Shopping Trip

Our server albs have been deteriorating badly over the past several years. Velcro wearing out, hems ripping, too many stains, and thinning fabric all make for a garb for a less than classy appearance for these liturgical ministers. Today was the day to head to our local Catholic supply and bookstore, I Donnelly’s, check our some styles with our server captains. Mike was most helpful in guiding us to some good options.


First, we have the monastic alb. Hood is optional; you can get ’em with or without. Light and cool polycotton, but wrinkly and rather see-through. Economically sound, though: only $38 to $47 each.


Then we have the front wrap alb. No zippers. Three small velcro patches to keep everything in place. Can be used with or without cincture. These items run $70 to $88.


What do you think of the cassock + surplice combo? These were only $55 to $72 for each set.



I told the kids they could choose the style. I’ll give you twenty-four hours to weigh in on what you would choose, what you think they chose, and what you think my opinion might be. Then I’ll tell you the final choice.

Bon appetit!

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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24 Responses to Shopping Trip

  1. Gavin says:

    I think Todd wants them wearing purple pantsuits with the word “PASTORAL” in lime green on the front. And only altar girls.

    I like the cassock and surplice, although I don’t know what altar servers are supposed to wear. I think the alb looks a bit too plain. And one could theorize that the more layers of vestments you put on a child, the less likely they are to misbehave. So I recommend the cassock and surplice, if only because you just don’t see them anymore.

    What about albs for lay ministers? I heard that’s allowed, and I think it adds a lot to the Mass. I actually know of one cantor (not at my church) who wears an alb to cantor. It’d be a good distinction between the altar servers and the lay ministers.

  2. Liam says:

    The first alb looks like a poncho; very wrong look.

    Strictly speaking as a matter of tradition, albs would be preferred to cassock/surplice, as the latter were a concession, not normative. Both are OK by me – I don’t think it’s good to overthink or overconceptualise the matter. As a practical matter, the alb is one piece of laundry, which may win points among those who do the laundry.

    No cinctures for lay servers, btw. And the servers are lay ministers….

    Finally, there is another option: no vestments, just a dress code. But I prefer the de-personalization that vestments offer.

  3. Anne says:

    I prefer the alb because it is the common garment of all the baptized. The hooded version is the nicest IMO. I like the addition of a cincture for altar servers and/or a cross around the neck.

    BTW, regarding another thread discussing the placement of the stole. I made a couple of inquiries to priests who wear it outside the chasuble. They said some stoles are designed to be worn over the chasuble. So it’s not a hard rule that everyone finds important to follow.
    Sorry to change the subject.

  4. Sorry, as the cassock remains clerical attire, definitely still in use, then I believe girls should not wear it, anymore than they should wear a clerical collar, or boys should wear a nun’s habit. That many people see the cassock as “gender neutral” does not make it so; that female clergy in other traditions wear a cassock does not make it suitable in the Catholic tradition, where there are no female clergy.

    On that basis, of course, someone will say boys shouldn’t wear cassocks either, and there is that argument. The counter would be, at least that has some depth of tradition behind it, insofar as they can be on the path to the clerical state.

  5. Liam says:

    The fact that stoles may be designed to be worn over the chasuble is of course irrelevant to whether they should or may be so worn. (I recall one priest had a stole that had sequins and tassles hanging from a spot atop the aureoles of the breasts, and that was certainly designed to be seen that way; the designer was obviously clueless about Catholic vestments. But I digress.) And that fact that some may not observe the rule nor find it important makes it no less a rule.

  6. Todd says:

    I was just a little surprised that girls and boys opted for different garb: the cassock + surplice for boys, the front wrap alb for girls. My wife asked if I thought the notion had been planted in their heads, but I don’t think so.

    If anything, the girls were a bit more enthusiastic than the boys about the guys wearing the cassocks and the girls having something different. We’ll see how it gets digested by some of the parishioners.

  7. Diana says:

    The alb, for sure–front wrap is my preference. It’s the common garment of all the baptized. I don’t think it would be a good idea to have a different vestment style for the girls and another for the boys. Aside from the alb signifying one’s status as baptized, the liturgical vestment is ministry-related, not gender-based.

    When I visited the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Seattle one Ordinary Time Sunday, all the liturgical ministers wore albs–I think even the ushers! Wow! Well, maybe it was the beautiful, singable music, excellent preaching, well-trained ministers and their dignified movement throughout the liturgy, but I thought it was one of the most solemn, prayerful, joyful liturgies I have ever participated in. I’m sure vesting all the ministers had a small part in that. One’s demeanor simply changes when one puts on the “uniform” for the role one will play. And as a person in the pews that day, I felt that the assembly took its role even more seriously because of the dignity that the liturgical ministers showed in their particular roles.

    Related question: If you vest some or all of your liturgical ministers, have any of you found any resistance from any of them (particularly women) not wanting to wear an alb? Or similarly, have you received any complaints from clergy or laity about women wearing albs? I find more resistance among older women I ask; none of the younger women I ask have any issue with it.

  8. Todd: your comment about the boys and girls both gravitating toward different attire very much interests me. Because i woouldn’t mind doing it; i wondered if it would generate a battle.

    I’d love to hear how that plays out…

  9. Tom says:

    Any suggestions on what to say to a pastor who refuses to permit alter servers to wear any vestments?

    My pastor insists that our servers stay in street clothes though the parish owns nice vestments. What to do?


  10. Marilyn says:

    We recently purchased cassocks and surplices for the boys and kept the girls in albs…none of the kids have complained to my ears and the boys were surprisingly enthused about the cassock and surplice…although they do occasionally get over-heated during Mass.

  11. Tom says:

    I’ve seen a number of parishes who keep boys in cassock/surplice and girls in albs. Seems sensible. Our parish does neither.

    I sure hope someone has some advice on how to handle a pastor who insists on keeping our altar servers in street clothes. The kids are very disappointed as are many regular parishioners.

  12. Liam says:

    Well, as most Catholics learn, one doesn’t “handle” a pastor who’s made his mind up. One waits him out and moves on to issues about which the pastor has not made up his mind.

    Of course, nothing prevents the altar servers from agreeing to a code of conduct & dress (“street clothes” runs a gamut of possibilities) on their own, ideally with parental input. Such as: black shoes (pumps, not heels – ideally, with soles that don’t clack on the sanctuary floor), no sneakers, navy or black slacks/skirts with matching hosiery, white shirts/blouses with collared necks, no jewelry unless the parish has some sort of uniform pectoral cross thing that many have, et cet. I would avoid ties for the boys unless there was a strong desire on their part to wear them, simply to help maintain a uniform look and because ties might be a dealbreaker to an otherwise good solution. Just an illustration of what can be done without a pastor’s input.

    The problem is discretion: when new altar servers are admitted, one doesn’t want them running to the pastor to complain about the dress norms adopted by the existing servers. So this would need to be done in a a way that would elicit desire to comply. Tricky, but with the right personalities it could be done.

  13. Tom says:

    A dress code will not work. The parish includes too many people of modest means. That is the most difficult part – they will not let them vest but they will complain about their casual dress.

    The problem is the pastor lack of interest in making a decision – the EMHC’s really do not want the servers and have already assumed many of the altar server’s duties, e.g. setting up the altar with corporal and vessels and lighting candles. They have told the kids that vestments make the servers look more important than the EMHCs.

    It is very frustrating and sad.

  14. Tony says:

    The heavier weight alb (front wrap) is my choice. If you had only altar boys, I’d say cassock and surplice (but not for girls).

  15. Tony says:

    If anything, the girls were a bit more enthusiastic than the boys about the guys wearing the cassocks and the girls having something different.

    Oh, I like that! Until you run into the first girl who wants to be “equal” and demands to wear a cassock.

  16. Let me weigh in – though I am sure you have already made your purchase.

    In my parish (a situation which I inherited from my predecessor) the boys wear cassock and surplice and the girls wear albs – with cincture.

    This seems to work well, and I haven’t heard any squabbling among the servers for it! I tend to agree with Fr. Fox above about the differences between girls and boys serving at Mass. For the girls it is a ministry, for the boys, it is a ministry, but with a tendency toward vocational discernment. Besides, boys and girls ARE different! There is nothing wrong with them dressing differently!

    In a previous parish – shortly before I was re-assigned, I discovered that we had cassocks and surplices (though they hadn’t been used in a long time). When I arrived all the servers wore albs (without cincture). When I had the cassocks and surplices laundered and the boys began wearing them, the girls began cincturing their albs (the cassocks were red, so we provided red cinctures for the girls’ albs) and I, too, noticed a difference in the approach of the boys in their serving – they seemed to take it more seriously than they had before. Like Fr. Fox, I don’t think that is something to dismiss. I am rather interested in the fact that Todd’s servers actually split along the same lines (boys for cassock and surplice, girls for alb)

    For those who point out the alb as being the garment of the baptized – I would remind you that the surplice is an abbreviated alb worn over a vestment which certainly has a clerical connection (again, stressing the subtlety of the role of vocational discernment [at a very early level] in boys serving Mass.

    Finally, to those who say no cinctures for lay servers, I don’t know that the cincture is strictly a clerical vestment (anybody who is more in the know can correct me on that) but an accessory which is clearly envisioned when wearing the alb – and one with important theological/moral significance as it is a reminder of our call to chastity and purity (regardless of our vocation or state in life.)

  17. Liam says:

    The cincture is a kind of chastity girdle, as it were, that symbolized the vow of continence of clerics and vowed religious, certainly with purity in mind, but the binding around the torso was allusive to more than chastity, but continence.

  18. Pingback: How Much Did You Pay For Them? « Catholic Sensibility

  19. Elizabeth says:

    Like Father said above, females don’t wear cassock and surplice. It is male garb. Here is an Idea. Why don’t we just stick with male servers and the problem is solved! Cassocks and Surplice for all the servers since it is traditional and since they are all male it all works out nicely. (This is coming from a girl who used to serve mass before she learned better. ) I know I’m supper late to this conversation. In fact I’m five years late, but maybe someone like my self coming to this page late in the game might learn something from my comment.

  20. Todd says:

    Elizabeth’s “problematic” approach inspires a follow-up. At the time we were unable to procure enough red cassocks, and so we went with black. Shortly after I left in 2008, there was a rumble, perhaps from the pastor to replace it all. When I returned a year later, I found both boys and girls attired in dark red cassocks with white surplices. Vive le changement, I guess.

  21. adam scott says:

    wish i was required to wear these

  22. Adam Scott says:

    can anyone help that happen.

  23. Gary Lockhart says:

    Females wearing cassocks and surplices. Big no-no.

    Rubrics are for EVERYBODY.

    • Todd says:

      It happens in a lot of places now. My former parish still has the maroon cassocks with surplices. Nobody can stop ’em.

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