Wednesday 16 June 2010

The Very Model of a Modern EF Server

One of my particular ‘things’ is about how Servers look. Although I accept that nowadays they are unlikely to be clerics in the technical sense, it has always seemed to me that they should not – to put it at its lowest – distract the congregation; which means that they should at least maintain clerical standards of appearance.

I’m sure we’ve all see the brightly-coloured trainers, underneath blue jeans, showing beneath a rather-too-short polyester ‘cassock-alb’ – probably with an equally brightly-coloured shirt showing at the neck: indeed, there are times when I think that these monstrosities are the ‘uniform’ of some Novus Ordo parishes.

Servers of the Extraordinary Form, though, have a much easier time of it, because we are bound to conform to the general rules about clerical dress; that is to say cassock and surplice (cotta).

I don’t want to discuss what style of cassock and surplice one should wear; that will usually (and properly) be a matter of local custom; but they should fit. A cassock which is too short looks silly and shows off one’s street clothes; one which is too long endangers the dignity of the ceremonies by making a trip all-too-likely !

More important, though, are a few comments about other aspects of one’s attire; what goes under one’s clerical garb.

First, shoes. These must be black, clean, and conservative in style. I’m not saying they have to be of any particular style; they may be lace-up or slip on, they may even have inconspicuous buckles; but what they must not do is attract attention – and brown shoes, worse still trainers, under a cassock will do that faster than anything.

Socks should also be black – and plain. Those with cartoon characters, or witty remarks, embroidered on the ankles should be saved for other occasions.

Trousers can also be a problem. Three inches of blue denim below one’s cassock is a distraction to the congregation; and particularly for adults, there is much merit in wearing knee socks, and either swapping one’s trousers for shorts, or rolling them up, before serving.

The final issue is the neckline. In Rome – indeed much of Italy – it is quite normal for (at least adult) servers to wear a ‘Roman Collar’ under the cassock, even if they are not ordained; but I quite accept that in most countries this would cause confusion.

However, it seems to me that there are two other solutions which are perfectly workable, and which don’t cause that sort of problem.

Either one can wear a shirt with an ordinary white collar, and simply slip a black stock into it in place of one’s tie (basically the ‘seminarian’s collar’ of olden days), or servers can have what amounts to a white cravat which they can tie around their necks above whatever shirt they have one, so that there is a white ‘neckcloth’ visible at the neckline of the cassock, but one which is obviously not a clerical collar.

I’m sure that some people will think I’m being inordinately fussy making such suggestions: but it seems to me that the first step in serving at the Altar of God is to be prepared to take pains to ensure that one looks as though one believes that it is the very great privilege that it actually is.

Fr Heenan (as he then was) said in ‘The People’s Priest’ : ‘If we recall the day of our first Mass we shall remember the care with which we prepared ourselves body and soul. The Mass we offer each morning is just as important as our first Mass. If there could be any degree of importance I am inclined to say that the last of our Masses will be the most important of them all. And any day may be our last. To be honest with ourselves we must also admit that if the circumstances make a particular Mass of special importance we see to it that we are well groomed . . . occasions such as these would be considered sufficiently important for us to make a careful toilet. If our Faith is strong and our reverence deep every Mass for us will be a highly important occasion.’
 For the devout server, every Mass is an important occasion, and a great privilege: and it is also all-too-often the case that there is little opportunity for making any deep spiritual preparation before it, as there is so much we have to do in preparing for the Mass. The least we can do, then, is to make that ‘remote preparation’ which is involved in grooming ourselves carefully for the service of God which will show Him how much we value the opportunity to approach Him so closely, and serve Him so nearly.

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