Should there be a uniform dress code for altar servers and lectors?
Q: As a cradle born Catholic in Singapore, I have visited almost all the different parishes scattered across Singapore and it is rather perturbing that all the parishes have different standards for altar servers and lectors.
Some parishes require their altar servers to dress in a white top, black pants and black court shoes. Some allow their altar servers to serve in multi-coloured sports shoes, shoes without socks, and some even allow their altar servers to be dressed in bermudas!
It goes the same for lectors – some are seated in the sanctuary with the priests, communion ministers and altar servers, some parishes have their lectors seated with the main congregation.
Dress code differs yet again – some require their lectors to be dressed in white top and black bottoms, others allow a myriad of colours to be worn and even loud dyed hair colours to be donned.
My question is why is there a lack of uniformity on such matters across the different parishes? Some may claim that such matters are on a trivial scale, but I beg to differ. If the Communion ministers dress with a certain decorum, why not the altar servers and lectors as well?
The congregation looks at the altar servers and lectors with a degree of respect as they help the priests in the preparation of the Eucharist and are messengers of the Word of God respectively. The main idea of uniformity in dressing would allow the congregation to focus on the Word of God and Liturgy of the Eucharist, instead of being unnecessarily distracted by lay factors.
I know the archbishop has given the full authority on such matters to parish priests, but in all honesty most of the parish priests are too busy to be around after celebrating Masses on Sundays and dealing with matters of the parish, what more attention can they give to the dressing of altar servers and lectors?
It would be good for the Catholic community if the archdiocese could enforce a code of conduct (or constitution) across all parishes in Singapore so as to ensure that all serving in ministries abide by a certain set of rules.
Only if we right such ‘trivial” matters can we then realign our focus to bigger issues at hand, such as homosexuality, premarital sex and abortion.
Germaine Jacolyn Peter
A: Thank you for your question regarding uniformity in the sanctuary.
We Catholics speak of the Mass being the “source and summit of the Christian life” as taught by both Lumen Gentium and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. How we understand this and interpret this may affect the way we see the minutiae of details, down to the kind of footwear and accoutrements, as you mentioned in your letter.
However, while your question seeks to have a code of conduct enforced for all things pertaining to the liturgy, there are hierarchies of importance as well as laws that are general (or universal) and laws that are particular (and customary). The bishop of the diocese has no freedom over the universal laws and ensures that these are followed. However, the particular laws (praeter legem – meaning “outside the law” and are hence technically not illegal) are left to the parish priest who manages each parish accordingly.
The things that you pointed out in your letter come under the ambit of particular or customary laws. The diversity that we see in each parish is a result of each parish priest managing the minutiae with emphases on the aspects that are pertinent in his judgment. What he doesn’t have is the freedom to change what is essential.
It would be extremely difficult on several levels to attain a uniformity that you so passionately speak about. Besides that, perhaps one of the more damaging consequences is that the Church will easily be seen as a controlling authority on everything.
Perhaps it will be best to take this issue up with your parish priest, and avail your services to helping him in these areas which you are passionate about. As long as the spirit of the liturgy is not robbed, terribly abused or completely abandoned, we should not be too overtly concerned that each church may have certain differences. n
Fr Luke Fong
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