Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Choir Attire

Choir Attire QUESTION from John on February 19, 2003 Dear Mr. Slavek
What is currently the proper attire for a choir in the Roman Rite liturgy?
Here is what I know of the matter thus far:
In the past, when only men were permitted to exercise a liturgical ministry, the use of clerical choir dress - the cassock and surplice - was extended to lay choirs of men and boys. These choirs properly ministered from the chancel or choir of the church.
Where boys' choirs did not exist, mixed choirs of men and women were tolerated to sing the choral parts of the liturgy, but they wore street attire and had to be accomodated outside the sanctuary, which usually meant in a choir loft over the narthex. These choirs were not considered as having a true liturgical function but rather as standing in for a male liturgical choir.
With Vatican II, it is my understanding that the Church recognizes choirs employing women as having a true liturgical ministry. If this is indeed so, it would seem to follow that such a choir could wear the standard Roman Rite choir attire if so desired. But to see women vested in cassock and surplice upsets some Catholic clergy as this is historically a male clerical vesture, as is the alb.
Many Catholic choirs since Vatican II wear choir gowns of the pulpit robe style used by Protestant choirs and clergy, derived from the secular academic gown. This does not seem to me more appropriate than the cassock and surplice.
I am aware it is perfectly acceptable for a choir to be attired in good Sunday street clothes. But if it is desired to vest a Catholic choir, what are they to wear?
Thank you and God bless you.
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on February 23, 2003 Dear John,
Yes, everything you have said is correct. The cassock (and surplice) is indeed a clerical vestment, and must not be worn by women. It can be worn by men though to whom clerical tasks have been delegated, such as to altar boys and choirs composed only of men. It is still appropriate that choirs composed of men and altar boys at churches where girls are not used wear cassocks.
Rome has permitted the use of the alb for all ministers.. including for women who serve as lectors, in choirs or anywhere else where they are permitted. Gowns are not appropriate. To be an alb a vestment must be white.. alba is the Latin word for white.
Rome has also approved street clothes for these ministers.
Interesting side note: the secular academic gown and cap actually has catholic origins, I believe, ask a historian for confirmation.
Mr. Slavek
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