What About Inappropriately Dressed Lectors?

Author: ZENIT



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 dress.

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

Follow-up: Inappropriately Dressed Lectors [from 10-14-03]

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 authority.

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 fingernails.

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. ZE03101420

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