Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Are these girls in choir dress, red cassock and surplice, bishops or cardinals or want to be's?

I came across a post by Father Martin Fox from his Bonfires of the Vanities which he posted in 2006. You can read it by pressing this sentence and the comments below it, but I copy the main body of the article below:

Saturday, May 06, 2006
Girls in cassocks -- who cares?

Visiting another blog (Catholic Sensibility) recently, I commented on a thread describing some fine musical accomplishments of a particular parish, including efforts by children's choirs. It featured a photo of one such choir -- all girls, as far as I could tell -- and all dressed in red cassock and surplice. (Given that I saw a photo, it's just barely possible that they really weren't cassocks, but something designed very much like. In any case, the effect was the same.)

I added a comment, praising the "impressive" musical efforts, but saying -- as a "relatively small matter" -- the choice of attire was "unfortunate."

Later, I expanded on that, saying that I think dressing girls in male, and in fact, clerical, attire, is ill-advised.

Well, that provoked several interesting comments:

* The issue of confusing about cassocks is "obsolescent" in "most parts of the country" (I assume the U.S. was meant), as it is "much more common for lay people to wear cassock/surplice as altar servers and choristers than it is for clergy to wear them. The formal evolution of the vesture aside, they have not signified clergy for a long time."

* This is an outgrowth of academic gowns, and that they no longer have any sex-specific meaning.

* The apparent cassock-and-surplice was "choir clothing," not male clothing.

* I was "making it harder" for the music director. (Somehow I doubt that.)

* "Statements like this seem to come from a very narrow mind set." This latter struck me as terribly funny.

Because the focus of that thread wasn't liturgical attire, pursuing it further there strikes me as inappropriate; in any case, that thread seems to have fallen by the wayside.

So I raise the question here.

I'd especially invite comments on the substantive, first point bulleted above: is it true that enough laity and females wear cassocks that it is no longer meaningfully male, clerical attire? Of course, what's "enough"?

What can you report from your parish? (And, if I may, is it a Catholic parish, Episcopal, or other Protestant? Because in my own quick, certainly unrepresentative google-survey, I found hits for girls in cassocks almost entirely at Episcopal sites.)

I realize the temptation to focus on the policy of having girls as altar servers. I'm not saying that subject is not a legitimate one to discuss; but can we set that aside? Because I know what'll happen: that'll hijack the thread.


Joseph Johnson said...

It is certainly true that we rarely see many of your brother priests (in our Diocese of Savannah) wearing the cassock. I get the idea that most no longer even own one. Maybe it's the hot weather, but there are lightweight "tropical" versions.

Up until our former pastor, Fr. Robert Girardeau, of blessed memory, we had not had a cassock wearing priest at our parish since Fr. Patrick McCarthy (who left in the early or mid-80's) or Msgr. Daniel Bourke (also of blessed memory and administrator in the mid-70's and a frequent "fill-in" priest). Our current pastor, I,m glad to say, wears the cassock!

Supertradmum said...

I CARE. I am incensed at adult women in the parish here in Hythe who wears a cassock and lace. She is making a political statement. Girls should not be on the altar and should not be wearing cassocks. The American Catholic Church and the ACP is Ireland are already in schism on their views on women priests, as against Rome. This does not help. Many priests never wear a cassock. So, why is this being encouraged? Politics of the liberal Catholics, who are thinking in disobedience to Rome on the role of women....Some dioceses quietly do not allow this...too late.

Meem said...

When I was a child I was a Methodist and we wore pleated choir gowns called cassocks with surplices.

Certainly not a soutane or a rochet.

Meem said...

As a Methodist growing up I sang in the choir. We wore pleated black gowns called cassocks (by the Methodists) and surplices.

But certainly not soutanes or rochets!

Henry said...

The pity is that, with the blurring of both beliefs and roles, the Church has descended to the point that no-brainer questions are asked.

Templar said...

The tendency to downplay females in Cassocks is a direct result of the Church having itself down played the needs for their Clergy to wear the Cassock. As society got used to seeing Clergy in a black suit with roman collar in lieu of a Cassock, we become desensitized to seeing females wear the Catholic.

Like everything else in Latin Rite, Tradition matters, and everything has meaning. The meaning of the Cassock was Obedience (the collar), Chastity (the Cincture or Sash) and poverty or dying to ones self (the color black). Clearly the color and collar remain in the now standard Black Suit, but the cincture or sash is gone? Intentional? I do not know, and won't speculate becasue it's not germaine to this post, but the fact that the Cassock had meaning that was relevant to the role of the Priest in Society, and the move away from the Cassock has changed that meaning, opening in turn the laity to lose any sense of "wrongness" when they see lay females so attired is relevant. The move away from the Cassock for Clergy only, like Nuns moving away from the full Habit, provides a powerful witness OF THE WRONG KIND.

William Meyer said...

In my parish, the altar servers are of both sexes, though I seem to see more girls than boys. All wear cassocks and surplices, the latter embroidered according to their level of service.

I agree with Supertradmum and Templar that the vestments matter, and I would surely favor a distinction for the girls which would not have them dressed as the boys. I believe the traditional notion of altar boys as candidates for vocations is the essential consideration in this.

ytc said...

I think clerical suits are wimpy. :)

So please start wearing a cassock, Father, like Father K.

Anyway, it is very clear that cassocks are clerical attire. So only clerics (and boys/men serving in a semi-clerical position like altar servers) should wear them.

John Nolan said...

The term 'choir dress' does not imply the vesture of a body of singers; it is what is worn by non-celebrating clergy in the sanctuary or 'choir' during Mass. Men or boys acting as choristers or acolytes in the sanctuary wear cassock and cotta because they are substituting for clerics.

Women or girl choristers may not be in the sanctuary (see Musicam Sacram) and there is no need for them to wear any distinctive dress; if for the sake of uniformity or corporate identity they wish to do so it should not resemble clerical dress. The long round-yoked surplices worn over a coloured gown look sufficiently Anglican not to be confused with proper clerical attire and are relatively inoffensive.