, the more ancient we would appear, which could explain why Fr. Fortescue preferred the “gothic” style … and, of course, he was also English (as was O’Connell).

    Dom Roulin, who despised the use of lace, wrote a very partial and “emotional” book about vestments in 1931. The silly and (one could also say) “vulgar” expressions he used to attack the use of lace and Roman vestments (“fiddlebacks”) was just too much energy … energy that he could have used to prevent the destruction of the Roman Rite and Roman vestments (we’ve all seen what passes for vestments in the Roman Rite currently). There are now some people who carry Roulin’s torch (some of them make vestments –only gothic or Borromean, of course!—and others edit books on the Roman Liturgy). I can’t imagine that the use of lace ever deserved so many pages … pages that could have been used to defend other more substantial elements of the immemorial Roman Rite!

    Anyway, at the Papal Chapel (whenever the Pope celebrated or participated in liturgical functions), lace was always used, even during penitential days and days of mourning (including Good Friday, even in the pre-1955 days when black was the only color used in the Roman Rite). Therefore, it would have seemed awkward to issue a formal decree about lace that would contradict or prohibit what was the common practice in Rome (at the Papal Chapel).

    It was only when the See of Peter was vacant that the Roman Church demanded public mourning and limited the use of lace. At the death of the Roman Pontiff (when abdications were not common), the Prefect of Apostolic Ceremonies sent directives to those involved in the funeral of the Pope and the conclave telling them how to dress, what to wear, what not to wear, how much lace to use. As part of those directions, the minimal use of lace was an *explicit* part of it.

    Taken from “Disposizione da osservarsi … in Sede vacante”: “Rochetto liscio con **piccola frangia** di merletto al bordo e alle maniche” and “Rochetto liscio **senza merletti con una piccola frangia** nella estremità delle maniche”).

    Back then, it did not seem to be clear whether the minimal use of lace was ordered because the Supreme Pontiff died or because the See was vacant, since these two things were inseparable. Because Pope Benedict abdicated when the old process was not in place, it would seem hard to know for sure.

    However, the fact that the “gaudium magnum” is shouted at the election of a new Pope, it could be that the period of mourning that ordered the minimization of lace was due, not so much to the death of the Roman Pontiff, but to the sad and painful fact that the Roman See was vacant.

  8. Imrahil says:

    As to what mschu528 wrote,

    is it in line with the spirit of this to say that lace (and other things) are somewhat inappropriate on ferias, an exception can be made for ferias of Eastertide?

    (I think it is.)

    [Whatever. Do what you want about lace.]

  9. John Nolan says:

    In England it is usual to distinguish between a surplice (a round-yoked garment which in the Anglican tradition is almost as long as an alb) and a cotta (much shorter, with a square yoke).
    ‘Cassock and cotta’ to describe choir dress is also nicely alliterative.

Comments are closed.