ROME, 30 SEPT. 2003 (ZENIT).
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of
liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: At what point should a priest not allow someone to enter the
sanctuary? For instance, an inappropriately dressed lector or
eucharistic minister? —
J.A., St. Paul, Minnesota
A: Your question is very broad; obviously anyone who is drunk or
aggressive should be prevented from entering the sanctuary, especially
if there is a danger of sacrilege.
With regard to your example, a certain degree of formality is required
of all who offer their regular services during the Mass, but a priest
has varying degrees of control of what happens in the sanctuary.
First of all, the priest should preach by example, and attend to the
state of what he wears under the alb. Next he should give clear
indications to those who habitually carry out a liturgical function such
as readers or extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and remind them
that their spirit of service includes avoiding calling attention to
themselves through their apparel.
He should guarantee an adequate degree of modesty, cleanliness and decor
through a few specific guidelines so as to what constitutes proper
The priest has less control over irregular events, but can probably head
off some problems with adequate foresight. For example, when a couple is
planning their wedding they should be reminded that the readers will be
engaged in a religious duty and should dress accordingly. Funerals are
harder to control, because of scant time for preparation, but problems
of inadequate dress are rare on such occasions.
As to when to refuse entry? Once he has given clear indications the
priest should be gentle yet firm in applying them but prefer to admonish
privately those not up to scratch before the celebration begins.
In general, unless the situation is so obvious that failure to act would
be a cause of scandal, it is best to avoid public scenes which may do
more harm than the good sought and will probably be misunderstood by the
majority of the faithful.
Almost every priest has had to face tough decisions such as the funeral
where the brother of the deceased gets up to read in attire that might
be offensive to local custom. In some such situations all a priest can
do is bite his tongue and bear it.... ZE03093022
Inappropriately Dressed Lectors
Some readers, mostly from the United States, requested more explicit
details as to what constituted "improper dress" ...
As ZENIT is an international agency, I think that our readers can
appreciate the difficulty, not to say temerity, of dictating norms that
are valid from Walla Walla to Wagga Wagga, especially in an area where
there are few prescribed norms. Therefore I tried to indicate principles
to guide the prudential judgment of priests and other ministers.
The principle of maintaining a certain formality is especially hard to
nail down and may even vary with the time of year. Thus, it has to be
settled at the local level. One possible rule of thumb could be what
most people in the region would wear to meet someone constituted in
Unlike formality, the perception of a lack of modesty crosses cultural
barriers more easily. Any style that is likely to distract attention
away from the reading and toward the reader, or other minister, should
not be permitted. This would include garments which are too short, too
low, or too clingy. It would also include other aspects of personal
apparel such as jewelery, hairstyles, piercings and, especially for
extraordinary eucharistic ministers, the length and decoration of
Serving divine worship as a liturgical minister is a privilege and the
willingness to sacrifice one's personal tastes, and at times, one's
personal comfort, in order to serve the Lord with due reverence falls
under the heading of submission to God that the ministry requires.
One reader suggested that everybody who carries out a liturgical
function should wear an alb. Liturgical law certainly allows for this
possibility (see the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 339). For
those functions that require only a brief entrance into the sanctuary
the most common custom is that the minister wear lay clothing; a pastor,
however, may opt for having some or all ministers wear an alb if it
enhances the dignity of the celebration. It certainly eliminates most
problems of formality and modesty.
One priest asked what I meant in saying that a priest should attend to
what he wears "under the alb." Because readers and other ministers are
often the only ones who see the priest before vesting, he will be better
positioned to demand that they observe certain norms of modesty and
formality, if he does so himself. Moreover, his shoes and trouser hems
are readily visible to all. Above all, he should don the prevailing
clerical garb of his region and attend to its cleanliness and neatness.