ASK FATHER: Why do servers lift the chasuble during the elevation of the Host?

From a reader…


Why do servers elevate the chasuble during the elevation of the host? I was looking for a good answer after my mom asked me. Thanks!

The practical answer is the best answer.

It is a custom to lift hems of chasubles and albs and copes which arose from practical need.  This is not prescribed in the rubrics.  [Actually, it is!  See below.]

Vestments of yore – and today – were fuller, draping lots of material over the arms, which could sometimes be heavy.  The weight of vestments were increased by ornamentation.  At the consecration, the edge of the the chasuble would be raised to assist the priest or bishop in raising his arms high enough so that the congregation could see the Host and chalice (as per the rubrics).

The same applies while the celebrant incenses the altar and other things.  Copes are held up and away from the arms so that the priest can move.  Yesterday, I used a heavy cloth of gold “Gothic” vestments instead of a Roman.  Hence, I had to instruct the server – not used to the Gothic – to hold it out of my way while incensing the altar.  It makes a difference.

Similarly, the lower hem of albs are held up as priests ascended the stairs, lest he trip or, worse, put his foot through precious handmade lace.

Don’t laugh.  Women would spend years making beautiful lace for albs out of their love for the Lord, because Holy Mass was the center of their lives.  Then some priest puts his foot through it.  I have seen that happen.  I’ve done it once by accident!

The worst case I’ve experienced was watching a know-it-all priest, whose half-baked partial knowledge of what to do inspired him in false know-it-all-ist “humility” to refuse to allow the deacon to lift the alb away from his foot.  Fr. Smarticus Pantsicus promptly put his foot through the beautiful lace.  Thus, he ruined a someone else’s alb.

So… Frs. Smartici Pantsici out there… when it is time for the servers to help you, shut the hell up and let yourself be helped!  Get over yourselves.

That’s the practical.  However, the practical, over time, can also take on symbolic meaning.

Sometimes you might hear that this physical contact with the eminently priestly vestment associates the server more closely with the priest.  Sure.  That’s works for me too.   Think of the woman who wanted to touch the hem of Christ’s garment to be healed.

I’ll conclude with this.

Servers, lift the edge of that chasuble…. BUT… just a little, okay?  Don’t lift it too high. Just a little, okay?  You don’t have to lift it half way up Father’s back.  Less is more.  This especially applies with the more modern Roman vestments which don’t impede the arms and aren’t very heavy.


In the comments someone corrected my error. It is in the rubrics!  I looked it up.

However, I stand by not “not too high” because too much is too much.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. amulack says:

    I am not sure where I picked up the idea. I am sure it was told to me by someone I asked this very question. But I associate the server’s assisting with the priest’s vestments as the priest ascends the steps and St. Simon of Cyrene’s assisting with Christ’s cross during the ascent to Calvary. Though the server’s assistance might seem trifle/frivolous, I often think, if only I will seek to alleviate Our Lord’s burden, however slightly, if only.

  2. mibethda says:

    Actually, I believe the practice is provided for in the Rubrics. In the General Rubrics of the 1962 Missal, VIII 6, it provides: “Then, when the Celebrant elevates the Host, the Minister elevates with his left hand the posterior fringes of the Chasuble, so it may not hinder the Celebrant in raising his arms, (which is also done during the elevation of the Chalice)…”. (The term ‘Minister’ is that which the rubrics generally use for what is commonly termed a server; the rubrics generally use the singular; by custom, it can two except in a Missa privata, as tolerated under the decision of the S. R. C. at AAS 3059

    [Well done! I corrected the post, above.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. bobbird says:

    We did this — two altar boys, one on each corner — during the High Latin Mass of the late 50s/early 60s. A Low Mass would have one server. To us, it simply was a way to demonstrate the honor and sanctity of the moment. Fr. Z’s explanation is best, however: practicality before sanctity. I also recall, as a small and “cute” neophyte server, being given the honor of carrying the bishop’s train at Confirmation. It was looooooong! Well, I did not completely understand the role, for when he ascended the steps and turned to give the blessing, I automatically froze and went to my knees to cross myself and receive it with the rest of the congregation. This caused the train to wrap around his lower legs. I knew something wasn’t quite right about this. It might have caused him to … fall-down-go-boom! I cannot imagine myself having the presence of mind to scamper behind him with that ponderous train. I realize now that the priests did not anticipate the move. It was lucky for me and Loras T. Lane, Bishop of Rockford.

  4. Absit invidia says:

    I once witnessed an older priest, returning to the Latin Mass after several decades absence, harshly rebuke an adult server – during the mass itself – for lifting the alb while ascending the steps. It was disruptive and didn’t think it was called for. I could only imagine that the priest had developed some prejudices from his absence from the Latin Mass.

  5. APX says:

    However, I stand by not “not too high” because too much is too much.

    Yes, sometimes it looks like Father’s chasuable looks like a sail or a kite waiting for the wind to catch it.

    I knew of a priest who kept pictures in the sacristy demonstrating the appropriate (and inappropriate) amount of chasuable Lift.

  6. frjimt says:

    I can testify to the “weight” if vestments as the carthusian sisters of Bethlehem Livingston manor ny where I am as chaplain have heavy vestments & ample..
    So much so that we can laugh today, but yesterday we almost set the sisters ablaze as the ornate thurible used for Holy Mass made it an even greater challenge… So, by all means, lift it up to help us (& thank you to the servers who do!)

  7. David says:

    When I was an altar boy we lifted the chasuble at the genuflections as well, and I discovered after the “restoration” that this was contrary to the rubrics, which call for the action only at the elevation. There were in fact a number of things we did (or did not do, like the ‘solita oscula’) in the late 50’s that I learned were not strictly by the book — but I suspect that small local variations were always common.

  8. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    Fr. Z’s stance on not lifting the chasuble too high is also rubrical, in the old Caeremoniale Romanum. Book One, Chapter Nine, on the office of deacon in Solemn Mass, includes the rubric: “sinistra elevat aliquantulum posteriorem partem planetae” (“with the left hand he elevates the posterior part of the chasuble a little bit”). The principles of the rubrics for the deacon in Solemn Mass carry over to the actions of servers in other Masses.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  9. Kevin says:

    Good to know. Thanks Father.
    Without ever having knowledge of any of this before, I had made up my own mind. I figured that it was symbolic of the congregation’s feeble assistance to /participation with the priest in presenting the offering of Christ to God the Father.

  10. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I always thought of the scene in Exodus 17 where Aaron and Hur help elevate Moses’s arms when he grew tired during the battle with the Amalekites.

  11. Greg Smisek says:

    I don’t know where I came across it, but one of the mystical interpretations given this action is that the deacon or server reaches out to keep the priest from flying off to the heavenly realms tight then and there in this most sublime moment. Perhaps it is a bit like the rope they would tie around the high priest when he entered the holy of holies so that he could be retrieved should something befall during his intimate encounter with the Lord God.

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