Clergy opinions of altar-server vestments?



Can anyone give insights about the acceptability of wearing a cassock and surplice to serve at regular Ordinary Form Masses in North America, as opposed to an alb? What do celebrants generally think, these days?

I’m under the impression that the wearing of a surplice for altar servers has become very unpopular with many bishops and priests. They frown on it implicitly, if not explicitly. Cassock & Surplice = “pre-Vatican II”, and alb = “Vatican II”. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Yes, this is a very narrow question… but I am looking to serve on a regular basis. I would prefer the cassock & surplice, but I don’t want to waste my money if wearing it would make me a “liturgical outcast” and thus unable to serve!

Any experiences or advice would be appreciated.


There was definitely a preference for albs instead of cassock and surplices, from the 1970s through the 1990s, but since the mid-90s, cassocks and surplices have very gradually been making a comeback in many churches. One is far more likely to see them used today than 20-25 years ago.

Naturally, there are plenty of places that still use albs (and not necessarily white albs), but often that is a budgetary issue as much as an ideological one. They use what they have, rather than buy an entire new closet of something else–which costs more, because there are two pieces to buy. Some still cling to the notion that laymen should wears albs because it is reminiscent of their baptismal garment (a notion popularized in the 1970s. BTW, by church supply companies eager to sell new everything), but I find that gradually the numbers are decreasing slowly, but surely.


There’s also the issue of vesture for altar girls. As frequently discussed here, while apparently there is no specific rule against girls wearing cassock and surplice, those are typically regarded as male clerical attire. While I have no problem with girl altar servers, I think they do look out of place in cassock and surplice. So with a mixed corps of servers, albs would seem to be a better solution. But maybe that’s just me.


I intend to serve at daily Masses mostly, where only one server is required. I am also male.

Chatter163, thank you for that interesting answer. I like to understand the chronological progression of shifts in preference. Your answer about costs is also very down-to-earth and understandable.

Most priests in my diocese are older, and the hierarchy seems a little bit like they think it’s still the 1970s. This is why I am very cautious about buying a cassock & surplice, when an alb is pretty much all I see on servers. In addition to disliking singularity and showing-off, I just don’t want to trouble anyone or give false impressions.

The idea that lay-servers should wear an alb rather than surplice is strange to me, since both of these vestments are proper to ordained clergy in various liturgical celebrations. The white of the surplice is just as “baptismal” as the white of the alb.


Have you asked the priests who will be celebrating the Masses you will serve which garment(s) they expect you to wear? I would think this would be up to them to decide.


UpUpAndAway, I just wanted to know about attitudes in general. I know priests are all individuals, but there are often certain preferences in each generation and in each geographical area. I intend to serve at different events in different parishes, because the communities I am involved with are disparate. I only wanted to make sure a cassock and surplice would be acceptable or at least permissible - whether owning them would ostracize me from serving, generally-speaking.


Servers don’t bring their own garments.
Wear what is in the sacristy and serve.
Don’t bring pre this and post that into it.
You’re serving at the Lord’s table.
It’s your action that should be the focus.
If they don’t have anything in your size, ask the priest if he would have you continue, and if so, can he ask the Sacristan or the parish secretary to order a size appropriate for you.


Hello Praedicare.

I love it when our Priests wear the proper vestments. I had a hard time getting used to seeing them in regular clothes and alternate vestments when a new Catholic. One of the very first things God did for His people when He began preparing them was instruct Moses in very clear and specific ways regarding the use of vestments for the Priests of that day. We have preserved that Tradition under the new Covenant and it should be a very visible sign that these men are set apart by God for a reason. They shouldn’t appear ordinary in any way 24/7. I don’t like them wandering around trying to* blend in*. If they worried more about pleasing God then each other they’d do well. The current fashion trends in Liturgical dress are horrid. Polo shirts are no way to serve God or His Altar. I knew one Priest who couldn’t wait to take his collar off after Mass and sometimes he’d rip it off while they were still singing the final Hymn. Ummmmm…said a lot more than “This things itches and is too tight,” to me. Besides some of them have really poor taste. Cassocks are dashing and they look great in them. If they belong to a religious Order they should remain in the Habits as well.

Never be ashamed of the Clothes God made for you. Imagine His Mother sewing them for you with as much love as she did for Jesus and then St. John all those years he lived with her. The are Benedictines in our country who make a living sewing vestments for Priests and they pray over them while they sew. It is a more traditional way for Virgins in Religion to support themselves. Look them up. I’m sure they’d could make something beautiful for you.



:thumbsup: Not just you :thumbsup:
However, we have a very difficult time getting the boys to serve at Mass so there are usually only girls… that looks out of place too.:shrug:

Anyway… the boys that do serve already fuss about the alb; however, Fr and the Dcns show them that they were one too which seems to help. I Lector and have offered to wear an alb several times if it would help the new servers feel “safer;” however, the lectors at our parish process and the return to the congregation prior to the readings until after the collect going back to the pews and returning once again after the creed if a Dcn isn’t present.


I understand what you’re asking :yup: I asked the question I did because it seems you are intending to purchase a cassock and surplice for the service you mentioned. The only people who can tell you if doing so would “ostracize” you from serving are the priests who will celebrate the Masses you will serve. Asking them would give you the most pertinent idea whether the purchase of a cassock and surplice would be a wise investment or not.

Or you can buy an alb as well and thus be prepared for any situation. :slight_smile:

Frankly, I have never known altar servers of any age or either gender who owned their own service vestments. As pianistclare said, you wear what’s in the sacristy where you’re serving, and if it’s not available in your size you ask it to be ordered for your in a size that suits you.


P.S. If you are unable to serve because the Pastor where you are assigned needs you to discard your Cassock, shame on him, not you. Tell the Dicastery. Wear it proudly and sit in Church and pray for him for long, long, long time. Glenda


I was wondering about that too.
Our Parish has a wide range of sizes and even ordered a new brown and white alb because we had a new RCIA member that we couldn’t fit with the existing vestments. Our deacons only own their own stoles… however, we even have a small selection for visiting dcns or if they don’t have one of the proper colour. We do need to order a vestment for Gaudete Sunday for our deacons (^_^)


P.S.S. If your Cross is a Cassock, take up your Cross and follow Him. Sounds like a pretty light Cross if you ask me.


While I greatly respect the posters here…obedience to the priest is favored.
Just talk to the pastor. All will be well.
Remember your role…to serve Jesus at the Sacrificial altar.
No need to bring parish politics into it. He’s be so happy that you want to serve. He probably doesn’t want to get into all the pros and cons of types of garb. He’s already tackled that likely, and has made his decision. If you have a strong desire to dress a certain way…find a parish that utilizes the garments you favor.
And yes, pray for all priests. :thumbsup:


Thank you for all your replies. I see now that my desire to buy my own vestment for serving is a desire of pride, not of humble service.


Oh don’t worry. People who love the Lord are always very interested in doing the very best job they can. This is laudable.
God bless you!


Actually, in my experience, most of the cassock and surplice hatred is dead now. Good riddance.

My main beef with albs isn’t albs per se, it’s the fact that the overwhelming majority of altar server albs are just absolutely atrocious looking. They are cheap and made of heavy polyester fabric, and they don’t drape well at all. Contrast this to what we see on the Psalmist in the Vatican, who often wears just an alb. It looks fantastic because the fabric is thin and lightweight, and therefore folds and drapes beautifully. And any way you slice it, in my opinion, velcro just isn’t dignified. Imagine laymen replacing the buttons on their suit coats with velcro. It would be better to just not show up to the job interview at all. Rofl!

Another thing with albs is the fact that, sometimes, servers don’t wear cinctures. (And no, I am not talking about those other awful albs with the elastic or drawstring waists.) This leaves the fabric flowing and billowy and looks very effiminate on men. This is my own opinion but this is also the historic reason that priests wear cinctures in the first place: in ancient Rome, it would have been feminine for a man to wear the precursor to the alb without binding his waist with a cord. A billowy baggy unbound alb looks… like a woman’s nightgown, to be charitable.

So I think albs can work very, very well, as long as they fit well, are made of a lightweight fabric so as to drape well, and as long as they are bound (at least on males but preferably also on females if they are servers).

The reason I think the cassock and surplice often works better is that a cheap cassock and surplice looks 100 times better than a cheap alb. That’s just the nature of these things imo.

All my opinion, yes. It’s mainly an aesthetic thing.


In my parish Albs are used. Growing up is was cassocks with surplice. I think there is some sentiment that cassocks and surplices are tied with clerical attire and shouldn’t be used in circumstances where there is mixed altar serving corps. (female and male) Which may be considered an odd opinion because altar servers are not clerics…then again seminarians are not clerics yet in some places they are to wear collars.



Hi everyone, thought I would chime in on this topic since I have come to research quite a bit about clerical/mass attire/vestments, etc. I am a fourth year diaconate student who is having to deal with this now that my brothers and I are serving at Mass.

The first and best place to go with a question about what is allowed/used in Mass is the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) which contains the rubrics for what is to be done in Mass.

As for vestments, ironically, it says that the preferred vestment for ministers of any rank (this includes lectors and young altar servers) is the alb. Forgive me for not quoting the exact GIRM number but I was just reading it last night. Cassock and surplice may be used as well according to local custom so don’t go throwing out all the cassocks just yet!

At our small parish, our servers use a black cassock and white surplice, even the girls. When I began serving earlier this year, I bought a cassock to fit me better and used a surplice from the church. However, our diaconate director just issued a notice to us that our bishop wants us specifically wearing the alb if not already. We have been duly instituted by the bishop as Acolytes, an official ministry in the church. So, I have ordered an alb. THis is in preparation for our ordination coming in a bit more than a year.

So at our Mass, you have servers who are wearing cassocks/surplices, me in an alb and the priest and deacon wearing their vestments! A little bit of everything…

Also, the GIRM states that the use of a cincture, which is the cloth belt around a person’s waist who is wearing an alb, is to be used if necessary. Some albs are sort of meant to drape and not be cut in half by a cincture, so if that is the case, you are not required to wear a cincture, only out of necessity.

Hope this helps!


Our local OF parish uses cassock and surplice. The albs have been stored. :smiley:

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