HE COLLEGE GIRLS who acted as lectors for the Newman Center in Lawrence, KS, often wore mini-skirts so revealing it seemed they weren’t wearing pants. I know this because I attended daily Mass at the St. Lawrence Center while studying at the University of Kansas. (For the record, I’m told a new priest “cleaned house” after I left in 2005.)
As a young piano student, I remember being dumbfounded by lectors dressed immodestly and asking the question: What attire should lectors wear? I was taught that women should never wear cassock and surplice.
An ALB is also out of the question, because it’s traditionally a priestly vestment. Current legislation does allow women to wear an alb, but when they do, they’re told they must also wear “a cincture and an amice,” which strikes me as absurd. 1 But here we are not considering what a women lector is allowed to wear: we are asking what they ought to wear.
I SAY AGAIN: THE ALB is traditionally a priestly vestment. The amice and cincture are, too, and have special prayers said by the priest as he puts them on. To my knowledge, there is not one shred of iconographical evidence contradicting the idea that the alb is exclusively a priestly vestment. (Here I am considering iconographical evidence from 1960 going back to the 10th century.) Liturgists in the 1980s put forward the idea that lay Christians might have worn the alb in the earliest centuries of the Church, but selectively “plucking” a vague idea from that time period seems fraught with problems, since we have so little concrete evidence.
Pick up a copy of the Jogues Missal to see how this issue was addressed:
Which of these possible solutions do you prefer?
The blue cassocks are used for ladies at the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
Some people have been quoting St. Paul in who said women should be quiet and never speak in Church (I Corinthians 14:34). I’m not sure how that quote should be interpreted in modern times. For example, Pope Pius XII encouraged women to speak in Church (the so-called “Dialogue” Mass), and the 1962 Missale Romanum allows women to make the responses if no male server is present. Furthermore, nuns inside convents have been “speaking” and singing in Church for centuries. But which of us would accuse Pope Pius XII of being ignorant of St. Paul?
However, St. Paul’s quote reminds us to guard against Bugnini’s idea of picking and choosing from a “pristine” age of the Church (while denigrating the organic development that took place through the centuries). Bugnini was either confused or dishonest about what he was doing when he declared: “Here in the Consilium we are not working for museums and archives, but for the spiritual life of the people of God.” Some people have suggested the worst example of Bugnini’s antiquarianism was the “restoration” of the Responsorial Psalm. It’s true that Pope Leo and St. Augustine alluded to something akin to the Responsorial Psalm, but we have absolutely no idea what it actually looked like or sounded like in the 4th century. In fact, I’ll give 10 million dollars to anyone who can show me just one musical score of an “original” Responsorial Psalm from the 5th century.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 General Instruction of the Roman Missal — §119
In the sacristy, according to the various forms of celebration, there should be prepared the sacred vestments (cf. nos. 337-341) for the Priest, the Deacon, and other ministers:
a) for the Priest: the alb, the stole, and the chasuble;
b) for the Deacon: the alb, the stole, and the dalmatic; the latter may be omitted, however, either out of necessity or on account of a lesser degree of solemnity;
c) for the other ministers: albs or other lawfully approved attire. All who wear an alb should use a cincture and an amice unless, due to the form of the alb, they are not needed.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal — §339
In the Dioceses of the United States of America, acolytes, altar servers, readers, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other appropriate and dignified clothing.