22 August 2011

Servers wear surplices not albs

The responses to Many things right and one thing terribly wrong are amazing. The first response was correct. In the traditional rite servers wear surplices not albs. Those who want to look up the exact rules can find them on page 353 of O'Connell's excellent reference book  The Celebration of Mass: A Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal.  

There's a bit of a trend among those who prefer ample Roman vestments and all things gothic to put servers in albs. But that is not the tradition and it is contrary to the law of the Church. The alb is a vestment that belongs to the sacred ministers, not to servers.

To say that to put servers into albs was a monastic practice is also questionable as these photos taken in the 1940s at Prinknash Abbey, England,  show. The servers are wearing nice gothic surplices at low and high Mass, for sure, but they ain't albs folks.



  1. In the Dominican Rite Solemn Mass: "If the acolytes are clerics, the two servers, the censer-bearer and the cross-bearer, may wear albs in place of surplices on Totum Duplex feasts of first and second class." (Ceremonial for Mass and Benediction, Bonniwell, 1946).

  2. Since Benedictine monasteries were wearing albs for all the clergy, even acolytes, from the start, the wearing of the surplice is a late addition. The surplice is an inferior substitute for the alb and has always simply been tolerated. It lacks the nobility and pedigree of the alb, therefore, it should be abolished.

    What's more O'Connell's views are opinions. More honored in the breach than in their observance. Admittedly, a much respected one now quoted only by old and young foagies alike, but, nevertheless, only an opinion.

  3. The Liturgical Pimpernel23 August 2011 at 06:48

    Anonymous, the Pimpernel and his readers are in your debt for your fine illustration of the poor history and ignorance of liturgical law behind those who promote this practice in parishes.

    The wearing of albs in Benedictine monasteries was not “from the start”. It was a later medieval practice followed only on greater feasts (like the Dominican custom mentioned above). It is a custom that was not maintained in most if not all Benedictine monasteries and which died out. Its resumption as part of the 19th century medieval monastic revivalism by Solesmes and other such monasteries explains its existence in some Benedictine houses, especially French ones, today. It was not the practice of English-speaking houses before the Council.

    None of this justifies laymen wearing the alb which is a clerical garment by tradition. Nor does it justify secular parishes presuming to adopt supposed monastic customs.

    The surplice is mandated by the liturgical books, not merely tolerated. O’Connell is not offering an opinion but quoting liturgical law. If you look up his book he refers to the Ritus Servandus II, 1 and to two Decrees of the SCR, 3108,3 and 4194,2 as requiring the surplice not the alb for servers.

    If religious orders have their own particular law or recognized customs, such as the Dominicans, these are legitimate. But we’re talking about parishes here, not religious orders.

    Those who would claim to be traditional Catholics are honor-bound to follow the Church’s liturgical law, not to substitute their own preferences.

  4. http://saintbedestudio.blogspot.com/2011/03/saint-andrews-abbey-church-bruges.html

  5. Could Pimpernel give us the text of the two decrees to which he refers?

  6. The Liturgical Pimpernel23 August 2011 at 13:47

    Anonymous 13:17 - It is O'Connell who refers to the decress and the Pimpernel trusts his accuracy. Perhaps you may care to find them and transcribe them if you wish to discuss them or question O'Connell. Though the Ritus Servandus is crystal clear (regardless of nice pictures of Belgian abbeys in the 1960s).

  7. This is really irresponsible, and one of the worse examples of rubrical positivism. I have read this blog with some interest, especially in its combat of the growing hysteria of Liturgiae Causa, but to say that this is "terribly wrong" in connection with that photo of a burgeoning traditional community in Australia is fool hardy. A couple of points: O'Connell, whose work is meticulously footnoted, has no reference when he says that albs are only supposed to be used by monastic communities, under the note for Acolytes in High Mass. The reference here noted from the ritus servandus only says the acolyte precedes the celebrant "induto superpelliceum" during low mass, and nothing further. The decrees from the SCR are nearly impossible to find and constatntly contradict eachother (remember the decree forbidding Gothic chasubles?) -JGP

  8. 2. O'Connell himself admits in these photo's from Prinknash abbey that the monks normally wear albs, but wore surplices on this occasion merely for the photo shoot to better illustrate more typically the Roman Rite. And anyone who has read his work knows there is an entire section devoted to contrary to law custom, and the precedence tradition takes to law. 3. The alb is not reserved to the clergy, but is typical of the common baptismal garment of every Christian, and such a garment is instructed to be worn by the catechumens after their baptism on the Easter Vigil.
    Now I prefer the surplice to the alb for acolytes, but let us not slip into the stringent short-sightedness and rubrical apathy toward the tradition that led to the miasma of the post Vatican II period to begin with!

  9. JGP which part of "induto superpelliceum" is not clear? Fr T.J.

  10. SRC 3108

    III. In Missa Conventuali potest ne tolerari, ut assistens seu serviens de Altari sit Laicus? et quatenus debeat esse Clericus, hunc decet nec ne se parare cotta?

    Ad III. Inservientem Missae Conventuali esse debere Clericum cum cotta.

    (sorry, haven't got the other one)

  11. Not so hard to find JGP. From here


    4192-2: An omnes qui vestem talarem induunt, sint vel non tonsurati, debeant, iuxta Rubricas Missalis, « Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae » (tit. II, n. 1), superpellicum induere, dum Missae privatae inserviunt ? Ad II. Affirmative, nisis pro laicis alicuius Familiae Religiosae obstent specialia statua approbata.

  12. So the Missal and the SRC says that for low Mass, private Mass and conventual Mass the surplice is worn except for members of religious orders who have their own special rules. Isn't that what's been said all along. Is that parish of Aussies a religious order parish? If it's not then why cant it follow the rules? Doing your own thing is what got us into the mess we're in.

  13. Did any of this matter to the soldiers who knelt in the dirt while serving Jeep Masses?

    Yes, there should be a semblance of order. However, exceptions happen and will happen. I don't see any need to get truly concerned about an alb versus a surplice. Yes, the surplice is normative, but I wouldn't walk out of Mass if "someone got it wrong".

  14. The CDW has a long history of not only being ignored, but learning to live with the fact it is ignored. The French church, a noteworthy case, has a long history of doing precisely what it chooses to do. As, it appears most of the bishops, particularly under this pope, do as well.

    The surplice is a "bastard" vestment as is the rochet. Both are nothing more than shortened albs. They, particulary the lace varieties, deserve to go into the bonfire set aside
    for liturgical items of bad taste.

    Little boys and girls serving at the altar, seminarians Benedictine and Cistercian monks and brothers etc. give the divine liturgy a tremendous uplift by appearing-- like
    the angelic hosts-- in their albs and hoods.

    The surplice, no matter how long and graceful, smacks of Anglican heresy and cannot begin to compare to a beautiful monastic alb. French and many Italian parishes are wise to robe their clergy and acolytes in them. No wonder their liturgies, traditional or modern, look so superior to those in England and the U.S.

    O'Connell and Adrian Fortesque are entitled to
    their opinions. Let us consign their opinions to the dusty shelves of our liturgical libraries and keep them there as quaint oddities from another time. Hopefully, along with the fiddleback chasuable and the tons of lace.

  15. The wearing of albs in Benedictine monasteries was not “from the start”. It was a later medieval practice followed only on greater feasts (like the Dominican custom mentioned above). It is a custom that was not maintained in most if not all Benedictine monasteries and which died out.
    This assertion is incorrect. If your read the Winchester cathedral (Benedictine) rolls of the 9th century COPES were worn, even by the lay brothers on great festivals. The alb itself was worn even by choiristers up to bishops as their choir dress. Long before the surplice was even adopted.
    To assert the baptismal vestment, the alb, is a purely clerical attire is not attested to in any historical records, and as another contributor states, long standing tradition takes precedence over what are often contradictory regs which are ignored anyway.

  16. Anon 8/24 02:01 Didn't benedictine monasteries begin in the 6th century, not the 9th? Didn't the customs you describe die out? Seems to me, too, that the rulings that other commenters have transcribed are pretty clear too, not contradictory. You guys are thrashing about with your bits of history and personal preference to justify doin your own thing to my mind. Better to follow the Church's law, like it or not.

  17. Good Pimpernel, would you comment on priests of the Roman rite using blue vestments?

  18. I am not so sure, Pimpernel!

    For example, in the Dominican Rite, the Alb is the proper vestment for acolytes on non-ferial days, whereas the surplice was worn on ferias, except at private Masses where the cappa was worn. For further information, please refer to Fr. Augustine Thompson's blogs on the OP rite.

    Fr. Martin Farrell,op

  19. Categorizing the alb as a "Clerical vestment" is a bit over-the-top, too, since a surplice is simply an abbreviated form of the alb. Why is is somehow more appropriate that a server wear a surplice than an alb if it really comes down to the same vestment?

  20. Pimpernal,

    I hope you don't mind this correction, but the "winning statement" is not completely accurate. The monastic or religious alb (made of wool or broad cloth and not linen) was commonly worn by acolytes serving in churches staffed by monastic or certain religious orders, such as the Benedictines, Redemptorists, and Franciscans; for the latter two, a surplice was worn over the alb.

    This was also the norm (in fact the rule) in other Latin Rites, such as the Dominican, Lyons, Sarum, etc.

    However it is correct to state that this type of monastic alb should not be worn in a secular, diocesan setting, as J.B. O'Connell is pointing out.

    The MAJOR OFFENSIVE was not properly veiling the tabernacle per the Church's prescription: see Geoffrey Webb's "The Liturgical Altar" which I have recently reprinted at www.romanitaspress.com.

  21. I agree with sortacatholic, really, what is the big deal? Micromanaging all these stupid little details is probably what got us into this mess in the first place. I'm all for following the rubrics and prescriptions as far as is possible, but there also must be some room for legitimate breath. There must be room for legitimate traditions to grow and/or be cultivated and there needs to be room such that we are not jumping down someone's throat when they make exceptions based on circumstances we are unaware of.

  22. I agree with Anonym 26 August about the circumstances we not know much about. If you go at papastronsay blog you will see a post with a few pictures of a server in civil dress. Maybe there is a good reason for that.

    Ave Maria

  23. Categorizing the alb as a clerical garment is correct, but the same is true of the surplice, the proper garment of minor clerics; in principle mass should only be served by those who have at least been ordained acolyte, the highest of the four minor orders. Thus the discussion about clerical or not is senseless.

    It boils down to a discussion whether it is traditional or not. In secular churches in the most cases cassock and surplice are the traditional choice. However in churches following Sarum traditions an apparelled alb would be more correct, as cassock and surplice were a mere choir garment in Sarum. In monastic churches the relevant tradition has to be considered, e.g. the abovementioned Dominican tradition of vesting the server in cappa, surplice or alb according to circumstances.