Vesture for Non-celebrating Priests

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: I am wondering about the appropriate vesture for a priest in attendance at Mass but not concelebrating. I have been told that a priest should wear a stole to receive Communion. I have never seen where that is written in the liturgical instructions, however, and so I cannot clarify related questions, such as whether the priest should be in cassock and surplice. Is it sufficient to wear a stole over a religious habit? Should the stole be worn only for the reception of Communion or also at any other parts of the Mass? In a related matter, what would be the practice for a deacon attending Mass but not officially assisting? I encounter this more often in the United States, now that there are so many permanent deacons in parishes. Should they wear a stole for receiving Communion? Also, what is the proper vesture for administering Communion for non-concelebrating priests and for deacons, who are not assisting? — B.H., Latrobe, Pennsylvania

A: There are some general norms regarding these points. Their application, however, also depends on the concrete situations of each celebration.

Thus with regard to vesture the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:

“114. For it is preferable that priests who are present at a Eucharistic Celebration, unless excused for a good reason, should as a rule exercise the office proper to their Order and hence take part as concelebrants, wearing the sacred vestments. Otherwise, they wear their proper choir dress or a surplice over a cassock.”

Regarding their placement the instruction later adds:

“310. […] Likewise, seats should be arranged in the sanctuary for concelebrating priests as well as for priests who are present for the celebration in choir dress but who are not concelebrating.”

According to No. 283, such priests should also receive Communion under both kinds.

Thus from these basic principles we can say the following:

It is preferable for priests to concelebrate if attending Mass.

If this is not possible for a just cause (for example, other pastoral commitments, ignorance of the language of the Mass, etc.), then they should use choir dress if possible.

The proper choir dress depends on the particular conditions of the cleric. If he has some ecclesiastical dignity, such as canon or monsignor, then his choir dress follows certain rules of protocol. If he is a religious, then it depends on the particular rules of his congregation. If he is none of the above, or the proper vesture is unavailable, then cassock and surplice can be used as a substitute.

An alb, with or without a stole, would not usually be considered choir dress in this context and could easily cause confusion with the concelebrants.

These non-concelebrating priests in choir dress should be placed in the sanctuary. This obviously depends on the real possibility of doing so. If the sanctuary is too small, then some pews may be reserved for them. This solution could also be adopted if a number of priests attend Mass wearing simple clerical suits.

With respect to the use of the stole for receiving Communion: There is no rule that would make this obligatory, nor is there any law which would forbid it.

It is customary in many places to use the stole, especially on Good Friday, when no Mass is celebrated and all receive Communion form the hosts consecrated in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

It may be an established liturgical custom among certain religious orders or congregations, as well as in some dioceses or regions. As a valid custom which is not against any law it may be legitimately continued.

There are no particular provisions for non-officiating deacons, and no mention is made of how they should receive Communion. It would therefore be presumed that they receive in the same manner as the faithful.

There are some special celebrations, however, when either the rubrics or the local custom is to invite all the deacons present to participate in the celebration vested in alb and stole. On such occasions they either receive Communion separately under both kinds or approach the altar after the concelebrants and receive Communion from the last concelebrants.

The deacon always receives Communion from another minister and never takes it himself in the manner of a concelebrant. Consuming the Precious Blood left over in the chalice after communion is a different case as he has already received Communion.

Finally, non-concelebrating priests or extra deacons who assist in distributing Communion may wear either alb and stole, or cassock, surplice and stole.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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