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Out of the question: Alternation of (lay) robes

10 May 2011

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

From beyond living memory, it has been the custom in our church to wear red cassocks with lace cottas, alternating with black cassocks and plain cottas in Advent and Lent. It has been suggested that this is “illegal”. Are there legal implications, and has the incumbent authority to decide the matter unilaterally?

What are commonly called “choir robes” for the clergy are black cassock, surplice, and black scarf. We may infer that the choir are to be dressed similarly, but without the scarf, a mark of ordination. But I know of no legal definition of this situation.

There is no definition of “sur­plice”: the difference between that and a cotta lies merely in the shorter dimensions and square head open­ing of the latter. Lace versus plain is also outside legal definition.

Colour is a matter of taste. It has long been customary for red cassocks to be worn only in chapels royal. I suppose that eyebrows would be raised were a member of the royal family to attend a normal parish where red was worn.

Canon B8 provides that “no minister shall change the form of vesture in use . . . unless he has as­certained by consultation with parochial church council that such changes will be acceptable.”

This applies to the vesture of “ordained and authorised minis­ters”, but it would seem sensible to extend the principle to choir vesture as well.

Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey

The old custom of servers’ alterna­ting vesture is not illegal: it is com­parable to excluding flowers in Advent and Lent. This style of ves­ture has been criticised in the past by liturgists of the “English Use”, but their argument, that it is in­compatible with the Ornaments Rubric of the Prayer Book, is re­mote from 21st-century parish life.

A change (which a wise incum­bent would make in consultation, not least with the servers) to plain albs and appropriately coloured girdles would make alternating the servers’ vesture unnecessary.

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

Your questions

Has the date of St Edmund’s Day been changed? In the Church Book & Desk Diary 2011, it is omitted on 20 November.
I. S.

A US Episcopalian and a reader of the Church Times for 60 years, I often smile at peculiarly British turns of phrase. One has leapt from the page lately: it is the verb “to take”, as in: a priest takes a service. “To grasp, grip, seize, or lay hold of” — all seem odd in this context. When and how did the word come to be used in this other sense?
J.-J., OJN

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.


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