Altar Girls in Cassock/Surplice

I recently saw at an OF mass an altar girl wearing a cassock and surplice. While I am pleased that this priest has decided to have his servers wear the traditional vestments (there was a boy wearing them, too), there was something even more disturbing about altar girls when they are wearing clerical vestments.

Has anyone else seen this? Is this a step forward or back? I feel like it is a step in the wrong direction as it further blurs the gender distinction in the liturgy, it seems to legitimate altar girls even more, and finally it meshes traditional and modern practices in a way that seems denigrating to the traditional.

What do you think?

  • PAX

Good question.

The best thing is of course to have only males, but I have heard priests say that if they are going to have girls serve at least there should be distinctions. They have different roles, boys and men wear cassock/surplice, girls wear albs/cinctures.

I guess it’s better?? But I can’t really endorse it …

I have never found anything at all disturbing in any way about altar girls. Maybe more focus on God and less on personnel would be in order.

Thank you for the implication that we are focussing on “personnel” and not enough on God.

Would you tell this to the bishops and the pastors who don’t use altar girls?

When Cardinal Arinze talked about this, would you tell him the same. Ignore his theological arguments and discussion of the priesthood, and tell him to stop focussing on “personnel”?

It’s not about “personnel” - it’s about maintaining the ancient traditions.

However you are right about the second part! I do always need to focus more on God.

I find girls in cassock and surplice repulsive since cassock and surplice are clerical garb and the clerical state is reserved to men. “Ecclesiastical cross-dressing” I heard it referred to as once. If they want to continue using female altar servers, they ought to dress is something more suitable, like a choir robe or something like that.


So now we get to see female altar servers dress like clerics. How long will it take until this sight worms its way into people’s psyche until everyone is clamoring for women priests?

Yes, we should be listening to our bishops, and their instructions. If our local bishop says “no - not allowed” or “yes - allowed” we should follow.

But, I will listen to what my LOCAL bishop (successor to the apostles) says is appropriate for HIS diocese, and as long as the OFFICIAL word from Rome coincides. I will not question his direction, especially if the questioning is based upon the OPINIONS of other bishops, with authority over OTHER dioceses. It is called obedience to the local ordinary.

In my local parish, the young men serve at the altar with black cassock and white surplice. The young ladies serve in white cassock and no surplice, only a white cloth belt.

Maybe some posters here should let the Bishops and Pastors who use young women as servers know they are doing it wrong. Or, did you agree they are doing it wrong and not want to attack those posters?

There is not one thing “wrong” with having female altar servers or the Church would not allow the option. They wear what altar servers are required to wear. The Bishops and Pastors make these choices. It’s actually none of our business.

More focus on God, less on personnel is still my opinion.

It’s our business because we are Catholics.

Church leaders do things that are wrong. To be clear: what I mean is that Church leaders make decisions in the law that are not prudent. They are fallible. It is wrong that they have allowed girls to serve. Many leaders of the Church agree that it’s wrong, hence they exercise their option not to allow it. Some bishops do this for their diocese, but otherwise individual pastors also have the right to use only boys and men for service at the altar.

There is no rule as to what altar servers are to wear. The custom of cassock and surplice is because the altar boys were fulfilling the function of clerics. To have girls wear clerical garb is absurd.

Finally, I note that this “focus on personnel vs God” is uncharitable and a false dichotomy. I do need to focus more on God, but caring about how the liturgy is conducted and caring about our traditions is part of how we focus on God.

Probably not a white cassock but an alb or alb-like robe?

No. They are white cassocks. I am in the sacristy as they prepare for mass, as I am often the sacristan for the mass that I attend. I looked at them closely. They are in the strictest sense a white cassock, as they are cut exactly the same as the black cassocks the young men wear (collar and all).

Exactly. We are called to be defenders of the Faith. Think of all the Catholic martyrs who stood up to heretical hierarchy during the Protestant rebellion. They were defending the Faith. It is our obligation to defend the Faith.

Finally, I note that this “focus on personnel vs God” is uncharitable and a false dichotomy. I do need to focus more on God, but caring about how the liturgy is conducted and caring about our traditions is part of how we focus on God.

Exactly, again! The dichotomy of personnel vs. God is actually dividing God from the liturgy, which is absurd. Protestants believe that we can have a “relationship” with God without Sacraments. As Catholics, we know otherwise; our focus on God, our belief in God, and our relationship with God is inherently intertwined with the Church and Her Sacraments. When I focus on the liturgy, I focus on God, and vice-versa.

  • PAX

Well that’s really odd (to me at least) … since the white cassock is papal attire. Or, with black piping, used by priests in tropical climates.

Why would that make more sense then black cassocks for them? Whose idea was it, I wonder?

Reminds me of the practice in some dioceses to have permanent deacons wear gray clericals, or a different collar, to distinguish them. Kind of a “let’s make something up” attitude. (I say they are clerics, let them wear the black cassock, biretta liturgically, and dalmatic at Mass, but who would listen to me.)

It was our pastor at the time of purchase who decided on this style. He is good, holy, and orthodox priest, and when I asked him about it at the time, he indicated that he did some research, and this is what he found to be most appropriate when young ladies were serving. From a distance, they could be seen as an alb, but in fact they are cassocks.

I have never seen girls in cassocks, for the aforementioned reason: it is clerical garb. Female altar servers generally wear albs, in my experience.

To those saying that female altar servers are “wrong,” I will defer to the Church’s authority and that of my bishop.

I’d venture a guess that about 98% of Catholics don’t know the difference between a cassock, surplice, alb and cinture. Therefore there is no sense that these garments/vestments have been historically associated with one sex or the other. It is just good to know that these servers are dressed modestly and have prepared in advance to assist with Mass in very limited roles. It is also likely the case that it is much less expensive to buy a single type of garment and keep the expenses to a minimum. I’d bet the cost per garment approaches $100 each.

So here’s my suggestion to the OP. If you are so disturbed by this practice, why don’t you buy what you feel is appropriate and dontate it to the Church?

Peace, g.

Let’s break this down. First a cassock is not a “vestment” it is (or was) everyday garb for priests. A surplice (particularly the waist-high cotta commonly worn by servers in the past) is a far less formal substitute for the alb. While the cassock/surplice was commonly worn in the past it’s by no means more formal or even more appropriate than an alb.

At some point the Church began to allow laypersons to wear albs when assisting at the Mass. This came about for a huge number of reasons, not all of which were good. Probably the principal one was because the alb is the garment of our baptisms. It took took a long time to allow the wearing of albs because I suspect (depending on the person and the alb) that it can lead to confusion over who is ordained and who is not.

Personally I think albs look a great deal better. Young servers can look just fine in cottas and cassocks but I think adults who wear them can tend to look like posers.

Do you have any pics you would be willing to share? You could crop out the faces. :smiley:

Replusive? Why don’t you answer the question I asked of the OP. If you are so repulsed, just buy the Church the vestments you want them to wear?

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