the clerical role of the choir
  • I was wondering if someone could help me out with understanding the clerical role of the choir more, especially in the context of the ordinary form of the mass. Also, if the choir is to start wearing clerical garb, does that mean you have the women wear it too? This would not seem to make sense to me if we are to consider it a clerical role, but the truth is, we have many women singing in choirs now in the church, including myself. (i'm also look to be a music/choir director soon)
    How do you deal with this issue when affirming the choir as a clerical role?
  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    I'd be interested in the answers to this, as well.
    Our choir is loft-bound, TG, and robes are not an issue, although I had thought of wearing a cassock on the rare occasions I direct and cantor from downstairs.
    I gather this would be much frowned upon. (Would it help to know that none of the clerics in the dicocese would be caught dead in a cassock?)

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World!
  • For what it's worth, here's what I remember in practice (based on my experience at Juventutem):

    For Bishop Rifan's Solemn High Mass (extraordinary form) at Ottobeuren Abbey, the schola was made up of males. Mass was celebrated at the lower altar [photo]. We sang in the sanctuary between the choir stalls and before the high altar [photo]. We would process into the sanctuary, sing the proper chant, and then exit the sanctuary. There was another choir (mixed children's choir plus soloists) in one of the lofts that sang the Mozart Sparrow Mass (K220). And finally, a third choir (also mixed) outside of the sanctuary and in front of the congregation, sang the processional hymns and the Marian antiphon [photo 1, photo 2]. As you can see from the photos, the men wore blue robes, while the women wore blue capes. All wore black underneath. The choirmasters were dressed in an additional garment (whose name escapes me).

    (The fellow you see wearing sneakers is only doing so because his luggage was lost - he received his bags later that day.)

    No answers from me as far as the ordinary form goes, but I will note that as far as most churches are configured, the choir will not be singing from within the sanctuary. Corrections are most welcome.
  • Speaking of vestments, what are your opinions on vestments for a schola of the laity? Fortescue does not seem to anticipate a lay group in his ceremonies book.

  • For the ordinary form of Mass, the brand new US bishops' document on music says:

    33. Choir and ensemble members may dress in albs or choir robes, but always in clean, presentable, and modest clothing. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as choir vesture.

    In the extraordinary form, I believe men and boys who sing the propers are considered to have a clerical role, and so may be vested in cassock and surplice, and may sing from the sanctuary. I believe one of the documents from Pope Pius X or Pius XII mentioned this (I'm not sure which). In my opinion, for either form of Mass, cassock and surplice are considered clerical attire, which women should not use.
  • David, Thanks. Here is the relevant line from Tra le Sollecitudine (1903, Pius X)

    V. 14 "Finally, only men of known piety and probity of life are to be admitted to form part of the choir of a church, and these men should by their modest and devout bearing during the liturgical functions show that they are worthy of the holy office they exercise. It will also be fitting that singers while singing in church wear the ecclesiastical habit and surplice, and that they be hidden behind gratings when the choir is excessively open to the public gaze."

    This answers my question.


  • I think it's really hysterical that the bishops see cassock and surplice as "clerical," when none of them every really utilize "choir attire" in the traditional sense. When did you ever see a priest (a typical Vatican II priest, that is) wear a cassock under his vestments, or anytime he was at the church?

    The surplice, as I understand it, is simply a variation of the alb. They all wear albs, or worse, cassock-albs, which really is a clerical garment (despite that chirpy little notion that the alb represents our baptismal garment . . . yah, whatever) that altar girls are permitted to swish around the altar clad in.

    Meanwhile, the typically Protestant (and usually butt-ugly) Wesleyan-style choir robe, which usually features some kind of stole (a decidedly clerical vestment) is recommended! Note that nothing whatsoever is said about proper color or design.

    EF or OF, I say dress the part, with the dignity the liturgy and the ministry of musician deserves.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • I'm curious as to what mixed scholas are wearing at the EF? We have one low alto who is the wife of one of the guys. I'm not about to tell her she can't sing with us as long as she can navigate the men's range!

  • I'm not saying that our Anglo-Catholic brothers and sisters have a lock on any of this, but at St. Clement's Philadelphia the men wear black cassock and white surplice, the women wear black cassock only with a black zucchetto (I think that's the proper term, it's a black scull cap), and the men who are serving in the role of cantor (precentor) for the chant portions wear copes. (That was their custom anyways, back in the '90's).

    I'm not sure if this is at all in line with proper Catholic usage, although I'd bet dollars to draughts that if one were to consult Fortesque, this would be considered the norm.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    My understanding is as the bishops say: the cassock and surplice is clerical attire and so off limits for choristers. Also the same rationale is used to forbid female altar servers from wearing them, although my parish uses them for both. I think an alb is "safer" for a choir, although if I had my choice (and the money) I'd go for the cassock and surplice and just remind everyone "now no one run off and get ordained, please."
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    As long as there's no hard and fast rule:

    White linen albs for everybody!

    Even for the conductor. Chorus angelorum, like. Neutral.

    One organist I know at a cathedral wears a black cassock. Given his personality, we can't imagine him in anything else.
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    re clerical garb:

    Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another
  • john m
    Posts: 134
    I have from my bishop an original draft review copy of the "Sing To The Lord" document, which states that "...Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not appropriate as choir vesture. " Since the original wording was officially modified from "not appropriate" to "not recommended", I would infer that lay vesture in cassock and surplice was determined to be not completely out of the question. I suspect the change in wording is in recognition of the fact of respected liturgical choirs (for example, the Cathedral of the Madaleine in Salt Lake City) already being attired in cassock and surplice. In any case, it would appear that the question is still open, at least until Rome weighs in on it.
  • Fortescue-O'Connell does mention that singers who are not part of the liturgical choir are to be in a separate place, even the other end of the church. The context of this suggests that these are polyphonic singers since he takes pains to suggest that they be together for good artistic effect. It does say that "cantors" should dress in cassock and surplice and have ceremonial duties during the Mass and Office. I'm guessing that these too are clergy.

    Pius X's instructions, then seem to be the guide for lay singers serving in the actual choir.

  • I believe that GIRM says that any ministers who do not wear outer vestments--and this includes all lay minister--may wear the surplice instead of the alb. The surplice is nothing but a form of the alb that was designed to be worn over fur in cold churches (super + pelliceum) . By what reasoning would the bishops say that the surplice is clerical attire but that the alb is not?
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen IanW
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,921
    [Wow! Adding to a thread that has been idle for six years.--admin]
  • There's always room for another angel on the pin head.
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